THE SECRET ORIGIN OF THE UNWRITTEN PART THREE
And here’s the big finish -- the last of Mike and Peter’s three-part trip down their Vertigo memory lane – from the pitches that didn’t stick when they tried to work together again after Lucifer to celebrating The Unwritten – the second volume having debuted on the New York Times Best-Seller’s list last week!
Crossing Midnight # 1 – 19 (2006)
After Lucifer, Peter and I really wanted to work together again on another monthly. We pitched a whole bunch of ideas at Vertigo, but nothing seemed to stick – even though once or twice we got a lonnnnnng way down the road before it all came unstuck.
Inevitably, we were drawn into other projects, and we had to shelve the idea of another collaboration. For me, one of the most important of these “other projects” was Crossing Midnight. I have twin sons whose birth weights were radically different. I know that sounds a little weird, but Davey had what’s called an alveolar attachment to the womb, which meant that he was getting far less nourishment than his brother, especially in the last month or so of the pregnancy.
I guess that started me thinking about destiny (normally a concept I’m allergic to) in relation to birth, and particularly how tiny differences at birth – for twins, who seem to have an identical start in the world – can shape your life. That and my obsession with the Studio Ghibli animes and Junji Ito horror mangas somehow coalesced in my mind and became Crossing Midnight.
Sadly, the series never really found its audience, and it was cancelled after only nineteen issues. But publisher Paul Levitz gave us a stay of execution so we could finish out the story: I’m really grateful to him for that.
God Save the Queen (2007)
This was another crossed-in-the-mail sort of situation. I’d written the final script for God Save the Queen before I started work on Crossing Midnight, but it was released several months into the run. Its kind of weird how that sort of thing happens. It’s a little like the way that light from distant stars takes many years to get to us, so we’re always seeing snapshots of their past. Sometimes people will say to me, “Man, you must be busy, with all this stuff coming out” – but really it means I was busy about a year ago.
I think God Save the Queen knocks seven bells out of The Furies, considered as a stand-alone Sandman Presents story. Pretty much all the Faerie characters from The Sandman appear in it – Nuala, Cluracan, Titania and Oberon, Puck et al – but you don’t need to know who any of them are in order to understand (and, I hope, enjoy) the story. In fact, you don’t need to have read The Sandman at all, which is why, at some point in the production process, the Sandman Presents blazon was removed.
Since my heroine is a North London girl named Linda, and my wife, Linda, hails from North London, I’ve sometimes been accused of sneaking a bit of family biography into this OGN. I really didn’t. This fictional Linda is nothing like my own Linda – and for the record, Ava is nothing like my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law is named Barbara, and I don’t think she’s ever raised a longbow to me in anger.
This was just a blast to do. I knew about the Minx imprint from its earliest planning stages, and contributed my own feeble suggestions when Shelly was trying to make a final decision about the name of the line and its logo. And it was always in the back of my mind to submit a pitch, even though I’m not (and have never been) a teenaged girl. People are people and stories are stories: That’s all there is to it.
In those days, Shelly and I had a game we sometimes played, where she’d shoot a word at me and I’d try to come up with a story based on that word. Re-gifting was one of those words, and the story just sprang into my head fully formed. Actually, that’s not true at all: The McGuffin of the gift that’s passed on and on and on until it comes back to the first person who gave it – that was what came to me. It’s kind of a riff on Chaucer’s “Franklin’s Tale,” which is built on a chain of obligations – one character having to keep a vow to another, who is bound to a third, and so on, with each of them facing a terrible dilemma which then works its way down the chain.
In Regifters there’s a chain of gift-giving and a chain of unrequited love. Both chains kind of come full circle in the end, one in a fairly predictable way, the other (I hope) coming as more of a surprise.
Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel on art – the My Faith in Frankie team riding again, and a lot of room to manoeuvre (160-some pages). We had the time of our lives.
Confessions of a Blabbermouth (2007)
Confessions of a Blabbermouth was yet another book that grew out of a suggestion from Shelly Bond – in this case, “Why don’t you and your daughter, Lou, co-write a comic book?” When we were all done laughing at that preposterous idea, we sat down and started to talk about possible scenarios. We decided early on that it should be a story that capitalised on the fact that we had such an ill-yoked pair of writers – a middle-aged guy and a teenaged girl. So we wrote a story about the clash of wills between our teenaged protagonist and her new (intending) step-dad.
Just as Sonny’s and Marc’s art is inseparable from Frankie and Regifters, Aaron’s is from Blabbermouth. He turned our every idea, good bad or indifferent, into pure gold. It’s actually a very dark story, by the time all the dust has settled, but he leavened that with such a wealth of visual humour and loving detail that the pain was only ever subliminal.
And I got to write a comic book with my daughter. How cool is that?
