Those meddling-yet-ingenious witches from Fables have really done it this time. They cast some type of spell that stole the characters from Unwritten and thrust them into the world of Fables.
It's all part of the highly anticipated mash-up between the two popular Vertigo series, as Tom Taylor and other Unwritten characters visit the world of Bigby Wolf, Frau Totenkinder and their fellow Fables. It begins in The Unwritten #50, which celebrates the anniversary issue of the series created by writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross.
The story takes place entirely within the next five issues of Unwritten, but it has the expressed support of Fables creator Bill Willingham and some artistic assistance from Fables artist Mark Buckingham (as demonstrated by the art being previewed with this interview).
The Unwritten tells the story of Tom Taylor, a man whose father has written a series of fantasy novels starring a boy wizard named "Tommy Taylor." When the comic began, the world treated Tommy as if he's the "real-life" version of the young hero from the novels.
But now that the comic is heading toward June's issue #50, the story in The Unwritten has shown that there's much more to Tommy's "real-life" existence than meets the eye. Through the lens of Tommy's adventures, The Unwritten has explored the amazing power of stories, and the close relationship between fiction and life.
As such, the Fables/Unwritten mash-up makes sense, because both series blur the line between fact and fiction.
But what does this meeting between Tom and the witches mean? How does it help to answer Tom's questions about his own existence? And where does this take place within the Fables continuity? We talked to both
Newsarama: First off, Mike, did I read issue #49 correctly that Tom got pulled away before Pauly was able to look him in the eyes?
Mike Carey: Yes, he did. Yeah. Pauly was still steeling himself enough to turn around. And then the decision was taken out of his... paws.
Nrama: So that means Tom's actions had nothing to do with his sudden appearance in the world of Fables. Was it the witches of Fables who have have summoned Tom to the world of Fables? And if so, why do they think Tom is special enough to pull into their world?
Carey: It's a good question. Clearly, they have some urgent business.
Up until this point, Tom has been, at least as far as he was concerned, calling the shots. He had his grand plan to go even deeper, even though he's already in the underworld, to go in the very bottom, the very source of the power that is seemingly being channeled through him.
At this crucial moment, he's taken away. He's taken into a completely different context.
I don't want to say too much about why the witches have summoned him, or why he has appeared in response to the witches' summon. But with issue #50, that's something we address right out of the gate: Why is he there.
Nrama: As you said, Tom wanted to go as deep as it's possible to go, so that he could learn more about his own nature. Does this tangent in his journey completely take him off track from learning what he wanted? Or will this teach him something about the nature of the power after all.
Carey: Very much the last one. Yeah, it may seem to be a detour, but it's part of his quest. It's part of his journey. In fact, it's a vital part of his journey.
Bill Willingham: This isn't just an interruption in what he was doing. This is a continuation of it. And it's as much his powers at work here as the witches grabbing him at an inopportune moment.
Nrama: Bill, we know what's going on in Fables right now. But solicitations mention Mr. Dark, which implies it's in the past. When does this story in Unwritten take place in Fables continuity? Can you say when does Tom drop in on the witches and these other characters?
Willingham: No. I'm not just being coy, and I promise I'm not. But the structure of the story is such that — and it's revealed pretty quickly, so it's a mystery that will not take too long to unravel — by stating when it happens would really give away what this story is.
And I think that speaks well for the story in the sense that to reveal any part of it endangers revealing the whole wonderful surprise. It's very rare you get a story that well built, that everything is needed intact. So I would like to beg off and say that I can't say when it occurs in the Fables timeline, because it's like, you know, a little bit of the camel's foot under the tent that reveals the whole damn thing.
Nrama: Tom is alone now. What does that mean to this part of the story, and why did you choose that for the Fables crossover?
Carey: I guess because there's almost like shamanic element to what he's doing. He's on a quest to discover not just truth about how the world works, but truth about himself — including the ultimate truth about himself, which is what is he?
There's a time at which you can't bring your furniture with you. You can't bring your weapons or all the equipment. He just has to go naked into it.
Having said that, we will see other characters from Unwritten continuity, some of the core cast and some rather surprising characters popping up from Tom's past.
Willingham: And really — and this is me being a fan of Unwritten here — regardless of how crowded the Unwritten book has gotten from time to time, can we not agree that Tom is just about one of the most alone characters ever written in any series, ever. I think it's worked wonderfully in that sense. He is literally brought alone into this.
