The Unwritten: Apocalypse #7

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UnwrittenApoc7

Synopsis
In a dark land ruled by a crippled king, Tom Taylor searches for the one thing that can save the world – but only the pure of heart can even see it. And it probably never existed in the first place. And maybe the whole quest is a trap that’s just been waiting for him to arrive…

Story
We left the main cast of The Unwritten as they were Dürered up in Tom’s fight with Count Ambrosio, in Peter Gross’ excellent rendition of an engraving, as the writing echoed Arthurian cycles and chansons de geste – and that is exactly where we meet them again in Apocalypse #7: mid-battle, mid-strophe, mid-story, mid-arc, with ‘Sang’.
I retract what I said about Savoy last time, he is, in fact, more despicable than scoundrel, Lizzie is still an excellent character, who shines through her tropes and genre conventions quite easily. There are a couple of entirely surprising, and even shocking, twists (think of a rusty knife in an infected wound), highlighting the complex games of whatever-it-is-they’re-playing of the various demiurges in the issue, from Pullman, to Paulie, to Rausch, to Taylor.. to the plotters.
Carey cleverly appropriates a history of Western literature to suit his (?) needs, dabbling with epics, chivalry, patriarchal systems and lore, to deliver one of the darkest plots since Chadron/Ambrosio and his kids, throwing in some more multilingual switches and referencing ends that still hang loose from before the Fables crossover.

Art
The artwork, moving in parallel with the story, is brilliantly switching between the engraved style and the contemporary Peter Gross, mirroring the flickering of realities in the story in yet another way since issue #1. And we also get the stunning, yet gut-wrenching, finishes by Al Davison for the Paulie and Pullman section, and the goosebump-inducing work by Dean Ormston for Rausch and her ‘children’.
The flickering is masterfully managed by Chris Chuckry and his colours, with the pervasive sepia tones working with the engravings, and some muted but otherwise nicely saturated hues for the contemporary look (even on sepia backgrounds); if at all possible, in a tale this bleak, the Pullman section is particularly gorgeous. And letterer Todd Klein clearly had fun with the lettering, with multiple fonts in captions, personalised speech-bubbles and some excellent thumping sounds.
Where Yuko Shimizu’s cover went sepia-scale last month, it returns in full, blazing glory this issue, as the quest for the maanim continues in an ominous – and fitting – flaming background, and a horse the stuff of nightmares, mounted by an eerily shining knight.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
This is a twisted issue, in many many ways – one of the reasons why it’s taken me some days to review it – and one that can and might unsettle readers in terms of narrative, themes and plot-points, as well as visual switches in styles and art, with an overarching sense of inevitability and manipulation that does not bode well for the series as a whole (it is subtitled Apocalypse, after all). I have no idea at this point what will happen next, but I do hope there will be a chance to explore some of the more questionable practices pulled out by the demiurges, all of them, this month as the series progresses. I’m onto you, all of you.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #7 is now available in shops and digitally here. Also available is the collected Volume 9, The Unwritten Fables.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #6

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UnwrittenApoc6

Synopsis
“The Fisher King,” part 1 of 3. As Pullman’s cold war against stories turns hot, it’s in stories that Tom must find the weapons and allies he’ll need to beat him. And the best weapon of all is one a thousand knights have quested for…

Story
With issue #6, the midpoint of the series, The Unwritten: Apocalypse begins its next story-arc: The Fisher King. ‘Sang’ returns to the main cast(s), the ‘main’ narratives and the main concern for most involved – Pullman’s plot.
In a two-page sequence, Mike Carey makes sure to show off a little more, by not only featuring some of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but making sure their dialogue is ridiculously pun-riddled and crafted. Probably to counterbalance some seriously graphic language (which, at this point in the story, just easily slips into some characters’ mouths) and really serious subject matters, from Sumerian to chanson de geste to Arthurian (with some Twain and Tennyson) via Christianity, the Tommy Taylor books and the joy that is Richie Savoy.
Carey really drags us through a brief history of world literature, looking at incarnations of the same concept in multiple eras, minds and words, eventually settling on some Taylor and Tennyson (a version of his ‘The Marriage of Geraint’ idyll) for the rising finale – and giving an old device and character a new take on life. After a fashion.

Art
Peter Gross returns on full artwork duties, and does some dazzling layouts with panelwork, between using cups, trompe-l’œil, page bleeds and hovering frames – and the final page is a triumph of artistic imitation, with exquisite details worthy of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘The Knight Death And The Devil’ or ‘The Knight and the Landsknecht’ (among many others), and some influences from the Rheads’ illustrations of Tennyson’s poem and even Dean Ormston references.
What Chris Chuckry’s colours bring to the mix are some impressively, given the tone of the issue, softer hues and shading, giving way to superb light/dark contrasts as the story progresses and a key player enters the fray. As for the lettering, Todd Klein clearly loves Pullman and any sound he makes – not forgetting the title page (which, unsurprisingly, also features Pullman).
Cover artist Yuko Shimizu also channels some of her inner Dürer, giving us a gorgeous still life with flying cat and maanim/Graal/cup/Goblet of Fire, also in very soft sepia tones, image once again in sync with the story within the issue.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
More penises, foul language, Shakespearean puns, creation and destruction myths, recurring themes, cups, trumpets, grails, blood, wit, Pullman and more world literature that you can shake a wooden cross at. If that doesn’t drag you into this great set-up issue for what’s to come, maybe the spectacular cover, astounding interior art and colours, glorious last page or fabulous fontwork will. I am still incredibly impressed with how high this series holds it standard, rippling in the breeze of page turning.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #6 is now available in shops and digitally here. There is also a new interview with Carey and Gross here.

