Vertigo's "Fables" panels have earned over the years a reputation for being a fans' panel, full of genuine discussion and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, as opposed to merely yet another forum for the publishers to try and sell you stuff. This year's Vertigo Voices: The Fables Forum at Comic-Con International in San Diego was no different. Before the panel even began, creator Bill Willingham and his colleagues were signing hundreds of free copies of "Fables" #50 and passing them out to fans.
When the panel began, Willingham declared he would be taking over moderation duties from editor Shelly Bond. "Traditionally, Shelly's been the one to moderate these panels and ask us the embarrassing questions. Then I realized at dinner last night that [by virtue of this] Shelly's gotten out of a lot of embarrassing questions."
Willingham then ordered Bond to begin the slide show.
"Me?" she exclaimed. "Bill, I thought you were running this panel."
"I am." he said. "I'm delegating."
The slide show featured numerous images of upcoming "Fables"-related artwork, but the highlight was the cover to "1,000 Nights Of Snow," the forthcoming graphic novel set in the days before the monthly series' first issue. In the 1800s, Willingham explained, Snow White was dispatched as an envoy to the Arabian fables' homeland to enlist their help in fighting the Adversary.
"One problem. Since they're the Arabian Nights culture, and [Fabletown] sent a woman... that's not done."
Mirroring the classic tale of Scheherazade, Snow must delay her execution by telling the Arabian king stories of her fellow Fables. These stories are illustrated in the graphic novel by a truly unbelievable lineup of artists including Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Charles Vess, Jill Thompson, Mark Wheatley, Mark Buckingham, and newcomer Esao Andrews, who will be contributing his first published sequential artwork in the book.
Andrews, while unknown to most "Fables" readers, actually has a history with the series. When creator Bill Willingham and editor Shelly Bond were preparing to bring the series to publication, they'd both decided that the cover artist would have to be someone not then working in the industry. On the same day, artists James Jean and Esao Andrews walked into DC Comics, portfolios in hand. "I just happened to be looking for a 'Fables' cover artist that day," said Bond, indicating that both young artists' portfolios were among the most astonishing she'd ever seen, James Jean was the better fit.
"Sometimes it takes just a young kid walking in right out of art school to give [a project] that extra oomph," said Willingham of Jean, who will also be contributing sequential art to the hotly anticipated graphic novel.
"With this story we wanted to do two things," Willingham explained. "[Firstly,] reward all loyal 'Fables' readers with something really special, but also make it something any new reader could pick up and understand without fifty issues of back continuity. To have our cake and eat it to, it had to take place before the first issue of 'Fables.'"
Shelly Bond added that while they cannot reveal too much about the story's content, the book will address the single most asked question of the entire "Fables" organization: "Why exactly does Snow White not want anyone to mention the seven dwarves? Your answer is in this book, and it's not pretty."
Previewed next was the upcoming "Fables" #52, which begins an arc in which the Adversary's court gather to decide their official policy on Fabletown, referencing the infamous Wannsee Conference, during which the Nazis gathered German leaders to carry out their plans for the Jewish population. Originally, Willingham explained, the book featured the Snow Queen and other imperialists simply sitting at a table and plainly discussing their heinous plans. But when Mark Buckingham suggested that he actually draw the scenarios the Queen described, Willingham did something he'd never done before: tore up the mostly completed script and start from scratch, implementing Buckingham's ideas. The resulting artwork was described by Willingham as "chilling. [Mark Buckingham] acts quiet and very polite... but he's evil."
Buckingham added, "It's not my usual cup of tea to sit on Google image search looking for images of bubonic plague."
The story arc will also feature a number of backup stories tie-ing in the events in the main plot. Gene Ha illustrates a Rapunzel story, while "American Virgin" cover artist Josh Middleton draws what Shelly Bond characterizes as, "quite possibly the most bizarre combination of things in a script from Bill, and we go way back. [The short story] involves a porcupine and a really, really long French kiss, and that's all I'll say."
Spin-off series "Jack Of Fables" was also highlighted at the panel. Co-writer Matt Sturges explained that he and Willingham write their stories together over hours-long phone calls during which they discuss more "crazy stuff" than they know what to do with, often "killing each other laughing." The pair pulled all their ideas together into the first story arc, which takes place just after Jack has been ejected from Hollywood in disgrace and with only a suitcase full of money for his trouble.
