Peter Gross: The Art Side of 'The Unwritten'

Peter Gross on The Unwritten

The Unwritten #2

Peter Gross is a comics veteran, having worked steady since the 1990s for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. He first broke onto the scene with the self-published miniseries Empire Lanes, which finds a group of medieval adventurers transported to the strange and mysterious locale of a bowling alley in the south side of Chicago. Strange you think, but if you’ve read any of Gross’ subsequent work you’d see a pattern forming. A mixture of the strange, the fantastic and the mythical – that’s an apt way to describe his newest series from Vertigo as well.

Debuting last week, the new ongoing series The Unwritten finds Gross rejoining his Lucifer scribe Mike Carey for a look into the life of a boy whose father based a series of fantasy novels on him. Now all grown up, Tom “Tommy” Taylor celebrity (of sorts) making a living being “the boy those novels were based on”. But when these fictional tales start taking on a life of their own, Tom Taylor’s life turns a whole new page.

Peter Gross is no stranger to fantasy and the fantastic – he’s made a living in comics drawing such titles as Lucifer, Doctor Strange and Books of Magic. Nominated numerous times for the prestigious Eisner awards, Peter has made a name for himself doing unique and thought-provoking works outside the realm of superheroes and all it entails. For more, we talked with Gross by email.

Newsarama: It’s good to talk to you again, Peter. Let’s start with an easy question to get you warmed up -- what are you working on today?

Peter Gross: Layouts (which are the extremely rough pencils) for a wonderful story about the secret history of Rudyard Kipling for The Unwritten #5. The second I read it I emailed Mike Carey and told him it was the best comic script I’ve ever read and he’s going to win an Eisner for it. So if it turns out crappy it’s on me and not Mike. It’s an issue where the story turns briefly from Tom Taylor and his relationship with his fictional namesake and his absent father to our first look at the history and depth of some of the undercurrents to literary history and the secret conspiracy touched on in the first four issues of The Unwritten.

The Unwritten #2, page 9

NRAMA: The Unwritten is your main art gig right now, and the first issue was just released. How's that been for you so far?

PG: It’s been a dream come true so far. Storywise, it’s such a full collaboration between me and Mike, with both of us on the top of our game that there’s nothing but fun to be had. And the reaction we’ve had to the book so far has been incredibly exciting. It just feels like we’re working on a classic in the making. We have a great character in Tom Taylor, the z-list celebrity whose Dad wrote the best selling books of all time. And we have a great premise in that it turns out there’s no proof of Tom’s birth—so he may have been adopted as a viral marketing ploy to sell the series, or he may be the actual boy wizard from the novels manifested on Earth years before by the collective belief of a billion readers.

Brian K Vaughn called it, "A wish-I'd-thought-of-it premise, beautifully executed…” And Bill Willingham said, “By the first page of the first issue of The Unwritten I was intrigued. By page 3 I knew I'd be finishing the issue. Two pages later and I knew I'd be a fan and loyal reader of this new series for its entire run (however long that may last -- though I hope it is for many years to come)…”

It’s exciting to know that creators whose work I love are digging what we’re doing in our new book!

NRAMA: It seems like magic is your middle name, Peter – you've done work on a variety of magic-tinged series such as Dr. Strange, Hellstorm, Books of Magic, Lucifer and now The Unwritten. Why would you say that is?

PG: You forgot Doctor Fate!

NRAMA: Doh!

The Unwritten #3

PG: I’m tempted to say typecasting, but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve also worked on American Jesus and Testament so you might have to throw the biblical in there too! I’ve always thought it was because my approach is decidedly un-magical. I think I can portray the supernatural and fantastic without losing the reality—so maybe I give it a little more grounding that makes it breathe. That’s a big plus on The Unwritten where the story is very much about the balance of Fact and Fiction and what happens when the boundaries between the two start to break down.

NRAMA: Your other big project recently has been the miniseries Chosen which recently came out as a collection called American Jesus. Your collaborator on that, Mark Millar, has quite a buzz around him. What's it like working with a creator like that?

PG: I bask in the glow of Mark’s success and I can only hope he ascends to even greater heights and doesn’t forget the little people hanging on to his coattails. Between working with Mike Carey and Mark Millar I’m a pretty lucky artist right now. I think Chosen/American Jesus is one of the best things Mark’s ever written And I think The Unwritten is going to be a masterpiece for Mike. I couldn’t be happier to be instrumental to both of them.

NRAMA: You've been in comics for over ten years now – looking back, what do you see as your favorite works?

PG: My favorite work is usually the thing I’m working on when I get asked that question. I’m really focused and committed to what’s in front of me but sometimes I get a chance to read something that’s faded in my mind a bit and re-experience it again. I recently reread the run I wrote and drew on Books of Magic and I was pretty impressed with what I did on that. I also have a soft spot for Empire Lanes, which was the black and white series that I created and broke into comics with. Lucifer and Chosen were both highpoints—and working recently on Fables was a ton of fun—but The Unwritten and the story of Tom Taylor is definitely the best thing I’ve ever worked on.

NRAMA: Although you've been working for over a decade, you've still got a long career in comics. Any dream projects in your head you want to work on someday?

PG: Right now I’m hoping that The Unwritten catches on enough that Mike and I can do a one-shot or mini-series of one of the boy-wizard, Tommy Taylor novels that are the back drop of Tom Taylor’s life. In The Unwritten we see an excerpt from them here and there but Mike and I enjoy those bits so much that we’d like to produce a fuller version—maybe even in a Stardust type format.

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NRAMA: Whew, that’d be nice. I always love the stories inside a story.

Enough about work… when you're not working, what do you do to take the stress off?

PG: That’s the sort of question that could get me in tons of trouble! But the real answer is that I spend as much time as I can with my wife Jeanne McGee and our 8-year-old daughter Alice (who to my great delight is massively into the Legion of Superheroes Archives right now). She quizzes me everyday on Legion trivia and gets really frustrated when I have most of the answers.

NRAMA: As to not get you in too much trouble, let’s get back on the work jibe – sort of. Comics are a relatively solitary medium with creators mostly working at home by themselves – seeing others at conventions and maybe in office visits. But who would you say are your closest friends in the comic community?

PG: I’ve been really good friends with Stuart Moore since the early years at Vertigo. I’ll always have warm feelings to Shelly Bond for all the great times working together. And Pornsak Pichetshote’s become a good friend after all the phone calls on The Unwritten. Mike Carey is like a long lost British brother, and in the local Minneapolis comics community Zander Cannon and Ryan Kelly are both good friends. In general I’d say that most of the people I’ve met and worked with in comics have been a real joy to deal with. There are one or two weird apples in the bunch but they’re definitely the exception to the rule.

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