Pick of the Week

September 15, 2010 – The Unwritten #17

What did the
community think?

Avg Rating: 4.8
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 46.5%
Users who pulled this comic:
Written by MIKE CAREY
Layouts by PETER GROSS
Finishes by RYAN KELLY

Size: 40 pages
Price: 3.99

While I was growing up on the mean streets of Long Island, NY, it should come as no surprise that I spent a lot of my spare time in the local public library, especially over the summers. I’m not sure if this was unique to my hometown, or Long Island particular, but at our library there was something called the “Summer Reading Program” that was run out of the children’s room. Now, as an adult, it makes perfect sense, “Kids are out of school for three months, let’s keep them reading by providing rewards and prizes.”

I ate it up, hook, like and sinker.

The way it worked was if you read books and came in and reported on them to the library staff (made up of bored teenagers and college students, one of which I would later become once I landed a job in the library later in life), then you’d get stickers and prizes. As a 10 year old, this was all the currency I needed. “You mean there are 20 different sticker designs I could get, just by reading?” It was all the motivation I needed to be a reading fiend for many years, at least until I discovered comic books, girls and punk rock. But like most endeavors of my childhood, I tended to find a way to succeed with ease. Sure, I could have toiled away and read classics like the works of Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, or the great Shel Silverstein, but not me. I found a way to work the system. First it was the many volumes of Encyclopedia Brown books. They were quick and easy reads and most of the time I could glean the plot and the solution to the mystery just by reading the summary on the back of the book. But as I grew older, I outgrew those childish mysteries and I needed another series to feed my need for stickers. Luckily I stumbled upon a spinner rack of littler paperback books with similar trade dress, written by the likes of Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery. They were quick, light reads and most of all they were fun. They were my gateway to an unlimited collection of stickers and cheap plastic prizes. They were Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I read them all.

So what does this trip down memory lane have to do with the Pick of the Week? Well, this week I reached out of my comfort zone of comic books and picked up the latest issue of The Unwritten, by Mike Carey, Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly. I don’t read this series in issues. Hell, I’ve only read the first trade paperback, The Unwritten, Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity. I liked it so much, I made it the Book of the Month. But I haven’t revisited the series since. I recommend it often to people who ask for a good series to follow, citing its witty and inventive story and its relation to popular culture and literature, and that’s not to mention that the art is wonderful. For me, The Unwritten is a no-brainer recommendation, but yet I haven’t felt the need to read any more of it.

As I was mulling over my stack of comics this week while in the comic book store, discussing with some friends the speculation around the Pick of the Week, one of my friends was shocked that I didn’t pick up The Unwritten #17. I dismissed it saying I don’t read the series in issues and my friend keenly handed me the issue saying, “Trust me, you’re going to want to read this.” I may not know much about life and world, but I have learned that when someone who you’ve been friends with suggests a comic book (or a band or a movie, whatever really) that you owe it to them to listen. They may not be correct with their recommendation 100% of the time, but more often than not, their recommendation has merit and will ring true. So I trusted him and added The Unwritten #17 to my stack of comics. As I left the store, I wondered if I’d even be able to know what was going on and what about this particular issue was so special? I thought it would be a fun challenge, see if I can pick up an issue of a comic and just enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.  Probably more so than any comic book in a long while.

What makes The Unwritten #17 so special is that this is the much hyped “Choose Your Own Adventure” issue, or as they explain it in the beginning of the book, “A Pick-A-Story Book”! Basically, the story of this issue would be told along a path that you create by deciding where the story goes by turning to the page of one of the choices presented to you at different points along the way. We even reported about this when the issue was announced, but you see, I don’t read The Unwritten, so I didn’t pay it much mind. I vaguely knew they were doing something like this, but I didn’t know it was coming out today. So imagine my surprise as I opened this comic, turned the book 90 degrees to the right to read it vertically and giggle with glee as I’m thrust back to 10 years old, in the children’s room of my library, drowning in a stack of Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks.

This issue serves as a stand alone issue, focusing on the Lizzie Hexam character, whom I remembered from her roll as a truth seeker in the trade paperback I read. Beginning with her in a catatonic state, the books turns to the choose your own adventure style immediately, giving us a glimpse of Lizzie’s origin and explaining how she was able to come to the point she’s at the book and what her connection is to our protagonist, Tommy as well as his father. I laughed as I moved throughout the story, rapidly turning the pages back and forth, following the flow of the story along. When I hit a “The End,” I just backed up to a previous decision point and proceeded down the path I hadn’t read yet, just like I used to do with those Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the day.

As I went through every story path in the issue, I realized how wonderfully masterful this work actually was. Aside from a couple of pointless diversions, it was clear that Mike Carey intended me, the reader, to end up at the same end point which moves his story along. But to lay that out within a multiple threaded story in this manner is part insane and part genius. I found it interesting as I tried different story paths, to see myself end up on the same page, noticing the second time that one of the figures was obscured so that their identity could be a different person in two different story threads. No lie, I probably spent a good 30-45 minutes reading this comic, over and over again. Much like I did as a kid with those damn books, going down every story path, every decision to make sure I had read every direction the story could possibly go in. I was excited to see that I didn’t need to have been up to date on The Unwritten to “get it.” Rather the story just worked and I absolutely gleaned what I was supposed to about the character of Lizzie and her relation to Tommy, all derived from the furious page turning.

Much praise should go to Peter Gross, on layouts, and Ryan Kelly on finishes, for the artistic duties carried out in this issue. Not only was each page divided in half to make two “pages” of the Pick-A-Story book, but the little artistic tricks throughout the book were done with such ease and skill that they might, unfortunately, fall into that category of being taken for granted. The art is just so good, you expect it to work and not give it a second thought. But taking a step back from it and seeing how genius this work was across every aspect of storytelling, you begin to appreciate the artistic work as a whole. The full page and double page spreads were done with such beauty and yet still worked within the confines of the Pick A Story book concept. Gross and Kelly compliment each other so well and this issue was no easy artistic feat. I applaud them for their work.

