Sean E. Williams didn’t think his first foray into the “Fables” universe would include penning the resurrection of one of the Vertigo series’ most infamous characters, but when Bill Willingham asked him to write a Prince Charming arc for the spinoff series “Fairest,” he didn’t flinch.
A long-time friend-turned-collaborator of Willingham, Williams’ run started last month in “Fairest” #15, the first part of a six-part story called “The Return of the Maharaja.” And while Charming is no “great king,” the veteran film and television writer intends to prove the titular maharaja has what it takes to deserve the lofty praise. Even if Charming has to die trying.
The story, which boasts beautiful art by Stephen Sadowski and Phil Jimenez under an Adam Hughes cover, also features the virtuous Nalayani — a character derived from Hindu literature who famously saved her husband through chastity. Now she must join forces with Prince Charming, a man who married and divorced Snow White, Rose Red and Cinderella over the years and is arguably the greatest womanizer in the “Fables” universe. If she doesn’t, her village may suffer a terrible fate unleashed by the vicious dhole, a species of wild dogs found specifically in Southeast Asia.
CBR News spoke with Williams on the eve of the release of the second issue of the story arc, and the co-creator of “Artful Daggers” from Monkeybrain Comics revealed that though he was originally slated to write another (now deceased) Fable in “Fairest,” now that he’s got Prince Charming, he will fully explore what the ultimate lady’s man has been up to this past five years, since his apparent death in “Fables” #75.
CBR News: Beyond working on “Fairest,” what is your history with “Fables” and its extended universe?
Sean E. Williams:I picked up “Fables” after the first trade came out on a friend’s recommendation. I got out of reading comics in high school, and then in college, in my first film class, we had to read “Watchmen” and Scott McCloud’s “Reinventing Comics.” After reading both of those, I thought it was time to get back into reading comics and a friend of mine gave me some recommendations that included “Fables” and “Powers.” After that, I was hooked again.
Your arc on “Fairest” features the return of Prince Charming, a character that we haven’t seen in Fabletown since his presumed death in “Fables” #75. Was this your pitch or did Bill Willingham come to you with the opportunity?
It actually came about from Bill. I pitched a different character in San Diego before Charming came up, and we started moving forward on that. Then I was up in Minnesota visiting him over the holidays, and at that point, he asked me to write Charming instead. A couple months later, he came back again and said, “We want you to write Charming first.”
Two weeks later, we put a pitch together for Charming, which I hadn’t even thought about prior. It was a hectic two weeks of research and brainstorming, but it all worked out in the end.
In your first issue, we only saw Charming in one panel, and while I am sure this will all be explored in further issues, I have to ask, where has he been? Because again, I, like most “Fables” readers, thought he was dead.
You have to keep reading to find out. [Laughs] We kept Charming secret for two years while we working on it, and I’m not going to start giving out spoilers now. [Laughs]
Fair enough. Why do you think, from all of the “Fables” characters, Charming is the one we love to hate?
That’s a good question. I think part of it is his confidence. He believes in himself more than anyone else. That confidence is attractive to some people. The fact that he’s got the skills to back that confidence up — most of the time — is also attractive. He’s not just some cad who is boastful and egotistical; he’s usually good at whatever he’s boasting about, which helps.
I also think part of it is that, at least here in America, we have this whole romantic culture fueled by the Disney cartoons and the “someday my prince will come” thing and everyone grows up on that. Having the character Prince Charming around in our lives, as long as we have, is also a part of it.
Obviously you don’t want to reveal too much as he’s just back after a long hiatus, but does his appearance in “Fairest” open the door for a return to “Fables” as well?
Charming’s been in the Indu for years, so if he’d wanted to get back to Fabletown and the Mundy world, he probably would have already. There’s no guarantee he’ll survive this arc, either, so, I guess my answer is: Keep reading.
“Fairest” traditionally features the strong, female leads of the “Fables” universe, and while we have only seen one issue, Nalayani appears to fit the bill. What led you to her as your female lead?
Basically, Bill came to me and said, “We want you to do Charming.” But from there, there was no real mandate to have a female lead for this arc. Bill never said that “Fairest” is the fairest women of “Fables.” People just kind of assumed, but as I started working on it and researching all these stories from Hinduism, Nalayani popped out as the perfect foil for Charming.
And as soon as we added her and I wrote the first issue, it became Charming’s and Nalayani’s arc. Not just Charming’s.
While he’s not a headliner, I love the supporting role you gave Tabaqui from “The Jungle Book.” How did he end up in the mix?
Kind of the same as Nalayani. When we introduced Nalayani, we needed her to have an entire arc in the first issue, so people could get on board with her and see who she is as a character and grow with her as a character right out of the gate so she could hold her own emotionally for readers alongside Charming.
I had to come up with a whole arc for her, and the dholes were a big part of that. That inspiration all came from me visiting India. Dholes are beautiful, beautiful creatures and they are ubiquitous in India, so adding them to the mix made sense. When I needed a character that would fit in with the dholes really well, I thought of all the great characters from “The Jungle Book.” Tabaqui, being a jackal, is not necessarily what we would expect, but being a talking animal in the “Fables” universe obviously works well.
And you say your visit to India inspired some of your other decisions, too.
Yes. When Bill came to me and said, “We want you to write Charming and he’s alive,” a big part of the story, for obvious reasons, had to be where is he and where has he been? Having been to India, and with all of the Rudyard Kipling “Jungle Book” stuff that’s already in “Fables,” bringing the story to India just made sense.
Finally, you mentioned originally you were slated to write another “Fables” character in this arc but it was postponed. Which character was it and are plans still in place for you to write that arc too?
I’d love to do that arc still, but I’ve been focusing on this arc exclusively since we started rolling with it. While I can’t say who they are, the big question mark is whether the characters I pitched will still be alive to be in it, if it does end up happening. [Laughs]
I wish I was joking. Bill already killed off one of them in “Fables,” and it was in-panel, so we know he’s dead for real, unlike our man Charming.
“Fairest” #16, by Sean E. Williams and featuring art by Stephen Sadowski and Phil Jimenez and a cover by Adam Hughes, is on sale now.