SDCC '11: UNWRITTEN Team on New Twice-Monthly '.5' Issues

With mystery-filled stories like Vertigo's The Unwritten, fans are always looking for more answers.

Beginning in November, they're going to get them.

Double time.

As announced during Thursday's Vertigo panel at Comic-Con International, The Unwritten, the hit ongoing series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, will start shipping twice a month for a 10-issue event in November titled, "Tommy Taylor and the War of Words."

But what's really unusual about the event is how the stories will be structured and numbered. The first issue will be a story in the main narrative, then it will be followed by a one-off back-story issue. Each issue will be numbered in "half" increments.

So after The Unwritten #31 with a main narrative story, readers will get The Unwritten #31.5 focusing on a back-story. Then #32 will return to the main narrative, with #32.5 following with a back-story.

Guest artists will help out on the first ".5" issue, as well as the following back-stories as needed — although no artists have yet been named.

According to DC, the special .5 issues will see "Tom's crusade played out against the backdrop of the cabal's sinister secret history and will delve deep into the dark past of some of the series' major players. When it's over, very little will remain Unwritten."

This isn't the first time Carey and Gross have inserted one-issue back-stories into the main story of The Unwritten, and past spotlights have been some of the more well received issues of the series.

Which major players get the spotlight in the .5 issue? What answers might be revealed? And what's the idea behind the upcoming comic-themed story? We talked with Carey and Gross to find out.

Newsarama: Extra issues shipped between regular issues? Was this a case of you having so many ideas about the back-story that you couldn't cram it all into the main story?

Peter Gross: Yeah, something like that. We kept talking about little back-stories we'd like to do. And we've always liked doing our one-off issues. They've always been really popular with everyone. And we have a bunch of other back-story things we want to do, but every time we talk about getting them in there, we realize it would slow the main storyline down.

I was frustrated with it, and I started bringing it up with our editor. And I said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could do a few issues of these stories somehow staggered so it wouldn't slow down the main story's pace?" And they said, "Let's do it!"

Mike Carey: The other fact that fed into this was that we'd already been discussing with Karen [Berger] the possibility of doing a mini-series. A freestanding mini-series along with the regular monthly book. We got as far as doing quite a bit of planning for that.

Then suddenly it hit us that if we were going to have those extra issues, we could do something a lot more ambitious with them.

Gross: We can give back-story to the main story in these two-week installments, without slowing down the main story. I just think it's a really great idea, and hopefully it's going to work really well.

Nrama: Yeah, but it's twice as much work for you guys, isn't it?

Gross: More like four times as much work, probably! [laughs] Everything on The Unwritten seems to be twice as much work on top of twice as much work.

Carey: Yeah, it's kind of labor-intensive. But fortunately, we love it. And we're developing new ways of dealing with it.

Gross: Also, like we did on some of the other one-offs, we're going to bring in artists doing finishes over my artwork on a lot of these issues, and I love doing the layouts and having people come in and do a completely different style of art over that. I love seeing my skeleton being all dressed up differently. So this is exciting, for me to get this blast of different artists coming in.

Also, the first of the one-offs is actually going to have some guest artists doing full art, just because there was no way for me to fit it into the schedule. So there will be some surprise artists working on the first issue.

Nrama: Does that mean you can you be a little selective with what type of style you want from what artist, since these comics are one-issue stories?

Carey: Yes. That's part of the main thrust of this event, and there's going to be different storytelling approaches as well. The one-off issues that accompany the main narrative will have a very different vibe for each of them. And in some cases, they'll be shorter than one issue, because some of the issues break down into shorter narratives within that. So there are a lot of experimentations, with a lot of different ways of coming at the story.

Nrama: Even though the main premise behind Tom's story is revealed at this point, there is still a lot of mystery, and there seems to be new questions added every time you answer one. Are you going to clear up some of the mysteries with these .5 issues?

