This graphic novel is an origin story of sorts for the Unwritten series, built around Tommy Taylor, a children's book character, and Tom Taylor, son of Wilson Tucker, the writer of the Tommy Taylor books, who has disappeared. Taking off on the Harry Potter series, they have referenced Potters' borrowed fantasy archetypes, and here, with Wilson Taylor placed in the fore, they go even further into the idea factory from which these tales are generated. Yet in its mixture of the writer's life and neuroses, and the parallel father/son relationships in 'life' and in the Tommy Taylor world of magic, this comic plays with the darker areas in which the protection of fantasy shields a child's own life. It's full of stories within stories, and the shadowy way in which the fantasy tale reflects the writer's own life, and the two Toms come together, is a shifting metaphor for the whole creative process.
In the previous post I discussed Sidekick, which plays with super-hero tropes, and referenced Alan Moore as a starting point for such explorations. In a sense, the Unwritten is part of a second strand which does similar things, but in a vein of fantasy which can be traced back to Neil Gaiman and The Sandman. Writer Mike Carey worked on a number of Sandman projects, which makes the link obvious; we can see it also in Mike Willingham and Mark Buckingham's Fables, in which fairy-tale characters take on 'life'; not surprisingly Vertigo has published an Unwritten/Fables crossover, which I reviewed last year here (follow this link).
The Ship That Sank Twice draws you in from the start, with Wilson Taylor's efforts to find a story blending into the original tale of the ship, and a lost baby delivered by Leviathan to the wizard Tulkinghorn, who runs a school for young wizards. But the sunken ship holds a secret which is desperate to escape...
What makes this work so well is the deftness in switching between the Potteresque school, the horror-movie type evil, and the story of Wilson Taylor and his son, which has its own aspects of horror about it. Peter Gross's art (he's credited with layouts, and the collaborators on both art and finishes use line, tone and colour to reflect and indeed set mood) moves just as deftly as Carey's script. In fantasy, emotional realism is essential, and they bring that home well. It's a wonderful dark story well told.
The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor And The Ship That Sank Twice
by Mike Carey & Peter Gross
Vertigo/DC $14.99 ISBN 9781401229771