BILL WILLINGHAM p2: Dramatic Twist & Turns Coming in FABLES

BILL WILLINGHAM p2: Dramatic Twist & Tur


While the big news for Fables readers right now is the announcement of a new Fairest spin-off series, the main series from Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham has plenty more dramatic twists and turns coming up over the next year.

This week's Fables #107, which features Terry Moore as a guest artist, will put a new thorn into the lives of the Fables characters as Sleeping Beauty looks to be waking up. That may be good news for Sleeping Beauty herself, but not for the Fables who were counting on her keeping the evil leaders of the Empire asleep.

In part two of our three-part interview (click here for part one), we talk to Willingham about this week's issue, as well as what's coming up over the next year of Fables. We talk about this year's Christmas issue, the future of Bigby and Snow's cubs, and what's going on with Bufkin in Oz.

(And if you're not caught up on your Fables reading, here's fair warning -- there are spoilers ahead!)

Newsarama: Bill, this week's issue of Fables has a guest artist, Terry Moore. We talked to Terry about it recently, and he said you guys have known each other for a while. Is that how you ended up collaborating together?

Bill Willingham: I've known Terry Moore for some time. I enjoyed his Strangers in Paradise before I met him. And I met him in Dallas when a local retailer brought Terry Moore and myself and Dave Sim and few others out to the ball game during one of the conventions there. And there's no better way to meet a fellow than in a car ride out to a baseball game. So I guess we hit it off. I thought he was a fine fellow, so I was friendly with him and followed his work for years. And once Fables started, I was always saying to him that anytime he wanted to do a Fables story, to just let me know. Because Mark, for all his qualities, which are wonderful, he can't do quite the 12 issues a year. So from time to time we do other shorter stories with other artists.

Fables #107 is a one-issue Sleeping Beauty story, and I'm not sure if we asked him to do this first or if he finally just contacted us and said he had some spare time in his schedule to do it. But in any case, that's how it worked out. His timing worked with ours, and we got him to do the issue.

The issue is lovely, by the way.

And it's a fun story. It's a done-in-one showing what's been happening with Sleeping Beauty since she went to sleep in the Imperial City and helped bring the Empire to its knees.

And it's one of those that will have pretty interesting and dire consequences in the future stories of Fables, so it's also a fairly important issue.

That's why, when we get guest artists, I avoid calling them "fill-in" issues, because I don't think there are any fill-in issues with Fables. We set out to make sure every story we do is important, and hopefully we succeed, even if that importance isn't always something apparent immediately. It usually shows up and is noticeable down the road.

Nrama: Isn't it true that if Sleeping Beauty awakens, that affects those around her?

Willingham: Yes.

Nrama: And those around her are asleep for a reason. They were the leaders of the Empire, and Sleeping Beauty's sleep was necessary to take them out of the picture.

Willingham: Yeah. The people in Fabletown, who are going through their own trials and tribulations right now, do not want that city to wake up, which is what would happen if they woke Sleeping Beauty up.

In that city are all the people who really knew how to run the Empire they just destroyed, including those who would know how to reopen all those gates that they spent so much blood and treasure closing up.

So yeah, they don't want all those people waking up, so they've been content to let Sleeping Beauty stay there as long as she has. Not content in the sense that they think it's fair to her. But that the sacrifice of one is worth it for the saving of many, which is always an important consideration in war. This one just happens to have stuck her there for a long, long time.

And now we're going to see what's going on with that.

Nrama: I was honestly hoping you didn't forget her.

Willingham: No, most of the dangling plot lines are not a case of forget, but in some cases we'll get to it when we can, and in some cases they were specifically left dangling for things that are planned well into the future.

Nrama: I assume this is the latter.

Willingham: This is the latter. And after this issue, Sleeping Beauty's story continues in Fairest.

Nrama: The defeat of Mr. Dark that just occurred was a great ending of a terrible threat to the Fables, but obviously there were some big things that happened to the families of Fables as the result of that battle. Now Bigby's children are in line to inherit the throne of the North Wind. Is that one of the big things that's coming up in Fables?

