Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to Read Fables, A Handy What-Next?! Guide (& A 99c Sale To Help Catch You Up)

If you're curious to catch up on Fables, you've picked a good time. Right now there's a sale until the end of September on most of the Fables comics (click on the image below the How to Read Fables Guide to be take to the sale site) and as a unrelated-yet-completely-relevant bonus, I've received permission to share a post with you on how to navigate this can-be-overwhelming-and-ever-expanding universe of Bill Willingham's.

But first, for those who need (another) reason to read Fables, consider this little nugget of information I pulled out of the first Fables (prose) novel, Peter & Max. Turns out Willingham not only went to Hamelin to research but ended up writing much of the novel IN RUDYARD KIPLING'S HOUSE, USING KIPLING"S LIBRARY! This insight into Willingham's approach actually explains a lot of why this series works as well as it does. Transcribed from the author's note at the end of Peter & Max - A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham. here's an excerpt from his thank you's:
"The first half of this book was written in Vermont, in the house once owned by Rudyard Kipling, painstakingly restored by the Heritage Foundation, using Kipling's original books, furniture and fixtures, which they were happily surprised to discover stored in an old barn on the property. Peter and Max were created in the same room, on the same desk in fact, that Kipling created Mowgli, the rest of the Jungle Book characters, Kim, the Captains Courageous, and many others. To say that it was an inspirational setting in which to begin a fantasy adventure story is to be guilty of criminal understatement. Thank you to the kind men and women of the Heritage Foundation, for opening the property to me and for your hard work in making my stay so comfortable, restful, and productive. Thank you, too, to the good ghost in that home for the use of your writing room and library, which always seemed to have just the right text on some obscure subject of medieval history, technology or nature, within arm's reach, whenever I needed it."
This is something I'm attempting to catch up on properly myself right now, having never read all of them in the correct order. With eleven years (and counting) of monthly comics to wade through, along with special issues, cross-overs and more, I must admit, without a guide I would feel quite lost. Although the Wikipedia page has a lot of great summary information it's still very daunting to wrap your brain around.

Thankfully, blogger/reader - and Fables enthusiast - Kailana (aka Kelly Rogers) put together a super-simple, easy to follow step-by-step guide to reading (and purchasing) the Fables issues in an order that not only makes chronological sense but makes for a fuller experience. And now I'm able to share it with you!

Without further ado (and with enormous thanks to Kailana for giving me permission to repost this) here is your handy "How-to-read Fables Guide":

So You Want to Read Fables...?

Originally posted June 29, 2012
(with one update and additional notes & cover images inserted by FTNH)
✒ ✒ ✒  ✒ (click the "Read more" link below this line) ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ 
I love FablesJack of Fables, and all of the brilliant spin-offs by Bill Willingham and his team published by Vertigo. I had a Twitter conversation earlier that brought to mind how complicated the series can be if you are just starting out. I am all caught up and tend to read the books as they are released, but when you haven't read even one of them it can be a bit overwhelming, right? And, your first instinct might be just read all of the Fables and then all of the Jack of Fables and so on. I am here to point you in a direction that might lead to a more rewarding experience of the world.

F= Fables and J = Jack of Fables. It should be clear, but just in case.

It starts off easily enough:

F - Volume 1: Fables: Legends in Exile (Issues 1-5)
F - Volume 2: Animal Farm (Issues 6-10)
F - Volume 3: Storybook Love (Issues 11-18)
F - Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Issues 19-21; 23-27)
F - Volume 5: The Mean Seasons (Issues 22; 28-33)
F - Volume 6: Homelands (Issues 34-41)

NOTE: Congrats, you are now safe to start Jack of Fables. The events in this book pick-up after issues 34 and 35 of Fables contained in Homelands. You do not have to start now, but if you want to it is now safe. It didn't actually release until after Volume 8 of Fables.

F - Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) (Issues 42-27)
F - Volume 8: Wolves (Issues 48-51)

STOP!! If you haven't all ready, you should read 1001 Nights of Snowfall. I did not, but it ties into Volume 9 of Fables. (I don't think you lack if you just read it whenever. It is technically a prequel.)

