Writers Bill Willingham And Mike Carey On ‘The Unwritten’ #50

The Unwritten hits two major milestones with its next issue: It celebrates its fiftieth issue… and it opens up a rare crossover story with Fables. Mike Carey, creator of The Unwritten, and Bill Willingham, the mastermind behind Fables, sat down with us to talk about crossing over their books, the creative process, and how it feels to hit a major milestone.

Gamma Squad: Crossovers are very unusual for Vertigo. What made you decide to go for this one?

Bill Willingham: It started with a conversation with myself and Peter Gross. Peter and I live pretty close to each other and have been fans of each other for a while. It was one of those “in-passing” things that turned into an actual idea. In Vertigo, a crossover like this has to start with the creators. But it didn’t really kickstart until Mike and Mark Buckingham took the general concept and ran with it.

Mike Carey: Yes, we went to the Bristol convention last year. We had a curry supper and the service was very bad, so we had time to talk (laughter). It just all clicked, we came out of that dinner with what we thought was a great idea, the core of the event. We put more meat on the bone and it gathered momentum from there.

Willingham: Yeah, it was unusual for me, that there was a fully formed story idea from the get-go, with nothing where I had to say “That doesn’t work”.

Gamma Squad: How are you handling plotting out the series?

Willingham: It was a fully realized story, but wasn’t the next step that you plotted it out, Mike?

Carey: I broke it down into five chapters. Then there was a big conference call where we spoke for it must have been a couple of hours, just kicking ideas around, adding in suggestions. That part was really fun; everybody had ideas of stuff that could work within that framework. It was greenlit shortly after that.

Gamma Squad: The Unwritten #49 ends with a few favorites in the last page. What other Fables characters might we see?

Carey: I had a very long wishlist of Fables characters I was itching to write. Particularly Frau Totenkinder and Oswald. I wanted to write Bigby, Snow, Pinocchio… they’re pretty much all there.

Willingham: The premise of the story allowed that there would be no characters who were off-limits. The door was wide open, use everyone! Well, the cast is kind of big, so that’s tricky (laughter), but that was a logistical problem, not a story one.

Carey: In terms of the Unwritten, initially just Tom. We do see some other characters, some obvious ones and some less obvious ones. There’s some weird stuff going on in terms of who gets drawn in from the Unwritten side.

Gamma Squad: Your books share a few themes but have different takes on them. Was it fun to approach those core ideas from a different perspective?

Carey: It was fantastic for me, yes.

Willingham: You say we approach it from different angles, and maybe that’s true. But maybe in the sense of standing on different hilltops looking into the same valley. The way that story, as an actual thing, is important to both series, I think Fables and the Unwritten, with some time and care, either book could morph into the other. I don’t think we were that far apart from each other to begin with.

Carey: It’s an intensification for Tom. In terms of what he’s discovering and the people he’s interacting with. Frau Totenkinder, for example, is the source of many different stories, she’s had many different names. So for Tom, who’s looking for the wellspring of fictional power, he’s taking one step closer for that.

Gamma Squad: Fables and the Unwritten are these books that have hit these milestones. How does it feel to hit those with a creator-owned book?

Willingham: I don’t know. To tell you the truth, I get asked some form of this question often, and it boils down to that I still don’t trust. I’m still hoping that Fables will catch on and find a readership someday (laughter). There’s certainly no moment of “OK, we’ve made it, we can cruise along happily now.” And I think there’s something in that paranoia and mistrust, some kernel of truth that perhaps, you have to win your readers every issue, not just initially or in the run-up. You have to win every time. I don’t know if I have the formula for how one crafts a book that has the run that Fables had. If I knew what the secret was, you’d have a dozen of those out there. I have some suspicions but no actual knowledge.

Carey: That’s a good way to look at it, winning the readers with every issue. I had the experience on my previous monthly with Vertigo, Crossing Midnight, where we only had nineteen issues. It’s great to be able to tell the story you want to tell, at the pace and the length you want. I agree with Bill, there’s no point where you take that for granted.

The Unwritten #50 arrives June 26th.