The one-hundredth issue of Fables hits the stands this week, and in anticipation of its release, we spoke with series author Bill Willingham about where the comic's been and where it's going. Also, the Fables TV show's probably dead. Boo!
First off, when you began writing Fables, did you anticipate it going on as long as it has?
I had wanted it go on for a long time. Considering the books I'd had out just before Fables — Proposition Player and some other things — they had been getting good critical praise but very little sales prior to Fables, so my expectations were colored by that.
At what points did the story diverge from what you had originally planned?
There were many big changes. I would love nothing better than to do a proposal to the publisher that says, "The story starts this way. By the time we get to this issue, I'll have thought of a whole bunch of cool new things to do with the story." The "don't worry, I'll think of something" method doesn't inspire a ton of confidence in publishers, but pretty much that's how I've gone all along since the Elementals days in the dim Eighties [...] For example, the Adversary was pretty much locked in, but we had to change who he was right away. As you might know, I originally intended for the Adversary to be Peter Pan, because even as I child I thought he was the villain of the story because he stole people's kids. I thought it was sinister and, as a kid, used to have nightmares of Peter Pan coming through our bedroom window. The first issue hadn't come out yet, but we were two or three issues in when DC came to us and said, "We can't have Peter Pan because of the copyright situation in England." After a while, I picked Gepetto instead. The long-term story of Fables — which followed the battle with the Adversary and him signing the General Amnesty — that was locked in from the beginning. Many of the side stories — like Boy Blue discovering who the Adversary was, Flycatcher becoming an important character — those were ideas that grew out of things planted early. It's almost a 50-50 mix of plots planned and plots developed.
Are there any other famous characters you've wanted to use but couldn't?
If the heirs and copyright holders of C.S. Lewis wanted to write me a nice letter and say, "The entire treasure chest of Narnia characters is now open and yours to use," I'd think that just be the finest thing possible. I'd love to bring characters I've read as a kid into Fables, such as the characters of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The true origin of Fables is in Fractured Fairy Tales from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. That launched the whole idea in my head as a kid that you could take these well-known stories and twist them around and be irreverent. I had previously thought that stories were protected. Out of a residual affection for that moment, I wouldn't mind bringing Rocky and Bullwinkle in, but those things aren't going to happen.
Are there any updates on the Fables TV show?
None whatsoever. I am the last person to know about things like that. Through rumors of rumors of mistellings of legends, I understand that the new DC regime was very much interested in getting Fables going. The TV show that was prematurely announced is probably dead — don't hold me to that, because I don't know. Hopefully, I'll know before it airs, but I'm kind of out of the loop.
What's the future hold for Fables?
I've been asked, "Why doesn't Fables come to an end the way other Vertigo books do?" — this question implies that you get a stronger story if you set a horizon line. My reply is, "Fables comes to an end all the time." There's been many stories throughout the series — both epic and small — that have come to an end. My hope is that I won't get bored writing this book, and that I'll be able to do it for a long time to come.
As always, I want to thank the readership of Fables for being with us this long, we've got a lot of fun stuff coming up. As people may have seen, the title of the next major arc following issue 100 is called "Super Group" — it's a Fables examination of superhero comics with a weird twist.
My mom, who hasn't been a comics fan since the 1950s, loves Fables. How would you as the author explain your book's longevity and popular appeal
The "my mom or dad who never understood why I like comics but finally does" anecdote is very near and dear to me. I've managed to hear this story in a variety of permutations, and I never get tired of hearing it. I don't exactly what the break-out-of-the-box appeal is, but it involves characters that almost everyone in Western culture knows. There's that lack of intimidation — people know where these characters started from without continuity. Otherwise, I'm not sure why. I'm glad that Fables readers are very evangelical about the book. If I knew why Fables inspired this kind of loyalty, I'd bottle it and sell it to every other comic writer.
Given that Fables is a comic with a literary leaning, what have you been reading lately?
I just caught up with Matt Sturgess' House of Mystery — that's just wonderfuly. I'm enjoying I, Zombie and The Unwritten. Not to toot my own horn, as I'm doing a Warriors Three story arc for Marvel, but a lot of the Thor stuff is terrific these days. They're really getting back to the raw mythology that drives the character. In the land of books, I'm reading Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, which is quite enjoyable. Anything that Bernard Cornwell puts out, he's so prolific.
What is Bill Willingham's advice for writing comics?
It's the same as my advice for drawing comics — it's a lot harder than it looks, so don't waste your time writing stories that aren't vitally important to you. And by "important," I don't mean that you should set out to write great literature, because that's the one guarantee that whatever you do produce won't be it. That's the kind of thing that's decided by others, it's out of your hands. "Important" means entertaining stories that you're dying to tell.
Fables 100, which includes the above board game illustrated by Mark Buckingham, hits stands Wednesday, December 8.