F - Volume 9: Sons of Empire (Issues 52-59)
F - Volume 10: The Good Prince (Issues 60-69)
F - Volume 11: War and Pieces (Issues 70-75)
F - Volume 12: The Dark Ages (Issues 76-82)
The first special issues featuring Jack of Fables
STOP!! You are now on a Fables vacation. In order to read Volume 13 you have to read Jack of Fables because this is a Crossover edition.

J - Volume 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape (Issues 1-5)
J - Volume 2: Jack of Hearts (Issues 6-11)
J - Volume 3: The Bad Prince (Issues 12-16)
J - Volume 4: Americana (Issues 17-21)
J - Volume 5: Turning Pages (Issues 22-27)
J - Volume 6: The Big Book of War (Issues 28-32)
Fabels: The Literals
STOP!! It is now time for a Jack of Fables vacation. Sort of. When released as individual issues Volume 13 actually contains FablesJack of Fables, and The Literals. When they released it as a trade paperback they put everything together and called it Fables.

F - Volume 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Fables: Issues 83-85; Jack of Fables: Issues 33-35; The Literals: Issues 1-3)

Note: Now, you can do what you want for the rest of the Fables and Jack of Fables. A suggested order is such (this is how they were released and I read them):

J - Volume 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack (Issues 36-40)
F - Volume 14: Witches (Issues 86-93)
J - Volume 8: The Fulminate Blade (Issues 41-45)
F - Volume 15: Rose Red (Issues 94-100)
J - Volume 9: The End (Issues 46-50) - This concludes Jack of Fables.
F - Volume 16: Super Team (Issues 101-107)
F - Volume 17: Inherit the Wind (Issues 108-113)
F - Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland  (Issues 114-123)

There is also the standalone comic Werewolves of the Heartland that was finally released at the end of last year. The comic is a chance to see Bigby all by himself. It is technically a good introduction to the series; but if you are worried about any possible spoilers it was originally set to be released around the same time as Super Team and follows events from that comic.
Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love issues
Then, there is Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (Issues 1-6) and Cinderella: Fables are Forever (Issues 1-6). From Fabletown with Love does its own thing, so no real worries for spoilers. Fables are Forever, though, does talk about events from later in the series. If you want to avoid possible spoilers do not read it until after Fables: Volume 13. Also, the two collections are entirely unrelated. There is no need to read one right after the other.
The first Fairest issues, concentrating on Sleeping Beauty & the Snow Queen
The newest addition to the Fables family is the comic book series Fairest (Edit FTNH: focusing on the ladies of Fabletown)Fairest - Volume 1: Wide Awake (Fairest issues 1-7) was released in November of last year. (Edit FTNH: And Fairest - Volume 2: Hidden Kingdom - Fairest issues 8-14 was released July 30, '13). This comic book series is a good starting point if you are overwhelmed with the series overall. If you are worried about spoilers, though, you should wait until the huge story arch is completed in Volume 13. It is not so much huge spoilers as making you wonder how things got to that point; so it might actually make you more eager to check out the earlier comics. The sequel, Fairest - Volume 2: Hidden Kingdom, will be released in July.
Fables prose novel Peter & Max - paperback cover artwork
Lastly, there is the novel Peter & Max. This is an original novel that also can be read as an introduction to the series. I don't remember any spoilers for the series, so I wouldn't worry about a reading order. If you are in the mood for a Fables novel instead of graphic novel, pick this one up!

One thing I left out of this post originally was that the comic book series has been collected into Deluxe Editions. I have been buying them as trades, so I don't actually have the hardcover editions, but I thought I would also include them at the bottom here if you are looking for an easier way to collect the series:
(Edit FTNH - I am adding the additional to-date info here in the list for your convenience)

Volume 1: Fables 1-10
Volume 2: Fables 11-18
Volume 3: Fables 19-27
Volume 4: Fables 28-33 (1001 Nights of Snowfall)
Volume 5: Fables 34-45
Volume 6: Fables 46-51
Volume 7: Fables 52-59 AND 64 (released Sept 10 '13)
Volume 8: Fables 60-63 AND 65-69 (TBR Feb 5, '14)

Edit FTNH Note: The Deluxe Editions, while definitely worth their price (they include all the lovely covers, along with bonus content, as well as being a little hardier than the trade issues) don't tend to include the special Jack and Cinderella issues so cross reference this when choosing what to pick up next to make sure you don't miss anything.
A huge THANK YOU!! to Kailana for allowing me to share this awesome guide.

