For a little over a decade, artist Mark Buckingham has lived in a fairytale world, drawing Snow White, Rose Red, The Big Bad Wolf and others for the ongoing monthly Vertigo series “Fables.” Defining Fabletown and beyond with writer and creator Bill Willingham, while “Fables” is set to end around issue #150, this also demarcates the end of “Fairest,” the “Fables” spinoff dedicated to exploring characters deemed in various ways the “fairest in all the land.”
Drawn and written by various creative teams, the final “Fairest” arc will be written by Buckingham, with art by Russ Braun. Together, the two return to the Farm — and the simmering unrest of the animal Fables stuck there, stirred up by Reynard the Fox and long ignored promises of freedom from the human Fables. With his “Fairest” arc fast approaching, the British artist-turned-writer sat down to talk with CBR while enjoying a spot of tea (“I’m happily ensconced with a nice cup of Darjeeling,” Buckingham declared), discussing the end of “Fairest,” the finale of “Fables” and the inequities of the Farm.
CBR News: For your “Fairest” story, we’re heading back to the Farm. “Fables” is ending around issue #150, so where in continuity does your story, “The Clamour For Glamour,” take place?
Mark Buckingham: My story is basically running concurrent with the events that are taking place in the final “Fables” arc. What happened is Bill and I actually got together for a little writers retreat straight after the Emerald City Comic-Con. We sat down and carefully planned out the events that would be unfolding over both books in the final year, so that we could make sure everything tied together and the readers were getting a very complete experience. Which, we hope, will give them a chance to visit all the different aspects of the “Fables” universe and places for all the characters, both in Fabletown and on the Farm and beyond.
Does that mean your arc is the last arc on “Fairest” as well?
Exactly — that’s the idea. I mean, “Fairest” will be wrapping up just a couple of months prior to the end in “Fables” itself, but certainly you should look at my “Fairest” arc as the sort of final story of the Farm, as sort of companion to the events in the main book. So yes, “The Clamour For Glamour” is the final main arc, but then there is a single-issue story that Bill is writing and Meg Hetrick is drawing that will be the absolute last issue of “Fairest.” That comes straight after ours.
Then let’s talk about your penultimate “Fairest” story. What made you and Bill decide to bring it back to the Farm and Reynard for the “Fairest” wrap up, rather than a different part of the “Fables” universe?
Well, primarily that was me! [Laughs] The thing is I actually approached Bill and [Vertigo Executive Editor] Shelly [Bond] with the idea for “The Clamour For Glamour” right when the idea for the “Fairest” comic was first in development. I really wanted to tell a story that was back on the Farm, because that’s where I started. When Bill originally approached me, and Shelly, about working on “Fables,” they were actually good enough to offer me a choice as to whether I wanted to do the first arc with “Legends In Exile” or whether I wanted to do “Animal Farm.” I don’t think they anticipated how much I love drawing the natural world and animals and birds and wildlife, so I plunged for the second story right away! I always wanted to go back and give all those characters a chance to have a whole arc once more — and certainly, when I was talking to Shelly and Bill about “Fairest,” I said, “Well, why does the Fairest in all the Land have to apply to just the human characters? There’s some pretty handsome looking animals in the ‘Fables’ universe as well!” [Laughs] Reynard immediately came to mind. The story, in many ways, writes itself.
I was looking for things that were unresolved stories within the “Fables” universe that would be part of my contribution to sort of wrapping everything up. The one thing that has always been on my mind was that when Prince Charming was up for election as Mayor, he made a promise to all the animal characters that they would have a chance to have a glamour and be able to leave confinement on the farm. Basically, that’s something that’s still going to be on their minds. Now that some of the more recent dilemmas with the battle with Geppetto and the Empire and Mister Dark chasing them all out of the Mundane world for a while, once those things settled, it was bound to be an issue that comes back to their minds. Ozma [gave] Reynard a glamour that allows him to change from human to animal form at will. Reynard is not a character who would keep that to himself! He’ll run around bragging about it to everyone who will listen, and that has just added fuel to the fire. That really is the starting point for where we are in this final fairest arc.
As a reader, it always felt like even though they rebelled and there’s been various difficulties on the Farm, the animals really got a raw deal.
So besides Reynard, will some of the other animal Fables who have been very vocal about how terrible the Farm situation is play a part in this arc?
There’s an ongoing plot that will revolve around Reynard himself; each issue will also focus on a different member of the Farm community or group of characters in the Farm community. We’re going to explore how sad Owl and Pussycat are that they don’t get to travel anymore — they miss their adventures and their pea-green boat sailing around. We’re going to go explore some of the aftermath of the dead Fables that traveled through the Well that find Haven, and the fact that suddenly Mr. Web is around again, so we deal with the consequences of that relationship. We’re going to spend some time with Super Lamb, who is still craving having a super team of his own after his adventures in that story arc. We’re also going to have a bit of a mystery adventure involving our detective duo of Clara the Raven and Sergeant Wilfred, having a sort of story arc within an issue as well. I’m sure there’s more — I’m trying to think off of the top of my head now, but basically we’re giving lots of these characters a chance to have their moment to shine before we wrap up our time with the “Fables” universe.
Is there anything else you can say about the story, or stories, themselves?
I don’t really want to give any more away about that — the thing is, if I start telling you too much about Reynard, my fear is I’ll start telling you the story itself! There is more to Reynard than the bravado and the bragging; things are not so easy, adopting a human form, as he had anticipated, and that will lead him into a whole bunch of trouble as the story unfolds, both at the Farm and beyond it. I think that’s as much of a tease as I’m going to give you! [Laughs]
You’re working with artist Russ Braun on this “Fairest” arc. As the artist who came on with “Animal Farm,” what is it like revisiting the Farm, but as a writer, with somebody else doing the art?
