Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bill Willingham on the End of "Fables" and The Power of Folklore

By Nimit Malavia - front view of the wrap-around cover for the final issue of Fables

Note: Just for fun, the first image in this post is the cover for the upcoming, very last issue of Fables, while the last image is of the very first Fables cover. Throughout I've put 'in progress' sketches, some are the designs used and some are ones that were never published until the Special Edition hard covers.

Bill Willingham, creator of the long running comic series Fables, was just at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) a couple of weekends ago, and took some time to talk to The Mary Sue about a few things, including the status of the Fables movie (as far as he knows), how it feels to be at the end of Fables and, among other things, his opinion on the power of folklore. The Mary Sue posted their interview at the beginning of the week and...
I have to share!

So here's what Bill Willingham has to say on fairy tales, mythology and folklore, via The Mary Sue (emphasis in bold is mine):
TMS: I’m always curious why certain nursery rhymes or certain fairytales–stuff that isn’t mythology–
Willingham: Well it’s folklore, and folklore is mythology told by people who stopped being impressed with you. Mythology is “oh the Gods are this and that and mysterious and exciting,” and folklore is “well I’m going to tell you the tale of the Gods, but I’ve been their housekeepers for 600 years, and I know how he used to poop his diapeys. I am not impressed.” There’s a sense of wonder, there’s a sense of justice and absurdity, but not a sense of removal, you’re right in there. This is a story that doesn’t happen to important people far away, it happened to me or my aunt. So I like that, I like the immediacy.
When I was putting Fables together, I like this idea of a hidden community, and it was either going to be mythology characters or fairy tale characters, I liked both. The origin of my love for fairytales was when I discovered that they’re folklore. You know as a kid, fairytales, I liked them but I was not in love with or that impressed by them, it was just ‘these are the things that are available.’ But then, there’s this show Bullwinkle, and within this show there’s a cartoon called “Fractured Fairytales” wherein they take fairy tales and tell them in funny, mocking ways. As a kid I assumed there were rules for everything. So I’m watching this thing about the big bad wolf or something, and I knew this was not how it went, and I expressed my outrage. My mother was there and I said “how can they do this? Aren’t they going to get in trouble? This is not how it happens!” And without knowing the term public domain, she explained the whole thing. “These are folklore, they belong to the folk.”
Folklore–the thing I love about it–is it belongs to everyone, but not in a community. It’s not like we get together and decide what we’re going to do with our ownership of this, we individually own 100% of it. Every single human being who exists. We’re all born rich with this wonderful treasure.


Thank you Bill! I want to cheer in response to that last part in particular.

He goes on to talk about criticism, using the "a cat can look at a king" saying, which fits well on this theme. Here he's talking about how the internet has affected expression of ideas, feedback and how that's a good thing (the middle man and gatekeepers are often cut out) and a bad thing (the lack of manners and being able to converse civilly is being shown to be seriously lacking.)

Willingham: There’s an old saying I used to love, “a cat can look at a king.” Which is, there’s no person that’s so great that the great unwashed masses are physically unable to see them, the peasant and the king still share some commonality. And now with the Internet, that is the case. What we’re trying to do is figure out the rules of life now, because the Internet has changed everything. So we’ve come up with notions and spread wacky ideas. The notion that ‘I can dress this way but you shouldn’t be looking at me,’ in my mind that’s nonsense because a cat can look at a king. Anyone can look at anyone. And yet that’s a thing we’re wrestling with now, but we’re not really wrestling with that, we’re wrestling with ‘it’s a whole new world, and we’ve lost manners along the way and we’re beginning to perceive that we need them.’ But to call them manners and etiquette and things like that is kind of old fogey, so we’re coming up with new terms...

You can read the rest of his response and ideas about the internet, and how they affect creators in the interview - definitely worth it, if you're a writer, artist or working the public in any way.

You can read the whole article HERE, which isn't at all your standard interview at all. I also really like how he talked about his approach when beginning to work with the first, and very quickly the main or key artist, Mark Buckingham on Fables. Willingham's 'version' of the Hippocratic oath, "first, tell the story", which was the golden first pass editing rule for any script or idea. I love it.
Re the Fables movie - as far as he knows, it's still happening but has had issues with the script so there's a new writer on board now (I do't know if it's the same one that was announced not long ago, or if this has happened since). Most importantly, he has great respect for the writer and is happy to see them on board. But no other new details.

