Bill Willingham pt 2 - Fables, Fables on TV and JSA

Bill Willingham Part 2

Just as Bill Willingham has released Peter & Max, the prose novel based in the Fables universe, he's also had several announcements recently about his upcoming comic book work.

This summer, Willingham began co-writing DC's Justice Society of America comic with co-writer Matthew Sturges, but the DC announced that later this year, he'll take over the title full time as Sturges leave to spin off a new JSA series. And with Willingham's best-selling, award-winning series Fables, the writer recently announced he's working on a 144-page graphic novel due out next year called Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland with pencils by Jim Fern.

The writer also recently announced an oversized Fables #100, and as we found out, he's going to be reviving his artistic career for the issue while letting regular series artist Mark Buckingham try his hand at writing.

In Part 1 of our discussion with Willingham yesterday, we talked to the writer/artist about Peter & Max.

Today, we discuss the Fables television show, the 100th issue, the Werewolves graphic novel, and what's coming in Justice Society of America.

Nrama: Bill, you had a lot of announcements in San Diego, but we haven't heard much from you about them.

Willingham: I haven’t been talking to a lot of folks since San Diego or since just before. I’ve been kept pretty busy. I’m doing a lot of catch-up, but the one absolute thing about writing a novel is it drops a giant anvil into the middle of your monthly deadlines. So maybe that’s the one piece of advice I could offer to anyone who would like to spin off their comics into new medium, it’s certainly going to interrupt whatever workflow that you manage to eek out.

Nrama: What can you tell us about the Werewolves of the Heartland story that comes out next September?

Willingham: Well, the Werewolf story is – what can I say about this one? This is the one that I’m most wary about giving too much away. Let me say this, readers will quickly see that this harkens back to something that happened in previous issues of Fables, so you'll see I’ve kind of had this in mind as a possibility. All sorts of possible storylines occur in the course of writing these kinds of things.

The story kicks off when Bigby Wolf – assuming the readers are sort of caught up on what’s happening in Fables at the moment – we’ve established that Bigby Wolf is having trouble staying around The Farm. And the influence of this Dark guy is kind of appealing to his old savage nature. We had the "Great Fables Crossover," which partly kicked off due to the desire on the Fables’ part to just find some excuse to get Bigby out of there. So the story picks up where Bigby has been sent out on a new, “let’s-get-him-out-of-The-Farm" mission – in this case, wandering around looking for a new place to start a new Fabletown.

I think that sort of gives something away, which is that trouble with Mr. Dark is going to be lasting for awhile. This Bigby Fables: Werewolf of the Heartland thing does not occur until about this time next year, when it will come out. So yeah, look, I’ve just given terrible things away about the story. What are you going to do?

But it kicks off that, and something in the title probably clues in the real clever reader that whatever Bigby finds out there, it’s going to possibly involve werewolves. He actually finds a community of them, they've kind of just been hiding out in America for some time. Other than that, I don’t really want to say anything about what it’s about.

Nrama: And what's going to happen in Fables #100 that hits late next year? It's a big issue?

Willingham: Issue #100 is going to be 100 pages long, harkening back to those really huge comic books of yore. It’s going to have a huge, big, important, this-changes-everything-about-Fables story.

Now, I hope the readers realize that when we say things like “this changes everything,” that in this series, we actually mean it. The entire status quo can be turned on its head quite easily; or at least in the sense that we’re willing to do stuff like that. Then it’s going to have some backup stuff.

Mark Buckingham and I have long thought that it would be fun to change jobs at some point in Fables, where he writes and I illustrate his story. [Vertigo editor] Shelly [Bond] was a little bit wary of that, because my speed at drawing these days has gotten glacially slow, so even if the book’s more than a year away, she’s wondering if I have time to draw a story of someone else’s.

So what we decided on, partly to appease her, partly just because it sounds fun, is he’s going to write a Fables prose story that I’m going to do illustrations for. As many or as few illustrations as can be done within the deadline.

Then we’re going to have some fun things. We’re going to have a Fables board game. In it, you can play with your family and your own dice, and etcetera, etcetera, at home, and various other fun things as a part of this. Kind of make a fun event out of it, not just another big story, although the effectual part of it is of course that it’s another big story.

Nrama: Currently in Fables, things seem to be gearing up to not only a strange birth, but also a showdown between Baba Yaga and Frau Totenkinder. Didn't you tell me in an interview last year that there may be a Baba Yaga/Frau Totenkinder showdown again, and that this time around we would see it?

Willingham: Well, what I said, I believe – and let’s put in the caveat that I’m a dotty old man now and can’t be expected to remember everything. There was a little bit of a kerfluffle from the readers that the first time Totenkinder and Baba Yaga faced off, we didn’t get to see the details of that battle, which I thought was a fine thing, because you didn’t need to. Everything you needed to know about it, you learned by seeing the aftermath of it, but fans are such as fans are, and in the comic book field, they like to see a good old slugfest take place. So what I did say is that if they ever face off again, I promise that this time you’ll see every thrust and parry of the thing, but I stopped short of saying that that’s going to happen.

Nrama: Good memory, because I believe those were your exact words. But it looks closer to actually happening.

Willingham: I don’t want to promise that will happen, and even though I’m fully aware of what we do have planned, I don’t want to give any of that away. But yes, if Baba Yaga and Frau Totenkinder go toe-to-toe again, you’re going to see every grim little bit of it.

