THE UNWRITTEN Method by Peter Gross
THE UNWRITTEN is an incredibly unique book. There "real" world scenes and scenes from the Tommy Taylor novels, there are TV news broadcasts and online chats, and so much more. All of these moments, which can be very complicated, are depicted seamlessly both in prose and visually, so I asked ongoing series artist Peter Gross what the secret is. And here's what Peter had to say:
I’m going to use the occasion of the release of Dead Man’s Knock: Volume 3 of The Unwritten to talk a bit about how we work on The Unwritten, and what an unusual sort of comic experience it is for all of us involved.
From reading reviews online and talking to readers at conventions I’ve heard a lot of questions about how Mike and I work on the book--partly because readers assume the writer comes up with the ideas, and partly because we are intentionally vague in the credits--usually listing Mike Carey and Peter Gross, script-story-art. We thought that might do the trick but the reality is that the Unwritten is a very unique series and hard to pin down. So here’s my take on The Unwritten method...
Mike and I create the story together on a pretty much 50/50 basis. It’s a fluid process filled with lots of discussion, straying off into interesting territory and filled with lots of trans-Atlantic “Eureka!” moments——many that don’t make the final cut (you wouldn’t believe some of those ideas!). But when we’re satisfied, Mike goes off and writes a first draft of the script, then we have even more discussions, change some things, nail down everything we want to be there, and discuss it with our editors (Pornsak Pichetshote until issue 24 and now Karen Berger and Joe Hughes). After that, Mike writes a 2nd and generally final draft, and I’ll go to layouts. I make notes and change some things as I go, usually emailing Mike all along that process. When the layouts are done we finalize all my questions and then get the inks done. After it’s lettered, we have another discussion to make sure it all flows, Mike tweaks the script, revisions are made while the book is being colored, and then we’re done (except for all the last minute errors we all missed but someone seems to find just before the book goes to press). And by that time were knee-deep in the process for the next issue.
So Mike does write every word--but Mike and I plot the book together--and the editorial department tries to keep us in check.
And while I’m revealing our working methods, I have a confession to make——I don’t draw the book completely by myself! When I do the inks on an issue, I have help. Barb Guttman and Brittney Sabo are the two fine artists who assist me. They help draw backgrounds and finish inks, and generally go hunting for the copious amount of reference we need each day. Kudos to them for helping The Unwritten to arrive on time!
On the issues I don’t ink (like the Choose Your Own Adventure type story in Volume 3) we get a finisher to do the inks on the book. What that means is I do really loose pencils and then I get a great artist/inker to “finish” those pages. We’re trying to do this in a way that adds dimension to the book and we want the look to be wildly different and reflect each artist and story. In V2 we had Jimmy Broxton on the Nazi arc, and Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon do the wildly different Willowbanks Tales, featuring the now famous foul-mouthed bunny, Pauly Bruckner. In Volume 3 we have the great Ryan Kelly, and in the next trade we’ll have Vince Locke and Al Davison. I love seeing these different artistic styles over the skeleton I give them and it works out fabulously for the subject matter of the Unwritten.
And the rest of the team can’t be spared from these creative revelations...
Todd Klein doesn’t do every bit of lettering! I feel guilty over all the work involved in the media type pages we do so I don’t make Todd letter them. Instead we do them in my studio, and poor Barb spends hours and hours on them. And in the crazy acid trip section of V3 where letters are swirling about in the foreground and background I did them on my ipad with a great little program called TypeDrawing. So don’t blame Todd if you don’t like those pages!
Chris Chuckry doesn’t color the book completely by himself! My wife, and great artist, Jeanne McGee does the watercolors for the Tommy Taylor world pages and some of the other “fictional world” pages early in the series--although we’ve gotten a bit away from the Tommy Taylor pages as we go. So, of late, it’s been all Chris, all the time...
Yuko Shimizu does do the covers all by herself! The only person on The Unwritten who seems to be completely self-reliant is Yuko——though I don't know how she manages it on a regular basis. One of my great happy Unwritten moments each month is seeing her cover sketch ideas, and always having a hard time deciding which one is the best, since they all look so good! So the only revelation I can give you is that despite what some of you seem to believe, our Yuko is not the Yuko Shimizu who invented Hello Kitty!
Let’s face it, this book is just too demanding for the usual methods and everyone involved has been a great sport at being flexible and giving their best work and I think it really shows in the end product. I know we’ve asked a lot of our team and they’ve all come through time and time again, and this wouldn’t be such a great book without them.
I know that for Mike and I, The Unwritten is a labor of love for storytelling and the comics medium, and there’s great stuff coming down The Unwritten road.