Carey: We are at the point now where there are very, very few completely new elements that are going to be added into the mix. From now on, there will be more explanations and more reveals about what's already there than new stuff thrown in. So this will give us, for example, an explanation for Mrs. Rausch, it will give us an explanation for Wilson, and it will give us a partial explanation for Pullman, although there are more reveals in some cases to come for these characters.

We'll have a much better sense of who they are, and how they know each other, and what their agenda is.

Nrama: Was this something you'd seen done before, or was it something you and your editor came up with, to do a series of ".5" issues to provide back-story?

Gross: I don't know if it's been done before, but it really just came about as a result of wishing we could tell back-story while keeping the same narrative.

Carey: I don't think it's been done before in quite this same way. But we're very enthusiastic about the structure. We think it works perfectly for what we want to do.

Nrama: Now your fans will expect you to do this all the time.

Gross: I think if we survive this, it will be a miracle! And now you know why neither of us is in San Diego this year.

Nrama: When you came up with Unwritten, it had a finite ending, right? Does this change when that's going to happen, or was it always loosely planned?

Gross: We've always had an end point in mind and we've never know exactly how long it's going to take to get there. We have a lot of mileposts set up along the way that we know we're going to get to, but we don't know if those will lead to richer stories that we end up wanting to explore.

We have a set-up with The Unwritten where we can tell so many different types of stories. I'm always telling Mike, "Let's go a little longer!" I'm afraid that when we're done with it, the next thing won't have as much potential to do the kind of stories we want. So as long as it's fresh, I'm always wanting to keep going and not leave stories on the table.

Carey: We've always seen it as having a finite lifespan, and roughly the same lifespan as a Lucifer or Sandman, with maybe 60 to 70 issues. Maybe a little more than that. But yeah, as Peter said, you reach a point where, when you decide to tell Story A, you're cutting out B, C, and D, because you just don't have the room to do everything.

So the beauty of doing this event is that we're choosing to tell these stories now — some of them that would have been told later and some that would have never been told in this form.

Gross: With some of them, we had events coming up with the main narrative that meant the stories either had to be told now or not at all.

Carey: Yeah, because things will move on past that point.

Nrama: In the main narrative, you have a storyline starting next month that visits the early day of comics, right?

Carey: Yeah. It's called "On to Genesis," which is kind of a silly pun, because the single word "ontogenesis" meaning the birth of an individual entity is kind of discussed in the story, is central to the story.

Gross: I don't know that we can say very much about that story. It really explores the roots of Wilson's plans and the genesis of some of his ideas and how he got involved with Tom.

Carey: There's a question of what Tom is or who Tom is, because it's revealed that whatever he is, he wasn't the first. There is a precedent. Surprisingly, it's not prose fiction. It's in comics.

Nrama: Well, that kind of makes sense, because that's where Tom physically is, within a comic. And see, that starts making my head hurt, when I go there.

Carey: [laughs] Yeah, it does get a bit metatextual at that point.

Gross: I hope we're careful about that, because one thing I hate is when the artist and writer show up in the comic and tell you that it's a comic you're reading. I swear to God we will never do anything like that. But we're getting close sometimes, aren't we?

Carey: It's a long way from that, though. The springboard for it all is Tom investigating this character who is contemporary with the first Superman story, and actually predates Superman a little. He's one of the earliest costumed heroes, who Wilson seems to have had some kind of a connection with.

So in the present day, we have Tom's forensic investigation of all this, but we're also jumping into the past to show what actually happened to Wilson, why it was important to Wilson, and why, ultimately, it's important to Tom.

Nrama: With the .5 issues, how will you collect them?

Gross: We're discussing that now, actually. We could either publish them together, where you read the main story, then read the one-off, then go back to the main story. Or we could split them up.

We have a title for the whole event. It's "Tommy Taylor and the War of Words."

Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to say to your fans?

Carey: Just that I can't believe that we've been nominated for a Hugo Award. That makes me so proud.

Gross: Yeah, the reaction to the book the whole way has just been fabulous. It's been really rewarding. This is probably the first time where I feel like it's just gone beyond my expectations. Usually I probably have unreasonable expectations about how my book will be received. But this has just exceeded them.

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