It’s a curious thing to be doing! I mean, I have, whether I like it or not, written the story I would most like to draw; that tends to come with the territory. But also, because those characters are all my personal favorites, they’re the ones whose stories I’m most invested in. But I set myself the task right from the outset that when I did my first major writing work — it’s really sort of my major writing debut — I really wanted to be just as a writer. I wanted to try and prove to people I had what it took, and that discipline of not being able to rely on my artwork to make up for any possible deficits in my ability as a writer. I really wanted to just write the story and then be able to step back and see what somebody else would do with it.
Luckily for me we, got a hold of Russ Braun, who has been helping me out in the last few months on “Fables” itself. He also did the absolutely wonderful one-off issue of “Fables” called “Root And Branch,” which involved the little wooden knights that Geppetto sends into the forest and the magic grove, and he battles with frogs and other things. His ability to leap effortlessly from plants to animals to people to anything in that story just proved to me that he would absolutely be the best artist for this story. I’ve already seen a big chunk of the work he’s been doing on the issue, and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s beautiful work, all these animals are just astonishingly full of character and energy, and I’m just delighted with it all. Russ is an absolute star and I’m very pleased we’ve got him on this book.
Looking at everything you’re doing on “Fairest” and “Fables,” as someone who has been involved with the book practically since the beginning and who has stuck with it all these years, what does it feel like to have the end approaching?
It’s sort of sad. It’s going to be strange for me because I’ve been involved with this title for — it will be fourteen years by the time it all wraps up, and that’s half of my career. It’s a big chunk of time. Certainly, I feel very close to so many of the characters in this series because I helped to create and nurture and develop those stories, and they’ve evolved and grown up with me. It’s going to be very difficult to let go of those, and it’ll be hard to let go of the wonderful team we’ve had on the series. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to work with [artist] Steve Leialoha and [letterer] Todd Klein and all these people who have been working with us for years. I certainly didn’t want to ever be the guy who broke up the band! [Laughs] We all stuck it out and enjoyed our time together, so I think losing the team will probably be the biggest sadness for me.
Certainly, from the point of view of the series itself, I think at this point I’ve got so much “Fables” universe in my brain, I’m looking forward to a momentary info dump so I can start putting other bits of information back in my brain — like my wife’s birthday, things like that that I’ve had to sort of jettison along the way to make room for exactly what’s happening to these characters across multiple worlds! [Laughter]
I’ve been the continuity cop on this book for a really long time now, and it’s going to be nice not to have to remember all of these things all of the time! But no, I’m very excited for the ending and I’m going to miss greatly working with Bill and with Shelly and everybody else on the team. It’s going to be a sad day when we wrap up. But the fact that Bill gave us a nice long window of time — he set the end date sort of sixteen months ahead of issue #150 — means we’ve really had time to build towards that big epic story, wrapping up as many plotlines as we possible could. I’m certainly doing everything I can to make this final story arc on “Fables” the best there’s ever been. I’m really pouring my heart and soul into this one, so I think we’re going to go out on a high note.
Had you talked a lot with Bill about ending the series prior to his announcement, or did that come as a surprise for you?
Bill wanting to wrap the series up was a surprise to me, because he hadn’t given that away at all, but in a way, the ending it at #150 was a mutually agreed appropriate endpoint for us. I think we both agreed it was best that we go out having reached a good number, and 150 issues is a nice round figure. It was the next big vantage point from where we were at that point, and also allows us time to finish the story arc we were in, have a few short stories that were already lined up and then launch ourselves into a big final arc that would take up a year’s worth of material and give the readers something really substantial. Bill made it very clear he had this final story in his head, and that he was focusing on the relationship between Rose and Snow, which I think has very much been one of the driving forces in this book all along. Everything about the way events came together in the series was just pointing at this as the perfect way to resolve things in this universe and give everybody a really satisfying ending.
For you, moving forward, what’s your focus once “Fairest” and “Fables” wraps up? Is it “Dead Boy Detectives,” or are you looking to do more writing work for DC and Vertigo?
You know, that’s a very good question! I’m still with “Dead Boys” for the rest of the year, and what comes after that that depends on a lot of factors, not just me. We’ll see where we’re at when we get into the first year and go on from there. Certainly I’ve talked a lot about future story arcs for that series, so there’s plenty of potential for “Dead Boys” to carry on for some time to come, but I’d also like to explore other things, develop other projects and it would be nice if I could write some more as well. I’ve got the taste for it now! [Laughs] I’ve been really enjoying all my time working on the scripts for “Fairest” and certainly it’s something I’m very comfortable with and take a huge amount of pleasure from. It’s not something I’d do instead of drawing, but it’s really nice to have that, something else I can do and look forward to in the course of my work of the years to come!
To end, for all three of these books, is there anything in particular you think fans should keep their eyes open for, or anything you’re excited for fans to see?
I hope fans will really enjoy the variety and the fun and the excitement of the “Fairest” arc that’s coming up. The fact that there are a couple of main plot threads weaving through the arc but there are all these individual stories in each episode that have a very different flavor and quality to them, I think it’s going to feel very rich and entertaining. There’s lots of humor as well as the drama and the action.
As far as “Fables” goes, like I said, I’m just pouring everything I’ve got into making this one special. You’ll see me having fun with monsters and strange worlds and things like that, right from the first few pages of issue #141. Those first few pages of my first issue back on this final year of “Fables” is a statement of intent; you’ll see what we have in mind!
Buckingham and Braun’s “Fairest” story begins with issue #27