ECCC: The "Official" Fables Panel

The Emerald City Comicon has grown into one of the destination conventions for comic book fans. If there is anyone who questions that statement, "Fables" creator Bill Willingham made this point clear to his panel audience on Friday by stating there would be no "Fables" panel at Comic-Con in San Diego this year. He then informed the eager crowd that they were all sitting in on the "Official West Coast 'Fables' Panel" of 2013.

Willingham had to confess, however, that an essential part of the "Fables" team was missing - artist Mark Buckingham could not attend the ECCC this year. He explained that Buckingham had to plan his trips away from the art table judiciously, and he was saving himself for a trip to the upcoming Fabletown and Beyond Convention.

Organized by Willingham, this event will be taking place in Rochester, Minnesota from March 22-24. For those concerned that winter's effects will still be felt in the Midwest town at that point, the writer assured fans everything involving the convention could be reached via connecting overpasses/tunnels between buildings.

And, knowing that the most important social aspect of any convention is the local bar, Willingham informed fans that the con will be opening its own bar for the weekend - the Kill Shakespeare Bar. "We are going to staff it with interesting people that you will want to talk to," Willingham said.

Willingham then introduced the person next to him writer Sean E. Williams. He is writing the third arc of "Fairest," the first issue of which comes out May 1. Williams explained that he has been working on this story for two years, as Willingham plans his stories far in advance. The story will introduce a new character to the "Fables" universe called Nalayani, who comes from the epic Hindu story "Mahabharata." That tale, according to Williams, is "eight times as long as the 'Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' combined."

The writer informed the crowd that his story takes place in the present and is not a flashback. "It's very contemporary, and it's very important to what's going on in the 'Fables' universe - potentially," he teased. The arc is titled "The Return of the Maharaja" and will tie back into "Fables" once it's over.

Next, it was artist Barry Kitson's turn to be introduced. Kitson had worked on "Fables" #59, contributing three pages to the issue of Snow White's wedding. Ever since that time, he and Willingham wanted to do more "Fables" work together. Fortunately, the writer had something in mind for Kitson, but it was seven years down the line. "Bill plans ahead!" said Kitson to audience laughter.

The artist just finished "Fairest" #14, which focuses on Princess Alder. The artist told everyone that this was a historic issue for him, as it's the first time he's drawn a woman naked. Kitson is also doing "Fables" #130, which comes in June and is titled, interestingly enough, "Junebug." Willingham said the story would feature Rodney and June's little daughter, who goes on an adventure and discovers something about the "big bad, bad thing that affects Fabletown a couple of years in the future."

As this was the official "Fables" panel, Willingham promised secrets would be revealed and prizes awarded. He decided to hold the first contest at that exact moment, and called three people up from the audience to sing anthems in honor of Kitson's first "naked woman drawing." The results were less than spectacular, albeit enthusiastic. The winner received a hardcover copy of the "Werewolves of the Heartland" graphic novel.

Willingham spoke next about the "Fables Encyclopedia," which is being worked on. The writer explained that he's received many questions about different characters in "Fables," so he felt a book that showed where the characters came from would be a great resource.

"We got a wonderful researcher and librarian named Jess Nevins, who you might recognize as the person who wrote the unauthorized companion to 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,'" Willingham revealed. "I'm a little upset about this, because I thought I knew my fairy tales, and this guy found stuff about these characters that basically tells me: a) I'm not the fairy tale scholar that I believe myself to be, and b) I don't actually know any of my own characters."

As the audience laughter died down, Williams pointed out another member of the "Fables" team who was hiding in the audience - artist Stephen Sadowski, who is penciling the third arc of "Fairest." Willingham made sure Sadowski came up and joined them on the dais.

The "Fables" creator asked the audience if they all recall the original graphic novel "1001 Nights of Snowfall." Naturally, they did. He then informed the crowd that the "Fables" team is working on something similar for "Fairest" - "a series of stories that all tie together."

