Chris Roberson has been a fan of “Fables” since before there was a “Fables.” As a founding member of the Austin, Texas-based writer’s collective and independent book publisher Clockwork Storybook, Roberson became close friends with “Fables” mastermind Bill Willingham and “Jack of Fables” scribe Matt Sturges, and as such, has been living and breathing in Fabletown, via workshops and lunches, for nearly as long as the creators.
So when Willingham was looking for a fill-in writer on “Jack of Fables” #37, Roberson was a no-brainer. And when it came time for a “Fables” spinoff miniseries starring superspy Cinderella, well, Roberson was a monkey-brainer.
The award-winning novelist is the owner and operator, along with his wife and partner Allison Baker, of MonkeyBrain Books, an independent press specializing in science fiction and fantasy fiction and nonfiction genre studies.
But he’s also now the writer of “Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love,” a six-part miniseries illustrated by Shawn McManus launching this week from Vertigo Comics.
Juggling his day job at MonkeyBrain and writing duties on “Cinderella” and “iZombie,” another new title from Vertigo featuring art by Mike Allred, Roberson found time to chat with CBR News about his love of all things spies, his protection of Cindy’s secret identity and his own superhuman abilities of telekinesis, which led to the creation of the “Fables”-fuelled miniseries.
CBR News: Fiction has delivered some truly classic, not to mention iconic, interpretations of spies over the years, ranging from James Bond and Number Six to Emma Peel and Secret Squirrel. What traits and qualities does the “Fables” version of Cinderella possess that makes her worthy of the title “Superspy?”
Chris Roberson: As far as I’m concerned, Cinderella isn’t just a superspy, she is the superspy. The way [Bill] Willingham has reconceived her character, she’s been a secret agent for Fabletown since sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century. Two hundred years of perfecting her skills, learning more than the best secret agents in fiction can master in a lifetime of work. The fact that she has access to all sorts of magical doodads only makes her that much more efficient.
The subtitle, “From Fabletown with Love,” is obviously a tip of the hat to the James Bond novel and film, “From Russia with Love.” Are you a big fan of James Bond and other spy stories?
I’m a huge fan of spy stories in general, and of James Bond in particular. I’ve read a lot of the original Ian Fleming novels, and really enjoy them, but I was raised on the movie franchise, and so the film versions will always be closer to my heart in a lot of ways. A few years ago I went through a lengthy spy kick, and crammed everything I could find into my head. So the influences bouncing around in my head as I approached “From Fabletown With Love” weren’t just the Bond stories, but things like “In Like Flint,” “The Avengers,” “Sandbaggers,” “Modesty Blaise,” and on and on.
While the character isn’t your own creation, I understand you may have been responsible for planting the seed in Mr. Willingham’s head that a Cinderella-centric miniseries was a must for the “Fables” franchise.
Well, I’m only responsible for planting that seed if you credit me with psychic abilities. I did decide, about a year before Bill came up with the idea, that Cinderella absolutely had to have her own miniseries, and that, of course, I was the perfect one to write it. But I never said anything to Bill about it. The closest I got was mentioning over lunch one day to Matt Sturges that Cinderella was a great character and really deserved a spotlight, but never said anything about my long-term plan to trick Bill into letting me take the reins. And Matt swears he never said anything to Bill about it. So who knows? Maybe I do have psychic powers, after all.
Did you work closely with Bill and Matt Sturges on the story? The three of you have a long history, dating back to the Clockwork Storybook days in Austin, Texas.
I certainly talked out the basic outline with Bill quite a lot before starting work, and sounded him out about some of my ideas for the character and her supporting cast. And Matt heard loads about it over lunch, from time to time. The actual writing was all me, though, so they shouldn’t shoulder any of the blame if readers don’t like something about it. If it comes to handing out praise though…
Can you share any details about the story we’ll see unfold in the series?
Certainly. Cinderella has just completed her most recent mission for Fabletown, and gets her marching orders for her next assignment. The recent collapse of the Adversary’s Empire has thrown the various Fables Homelands into disarray, not entirely unlike the effects of the Soviet Union’s collapse. And just as there were nuclear bombs that went ‘missing’ after the Soviet Union fell, in the wake of the Empire’s collapse there are all sorts of extremely powerful magical items suddenly up for grabs. Some of these magical items have found their way into the Mundy world, and threaten to expose the existence of the Fables. It’s Cindy’s job to find the source of the black market magic and put an end to the trafficking.