When I recommend The Unwritten, the adjectives I use the most are “witty”, “creative”, and “inventive” and The Unwritten #17 just further cements that reputation. This issue proves that this is one of the most creative and smart comic books out there. Mike Carey is building a modern day story from the threads and bits of pop culture lexicon that have filled our heads. He’s doing it in a way that is subtle and subversive, that makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. And as if it hasn’t been proven before up to this point, The Unwritten #17 establishes this series as clearly one of the best ongoing series around.

This issue should be considered another crowning achievement in comic books for pulling something off that could only be done in the medium of comics. The Unwritten #17 knocked every other comic I read off the table. I may have to start reading this in issues if they keep delivering quality like this. Bravo.

Ron Richards
A little disappointed that I didn’t get a sticker


  1. Glad to see this get some love. I’m looking forward to picking it up at the end of the month.

  2. Oooh, it’s a late one this week. I feel for you Ron…. not really but, you know 

  3. Ah, who could forget the LI Summer Reading Program. I think I participated in it for about 5 years, and I remember the prizes getting a lot more exciting in the late 90’s when they added free McDonalds happymeals to the lineup.

  4. This series has been quality since the first issue, nice to see it be Pick of the Week especially for this issue.

  5. Read the first two trades a couple of weeks back and really enjoyed them. From the reviews of the single issues I’ve read online this series just seems to be getting better and better.

  6. Great review, Ron.  I totally agree with you.  I picked up this issue having never read The Unwritten before.  It was the fantastic cover that drew me in, and when I flipped through and saw the concept, I was hooked.

    This was my POTW as well. 

  7. I’m totatlly excited to read this issue.  I was only able to read through one of my books (stupid life and it’s relentless, stupid craziness), but this one was high on my "must read" list. 

  8. I was afraid this book wouldn’t be able to live up to my expectations.  Unwritten has been excellent and the idea of a choose your own adventure story in a single comic book issue is genius.  Needless to say, I had very high expectations.  The issue surpassed those lofty expectations.  The story (as I read it) was excellent.  The art made solid use of the format and was some of the best in the series.

    I’m very impressed.

    I didn’t go back and choose the other paths.  For some reason, I don’t really feel the urge to try them.  The path I chose worked quite well for me. 

  9. @stuclach – totally agreed. Read this late last night and was worried it would be too much work to read that late. Or would fall flat. It was neither, and I was totally engrossed. But I differ from you in that — even though I was exhausted — I had to keep reading every path, to the point where I skimmed every page afterward to make sure I missed nothing.

    This was brilliant. I still have 2-3 books to read, but I can already say this will very likely be my pick of the week.

  10. like Ron i only read the first trade of this. The story was great, but for the art I was kinda so so on, especially towards the end, Which is what’s kept me from going back. Has the art stayed the same, or improved?

  11. @daccampo – I’m glad you enjoyed the various paths.  I’m considering giving it a reread when #18 comes out.  Odds are high that I’ll end up on a slightly different path.

  12. @wallythegreenmonster – I believe the art has improved marginally.  I was quite impressed by the quality in this issue (especially given the constraints of the format).  However, the art still isn’t exceptional.  I’d call it above average.

  13. This was the first, third, seventh, and eighth book I read this week.  I havent reread a comic this many times since I was in middle school. 

    WHoever wrote the article or comment a few months ago on the time vs. cost value of a comic needs to read this book!

  14. Wow, that’s a glowing review Ron.  Sounds like it really knocked your socks off.  If you were reading this in issues you’d see that they seem to follow a pattern with every issue that comes at a break in the main plot really delivering a judo chop to your frontal lobe.  This just keeps that pattern going. 

     Too bad the book’s been so much fun, otherwise Josh would love it too.  😉 

  15. Incredible issue. I went through all the different paths, all deliver. Well done Mike Carey.

  16. Love the idea that we the readers get to choose what the backstory of a major character is.  I disagree with the majority opinion that the art isn’t that great.  It’s style is a little simple, but Gross can draw emotions on the faces of his characters very subtly and he has great storytelling skills.  I was surprised that Ron would give this POTW but well played sir, you chose wisely.

  17. Without getting into spoilers at all, I was amazed at how well the format of this book played up the theme. The idea of how we see truth is perfectly illustrated by the choices that you as a reader make throughout the issue. You either see all of the pain of Lizzie’s life or the brighter moments. 


    Oh, and @AbeFroman, you’ll find a definitive answer to who Lizzie is, but you may have to read the issue a few times to find all of the reveals.

  18. Crap. I finally decided to drop Unwritten last month but now I’m tempted by this issue. (My hope was that the frustration I feel for the series would be less if I could read it quickly in trades.) I feel like the writers promise me things but never deliver. Someone tell me that this issue gives a definitive answer to who Lizzie is and I’ll go out and buy it tomorrow. Otherwise, I may chose to skip this adventure.

  19. @ZombiePoo – I certainly don’t think the art is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I also don’t feel it is anything exceptional.  It is very solid, above average art that does exactly what it needs to do to tell the story (in my opinion).  I like it.

    @element22 – Well said. 

  20. Finally! iFanboy’s POTW is the same as mine! It’s all falling into place…

  21. Good pick, Ron. This was a stand out issue in a week of books that I gave exclusively 4’s and 5’s to. Unwritten is consistently magical. This experimentwas a lot of fun and it made me read the book multiple times, which I rarely do.

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