CCI: Bill Willingham's "Fables" Panel

A star-studded team of creators joined writer and creator Bill Willingham for the "Fables" spotlight panel celebrating Vertigo Comics' long running fairytale series at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Editor Shelly Bond, artists Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andy Lanning, Andrew Pepoy, letterer Todd Klein, colorist Lee Loughridge and writers Lauren Beukes and Sean E. Williams were present. Artist Shawn McManus was scheduled to attend but could not make it. As the panel began, Willingham made a surprise announcement, much to the dismay of the jam packed audience: "This will be my last San Diego show for awhile. Only because there are so many good shows now and I had to turn down others to do this and it's time to give others a shot. We need to mix it up a little bit."

But that announcement wasn't the only surprise in store for the crowd, as Willingham unveiled another convention-related piece of information. "We're going to have a nearly-all 'Fables' dedicated con called Fabletown and Beyond -- it's 'Fables' and books like 'Fables.' The guest of honor at the first ever FablesCon is artist Mark Buckingham."

FablesCon will take place March 22-24, 2013 in snowy Rochester, MN. The location drew plenty of disparaging vocalizations from the San Diego crowd, prompting Willingham to point at a Snow Queen cosplayer in the front row, saying, "It's her fault!"

He then tossed a handful of t-shirts into the crowd and gave away an original Buckingham "Fables" print to everyone in attendance. Other prizes were given out during the panel, including a teddy bear doll from the "Cubs in Toyland" arc, a Buckingham original "Fables" page and more t-shirts -- one of which Willingham accidentally blasted in the face of a fan like a frisbee. The audience was notable for featuring such a large percentage of female readers, many of whom were discussing their love for the world Willingham and company have built before the panel started.

Willingham steered the discussion toward the current state of the "Fables" universe, flasheding Joao Ruas' cover to "Fables" #119 on the projector. "This is where we find out the current series is getting diabolical," Willingham said. He then flipped to the next image, a page featuring messed up toys and a panel of wolf cub Therese, blood dripping down her face, a sick grin glaring through the gore.

"We're seeing Therese go to a very dark and savage place," artist Mark Buckingham said. "Even the toys are starting to wonder whether this was such a good idea."

"I asked the artists, 'I know you like this character. I know you think Therese is a pretty sweet child and you don't want to do terrible evil things to children, but however badly you think you can draw the deterioration of Therese in this, can you double it? Don't reign it in.' I loved the results of this," Willingham said.

Next Willingham mentioned the eagerly awaited "Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland" 138-page hardcover OGN, promising it would finally be available for purchase November 14th, 2012. Willingham explained the reason for the book's nearly year long delay was the artists were "putting so much into it that, frankly, they just needed some time." He then rapidly clicked through slides from the book, many riddled with werewolf violence. The first "Fairest" trade will be available for purchase the same month.

Willingham blasted any rumor of an upcoming crossover between "Fables" and "Fairest," but teased something else might be in store. "There is an event. No crossover, but there is something called an event."

"Yes, we're not using the 'C' word here," Bond agreed.

Willingham briefly touched on the sorcerer/sorceress community in "Fables," saying they'll return to the spotlight come March 2013 after the "Toyland" arc wraps. "You'll meet some of the magic community you haven't seen yet, and then more in the following arc."

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the "Fables" franchise and Willingham shifted the mood of the panel to a reflective one. He went down the line and asked each panelist in attendance to recount their greatest "Fables" memory.

Novelist and upcoming "Fairest" writer for the Rapunzel arc, Beukes commented on her chosen image of Bigby Wolf in his fenris form wrapping Snow White in his tail, holding her close. "I think this absolutely epitomizes their relationship. We're building up to this point between Bigby and Snow and this romance -- it might be, might not be. Snow's vulnerability and strangeness in this scene is wonderful. Also, there's a big bloody wolf. Bill writes female characters so well."

The cover to the first issue of the "Rapunzel" arc was revealed -- an Adam Hughes-drawn shot of a blonde, nude and artsy long-haired Rapunzel sitting on the ground. Buekes explained some tidbits on the story and its Eastern roots. "Rapunzel goes to Tokyo on a mission and it gave me a chance to play with Japanese influences. The story happens just before the events of 'Fables' [#1] in 2002, and explains why we haven't heard from the Japanese Fables before. It's a very dark story." She went on to list a number of influences she pulled from Japanese lore and history when putting the tale together.

Willingham introduced the next creator, writer Sean E. Williams. "You haven't heard of him yet. He's a Hollywood import. You'll hear more about him in 'Fairest' as he brings you the adventures of -- I'm not going to say," Willingham teased. The crowd relayed their angst. Williams' choice was of Boy Blue on his death bed with Rose Red.

"For me it was the most poignant moment of the book," Williams said. "I did notice one thing, Bill -- Blue dies off panel. We don't actually see him dead. I just noticed that so I thought I'd share."