Balls

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***BREAKING NEWS***

After our World Cup crazed news reporters discovered a community of England residents who support another team, we have heard rumours of an even smaller group of people who do not support anyone. It appears, in fact, that they do ‘not care about football, especially not the World Cup’.

Our reporters have tried infiltrating this loose, non-organised group, but have so far not been able to find any significant representative, even though they have searched in pubs, bars, clubs, city squares, town squares, cinemas, gyms, student unions, or any other place that might have a screen (in case they miss a crucial mis-call on the referees behalf, you understand). So we’re not entirely sure who we’re quoting above.

We asked members of the public to comment on the discovery, and were met, understandably, with disbelief. ‘So what do they do every Sunday’, asks Sarah McFooty, ‘and every four years, over summer?’. Andy O’Soccer expressed concern that this group might pose a threat ‘to the sanctity of our nation and our boys. Our boys are out there on the field fighting for democracy, after all’.

Experts claim that the phenomenon can be relatively widespread, but ultimately harmless – until those affected sigh, mumble, mutter or express boredom in any way. Strong reactions may increase in case of trying to justify their stance by referring to social or ethical concerns, or some other poor excuse.

More on this as it develo– OH COME ON, THAT WAS BLATANTLY A FOUL.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #5

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Synopsis
This single-issue story interlude, “When Rabbit Howls” stars reader-favorite character Pauly Bruckner. Sometimes it’s hard to be a man – especially if all your recent experience is of being a rabbit. Pauly is back, and having his wishes come true may be just the start of his problems.

Story
After the end of its first arc, The Unwritten: Apocalypse pauses for an issue to look at the character that wasn’t intended to be: Pauly Bruckner, ex-regent of hell, ex-murderer, ex-rabbit – currently in the middle of a severe identity crisis, and adjusting to his new, uncomfortable reality.
An uncomfortableness that he realises is not due to the post-literary world outside, where a murderer can thrive, and in fact, does, very easily at that. But there is something bigger, something triggered by the outside that brings up what is simmering inside of him. And he speaks to may-or-may-not-be-there Dr Wise Old Owl, sometimes quite uncomfortably moving for the reader.
Writer Mike Carey gives us a fascinating look at Pauly’s character, in a very different vein from what we’ve seen before from him as Mr Bun in Willowbank, on the Staircase or even in Hell. And he gets his voice perfectly, really revelling in the non-filtered language, attitude and colourful turns of phrase of this bad bunny.

Art
The artwork, taking a leaf from The Unwritten OGN, Tommy Taylor and The Ship That Sank Twice, is taken care of by both Peter Gross and Al Davison, respectively on the layouts for the full book, the ‘narrator’ perspective that opens and closes the issue (and one of the most unsettling brown owls I have seen in a while), and on Pauly’s tale in between. And believe me, if Carey got the voice right, Davison does wonders with the looks. Between some truly creative panelwork to finish Gross’ layouts in the narrated flashback and some gruesome sequences, Pauly’s murderous nature finds a fitting outlook on the page. And Gross’ sections does not shy away either, with an excellent rabbit-to-human tranformation early on.
The transition between the two sections is made almost seamless by Chris Chuckry’s excellent soft hues of colour, keeping the grainy, gritty, worn-out look on most of the characters, Pauly and Wilson Taylor in particular. Only a couple of effects for Todd Klein’s lettering work to really shine trough, but the jagged title and coda fonts really capture the tone of the book.
In addition, the hauntigly beautiful cover by Yuko Shimizu is.. well, haunting, and beautiful. There are echoes of the first one of the Apocalypse run, but with Pauly’s trying to painfully emerge from the rabbit shell, trapped and tied to a tree by a thin, blue ribbon. Read in it what you will, before and after the story inside.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
As far as interludes go, I’m not sure this was really an interlude. The issue does pause and look at Pauly’s troubled mind, wishes and identity, but, much like the Mme Rausch appearances in #4, he is being set up for something promisingly very big, and stunningly so with Al Davison’s visual work. I have the distinct feeling that Carey and Gross are playing with their characters (and readers), some of whom in particular are playing with all the others, as the messed-up chessboard is slowly but steadily being laid out. Bruckner is going to return even less in control of what he thinks he is and wants, and Dr W.O.O. is.. you’ll have to find out, won’t you?

(Meanwhile Leviathan, quietly, watches.)

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #5 is now available in shops and digitally here.

UEA140Story – The marking edition

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It’s marking season at UEA, and as tutors, we’re all losing our minds a bit. So here’s a story based on real life events,* courtesy of the microfiction account UEA140story and co-authored in marking delusions with fellow marker Kim Sherwood. Marking.

*Not based on real life events.

NaPoWriMo Day 29 – Captions

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You are not our readers
but you need
to know this.
We need more stories
we need different stories
a healthy and vital evolution.

If we can change perceptions
relate to and see each other
when we draw pictures,
sometimes teach others
the community it represents.
Keep our pencils moving
trying to be an ally.

You are not our readers.
The true faces, true fans
“I would not–
I didn’t just–
had no idea–“,
have become obscure
now in the minority.

You’ve probably met
the Pretty Deadly
voracious reader
you’ve probably met
people that
recognize that
conversations like this
have finally started to build
people that
reject fandom gatekeeping.

It does not matter
where we’re reading it from
that doesn’t matter much
to comics as a whole
to many who work
to stand in solidarity
make the world a better place.

You are not our readers
but we
we are comics.