Bill Willingham - The Man of a Thousand "Fables"

How many fairy tales do you know? Ten? Twenty? You may even be one of the rare few who could list off a hundred. But compared to writer Bill Willingham ("Fables," "Day of Vengeance," "Shadowpact"), you're just a novice.

Willingham is the writer and creator of the ongoing series "Fables," which is published under DC's Vertigo imprint. In the book's universe, it seems that all the fairy tales we were told as children are true. The characters of these various tales (who call themselves Fables) live in a dimension not easily accessible from our world. Unfortunately, one of the more famous fairy tale characters (I won't spoil it by saying who) turned evil and became known as a malevolent being called the Adversary. All Fables that didn't want to live under the Adversary's rule escaped and made their way to the "real" world (not the TV show), setting up a little community for themselves tucked away in a corner of New York - a place they've aptly named Fabletown.

There's so much more to Willingham's story that my description barely scratches the surface of all its levels. Needless to say, he's taken the wonder we felt from fairy tales as children and brought it back to us exponentially as adults. Just read "Fables" and you'll know what I mean.

For fans such as myself, Willingham has great news - much more "Fables" goodness is on the way. This June, we're treated to forty-eight pages of goodness in the book's 50th issue. Then in July, "Fables" gets a spin-off title with "Jack of Fables" (starring the famous Jack who chopped down the beanstalk). And finally, in October, the long-awaited "Fables" original graphic novel (OGN) arrives. Its title is "Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall" and it contains painted art from some of the industry's finest artists.

CBR News contacted Willingham to see if we could learn a few more details about this "Fables" extravaganza heading our way. The master storyteller was happy to oblige…


CBR: I know you've been working on this project for awhile. Exactly how long have you and the painters been working on it?

Bill Willingham: Well, just by the nature of how these things are done, I've been working on it the longest, because the stories needed to be written before the artists could begin. I took far too long writing this book - nearly two years - which caused some understandable frustration in certain editorial corners. But to give them their due, those same editors made it clear that having it done well was always a higher priority than having it done quickly. Granted, both well and quick would have been preferable, but we can't always reach our ideal.

The illustrators have been working on it for some time now. Some were given more time than others, depending on when I finished a given story and how long that story is. We tried to get the longer stories finished first, so that those artists would have the most time to complete them. That didn't always work out. Some of the stories sat in a drawer for a time, while we hunted for just the right artists to do them.

CBR: And how many pages is the book?

BW: "1,001 Nights of Snowfall" will be 144 pages. Now, some of those pages will be taken up with title pages and introductions, creator biographies, and so on, but most of it's story.

CBR: Do you have a complete list of all the artists who are working on the book?

BW: Yes, I do.

CBR: Okay, let me rephrase. Will you tell us the complete list of artists who are working on the book?

BW: Of course. You had but to ask. Charles Vess and Michael Wm. Kaluta illustrate the opening framing story called "A Most Troublesome Woman." It's a text with illustrations story, like a lavishly illustrated old time storybook. Charles has done a few illustrations himself and is painting over Michael's pencils for some of the others. After the framing tale, all of the stories are standard comic-type stories, except that they're anything but standard.

In order, they are: "The Fencing Lessons," illustrated by John Bolton in a fully-painted style. Then Mark Buckingham paints a tale called "The Christmas Pies." Then, James Jean does his first interior comic work when he illustrates "A Frog's Eye View." Following that, Mark Wheatley paints a story whose title I'm not going to reveal, because too much of a spoiler is contained in the title. But maybe you can bribe him to spill the beans.

Following Mark's story, Derek Kirk Kim illustrates a very short and nasty tale called "A Mother's Love." Then Tara McPherson illustrates a story titled "Diaspora," which contains yet another story within it called "The Witch's Tale," painted by Esao Andrews, also doing his first comic work. Then we have another very short cautionary tale called "What You Wish For," illustrated Brian Bolland. And then, Jill Thompson brings us in for a truly fine finish by painting a story called "Fair Division."