I’d only ever worked with Jock on one issue of Hellblazer. Getting to do Faker with him was a huge pleasure. We wanted this to be sort of a cocktail of horror sub-genres – paranoid, splatter and psychological. We also set ourselves the task of creating the least likeable heroine we could think of and then making the reader care about her. Opinions differ about whether we succeeded there, but Jessie is definitely one of the more vivid characters I’ve created.
As part of the pitch, I asked Shelly to watch Roger Avary’s movie of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel The Rules of Attraction. She watched it, called me and said “like that, huh?” “Yeah,” I said, “like that.” And she said “Okay.” Wish I could have done a montage as cool as Sean Bateman’s European vacation, though.
Actually, this run-through of my Vertigo career has something of that hectic, surreal feel to it.
The Unwritten (2009)
And here we are, ten years later. What a long, strange strip it’s been.
The Unwritten is the book we SHOULD have pitched three years ago when we were trying to set up our next big thing after Lucifer – but maybe it worked out better this way. There’s a sense in which everything you write becomes part of your momentum and your vector: You’re the sum of a whole lot of things, and (I’m not just saying this) for a writer that includes the stories you’ve already told.
The Dreaming #55 – full art (2000)
I can’t quite remember if this happened before or during Lucifer, and I think it was only 3 pages of art but it was for a Bill Willingham story. I had met Bill years before at a small comic’s show in Tennessee and was really happy to see him starting to work at Vertigo. Who knew that he was going to become a superstar there with Fables and that I would be jealous for years that Bucky landed the permanent art duties on the series!
Lucifer # 5 - 75 – full art (2000 – 2006)
As I was nearing the end of my run on Books of Magic, I had decided that I wasn’t really interested in writing and drawing on non-creator owned work. I was happy to write something--or I was happy to draw it, but doing both seemed like to big a part of my soul to give up if I couldn’t be in total control of its fate. And since at the time I didn’t have a creator owned series to pitch, I was interested when Shelly Bond called me up to see if I’d be interested in Lucifer. I told Shelly to send me some scripts, and I was pretty blown away by what Mike Carey had written. So I did a series of Lucifer character drawings to see if I had a feel for it and none of what I did then ended up being the way my Lucifer ended up looking. I think I went for a sexy Brad Pitt sort of vibe on these first drawings. Definitely too much boy and not enough man in them.
So I jumped in on issue 5, a big arc about Lucifer visiting the realm of the Japanese gods, and it was pretty epic. Lots of challenging things to draw and subtle characterization. We got nominated for an Eisner for Best New Series, and Best Story of the Year, and a partnership was born. For whatever reason, Mike and I meshed really well, and I always love working with him. And I’ll give you a paraphrased example of what it was like working with Mike on Lucifer...He’d give me a panel description like this: “Close-up of Lucifer: He’s angry, bitter, and somewhat amused, but he doesn’t let any of that show...”
Try drawing that.
But it worked, and we kept wanting to work together...
Untitled – writing (in 9-11: Volume Two, 2002)
After 9-11, DC decided to do a benefit book on the subject, but really, I think it was a way for everyone involved in the book to process their feelings about that day. Paul Levitz was nice enough to ask me to write a piece for it and Darick Robertson did a great job illustrating it. So add Darick to the list of great artists I got to write stories for. (It still amazes me that other artists have drawn things I’ve written because I never really thought of that as a goal when I chose comics as my vocation!)
Fables # - 77 – 82 - full art (2008)
So in my Secret Vertigo history I had a lost year when I worked on a project that collapsed when the writer quit well into the thing, and I also had a lot of hand trouble that needed minor surgery to fix. And at the end of that period as we were also starting up The Unwritten, I finally got a chance to draw some Fables! I did a series of backup stories about Mowgli, and I had a great time. And it’s all the more interesting because I had no idea I’d be revisiting Kipling a few months later for a story in The Unwritten!
Bill (and Shelly and Angela) do a great job of making everyone who works on (and reads) Fables feel like part of a big family, and I’m trying to emulate that on The Unwritten!
The Unwritten – full art and co-story (2009)
No offense to anything else I worked on but it’s really nice that the last milestone on here for me is also the best. The Unwritten is an amazing book! And if you all knew how much work and thought and care goes into it you’d all love it even more. I’ve never worked on anything that has this much great story to tell, and I have an absolute appreciation for what an amazing thing it is. The hardest part is going to be keeping to the high standard I think we’ve set. But with the addition of Pornsak editing, Yuko on covers, Chris Chuckry and Jeanne McGee on colors and Todd Klein on letters, I think we should be able to manage.
I think The Unwritten is an example of the best sort of collaboration that can happen in comics. Mike and I dig so deep into our subject that we find areas to explore that I don’t think we’d get to on our own--it becomes a much richer experience because of the partnership. That doesn’t always happen when you work together on a book--and coming up with the story together can try the patience of many a writer. If Mike and I have a falling out somewhere during the run of The Unwritten, it’s going to get ugly quick, but until then I’m going to enjoy the ride!