I think he's alone all the time regardless.
Carey: Yeah, that's true.
Nrama: I thought it was interesting that you said his ultimate truth he's seeking in his quest is what he is. Once he enters the realm of the Fables, though, aren't there differences in the nature of stories and characters and how they function in those universes? They seem to have a little different ideas behind the interaction between fiction and reality. Do you resolve that difference in this story?
Carey: Resolve is a very loaded word. We're certainly moving towards a resolution.
Tom's nature is hugely on the table in #50. It's a very urgent question for him and for the people that he's meeting.
Do we provide the full answer of what Tom is? No. No, we don't. Not straightaway. But we're definitely addressing that question. And we're giving more pieces of the puzzle.
Nrama: Bill, as you mentioned, you're a fan of Unwritten. When did you know about the series, and at what point did you want to have the Fables characters interact with Unwritten. Or was it Mike's request?
Willingham: Oh, I'm sure it was early on that I wanted Fables and Unwritten to interact. But I was a fan of the book from the very first issue. As a matter of fact, I think I got the first issue early, because we ran preview pages in Fables. I got to look at the other before it was out. So technically, I was a fan of the book before it came out. It's just wonderful.
I approached it entirely as a reader right away, saying, this is wonderful and people need to read this. The very first issue just established all the potential of it. Yeah, I had played around with some of the same themes and situations in Fables, and even pre-Fables, started a couple of book ideas that were close to Unwritten. But I couldn't nail just exactly how it should be handled. And right away, when I saw the first issue, I saw that, yes, this is exactly how this should have been handled.
So yes, I was a fan of it from the get-go.
Carey: But to address the other side of that question, yes, there was begging on my side as well. There were a great many Fables characters that I was aching to write and aching to introduce Tom to. It's a fantasy, a dream-come-true for me, to do this.
Nrama: Mike, as Bill said, Tom has been alone, and yet he's been transforming through the series by letting in compassion and, I think, love, and he's growing into a hero. Where might the Fables crossover challenge him in his continued growth in that direction?
Carey: I think — trying to avoid spoilers — he is going to be put in a position where more is being asked of him than he can easily give. He is going to be called upon to show a kind of courage and a kind of skill that he hasn't been asked to show before. But then, the people who are asking this are making huge sacrifices themselves and are taking huge risks.
It's definitely a turning point, I think, in his development as a character.
And yeah, we've seen him learn to let some of his barriers down. We've seen him become less self-centered. And we've seen him become, you know, more generous, I think, in his nature.
But I think he's never been in quite such a perilous situation as this, and he's never had quite so much weight on his shoulders as this.
Nrama: Much of his growth has been on a personal level. Does this story take it to a bigger level, because he's helping a world that he doesn't know? I know you mentioned that some other characters from Unwritten show up, but it would seem that most of the peril is among people with whom he's not connected.
Carey: It's still very personal, even though, yes, he is joining somebody else's fight. But there's a huge amount at stake for him, both in terms of what he finds out about himself in the course of the story and there are relationships that he enters into which have a lot of significance for him going forward.
So yes, it stays a very personal story.
I think one of the huge pleasures of working on this arc has been expressing those issues through Bill's characters and through Bill's world. It's been a joy.
Nrama: Bill, what's it been like working with Mike and seeing what he's creating with these characters?
Willingham: I think this only occurs to writers or other creative people, that there's this kind of simultaneous joy and brotherhood, and then a very malicious evil that rears its head, because when Mike — and this rose out of a conversation between Mike and Mark Buckingham in England — when he presented the premise for the actual story, there were so many things in it that opened by eyes, that I should have thought of this myself, that there was a good part of me that wanted to have him killed, so then these would be my ideas. And all that.
When I write books, for example Fables, I try to write the book that I would want to read, and that's the only real morally authentic way to go about any kind of writing at all. Otherwise it's some cynical motivation like, you know, what do I think will sell, or what are the kids buying right now. And in the Unwritten, from the first issue, I recognized, "Oh this book was written specifically for me to read."
And it's rare, but it happens. These things like, somehow, they must have designed it specifically for me to read.
That's what this story is. This [Unwritten/Fables] story is someone else saying, "Here's another thing you should be doing with Fables, and look, you could do this and this and this and this," and every one of them, I was like, "YES! YES! That's exactly the story that should be told with these characters." And that was wonderful, in a very frustrating, "how-was-it-I-missed-that" sort of way.