Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Fables #48, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated June 2006. Enjoy!
I've often written that Bill Willingham doesn't so much write single issues of Fables as chapters of a book, and if his chapters happen to run over 22 (now 20) pages, he simply ends the issue at 22 (now 20) pages and cares not what you think! That doesn't always hold true for the beginnings of the issues, but consider this first page of PART ONE of a story - it's right there on the page! Willingham casually drops in on Mowgli as if we've been following him all along and this is the second, or third, or fourth part of a story about Mowgli. Now, obviously, if you're reading Fables, you've been following Mowgli as he goes on his mission, but what if you hadn't been picking up Fables but saw that this is advertised as Part 1 of 2 (as it is on the cover) and this is the first page? It's just weird. It feels like it shouldn't even be the first page of a comic, as it seems like we've come in during a long narration by Mowgli. It's Willingham's book, though, so I guess he doesn't care, but it's a bit odd.
Anyway, Mowgli has reached "Provideniya" (Providence?) on Russia's extreme eastern peninsula, Chukotka (this is presumably the Russia that Sarah Palin could see from her house), where he finds a "captain" at the "International Capitalism Samovar" (I'm not entirely sure why it's called a "samovar" - a samovar is a tea pot, essentially). Willingham waits until the final panel to tell us that this is Mowgli, and he does it in the descriptive passage about the issue, but he does let us know that Mowgli doesn't like the cold. We don't know what he's doing there, but he's interested in talking to the captain.
Buckingham is a solid if unspectacular artist - he can be great, but usually he's just a good storyteller - and he doesn't do much with this page. The layout is a bit wonky - one of the hallmarks of Fables in later issues is the borders of the pages showing motifs related to the scene, and while Buckingham doesn't do that here, the thin panels interrupting the main panels foreshadow that. Presumably he and Willingham wanted the title placard on this first page, so he created a panel above it that would simply draw us from the outside - the frozen town - to the interior, which we get in Panel 3. Plus, we get a funny sign - "New Beef Is Here" - so I can't complain too much about the page layout. If the title of Mowgli's companion didn't give his profession away, Buckingham makes sure to place a fishing boat front and center in Panel 1 as Mowgli says good evening to the captain, while in Panel 3, he draws the captain so that his boots and overalls dominate the panel. We don't need to be told that the captain is waiting out the winter before he can go fishing again, because Buckingham gives us visual clues to his identity. Daniel Vozzo gives him good Swedish colors, presumably to contrast him with the red jacket of Mowgli, and Buckingham draws him almost as raffish - he looks like he's in a movie about Russian fishermen rather than actually being a Russian fisherman, but perhaps that's because this is Fables, where "reality" is mutable. The captain is a "real" person, not a fable, but perhaps Buckingham, who's somewhat old-school, simply watched too many movies in the 1960s and can't help himself. I like his drawing of the captain, but I wonder if he's a bit too jaunty for a hard-bitten Russian fisherman. Maybe we should all hang out at the samovar and discuss this over vodka!
I'm going to assume it's Todd Klein's idea to "Russianize" the lettering instead of putting "less than" and "greater than" carets - it's quite clever. That Todd Klein - lettering like a madman!
Next: I know I've featured some weird comics this year, but is this the weirdest? We shall see! Find more strange stuff in the archives!