The Guardian also had a nice and personal summary and tribute to the end of the Fables series and Willinghams' work, which you can find HERE. Here are some extracted highlights:

By the end of this month, after 13 years of stories, Bill Willingham’s multiple award-winning series, Fables, will reach its 150th and final issue. What a long, strange, sweet, weird, sad, rambunctious, irreverent, wistful and elating ride it has been.
Besides the series itself, there have the spin-offs: the 50 issues of Jack of Fables, two volumes of Cinderella adventures, 33 issues of Fairest, The Wolf Among Us and Werewolves of the Heartland and 1001 Nights of Snowfall and Peter and Max and The Last Castle.
...The idea was so brilliantly simple it was immediately complex. In Fables, there has been a coup d’état across the realms of the imagination, orchestrated by The Adversary. The huddled masses of familiar faces – Cinderella and Snow White, Little Boy Blue and Prince Charming, the Wicked Witch and Bluebeard – find sanctuary in our world. Made glamorous by their magic, they create a safe haven for themselves in New York and an upstate hideaway for the Three Little Pigs, Chicken Little, Reynard the Fox and Tom Thumb (who’s dating Thumbelina, OMG) and all the other Fables who wouldn’t quite manage to pass themselves off as “mundanes” if you met them in Central Park.
The genius of Fables was to be as expansive as the fairytales themselves. The first few issues were a gumshoe detective mystery, with Bigby Wolf, who used to be both big and bad, trying to solve the mystery of Rose Red’s death. Then it shifted to political thriller, to comedy, to romance, to caper, to horror, to metafictional gallimaufry, to tragedy, to farce, to elegy, to slapstick.
Its success has demonstrated the resilience of fairytales themselves – I can imagine editorial meetings where they might have said “Can we really stretch Cinderella into a covert Modesty Blaize figure without the sexism? Or the Frog Prince, can he be a bit like Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin? And that crazy badger, Brock – OK to make him a religious fanatic?” They stretched it and stretched it and it did not break.
I want to include more, but you really should read it in context for yourself. There's enough of a summary for those familiar with most to be reminded and enough of the plot to catch you up if you missed some of the big stuff, but it still leaves plenty to be surprised by.

If you wondered what happened to the Fairest series, that wrapped with Issue #33, concentrating on the baddest bad girl in Willingham's universe: Goldilocks. There's a great interview about it HERE.

The Fables comic series finishes in JULY this year (currently scheduled for release July 22nd) with the giant 150th - aka FINAL - issue. Here's the official write-up:
Fables final issue #150: Written by Bill Willingham, art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Mark Schultz, Gene Ha, Neal Adams and others, wraparound cover by Nimit Malavia. 
Final issue. It's the final trade paperback volume of Fables! No, wait -- it's Fables #150, the grand finale of the best-selling, award-winning comic book series! And it's also an original graphic novel in the tradition of 1001 Nights of Snowfall! Yes, it's all this and more! Join us for 150 -- that's, right, 150! -- pages of new stories starring your favorite Fables, all from the mind of Bill Willingham. It all starts with an 80-page lead story illustrated by series regulars Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, plus stories illustrated by Mark Schultz, Gene Ha, Neal Adams, Andrew Pepoy and many more! 
The final bows for Boy Blue, Stinky, Lake and more in this once-in-a-lifetime issue that also features a foldout cover by Nimit Malavia that opens into a four-panel mural! It's even got metallic ink! 
160 pages, $17.99, in stores on July 22. 
Note: Fables artists featured above are: Top of post - Nimit Malavia, Joao Ruas - winged monkey versions and the 100th issue versions, James Jean - all the rest.


  1. Very interesting definition of folklore, but I do like the contrast between folklore and myth. Humorous as well as true. Many good things to ponder, thanks for sharing!

  2. I wasn't always crazy about Fables. As a storyteller myself, I would often look at some of the things Willingham did with the characters and think "Well, I wouldn't do that" (what can I say, I always think I'll tell the story best). However, I do appreciate the fact that he showed grown-up genre fiction fans (ie comic book readers) that they can still enjoy fairy tale characters and concepts.