[Bill Willingham]If I can be so bold, I seriously and literally believe each of these artists are doing the best work of their careers to date. The finished work is coming in now and each new page that arrives is glorious. I'm no longer worried that this OGN might not be worth the wait, the money, the hype, and so on. Judging strictly by the art, I think this book will be a rare treat in the vast funnybook canon.

CBR: How did this project come together?

BW: DC, through its Vertigo editors Karen Berger and Shelly Bond, offered me a hardback "Fables" Original Graphic Novel, which I thought was a fine idea, provided I could come up with a story I felt was worthy of the project. Eventually, I thought of an idea I liked - one that wove many different stories together into one uber-story and we were on our way.

CBR: Did you or your editor choose and solicit the artists?

BW: Both. I suggested artists I wanted to work with; "Fables" editor Shelly Bond suggested artists she thought would be perfect for a given story. We talked, we argued, we wheeled and dealed, we found out who was and who wasn't available, and eventually - out of that chaos - we found the sublime order of our lineup.

CBR: What can you tell me about the story?

BW: In a way that I'm not going to reveal, Snow White finds herself filling the unenviable role of the legendary Arabian Fable Scheherazade, the teller of the original Thousand and One Arabian Nights tales. Snow has to amuse the Sultan with tales of wonder and imagination every night - for a thousand and one nights - to keep her head off of the chopping block. We see the stories as Snow tells them (not all 1,001 of them, or this would be a much bigger book), and those stories feature important turning points in the histories of many of our main Fables cast.

We'll find out why Snow doesn't allow any mention of the dwarves. We'll find out what happened to Flycatcher's (the Frog Prince) wife and children in the Homelands. We'll see how the North Wind became the father of a Big Bad Wolf. We'll see what turned Frau Totenkinder (the witch of Hansel and Gretel fame) into a wicked witch. We'll find out why King Cole was elected as Fabletown's first mayor. And we'll see so much more…

CBR: When does it take place in terms of the "Fables" timeline?

BW: It occurs in the early days of Fabletown, long before the events of the first issue of the ongoing "Fables" series.

CBR: The 50th issue of the book is coming up in June. What are your thoughts on the book reaching this milestone?

BW: Well, I'm obviously pretty happy about it.

CBR: I would think so! According to a press release from DC, "And in June's issue #50, Bigby Wolf is back, as an event takes place that will forever change the landscape of 'Fables,' in a special issue that features a 48-page story..." Can you expand on this in any way? Does he have a specific reason for his return? Does it involve Snow White?

BW: Yes, Bigby has a very specific reason for his return and it doesn't directly involve Snow White, which isn't to say that Snow doesn't play a very important role in this story. Some might say her role is vital. Prince Charming needs Bigby to pull off a dangerous mission to pay the Adversary back for his raid on Fabletown (as seen in the story collection called "March of the Wooden Soldiers"). Since only Bigby can do it, and since the freedom of Mowgli's friend Bagheera depends on it, Bigby has little choice but to agree to the mission.

CBR: Do we find out where Bigby Wolf has been right away? Or is it slowly revealed?

BW: We actually find out where Bigby has been in issue # 49, in the second half of the two-part story called "Wolves."

CBR: An interesting note - Prince Charming continues to surprise me as the series goes on. I'd argue that he's even a better leader than King Cole was. Does he still have even more "layers" to him that we haven't seen?

BW: I certainly hope so. Part of the driving force behind the "Fables" series is that we've got plenty of time to explore each of the major characters in depth. Fifty issues barely scratches the surface of what we intend to accomplish with this series. Prince Charming also plays a vital role in one of the "Fables: A Thousand and One Nights of Snowfall" stories, including a few solid hints on why he is the way he is when the series opened.

