In the swirling story that permeates the series "The Unwritten," the protagonist Tom Taylor is enveloped by the uncertain fear that exploits of boy wizard Tommy Taylor might be more than just stories loved by millions.
Rather, Tom and Tommy might be one and the same, separated only by the porous boundary of reality intersecting sharply with the printed page.
Such is the scope of the story written and drawn by Mike Carey and Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly, whose work on the Vertigo series has drawn critical acclaim for its mixing of classic literature with comic book sensibility that posits the stark claim that classic literature is more than just entertainment but also a means to keep humanity grounded while a sinister cabal guides civilization for its own nefarious end.
Those topics take root in "The Unwritten: Dead Man’s Knock," a 144-page softcover collection that debuted Friday on The New York Times’ paperback graphic books best-sellers list.
In it, Tom Taylor continues his long, mysterious journey trying to reconcile the fact that his father, Wilson Taylor, didn’t just give his literary whiz kid necromancer Tom’s name, but may have created them both.
Since the first issue of "The Unwritten" was released in June 2009, it has carved out a niche in comic shops, and among readers, for what writer Carey called the "core themes of the interface between reality and fiction and the ways in which stories affect the real world."
And with the 24th issue coming out later this month, that aim has remained steady, he and Gross told The Associated Press in an interview about their collaboration, which sparked in the previous series "Lucifer."
"This is roughly comparable to ‘Lucifer,’ where we had an end point in mind, but we leave the details of how we’re going to get there a little flexible," Carey said about Tom Taylor and his companions, Lizzie Hexam (she of Charles Dickens’ "Our Mutual Friend") and Richie Savoy, the reporter seeking the juicy scoop.
So far, the trio have endured a near-immortal but brutal assassin, have braved public scorn and, in the current volume, are grappling with forces beyond their control over the publication of a 14th Tommy Taylor novel that may, or may not, be written by someone else in a bid to undermine the actual author, Wilson Taylor.
In the midst of all that, they’re still dealing with a vampire nemesis who is not supposed to be real and wrestling with their own identities, too.
While the series script is full of twists and turns, Carey said there is a "serendipitous" aspect to its creation.
"We do have a very, very strong idea of where we want the series to end up," he said, adding that during the creation "something will spark" and new ideas and paths are introduced.
"We have an infinite number of final products," Gross said.
Though the story is winding and multi-layered, the pair have made it easy for new readers to jump on board by using multimedia-styled introductions, sometimes in the form of fictional website postings or feeds similar to Facebook and Twitter.
"One of the beauties of ‘The Unwritten’ is because it has these multimedia pages there are lots of ways that we can remind readers or fill in new readers of what’s gone on before," Carey said.
"Expect to be surprised as the series goes on," Carey said. "We’re not going to be doing the same things in the same way. We have a parabolic direction to travel in."
And, sometimes, each other, Gross said. "Maybe a little too much!"