Wait… Should I Like these People?

The first time that I really looked at the Unwritten comics that we were going to read for the course, I was not exactly looking forward to the experience. I am well aware that is neither a fair or good way to approach something and its always worth it to give a book a chance, I was not in that mindset when I began. In fact, it took me forever to get through the first few pages. I read some comic book when I was in middle school but long ago forgot the proper method of reading them, my lacking skills combined with my disinterest and biases created a slow start. However, once I got more into the meat of the story and saw how all the elements interacted I began to get really into the story. Even though I can admit my initial fascination had a lot to do with the idea of William Taylor’s mysterious disappearance, a topic that I usually find intriguing.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading and thinking about the books. After spending the semester thinking about narrative complexity, fan culture and the creation of a transmedia experience, I think this is a wonderful way to bring it all together. Even while I was reading the comics I could see connections to things we talked about and wondered about the depth of the story. I found myself stopping to wonder (and briefly Google) is there was significance to Tom’s potential Bosnian lineage (maybe Roma too??) This then made me think of all the intense research and connection’s fans have made to Mulholland Drive.

One aspect of the story that struck me at the beginning, before the story has fully developed and the audience still has no idea where this is all going, was the portrayal of fan reaction. While the majority of fans believe that Tom is not the real Tommy Taylor, there is footage of a news broadcast from New Zealand with a very different view. This group of fans believe that Tom is not only the real inspiration, but is literally the character from the book.

We may look insane... but we are onto something!

Their leader points to the poem in the afterword of “The Golden Trumpet” as proof, showing how the first letter of each line spells out a message. Immediately this brought to mind McGonigal’s writings on Alternate Reality Gaming (ARGS) and the intense investigation that goes into their play. This is especially true when a games existence is denied (TING) and I could easily see this being a clue in any ARG. In my initial reading of this panel I specifically thought of the Push, Nevada game and how players continued to play even after it was officially over, looking for clues and solving puzzles that were not really part of the game. (or were they??) Later, though this is obviously not the case as we become more aware that there is actually a greater truth to be uncovered. What I found most interesting about this panels portrayal of the group and other fans throughout the story was how negatively they are characterized. In this specific instance the leader is portrayed as crazed and overly fanatic, a lunatic leading a “cult.” His image seems to reference kidnappers and cult leaders, not what you would expect from someone who is actually on the right track. I still have not really had enough time to mull over the overarching meaning of this negative portrayal, which shows up a number of times throughout the comic. This negative theme is echoed later in the books, when the Warden’s children die when they are caught up in their fanatic love of Tommy and try to aid his escape.

The entire series is filled with a variety of interesting portrayals and characterizations. Much like the interestingly negative image of fan culture, I was also interested by the author’s take on media. Throughout the book there are full page panels that provide a snapshot of media reaction to the story’s events. Right after the bombing in the Globe, there is a panel devoted to the stark change in fan reaction to Tom Taylor and the new found popular belief that he is the real Tommy Taylor. Again this brings to mind McGonigal and the idea of collective intelligence. Maybe these fans and the media are not trying to solve any specific puzzle (although clearly some groups are) but they are still part of a collective body trying to uncover truths and gather information.

Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ comic series Unwritten is an interesting look at the interplay between fiction, reality and the fan culture that shapes it. It is a piece that is full of themes, messages and illusions that surely cannot be uncovered with one read through. By including and touching on many things we have talked about throughout the semester it serves as a perfect segue into the final part of the semester and a good reflection of what we have learned.

Unwritten... or is it???

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