Nrama: Okay. We’ll stick with that. What's coming up for little Bufkin, the winged monkey? He looks to be having some trouble now that he's found Baba Yaga and the D'Jinn.

Willingham: He is going to find himself in some difficult situations, you bet.

Nrama: And we’ve got Beast and Beauty with the baby, or least the implied child.

Willingham: Well, there’s certainly a pregnancy; whether that results in a baby, we’ll leave that as an open question for now.

Nrama: And I guess they’re going to be dealing with Mr. Dark down the road?

Willingham: One hopes. It would be a shame to spend so much time setting him up as such a bad nasty as he is and never deal with that, so sure.

Nrama: Avoiding the word "grim," because that always has a negative connotation in comics, we had some really horrible things happen after the war, and things got very dark for the Fables characters. We got a nice, fun break during the "Great Fables Crossover," but are things going to get "grim" again now?

Willingham: Well, I’ve grown a little tired of the word grim in comics as well, because it harkens back to the grim and gritty things, which I think has gotten a little bit silly. Grim, of course, where fairytales are concerned, has a very good providence, which is the Brothers Grimm and things like that.

Yeah, some terrible things happened to good people, if you have a nice dramatic story, and, of course, we want to have nice dramatic stories. So yes, all sorts of awful things are indeed going to happen, and hopefully all sorts of nice things are going to happen from time to time as well, and kinda finding the balance between that. If it was all just doom and gloom, and sturm and drang, and all that unrelenting, I think we’d all get pretty tired of that after a while.

Then again, if everything always went the way of our heroes and everything turned out wonderfully, we’d get tired of that too, because we like drama, we like struggle, we like finding out who these characters are. That usually happens in the throwing them into the fire type of thing. So yeah, struggles aplenty are coming down the road.

Nrama: Besides everything we've covered, are there plans for more fun Fables projects in the future?

Willingham: I think, if nothing else, not to swagger a bit here, but Fables has proven itself to be an interesting fictional universe in which to tell some fun stories. With that said, we have lots of ideas for fun stories. I have no idea what formats those will show up in, mostly comics. Of course, we will continue to do comics as long as we can, but maybe some more prose work, some more mini-series, graphic novels, whatever.

Personally, I would love to do a Fables musical, where you get a nice, thick graphic novel with a CD in the back, in a nice little sleeve, so that at certain times in the story you’ll know when to hit the next track, that type of thing.

When I say things like that, my editors at DC kind of look at me, like, “Okay, we could probably get this fellow committed without too much trouble.”

Nrama: Oh, but your fans cheer when you say things like that.

Willingham: What, that I should be committed? Yeah, so that’s what I have to say, which is that we have lots of stuff planned, lots of stuff hoped for, but whatever the case, we will certainly have some Fable-y goodness coming down the pipe with regularity for as long as we can.

Nrama: And then, a last question on Fables, is there any news whatsoever on the TV show? Have you heard anything?

Willingham: I have not heard anything. They tend not to keep me in the loop on stuff like that. The last I heard about it – well, I know that the first script for the pilot has been written. As a matter of fact, I read it, but that has not been made yet. I’m not sure if that one will be made, if something else might be made, or if they just might decide to drop the whole idea.

The announcements that this was going to happen as a TV show I think were a little premature. I think we had the writers of the pilot wanting to get some press, and did so without kinda checking to see if this really was an ongoing project yet. So I guess what I’m saying is it’s in kind of a limbo right now, as many projects are right up until the time they’re not. So I guess what I’m really saying is I don’t know.

There is a script out there. They sent me my copy with my name on every page in kind of a gray tone, and I thought, “Well, that was a nice gesture. Look at that; they made sure my name was on every page.” Then I realized that that’s so that if it got leaked, if these were photocopied somewhere, they would know who the scoundrel was, who gave it away. At least Hollywood has that much good instinct going for them, which is not to trust the writers.

Nrama: Were you pleased with what you read?

Willingham: I think this may happen and may not happen, so I’m just going to hold off commenting qualitatively until there’s something really to comment on.

Nrama: Then finally, it was announced in San Diego that you're doing your own JSA series.

Willingham: Yeah. That was in the works all along. We kind of played a little fast-and-loose with the facts when we announced that Matt and I would be writing the JSA together, which was true in the sense that we did first story arc writing together, which results in the split-up. The plan to split them into two different books, one of which will be written by Matt and one by me, was part of the whole evil scheme from the get-go.

Nrama: He told us that his team will be focusing quite a bit on training, and also that Power Girl and Magog are the leaders. I would ask then what will your team focus on, and who are main players there?

Willingham: Well, in the very first story arcs following the breakup, my team will focus on staying alive, because some fairly diabolical things are going to be set up in the books that Matt and I are doing, but following up quickly on that. So it’s hard to work out a governing philosophy, when you’re just kinda scrambling to avoid the bullets, and bombs, and what-have-you headed your way.

That said, I’m kind of thinking my team will focus on everyone from sea to shining sea getting together, hugging a lot, making sure they do their taxes on time, and contributing generously to the arts, or maybe something else. I’m not sure. No, I’m not going to diverge too much from what Geoff [Johns] set up, which is the team exists, I think, to train up new heroes. We’re going to continue with that and have some interesting effects on that.

As a matter of fact, one of the problems that results from the split-up is the whole philosophy of training of new heroes and how that’s done. So yeah, we’ll continue with that, but of course there will be plenty of villains, lots of people for the readers to boo at, and hopefully lots of people for the readers to cheer at too.

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