Matt Sturges, the writer from “Jack Of Fables,” is popping back into Vertigo Comic’s “Fables” universe in September with a one-shot Beauty and the Beast story for “Fairest,” the latest Bill Willingham’s first Sleeping Beauty arc, ending with issue #6, and novelist Lauren Beukes’ Rapunzel story, beginning with issue #8. Focusing on Beauty and the Beast, Sturges and McManus set their story in 1940s Hollywood as the married Fables couple is drawn into a mystery involving an ancient “Greek evil” and a warning that beauty inevitably leads to ruin.
In anticipation of the September-releasing issue, Sturges spoke with CBR about the cinematic influences that informed his story, including why he wanted to tell a tale featuring Beauty and the Beast and what potential comics projects, “Fables”-related and otherwise, may be looming in his future.
CBR News: There’s a lot going on in your issue with Beauty and the Beast, 1940s Los Angeles and “Greek evil” according to the solicits. What do all of these disparate pieces have to do with each other? What can you tell us about your story?
Matt Sturges: There is an awful lot going on in this issue. So much so that we had to beg the powers that be to give us an extra page in order to tell it! Basically, it’s the year 1946, and Beast has come to Los Angeles on the trail of something that’s killing people. But he’s not the only one chasing it, and his motives may not be entirely pure.
What interested you in doing a Beauty and Beast story for “Fairest,” rather than one featuring someone like Jack, who you’ve obviously written for extensively before, or one of the many other Fables characters?
Almost all of the stuff I’ve done in the “Fables” world to date has been joking and tongue-in-cheek. Obviously, a character like Jack lends himself to that sort of thing, but I wanted to tell a very different kind of story for a change. Beauty and Beast were perfect for a couple of reasons — not the least of which being that I’d just watched a film about them — and when I told Bill the idea, he pushed me to go even further with it than I’d intended, with the result that this story could have huge potential ramifications for these characters.
How did you settle on 1940s Hollywood as the setting for the story?
It was one of those weird confluences of things that happens sometimes. I had recently watched both “The Big Sleep” and Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and it just so happens that both films came out in 1946, so when I sat down to come up with an idea for a story both of those things were kicking around in my brain, vying for my attention. I added numerous allusions to both films into the script as an homage. Also, I just always wanted to write a noir style detective story and this seemed like as good a place as any to do it.
Besides Beauty and Beast, are there other Fables showing up in your story?
There is one other Fable that you know very well, and one that you’ve never seen before. More than that, I cannot say.
The underlying premise of “Fairest” is that the series’ leads are all characters who, for one reason or another, embody the “fairest in the land” claim. What makes Beauty and/or Beast “fairest” in your point of view?
Beauty and Beast make a great pairing because they’re a conjoined duality. They’re a married contradiction. It’s not just that she’s the fairest, but that he’s the ugliest. That said, neither of them is the “fairest” that qualifies this particular story for the series. It’s that creepy gal on the cover!
Between “Jack Of Fables” and your work on “House Of Mystery,” a lot of your stories have a somewhat meta-bent to them — is that something readers can expect you to explore in your “Fairest” story?
Metafiction is always something that’s on my mind, because that’s just how I think. I spend a lot of time thinking about stories and parts of stories and how they interact with each other and, especially, how stories interact with each other. Every story is a thing-in-itself, but it’s also a conversation with every story that’s come before it, and for something like “Fables,” that’s doubly true. The whole thing is literally a story about stories!
I was going to say that this particular issue isn’t particularly metafictive, but then I remembered that Beast starts comparing himself to famous fictional detectives literally on the first panel of the story, so I give up. I guess metafiction is my “thing.” There are worse things to have as a thing.
Tonally, should we expect a straight detective story, like those 1940s noirs, or, judging by the cover, is part of the story horror-based?
In this story, everyone is pretending to be someone they aren’t. And the story itself is pretending to be something it isn’t. It wants you to think that it’s a detective story straight out of Raymond Chandler, but it keeps deliberately betraying its own premise until it all falls apart at the end and turns into something else entirely.
Oddly, this is a theme in both “The Big Sleep” and in the Cocteau film: people being forced to pretend to be something they’re not.
I think many “Fables” fans know artist Shawn McManus best for his art on the “Cinderella” miniseries. For you as the writer, what does Shawn bring to your 1940s Hollywood story?
Well, of course he brings first and foremost his inestimable and almost bottomless talent. I doubt there’s anything Shawn can’t draw well.
But I think Shawn and I have something in common, which is that we can’t remain completely serious. If an artist had attempted to draw this story in a straight film-noir style, it would have been self-serious and over-the-top. Shawn created a very clever style for this issue that incorporates everything that’s wonderful about the look of the 1940s but that is totally free of the Sturm und Drang that could easily have dragged it down. It’s deceptively simple, which is yet another kind of deceit that the story practices on the reader.
Looking at the “creepy gal” on the cover for your issue, I’ve got to say that’s one of the more gruesome Adam Hughes images I’ve seen! Is this co-mingling of beauty and brutality something that you talked a lot about with Adam and Shawn, or an idea that interested you even before the “Fairest” story?
It’s no coincidence that the Trojan War was fought over a pretty girl. Male violence and the allure of female beauty have been linked since — quite literally in this case — the beginning of literature. It’s one of the ugly truths about being human, this quality that we possess that we can’t shed no matter how hard we try. Adam keyed in on that notion and delivered a heart-stopping visual, both gorgeous and horrifying.
Finally, is the plan for you to do more one-shot “Fairest” stories in between other runs, or are there other comic projects we should be keeping our eyes out for?
If the stars align properly, there will be more “Fairest” from me. Bill and I have discussed a longer story. Though now that you ask, it is awfully fun to do done-in-ones — I’ll bring that up at the next meeting.
But in the meantime I’ve got several things on the horizon. The only one that’s currently been announced is “The Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse,” is a creator-owned series I’m doing with First Comics that I think fans of “Jack” might really enjoy. It’s illustrated by John Lucas, who worked on “The Exterminators” for Vertigo, and it is most definitely not for the easily offended. But for now, I hope folks enjoy this issue of “Fairest!”
Sturges’ “Fairest” issue #7 hits stores September 5.