From Vertigo, Unwritten is a graphic novel that will have English Literature students a-buzz but probably leave all other readers scratching their heads. Tom Taylor is a young man living off the fame of Tommy Taylor, a literary character his father based on him as a child. The series of books which bare a remarked resemblance to the Harry Potter series (to the point where I wonder if we’ve entered blatant plagiarism) are filled with magic, something the sceptical Tom Taylor is worlds away from. He is older and much more cynical but Tommy is the beloved character that always manages to overshadow him. His father has since disappeared but blessed Tom with an encyclopaedic knowledge of literature that even Tom sees little point in. And when strange occurrences start to happen around him -including a young woman who seems to be the supporting female in the Tommy Taylor novels grown up – Tom starts to question whether stories are just that. Soon he is framed for murder and discovering mysteries and conspiracies that all seem to revolve around his missing father and a vein of pure story-telling. Will he be able to untangle all the strange plots around him in time?
Most of the narrative revolves around famous literature or tropes within novels. It’s a complex, weird and messy story that sometimes seems to smack of a literature student hoping desperately that you’ll ask them what they mean. Some of the characters are completely excellent and there are a range of personalities that display varying dependence on literature. Twists and turns within the plot are surprising and even exciting but at times the story will take such a convenient turn that you wonder who’s falling for it. Tom also takes the role of ‘the straight man’ very seriously, even extending into travelling through alternate worlds and bizarre dimensions but still insisting he not be called “Tommy”. I found this hilariously ridiculous at times. Despite that though, the story seems to find its feet in the real world, working with the idea of who owns a story once it’s been given to the public.
The representation of the masses baying at a young man they had idolised for so long seems to have more than a note of truth to it. The fractured narrative of the public’s reaction to Tom’s supposed crimes through Internet pages and websites is great and gives the distinct feeling of a whole world of readers moving against him. They never form the story but are always there, in the background, and we’re made aware that this is a world that Tom needs to prove himself within.
If you love stories and their inner workings then this graphic novel is an interesting, if sometimes flawed, look into what makes stories real for people. It’s actually quite like Phonogram but doesn’t make real world references quite as freely (I think they’re a little more fearful of copywrite). I don’t know if they managed what they were trying to accomplish, but it’s an enjoyable read and makes an English Literature student such as myself feel like a VIP.