CBR: I know you may have mentioned this in other interviews, but I can't recall - do you have any plans to end "Fables"? (Personally, I hope not.)

BW: As I've said before, I sort of know what the last "Fables" story will be, should we ever get to the point of needing to do a last "Fables" story. But I have no plans of getting to that last story anytime soon, and I have hopes of never having to get to it. "Fables" is an ongoing series. We will keep doing it as long as DC is willing to keep publishing it.

CBR: Will we see the Adversary again (or feel his presence) soon?

BW: Yes. Quite soon.

CBR: If the Adversary is ever defeated, will that mean the end of the series?

BW: I doubt it.

CBR: Any other hints about upcoming storylines?

BW: Sure. In upcoming issues, we will finally learn the names of Snow and Bigby's kids. We'll find out what Bigby has been up to in the years since he left Fabletown. We'll see what Cinderella has to do in order to negotiate an important treaty between Fabletown and another Fable kingdom - an alliance that might put them on a more equal power footing with the Adversary's empire. We'll see what it's like for Pinocchio being the number one son of a man who owns entire worlds. And at Christmas, we'll find out once and for all if Santa Claus is a Fable. And that's just the stories that are already in the works. Fifty issues of "Fables" is only the beginning, folks.


CBR: Bill, At what point did you feel that Jack was interesting enough on his own to support an ongoing title?

BW: I was toying with the idea during the Jack in Hollywood issues of the regular series. When Shelly Bond called me with the same idea - of spinning Jack off into his own book - I began to give it serious consideration.

CBR: How did Matthew Sturges get involved writing this with you?

BW: I've known Matt for many years as one of the better writers out there that you've never heard of. If his skills in getting work were as accomplished as his astonishing writing talent, we'd all know who he is by now. I was his partner in a short-lived small press publishing operation called Clockwork Storybook. One of my considerations in doing Jack in his own series is that it not just become a "Fables Junior" spin-off. It needed to have its own unique voice, while still being true to the established character. Bringing on another writer to work with me on the series seemed a good way to achieve that goal. Once I seriously considered working in collaboration with another writer, Matt became the first and only choice. After talking it over with Shelly, I called Matt and offered him the job, and he said "yes," and that's the story of that.

CBR: Is Jack on a specific mission in this series?

BW: Sort of. The first issue of Jack picks up right where the last page of the "Hollywood Jack" issues left off. Jack has a single measly bag of money and is on the road with his thumb out, looking for a ride to anywhere but Fabletown. When a mysterious van pulls over to give him a ride our story begins. His mission in life for the many issues to come is born out of what happens in that mysterious van.

CBR: He's been banned from Fabletown. Does he care about redeeming himself to get the ban lifted? Or does he just want to make a buck?

BW: At the moment, Jack is too angry and bitter over what was done to him (by Sheriff Beast from Fabletown) to worry about getting back into their good graces. That may change over time, but not yet. What Jack cares about deep down is Jack. He wants whatever will make him happy. Sometimes that's women, sometimes that's riches and sometimes that's the joy of putting one over on his enemies (which potentially includes just about everyone he's ever met).

CBR: After the Hollywood arc, Jack had a decent amount of cash and his "power" was greatly amped up thanks to the Jack movies he made. Does this fact enter into the series in any way?

BW: Yes. Very much so.

CBR: What can you tell me about the series' first story arc?

BW: Not much, other than it pretty much sets up the premise for the whole of the series to follow. Can I just hint that there are other magical powers in the world, other than Fabletown and its allies, and the Adversary and his allies?

CBR: Anything else you'd like to add?

BW: Yes. I'd like once again to thank all of those who currently and reliably read "Fables," each and every month. I hope you'll also consider picking up the Jack series when it begins and the big hardback "1,001 Nights of Snowfall" graphic novel. For those of you who don't read "Fables," I invite you to give it a shot.

CBR: Thanks so much, Bill!

BW: You're entirely welcome.

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