THE SECRET ORIGIN OF THE UNWRITTEN PART TWO
Ok, part two of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ trip down memory lane in honor of the release of The Unwritten: Inside Man and leading up to the release of the eagerly anticipated (by us as much so as everyone else) The Unwritten # 17.
This time around, Mike and Peter recall hitting two pretty huge milestones in their Vertigo career. For Mike, it’s writing Hellblazer. For Peter, it’s becoming one of the few Vertigo writer-artist hyphenates (at least when it comes to ongoing books). And the interesting parallel in both situations? They both started out turning down the jobs.
5. The Sandman Presents: The Furies (2002)
Sandman Presents had ceased to be a monthly book by this time, but it was still the umbrella title for a whole range of one-shots, minis and OGNs that were published over the next few years. I had the pleasure and privilege of working on two of those OGNs, The Furies and God Save the Queen, both with John Bolton as artist. John was keen to try a new approach to the art, making heavy use of both computer effects and paint over original photographs. Personally, I love John’s painted art to distraction, but these were both really striking books, and the visual style was absolutely unique.
The trouble with The Furies is that it’s the most context-sensitive thing I’ve ever written. Not only do you have to have read The Sandman to understand it, but you have to come to it almost directly from the Kindly Ones arc. It takes Lyta’s story forward in very significant ways, but unless you know what her starting point is, you’ll be lost. Frankly, at ten years’ remove, I have to throw up my hands and say that’s a fault with the writing. The backstory was complex, but that’s no reason to duck out of addressing it.
On the other hand – Lyta in Hades! That sequence is so beautiful and so terrifying, I’m happy to have worked on the book for that reason alone.
There’s also a more personal footnote to this story. My older sister, Pauline, had recently died in a way that affected everyone in the family really profoundly. I wrote the character of Pauline Waxman in The Furies so that in some ways she was my sister. It helped me to deal with losing her – and that’s why the book is dedicated to her.
6 . Hellblazer: Exposed (in 9-11: Volume Two, 2002)
9/11 happened after I’d been offered the role of new Hellblazer writer, but before I’d started writing on the book. Then Paul Levitz personally contacted all DC creators to say that he was editing a benefit book, and to invite us to contribute. I pitched a Hellblazer short, which therefore became the very first time I ever wrote Constantine.
The weird thing about this story is that it arose from a conversation I actually heard. About four or five days after the attack, I was playing bridge with two guys, both of whom worked for insurance companies – or for big financial corporations who offered insurance as part of their core business. And one guy asked the other guy the question that became the seed for this story. “Are you exposed?” Meaning, is your company open to any risk of financial loss because of this catastrophic event? It just seemed such a cold-blooded question to ask, or maybe just such a business-as-usual, life-goes-on, what’s-the-bottom-line kind of question, it rocked me a little. So I wrote it up in Hellblazer – and lost a friend, or at least a bridge partner. But I’ve never seriously regretted that loss.
7. Hellblazer #175-215 and 229 (2002-2006) and Hellblazer: All His Engines (2005)
When Will Dennis called me to ask me if I wanted to write Hellblazer, I said no. I did want to, of course, but it seemed to me in that long-lost, innocent time that writing two books a month would be impossible: just writing Lucifer was a full-time job for me back then.
Will said he was going to do me the favour of not taking my first answer, and that he’d call back in a couple of days and ask me again. Needless to say, the second time around I amended my answer to “don’t make me beg.”
I wrote the book for three very happy years. At one point in that time the UK’s National Comic Award for Best Supporting Character went to Chas, and as the only Hellblazer writer at the Bristol Con I went up to collect the award. For the benefit of the non-Hellblazer-readers present, I explained that Chas was Jamie Delano’s creation. I also ‘fessed up that my biggest contribution to the Chas mythos was getting his first name wrong: I’d always just assumed that Chas was short for Charles!
8. My Faith In Frankie (2004)
This was the easiest pitching process I ever went through. I sent a one-page outline for the story to Shelly, who asked me to expand it very slightly, giving more details about Frankie and Jeriven’s character arcs. Then she passed it on to Karen, who approved it with no changes at all. Everyone just immediately got what the story was trying to do and liked the idea.
Shelly chose Sonny Liew as penciller, and suggested Marc Hempel as a possible inker – the same team who would later do Re-Gifters with me. Marc over Sonny is a dream combination: There’s a magic when those guys work together.
My Faith in Frankie was the first time I ever pitched a miniseries, and the first time I ever tried to write comedy (to say nothing of romance). It was a blast from start to finish. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and the art is spectacularly, pants-wettingly good.
Oh, and for the record, Frankie and Her Pals was Sonny’s idea!
9. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere #1-9 (2005-2006)
When the rights to Neverwhere became available, for the first time in many years, Vertigo was very keen on the idea of adapting it into comics form. Editor Jonathan Vankin discussed a number of possible writers with Neil, and my name was one of those that came up. Neil was amazingly generous and open-minded, as he always is. There was one thing (a radically different way of handling Richard’s return to London Below at the end of the book) that he really didn’t like at all, for good reasons which he was happy to explain, and there was one thing (removing the character of Lamia) that he said would sadden him but he wouldn’t rule it out. On all the other points, he gave us his own ideas and input and left us free to choose. How cool is that? I’d imagine a lot of writers in that situation would be tempted to lay down the law and say, “This is how the story works, so live with it.” Neil said (and I paraphrase very loosely) “Every adaptation is sort of like a jazz riff on the original. Take your version where you think it wants to go.”
I’ve got a lot of adaptations under my belt now, but this is still my favourite. I think you learn a lot about the logic and structure of stories when you try to translate them from one medium to another. It’s a more cerebral pleasure than writing your own stuff from scratch – but in this case, it was hugely enjoyable. And working with Glenn Fabry was a big part of that. He’s such an amazing visual storyteller, and he created such a compelling and credible version of this parallel city. Someone asked me recently whether there was any possibility of doing more Neverwhere comics, going beyond the book. If I ever find my way to Morpheus’s Library in the Dreaming, which contains all books that were only written in dreams, I’m going to make a beeline for those particular volumes.
6. Mythos -- inking (1996)
I have to confess that I barely remember Mythos now; it felt like a reward for BoM doing well--that we got to do a prestige format project spun out of the Sandman universe. John Rieber wrote it, Gary Amaro penciled it and I inked it. It was fun--but definitely second in my mind to what we were doing with Books of Magic at the time. But man, I was incredibly prolific back then! I was even working at Marvel on Doctor Strange around the same time. Now that I think about it, Mythos might have been the last time I ever inked over someone else’s pencils. That seems hard to believe, but maybe it’s true.
That makes me want to ink someone...
7. Books of Faerie – full art (1997) and Books of Faerie: Auburon’s Tale – penciling (1998)
Books of Faerie was another reward for BoM doing well and an attempt by us to turn BoM into a big franchise! It was a Bronwyn Taggert story exploring the background of Titania, and because it was just 3 issues long I took the opportunity to draw in a fuller, more rendered style than I got to do on monthly books. I wish I could draw like that all the time!
8. Books of Magic # 51-75– writing and drawing (1998 – 2000)
This was a big time in my career. I actually got to do some writing again--the first time since my initial self-published book Empire Lanes.
Around issue 40 of BoM John Rieber decided he was going to leave the book at issue 50. So the editors at Vertigo had a year to pick a new writer. You think that would have been an easy task, but it was harder than it seemed. No one they talked with seemed to have a really good grasp of the character. My editor (and future Sex in the City writer) Julie Rottenberg kept asking me if I’d be interested in writing it, but I really wasn’t. I thought it was sort of a no-win coming on Book after Neil and John Rieber, and I wasn’t sure I had anything new to add to the character. But as the search for a new writer dragged on I agreed to do a few fill-in issues if needed and I wrote a memo to Julie about my thoughts on the character. Basically, what I said was that I thought, given all the wrong decisions Tim seemed to make, I couldn’t see how he would ever be able to survive to adulthood--and if I was going to do a story it would be about how he fails and dies, but that he would have to fail and die in a way that you wouldn’t want to change because of the way he touched the lives of those around him. To my everlasting surprise, Julie liked that take and urged me to do a full outline of my story, and the next thing I knew I was on board to write and draw a 24 issue epic Tim hunter story!
But of course, despite my best intention to “kill” Tim off, he actually came up with a way of saving himself. It was the strangest thing, because it wasn’t my intention at all to give him a way out. I was almost done with the outline and a Tim victory popped suddenly into my head and into the outline--and to this day I think it came from the character not from me. Ever since then, I try to find a way to let the characters determine some of their actions. It’s almost like you put them into situations and let them figure the way out.
9. Books of Magic: We Three Things (1999) & Waiting for Good Dough (2000) (in Vertigo Winters Edge # 2 & 3)
An extra treat that happened from writing BoM was the opportunity to write for other artists--something I had never done before. A story with Charles Vess hadn’t quite happened but it led to me writing stories for other artists in Vertigo Winter’s Edge and later the BoM Annual. Jason Lutes, Michael Lark, Kelly Jones John Totleben, and Gary Amaro all drew stories I wrote--how cool is that! And maybe best of all was that Mike Kaluta drew covers for my whole run on BoM! There something pretty cool about doing character sketches and sending them to Mike Kaluta to bring to life!
And for you Mark Millar fans out there-- In the Annual, Mark wrote a hilarious parody of the Teen Titans using Tim Hunter and other BoM characters (and drawn by Phil Jimenez)!
Next week, back to the present day. Peter finally catches up to Mike to talk about Lucifer and the beginning of THE UNWRITTEN…