Where does this story take place in terms of current “Fables” continuity?
The story picks up immediately after the fall of the Empire, but before the events of the recent “Great Fables Crossover.” The miniseries will address, among other things, why Cindy wasn’t in evidence at Prince Charming’s funeral, and just what she was up to while everyone else was celebrating their victory.
While Cinderella isn’t exactly a stranger to fans of “Fables,” she doesn’t have the developed backstory of lead characters like Bigby and Snow. What can you tell us about Cinderella?
Her origins are just the same as everyone remembers from the fairy tale, but we gradually learn over the course of the story that there was a little bit more to it than we were led to believe. As for what she’s been doing since she came to the Mundane world, we’ll get glimpses of that, as well, with flashbacks to past missions from as long ago as the Napoleonic Wars.
Do Bigby and Snow play a role in “From Fabletown With Love”? If not, who will we see from “Fables” in supporting roles?
Bigby and Snow were too busy with their own problems to make an appearance here, and after all, Cindy’s new boss is Beast, the new sheriff of Fabletown. Frau Totenkinder makes an appearance, since she serves as weaponeer to Cindy, the “Q” to her “007,” outfitting her with all sorts of useful magical devices. A few other familiar faces make appearances, as well, like Rapunzel, Rose Red, and one or two others, but the majority of the supporting cast we’ll be seeing here for the first time.
Will you be introducing any new characters? We’ve heard whispers of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Is she ‘M’?
Like any good spy, Cindy has her own little network of assets and informants, and we’ll meet a few of them along the way. And we also meet her opposite number from the ranks of the Arabian Fables, whose mission runs in parallel with hers but who definitely has an agenda of his own. As for Fairy Godmother? You’ll have to wait and see…
Is what you’re doing with Cindy here meant to set her up for a larger role in the greater “Fables” mythos?
That’s up to Bill, of course, but I think Cindy’s character works best the fewer people know about her “real” life. To most Fables, she’s this bubble-headed gadabout, jetting off to Milan for the month, wasting every penny she earns on clothes and luxuries. If the Fables found out what she was really up to, her effectiveness as a secret agent would be shot.
Have you enjoyed your collaboration with Shawn McManus and Todd Klein?
Are you kidding me? “Enjoyed” isn’t the word. I’ve been a huge fan of both of them for decades, and I still can’t quite believe that they’re working on this project with me. To have Shawn giving form to my words, and Todd making them so beautiful and legible, is really a dream come true.
This isn’t your first foray into the “Fables” mythos as you wrote “Jack of Fables” #36. Any chance we’ll see you writing future “Fables” projects?
I’ve been a fan of “Fables” since before the first issue was even released, and it remains one of my favorite books on the stands. When Bill asked me to write a fill-in issue of “Jack of Fables,” I jumped at the chance. It’s been immensely flattering to be given the chance to contribute, in some small way, to the ever growing Fables universe, and if the chance were to come up again – fingers crossed – I would pounce on it.
Can you give us an update on “I, Zombie”? And are you working on anything else these days?
We’re currently looking at a spring 2010 release for the first issue of “iZombie.” That’s what we’re now calling it now, and we’re chugging along quite nicely. I’ve just about finished the scripts for the first arc, and I believe Mike Allred has just started work on art for the second issue. The stuff he’s turned in so far has just been gorgeous, and I can’t wait for readers to have a chance to see it.
As for other projects, I’ve been doing some short stories recently, and in a few months will be doing another “Warhammer 40K” novel for Black Library. Otherwise, I’ve got a few irons in the fire, none of which I can really talk about yet, but several of which will be really cool if they eventuate. In the meantime, though, I’m making some final tweaks on the remaining “Cinderella” scripts, working away at “iZombie,” and having the time of my life.
“Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love” #1, written by Chris Roberson with art by Shawn McManus and a cover by Chrissie Zullo, is in stores now.