The premise of this tale involves the Barleycorn Girls getting stuck in the business office with the Magic Mirror. And since the Magic Mirror is no longer constrained under anyone's powers, he decides to explain what his standards of beauty are through a series of stories. "Pretty much anyone you saw on the cover of the first issue of 'Fairest' is likely to show up, plus a couple of interesting ringers." Willingham added that the book should be coming out just in time for Christmas.

Following this, the writer brought up Telltale Games, the company working on a "Fables" video game. While Willingham didn't have an update for the audience, he wanted to let everyone know that Telltale will be at the Fabletown and Beyond Convention with "updates and more."

And while on the subject of the convention, Willingham brought up an interesting nugget of news for aspiring artists -- he will be conducting portfolio reviews at the event. He then revealed that he had talked with "Fables" Editor Shelly Bond and suggested that they give an award to the best portfolio they find. She agreed, and they will be awarding one artist the opportunity to pencil an issue of "Fables." Bond will have the script and a contract with her at the convention, so Willingham encouraged artists to prepare.

As for other story news about "Fables," Willingham let the audience know that the next arc (following the current Snow White story) will be titled "Camelot." Rose Red decides to restore the Round Table with herself as the head and starts an order of knighthood to do "good and noble deeds."

After this, the panel opened themselves up to questions from the floor. One of the first queries concerned the boy who never gets older, Peter Pan. Willingham hasn't been able to use the character or its cast in the past due to the fact that J.M. Barrie (the character's creator) willed proceeds from the use of Peter Pan to an orphanage, so the book's move to the public domain in the UK was delayed. The character has now moved into a more available status, but Willingham said that he and DC don't feel like they want to be the first to use him and "take food out of the mouths of sick little orphans." He also explained they need a good story before he'd consider taking that step.

Along those same lines, another fan asked if there were any characters the writer would like to use but couldn't due to copyright. Willingham said that he would love to be able to use the cast of Narnia or some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' characters. Regarding the latter, he added that Tarzan is only partially in the public domain and would be problematic to use.

The next person asked about the "Fables/Unwritten" crossover. Willingham then explained, "It's not a crossover because this will not be happening in both 'Fables' and 'The Unwritten.' It starts with 'The Unwritten' #50, where the premise is that characters of 'The Unwritten' can travel through the actual worlds of the books and live in there awhile. Well, they're going to be visiting the grand world of 'Fables' for about 5-6 issues."

"It's a wonderful story. Mike Carey, who is one of the most wonderful and pleasant men in the world, has a dark and evil soul," the creator joked. "The story he wrote for this just scares me - and scares me more than the fact that he's doing things to my characters. It's going to have real repercussions."

The artists got a turn at answering a question after this and were asked about their favorite characters to draw in "Fables." Sadowski said that he enjoyed drawing the Maharajah, but also mentioned he was excited to have drawn the first gay character (to his knowledge) in the "Fables" universe.

When it came to Kitson's turn, he joked that he'd like to do more Rose Red, but Buckingham has told him to "keep his hands off of her." Willingham then explained that Buckingham modeled Rose Red on his wife and is protective of the character. The writer added that if anyone wants to meet this "Rose Red" in person, she would be at the Fabletown convention.

Next, a fan asked about the resilience of Fable characters. One of the ideas expressed in the "Fables" universe is that the more Mundy ("regular") folks believe in you, the more powerful/invincible you become. Willingham said some "Fable" characters believe this theory, while others don't. For the sake of clarification, he explained Mundy belief "does affect things, but it's not the only factor involved."

Willingham wanted to finish the panel with one last announcement regarding the Fabletown and Beyond Convention: advanced copies of Image's "Mice Templar" will be available at the con with a cover specifically made for the event by creators Mike Oeming and Bryan Glass. This cover won't be available anywhere else, but fans can get a peek at the art on the convention's website later this weekend.

After wrapping up this panel - the last of the day - fans filed out of the room in search of their "happily ever after's" in the magical Emerald City.

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