Willingham on "Fables Deluxe" & "Peter and Max"

Prepare for an October overload of "Fables" fun, as both the first Fables Deluxe hardcover edition and "Peter and Max: A Fables Novel" hit shelves courtesy of Vertigo. To get all the details on the upcoming month of "Fables" goodness, CBR News spoke to the series' writer and creator, Bill Willingham, about what it's like to look back at the first two "Fables" collections and what it's like to look forward to "Peter and Max."

The hardcover "Fables Deluxe Edition" contains the first ten issues of the popular series based on characters from traditional fables and fairy tales living amongst humans in New York City, as well as a sketchbook of additional material. "It came out looking really nice," says Willingham. "My only complaint was that my personal library's upstairs and carrying those boxes of my copies of the book upstairs was a bit of a hassle. The softcovers are a little bit lighter. Other than that, I've got nothing to complain about. It looks terrific."

For Willingham, looking back has been a process in and of itself. "I've re-read the stories, and I think they're pretty good and can stand up," he says. "But like any writer or any creative person at all, I look at the old stuff and all I can see are the mistakes - the things that I wish I could have done differently. For the most part, they're minor things, but, of course, they're going to haunt me, hopefully for as long as we keep going. That's really a better thing than if you're looking back at your stuff and saying, "Gosh, why can't I write like that anymore?" I think that the progression is still going in the right direction."

Unfortunately for fans hoping to get the entirety of the first two "Fables" trade paperbacks, the Bigby Wolf and Snow White prose story will not be contained in the first "Fables" hardcover collection, but don't worry - the story has just been moved to the second hardcover volume to better flow with the overall story. However, if "Fables" prose is what you're after, you won't have to wait long at all for the full prose novel of "Peter & Max."

"Peter and Max" marks the first time in "Fables" history that an in-continuity story arc has been presented in a prose format. For Willingham, the choice to write a novel was both for the challenge and because of length. "I wanted the challenge of writing a novel," he says. "I wanted to see if I could. I had written a couple of short stories and a short novel before, but I wanted to see that I could finish something prose of some length. The other thing is that the Peter and Max storyline was one where, if we'd done it as a comic with the text and illustrations, it would have been long enough to match 'The Good Prince' arc, which some fans wondered how long it was going to go. This would have been 20 to 25 issues. That would just be a little too much to ask of readers, especially since it features a couple of tertiary characters that weren't part of the main cast before that. For many reasons, a prose novel just seemed like the right way to tell the story, and I'm pretty happy with that. Some things just cry out for a different format. I think this story was a good example of that."

According to Willingham, the story of Peter and Max is a story that not only introduces the two titular characters to the "Fables" universe, but is also one of intense sibling rivalry. "Peter and Max, the two title characters, are brothers," he says. "One is Peter Piper, whom you met once in a small tongue twister nursery rhyme, and the other is Max Piper, whom you might not know by name except in my incarnation, he is a fellow who grows up to be the Pied Piper of Hamlin, the fellow who magically cleared Hamlin of all their rats. When the townspeople refused to pay him, he magically cleared Hamlin of many of their children. So, not really a nice fellow. It's a sibling rivalry story in the sense that Peter and Max start out as loving brothers, and then an incident happens that I'm not going to reveal. It causes Max not to think much of his little brother, Peter, and things spiral out of control from there until Max becomes a truly evil character - it's hard to say for certain, because there are so many evil characters in Fables, but he might be the most evil character we've had in Fables so far."

Willingham says that he picked Peter Piper due to his appearance in only one rhyme, a single tongue twister where he "picked a peck of pickled peppers," giving the writer free license to create on a near blank slate of a character. "That is dealt with in the book as to why," says Willingham. "One of the challenges became to justify that. That happens, and why and how it does advances the story. I've got a past history of trying to fold many characters into one character when possible, so he also turns out to be the Peter who puts his wife into a pumpkin shell. Since that particular Peter's last name isn't given, I couldn't see any reason why they couldn't be the same character. So, they are. In both cases, the 'picked a pickled pepper' and 'put his wife in a pumpkin shell' are both the logical things to do under the circumstances when they show up in the novel."

In previous interviews, Willingham has stated that you don't have to be a longtime fan of "Fables" to enjoy or understand "Peter and Max," but if you have been keeping up with fairy tale adventures of Bigby Wolf, Boy Blue, Snow White and Co., there might be a little something extra for you to enjoy. "Anytime you revisit a fictional landscape, those who have been there before are going to find things that a new reader won't - especially since they've got that sensation of visiting some old friends," says Willingham. "There are characters that have appeared in 'Fables,' most notably Bigby Wolf and Frau Totenkinder, the black forest witch, both of whom play medium to important parts in the Peter and Max novel. Those who are up on their 'Fables,' I think will get an extra delight on getting more background information on characters they already know well. That said, we've made damn sure - and the editors have held my feet to the fire on this - that Peter and Max is a self-contained story. Any reader coming cold to it will not have to be looking up 'Fables' comic book stories to find out what's going on. I would hope that at the conclusion of the novel, that they will be inspired to look up the 'Fables' comics to see what more is going on, but they certainly won't need it for the novel itself."

While many fans will certainly be excited about the prospect of a full-length prose novel, Willingham was most excited to finish writing it. "Especially in prose, I'm a terror at starting stories and going on to other things and not finishing them," he says. "Writing a novel is a process. I'd say it's a marathon rather than a sprint, but a marathon can be completed in a single day and novel writing can't. It's more than that - it's a series of marathons every day, and that's just a debilitating thing if you let it be. I think the most exciting thing was that moment I had done enough of the writing where it achieved some sort of critical mass where I knew I was going to complete it."

At the end of the day, Willingham hopes that fans and readers enjoy the novel as much as they enjoy the comic. "Personally, as long as it doesn't go out there and land with a thud, that these things are used for landfill or the boxes aren't used to make furniture in someone's room, as long as they're purchased and hopefully enjoyed, I will be ecstatic."

Check out the "Fables Deluxe Edition" hardcover on shelves October 6 and "Peter and Max: A Fables Novel" hitting shelves October 13.

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