Now that you're all inspired, here's the sales link:

Starting again very recently, I read the Fairest issues/volumes and the Cinderella paperbacks before heading back to the beginning and it worked very well for whetting my Fables appetite. If you're interested in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Queen and Rapunzel's stories - or are particularly interested how the female fairy tale characters are adapted - then starting here would work well for you.
The Rapunzel Fairest series - Hidden Kingdom
Although some issues are better written than others, overall I'm continually impressed at how smart and well thought out these stories are. The interweaving of the narratives feels far more natural than it should and shows a clear understanding of where these stories came from and their variants as well. There is no Disney here yet the classics we love are clearly recognizable, though usually in very unexpected ways. The writing is often very funny and though the story lines are contemporary, edgy and clearly adult (these Fables are not to be trifled with and war is, well, war) the series also often has a comfortable feel of detective noir, complete with sassy commentary.
One of the special Cinderella series of issues - Fables Are Forever
I'm not a big fan of fairy tale mash-ups in general. The stories get muddied and compromised and their resonance and power are often lost. Usually the more stories shoved in, the worse it gets but I don't have that feeling at all with the Fables series. There is a deep understanding and respect for fairy tales that pervades the writing and this is the only set of retellings I've read in which the retelling doesn't seek to replace (or obliterate) the source stories but instead reinforces them and keeps them alive while adding to them at the same time. Here's a very brief excerpt from one of the (many, many) interviews on the web with Willingham (this one from 2010 by Geoff Boucher of HeroComplex):
GB: Tell me a bit about the research you did to get into this massive story tapestry. Were you always immersed in fables? 
BW: I was and I’ve almost grown to love the word “research.” It’s such an important, scholarly word. And I feel a bit of a fraud since what I do is just, well, read stories. I’ve always loved to read. I’ve been reading this stuff since childhood. Now I guess I can sort of justify it. But it still goes no deeper than just reading and rereading the stories I’ve loved for so long. As far as “research,” I jot down notes if there’s something interesting in them that I can use. And that’s the extent of it. And yet lately, over the last few years, I’ve been referred to — and this even by, you know, pointy headed academic types — as a folklore scholar. And, well, gosh, that’s kind of nice. If I’d known that that’s all it took to become one of those, I’d have become a scholarly type long ago.
(If you'd like more insight into Mr. Willingham's influences and his approach to fairy tales and rewriting them, this recent interview from April this year, when he was encouraging people to write a "drabble", is a good one. Click HERE to read.)

It's quite an incredible feat and Willingham deserves every kudos for this. I can't quite believe it's taken me this long to realize this as completely as I do now. Perhaps because, although I like the concept of a comic book, I usually find them hard to read. Well not anymore. The stories are great and the artwork is consistently - and astonishingly - high in quality, while the layout makes for a pleasant read (comic book layouts tend to be the thing that kills it for me - there's too much artwork and "pencil line mileage" crammed into a small space, making it hard to take all the important aspects in, but Fables is actually a pleasure to peruse at your own pace). I'm hooked.
And for those who ahead of me in their admiration and would like a Willingham version of a fairy tale encyclopedia, your wish has been granted. Come October 29th, the Fables Encyclopedia (full cover artwork shown above) will be released. (It's currently available for pre-order at Amazon.) The cover was just revealed at a Con this month, showing Rose Red on the Fables Farm (where Fable creatures, such as talking animals and Thumbelina-sized persons who can't "pass" for mundanes in the normal world, live), reflecting her sister Snow White, and Fabletown, which is tucked away within modern Manhattan.
Sale on Fables comics until the end of September 2013 - click on image to go to the Comixology sale page
Good luck on your Fables hunt! I'll be right there in the story woods with you...


  1. What about the crossover with The Unwritten? I can't figure out where that comes in. I've just got to Inherit the Wind and I don't want to run into spoilers in the crossover.