"It's very much a 'Fables'-related book," Sturges said, "but you don't really need to read 'Fables' to read ['Jack Of Fables']."
Willingham added, "I'm waiting for people to come to the convention next year and say, 'I got into "Fables" because of 'Jack Of Fables.'" Willingham then egged on Sturges to reveal the identity of one of the characters readers can expect to see in the series' first arc.
"Mr. D.," Sturges answered. "That's what call the giant egg. And when he scrambles, he really makes a break for it."
"That was a very good yolk," Willingham exclaimed to much derision. "That's one of our hard boiled stories."
"It's getting excruciating, Bill," pleaded Mark Buckingham. "Please stop!"
"I'm sorry," Willingham said. "It's the old shell game."
Other shared anecdotes were so wrapped in sarcasm and irony, it became difficult to tell fact from fiction, but we at CBR News feel it has been revealed that Shelly Bond was at one time Bill Willingham's "Elementals" editor at now defunct publisher Comico, and that as such, the Eisner Award winning writer avoided her for many years despite her attempts to get more work out of him. Additionally, once tracked down, Willingham refused to write a proposal, saying that every time he'd done so, nobody ever got back to him and he wasn't paid. To circumvent this, Bond demanded he submit his "Fables" proposal in the form of an audio tape.
Cut to a few handfuls of Eisners later, Bond declared, "I single-handedly resurrected Bill Willingham's career."
Several enticing announcements were made by the panel's end, including the well-received news that "Fables" has no built-in finishing point. Also spilled was the fact that "Fables"' famous Jack is also the mythical Jack Frost. Next year's Comic-Con should see the unveiling of several "Fables" statues. But the biggest announcement was of a writing scheme that may be wholly original to comics.
"Basically, we need your help," Willingham said. "We have a big four-part story arc coming up. It's very grim. Then we give you a break with our December issue, answering once and for all, is Santa Clause a fable? After that we want Mark [Buckingham] to have a break before the next grim arc. We're going to do a special one issue story. The title is 'Burning Questions.' Shelly Bond once asked me, 'Bill, who caught the bouquet at Snow and Bigby's wedding?' I thought I could tell her, but how cool would it be to just show her in a tiny two or three page story?
"But I'm not only going to take questions from Shelly. We decided to throw it open to you guys."
Willingham went on to list some rules and details for the monumental event:
- You cannot ask questions about things that are going to happen in the future of the series.
- You cannot ask general questions like "How evil is the Snow Queen?"
- You can ask "Who was Bufkin talking to on the phone when he renamed Fabletown to Bufkin town?"
- If selected, your name will appear in the comic, i.e.: "Joe Blow from Wisconsin asks, who was Bufkin talking to on the phone..."
- The DC website will be launching a special section dedicated to this event that will include disclaimers, i.e.: you will be paid nothing, you don't become the co-creator of "Fables," no stocks, you become the property --you, the physical you-- of DC Comics.
- This will be done every few years.
Some questions asked at the panel included:
Will we ever see "Fables" animated?
Willingham: Possibly. That's the best I can do.
The residents of Fabletown seem to be getting a little more bloodthirsty lately. Is this an intentional progress or are they all just kind of jerks?
Willingham: A little more bloodthirsty? Have you read the original fairy tales? They were baking their kids into pies. [In "Fables"] they're actually getting better!
I've done a lot of research papers on fables and fairy tales in college, and even I don't get all the references [in "Fables"]. Will there be a book of annotations like those released for "The Sandman" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?"
Willingham: Yes! Don't look for it soon, but yes.
What becomes of people who go down the witching well?
Willingham: Wait for it. It won't be a small story to explain.
Is there ever a chance we'll see some of the American folklore characters?
Willingham: Is there ever.
I've been hearing rumors of a Bigby/Batman crossover story.
Willingham: I asked, but I haven't gotten an answer yet. [Editor's note: we really don't know if he's kidding or what].
What is the most creative use of the witching cloak in the history of existence?
Willingham: That will be answered in Vertigo's new line of porn comics.
Because "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" also uses literary characters, were you inspired by Alan Moore's work?
Willingham: I am always inspired by Alan Moore's work, and ["LoEG"] did precede "Fables," but throughout my career, even back on "Elementals," I've always used [fairy tales and folklore to some extent]. I've been kind of circling around the idea [for "Fables"] my entire career. But if you want the true nail-on-the-head inspiration, it's "Fractured Fairy Tales" from the Bullwinkle show.