Interview: Mike Carey And Bill Willingham Talk The 'Unwritten'/'Fables' (Sort-of) Crossover

Unwritten 50

By Matt D. Wilson

Next month, the worlds Vertigo's of "Fables" and "The Unwritten" will collide, as the lead character of "The Unwritten," Tom Taylor, comes into contact with some of Fabletown's residents.

In advance of the release of the first part of a five-part arc in June 26's "The Unwritten" #50, MTV Geek chatted with that series' writer, Mike Carey, and "Fables" writer Bill Willingham to see how it all came together.

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MTV Geek: Let's start with this about this crossover between "The Unwritten" and "Fables" -- if you want to call it that --

Mike Carey: We call it "the event."

Geek: Do you not want to call it a crossover?

Bill Willingham: Only because it is, in fact, a crossover in the sense that the characters are crossing over, but that's also a term in comics where readers would expect to find the story taking place in both series. That's the only reason we're trying to avoid that word.

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Geek: Because this is only happening in "The Unwritten"?

Willingham: Yeah, even though we're working on the story together, it's only taking place within the pages of "The Unwritten."

Geek: How did you guys come to the decision to make this happen? I hadn't really thought about "The Unwritten" and "Fables" coming together, but when I heard about it, it made a lot of sense, because these are two series that are largely about stories and storytelling.

Willingham: It's exactly what you said, the realization that the two books cover very much the same ground. It started with a conversation between Peter Gross and I, only because we live close to each other, though I think we were at a convention when we talked about this, just pointing out that "Fables" could take place within the pages of "The Unwritten," or vice-versa. The worlds were both potentially contained by the others.

That just seemed a neat observation at first, but, of course, it sparked the idea that we should follow up on that and actually do some sort of crossover of characters.

Carey: And then Shelley [Bond] took over as editor on "The Unwritten." She was already editing "Fables." So there was a channel. It became possible for us to actually float this idea, and there seemed to be enthusiasm on both sides. We certainly both came to explore the possibility.

Then Bucky and I, Mark Buckingham and I, met up at Bristol, the U.K. Bristol Comics Expo last year. Over the course of a long, and not particularly satisfactory meal, we had a conversation at the end of which we both felt that we'd come up with the core of a very cool story that would be very much worth telling.

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Geek: There's been some groundwork laid for Tom to move through versions of fictional stories, and there have been hints that he's part of a fictional story himself. It's not that far-fetched for him to encounter the residents of Fabletown, but I wonder how the two sets of characters come together in this.

Carey: There's more than one thing going on here. On the one hand, you've got Tom's decision to strip away the veils and try to get to the core, try to get deeper, in terms of the finding the intersection between fiction and reality, finding the point at which the two things nudge up against each other and figure out what the mechanism is there. He actually said in issue 49, he wants to get deeper. He wants to get all the way to the bottom of the stack.

At the close of the issue, when he comes face-to-face with the 13th Floor Fables, it doesn't seem to be anything he'd done, any volition on his part. He's summoned. He's dragged out of his own space and finds himself face-to-face with these characters, with Totenkinder, Ozma, Geppetto, Mr. Grandours, the Green Witch and Maddy. There seem to be at least two agendas coinciding here.

Willingham: I wonder if his active search for exactly that sort of thing is what kicked the door open to be able to be summoned. If he was resisting that sort of exploration, I wonder if that would've made him unavailable for what is about to occur here.

Carey: He needed the synchronicity.

Willingham: Yeah.

Geek: There's a sense among the Fables themselves that they know each other. They understand the nature of being characters from stories. Do they recognize something in Tom, upon meeting him? What's the early interaction like?

Willingham: Speaking generically, you're right. Even those "Fables" characters that don't know each other, there's something about that nature. They recognize others like themselves. As a matter of fact, they classify people. You're either Fable or you're mundy. It seems the rules for that classification are, do you live a long time? Do you seem to have some sense -- though they wouldn't use the term -- some sense of story around you? And do you inspire? One of the definitions of these people is if there's something about you that inspires people in the mundy worlds, pluarl, to write stories about you, to try and capture some bit of whatever it is you're about, put it in story form, and put it out there.

In that sense, I think Tom and probably the entire cast of "The Unwritten" would at some point be recognized if they just showed up in a normal, kind of, coming down the street, "Hi, how are you?" sort of way. Oh, these are Fables. Clearly they are. That said, without giving away any of the particular story, I don't think it's that casual a recognition to begin with.

Carey: There's a sense in which the first meeting is fraught in all sorts of ways. The exact nature of Tom becomes an active issue which needs to be addressed.

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Geek: I want to talk a little bit about the art in the event, because in the email I got, it's being described as an "art jam." I know Peter Gross is involved, I know Mark Buckingham is involved. What made them decide to team up on this, since it is only happening in the one book?

Willingham: How could we not? It would be the height of rudeness on their part, on Mike and Peter Gross', to say, "OK, we're going to do this, but since it's entirely in our book, you can't play with it." It's like inviting the neighbors over to see the brand new car or the brand new boat or the brand new whetever, and saying, "No, you can never ride in it or take it out for a spin. It would just be a terrible thing to do.

Carey: Especially given that Bill and Bucky have been so generous as to allow us to play with all of their toys in the first place. But I think Peter and Bucky are having crazy fun inking over each others' pencils, swapping roles and just generally jamming.

Geek: Any particular visuals you've seen that really wowed you?

Carey: There's a page near the end of the issue that has the massing of a colossal army against a much smaller force. That page is incredibly beautiful.

Willingham: I agree. It's just wonderful.

Carey: There are some quieter beats as well. Actually, I was just about to give a huge spoiler without even meaning to.

Willingham: There are some terrific pages. It's one of those stories where everyone tries to up their game a little bit and bring more to it. Maybe I'm reading more into it. Maybe it's pride of ownership or something. I don't know. It just seems like terrific artwork that's coming in.

Geek: Given how much fun the artists clearly had with this and how much you guys are into the idea of this story, is there a possiblility we could see "The Unwritten" seep into the "Fables" title as it continues?

Willingham: You've uncovered a bit of a scandal. Mark and I have been secretly buying up ownership of "The Unwritten." [laughs] Remember the annual days of the JLA/JSA crossover? Wouldn't that be fun?

Carey: That would be fantastic, yeah.

Willingham: I think the story, when you read it, you'll see all kinds of potential. Any good story -- maybe this is just my prejudices at work -- any good story leaves me with the "that was terrific, what happens next" feeling. Just give me a little bit more, please. Serialized fiction lives off that. This story certainly works that way for me.