Archive for April 24th, 2010

Unwritten (and a Bit Conflicted)

I find myself a bit conflicted by the DC Vertigo series The Unwritten and, having just read issue #11, feel compelled to write about it.

Over the last couple months I’ve caught up with the series and I’ve honestly really enjoyed what I’ve read. For being a quality comic read, I cannot fault the series. It’s a creative story that’s steeped in mystery, has us guessing at what is happening alongside the main character and has elements that feel very fresh in its approach. The fact that the authors are taking the literary world and bending it into a form of dimensional magic is a brilliant twist that just gets more and more exciting. On that side of the fence, I give Carey and Gross a solid back slap for creativity.

Where I find myself conflicted comes from one of the center points of the story. In my opinion, they clearly borrow from the Harry Potter novels for the overarching back-story of the series and really hang a lot that is happening on, in many ways, the world that was created by JK Rowling. From the presentation of the three main characters as seeming spin-offs of Harry, Hermione and Ron to the little interludes within the story that present their version of the Potter books, it’s a borrow that feels like it’s gone a bit too far to be respectable.

At first, I thought it was cute that the writers were paying homage to the Potter series, but over time it feels like large chunks of this series wouldn’t exist without Rowling’s work before it and I have to wonder if that is fair to the original author.

I do not have the answer to that question as I’m no lawyer. That said, for this reader somewhere along the way the writers seemed to stop paying homage and started borrowing the works of another writer to build part of the framework upon which a portion of their story hangs. Certainly, the names have been changed and the plot arcs have been replaced, but the similarities are no longer cute and it’s starting to detract from the credibility of, what sites like IGN are calling, the Best New Series of 2009.

I still enjoy the series and will most certainly continue to read it. To be honest, I don not know that the authors have done a single thing wrong and I’m not meaning to do anything other than state my individual feelings here and pose a few questions…

– When is derivative work too derivative?
– Is it fair that portions of this story, in part, wouldn’t exist without the works of another author and the phenomenon that surrounded that series?
– As this draws upon the public phenomena as much as the Harry Potter story, is art simply imitating and parodying a life situation (the runaway success of that series) or is it borrowing from the work and success of another author?

There is a ton of originality in The Unwritten and it’s a tough nut to crack/dismiss as the story hinges on past stories becoming real and tangible. Harry Potter is a past story.  As they’ve chosen to base aspects of the story in our world’s true literary history, it becomes a bit of a fine line to walk.  Is the literary world fair game here or not?  Should they limit their references to the world of public domain stories or is all narrative work open to be included in their story?

In truth I don’t know, but I do know it leaves me feeling a bit conflicted and that’s not a feeling I want when reading a comic series. I’m open to being provoked and challenged, but this feels different.  In the end, I ask myself what if it were my story they were borrowing from and I honestly don’t like that answer.