With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a new comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from the industry’s top comic creators about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
The Premise: Tommy Taylor is both the son of a novelist and the namesake for the main character in his father’s phenomenally successful series of books about a boy wizard. His life is a series of conventions and public appearances, signing autographs and representing the real-life version of the literary figure, until a fan unearths information about Tommy’s past – and his father’s mysterious disappearance years ago – that throws everything Tommy knows about his life into question. As the line between Tommy’s fictional adventures and the real world begins to blur, he’s drawn into a dark, magical mystery that explores the nature of storytelling and the power it wields over our world.
The Pitch: Sure, the premise of The Unwritten clearly draws from the Harry Potter phenomenon, but that surface-level connection is merely a starting point for an amazing – and occasionally very, very dark – adventure.
The acclaimed creative team behind the Lucifer series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross have crafted a tale that takes a cultural phenomenon we’re all familiar with – the worship of literary characters and how that carries over to their real-world representations – and injects it with some reality-bending action and a grittier, more adult tone. Given the rabid fan base for franchises like the Twilight and Harry Potter series, and how that carries over to the real-life actors associated with them, its easy to see identify with the world Tommy inhabits when the story begins, filled with shrieking fans, costumes, and convention panels.
And it’s this beginning point that really sells The Unwritten as great adaptation material. The world of popular fiction and high-profile adaptations is something that fascinates us all, whether we’re fans of a particular property ourselves or simply trying to wrap our heads around the cultural phenomenon. The Unwritten is firmly set within that world, and manages to mix a behind-the-scenes take on fandom with a compelling, original adventure that bounces between the “real” and fictional worlds.
It’s also worth pointing out that appeal of a character like Tommy Taylor for an a talented actor. Over the course of the first volume of The Unwritten, Tommy is presented as hero, villain, and everything between, and often serves as the reader’s window into the surreal adventure unfolding around him. Much like the reader, he’s not quite sure what’s happening to him, either, and he brings you along for the ride.
On the effects side, The Unwritten opts to keep the more fantastic sequences to a minimum, and keeps its audience guessing as to whether the weird events occurring around Tommy really are something otherworldly, or simply a sign that he’s lost touch with reality. This works in favor of a potential adaptation, as there would be little need for expensive set pieces for much of the series, with only the occasional reference to fictional events in the books needing any major effects.
The Closing Argument: In many ways, The Unwritten is like an adult version of The Neverending Story, with the main character’s overlapping adventures in the real world and fictional settings taking on a much darker, psychological tone. There’s plenty of action and mystery, but there’s also the sense that Tommy’s quest for the truth will have a high body count – and could cost him his sanity, too.
Filled with great heroes, villains, and fantastic creatures, The Unwritten would probably best be adapted as a television series on a cable network, giving the story time to unfold at a gradual pace, and keeping viewers coming back week after week for the next chapter.