Willingham took the bait, acting shocked. He went on to comment how in comics when a character dies, they stay dead. He added, "Lets move on as if we never spoke to Sean Williams." On the subject of Blue's death he added, "Not all deaths are quick and heroic. His was slow and heroic. We wanted to dig deep ourselves and find it."

Longtime "Fables" artist Buckingham chose a more art-centric moment, a large spread with a giant troll-like creature in the center causing destruction. "I used to hate doing double page spreads and then this particular one coincided with me devouring far too many DC collections of [Jack] Kirby from the '70s, my old toy collection and model making," the artist said.

The next image shown was of Santa Claus and wolf cub Ambrose. "It's one of those pages I've always adored," Buckingham said.

Letterer Todd Klein is the only person who has worked on every single issue of each "Fables" project -- a claim not even Willingham can make. "I couldn't decide on one thing so I gave up and said, 'Shelly, I can't do this.' She then told me to pick one [page] I was most proud of with the lettering. That was easy. Bucky [Buckingham] wanted something hand lettered and I loved doing it," Klein said as the splash page for the "Jiminy Christmas" issue came on the screen.

"I wallow in Christmas. I love Christmas," Willingham said. "I wanted our first Christmas issue to thrash undilutingly in the spirit."

"I'm a sucker for Christmas and agree with Todd [Klein]," said colorist Lee Loughridge.

Leialoha's selection was an early full page shot of Bigby running through the woods in his full wolf form with a dainty figure riding on his back. "This is the moment where the series gets real emotional and grounding," Leialoha said. "It's a beautiful page." He and Buckingham both admitted when it came time to divvy up the artwork, they both wanted this page.

"We could always cut it in half," joked Bond who spent the panel tossing out humorous one liners -- most of them directed at Willingham.

Willingham added, "This is where I realized what the Big Bad Wolf was really supposed to be. We're in Fenris territory. We're in God of the North Woods territory. He could be the wolf of just about everything."

Next up was inker Andrew Pepoy's selection -- "A page of blazing death and carnage," said Willingham.

Pepoy, a late comer to the "Fables" team, explained his choice which came from an issue akin to "The Walking Dead" #48 in how it seriously changed the makeup of the series. "I picked a page from issue #75 as a fan of 'Fables' and as someone who works on 'Fables,'" Pepoy said. "I was a fan of the series long before being lucky enough to work on it, so as a reader, so much was building to everything going on here. For those of us working on it, we knew we had to plant the seeds for what was coming next artistically." He also cited a Kirby reference relating to the dynamics and the epic scale of the pinnacle issue. "When I think of some of the most fun I had on this series, it was that issue."

Inker Andy Lanning's choice was a beautiful scenic shot from 'Fairest.' "I was impressed when you look at it and how it takes your breath away. I just started in the top corner and worked my way down." In the slide, it was visible where Lanning commenced his work, as a viewer could fluidly follow his process with the inking lightening up as the eye moves to the right side of the page. "Jonah's butt naked. I mean really butt naked. And he's got a little blue willie," Lanning said of the series' blue, flying character.

Willingham then spoke on how he and "Fairest" cover artist Adam Hughes came to work together. "It really happened three years back at HeroesCon where Adam had been getting a lot of requests for 'Fables' sketches and had no idea what the book was," Willingham said. "His wife forced him to read the books because she didn't want him to do shoddy, un-researched sketches. He liked them and asked in passing if he could do the 'Fables' covers. I said no, we have an artist -- but if you're serious we can start a book and you can be the artist. We wanted another book once 'Jack of Fables' wrapped up.

"Isn't it interesting how 'Fairest' and 'Before Watchmen,' which Adam is working on, involve illustrating characters with tiny blue penises? As if it's easy to get into that sprawling corner of comics."

Editor Shelly Bond, who amused the crowd all evening with her witty interjections, had an unusual selection -- a photo of a much younger Willingham with a red plastic corded phone held up to his ear. "That's you talking to me on the phone and me talking over you," Bond said. It was a tribute to the moment Willingham pitched her the series. "Thank you so much, Bill."

Finally it came time for Willingham to reveal his choice, reminding the crowd he refused to pick a Buckingham page since there were too many to choose from. So he selected a James Jean Snow White cover from "Fables" #17. It was the moment when he truly realized the "Fables" team may have caught lightning in a bottle. "Everything on this cover mattered," Willingham said. "James Jean is not just an artist, but a storyteller, too, and a masterful one. I'm just beginning to trust maybe 'Fables' is going to catch on.

"I heard a rumor one of our competing comic companies and their reps were talking to stores about an upcoming book saying, 'It's just like 'Fables' only female friendly.' True story," Willingham quipped. "And apparently you'll all want to stop reading 'Fables' and switch to this. So keep in mind there's some good stuff coming out." The crowd responded with mocking 'boos' and laughter as the panel ended.

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