Willingham: It is, actually. I'm going to do something here that's kind of forbidden in our job, which is to answer some of the critiques of the issue where that happened. Specifically those one or two people who have accused the dénouement of the "Super Team" story of being deus ex machina because, of course, the godlike character Mr. North shows up at the last moment to save everyone.

But one of the operative elements of deus ex machina, which is looked upon in writing as a cheat to readers, is that it comes out of nowhere. That all the struggles and trials lead up to a moment with our hero that there's no way to get out of, then God shows up to fix everything. Or the gods, actually, since it had kind of a Greek origin. But it does not fall into that category if you spent years building up to this and seeding all the clues and motivations and the conflicts that lead to this. And I think if you read back, they lead inevitably to this.

And it's also not deus ex machina if you have to spend an entire issue having the son of said god pretty much force, debate, and lawyer him into having to make that sacrifice.


Anyway, that's my answer to it. And the reason I give that answer is that it does indeed feed into the upcoming storylines. It is not a surprise, I hope, that one of the cubs is slated to become the new North Wind. But it is a surprise that the cubs just lost their grandfather, whom they love dearly. I think that, in and of itself, should be a moment of moments in this series. Or at least in the readers' attention.

But yes, there is going to be some trials among the cubs to see if which one, if any, is fit to become the new North Wind. And it should be pretty interesting.

Nrama: Every scene that the cubs are in seems to be so much fun. And you had told me before that they were going to be a bigger part of the series, right?

Willingham: They do start to take a presence in the front ranks of the ensemble cast, starting with this incident. I think I made a promise at the 2010 San Diego panel, or perhaps it was the year before that, that the second 100 issues of Fables would be mostly about the cubs. The statement from one of the North Wind's attendants that "it's not you, Bigby, who will be the North Wind, but one of the cubs" is basically the gunshot at the race that starts all that into motion.

Nrama: It's great that the story can be passed along somewhat to a second generation of Fables.

Willingham: One of the things I wanted to do with Fables, and I'm just feeling like we can make a go of it, was to follow in a template of Hal Foster with Prince Valiant, which he did for 30-plus years. We not only saw Prince Valiant grow up and grow into his role within that long-running comic series, but then we saw his son grow up from a baby to a young man and start to have his own adventures. Prince Valiant became kind of a guest star in his own series as we followed Prince Arn and his adventures, and his struggling to grow up in a dangerous and difficult world. I've always wanted to do something like that, because that's a real, total exploration of a fictional land when you have it become generational like that.

One hopes Fables lasts long enough for me to do stories about anything that interests me. Stories about the next generation growing up to face their own challenges has to be a part of that.

Nrama: Will we also pick up what's happening with Bufkin in Oz and the characters he's meeting there?

Willingham: Yep! We have #107, the Sleeping Beauty story. Then starting with #108, for four issues, we have the story "Inherit the Wind," which is concentrating on the investigation and trials to see which, if any, of the cubs are suitable to become the North Wind.

But along with that, the other plot will be what's going on with Bufkin in the Land of Oz and its surrounding territories. So the overarching title for this story arc could have just as easily been called the Adventures of Bufkin in Oz as it was Inherit the Wind.

We get to see both. And I'll promise that we get to see progress in both stories, but not necessarily resolution in both.

Nrama: With the main set of Fables, they're all in Haven right now. If there are changes to Sleeping Beauty's status, and that in turn changes the Empire, then could it affect the Fables' return to Fabletown and the Farm? Or is that even what they want to do now?

Willingham: Well, we don't know. And by saying "we don't know," I'm lying and actually saying, "I know, but you don't get to yet."

The desire is to return to the Farm, for those that live on the Farm -- those that want to -- and there's this wonderful new forbidding castle where Fabletown used to be. It's much larger. Its capacity is much bigger. So if you’re talking about room for them to return to Fabletown, there seems to be plenty. If you're talking about whether it's an advisable thing to do, that's still up in the air. But there will be people who want to do that.

Nrama: There are still a couple people there, right?

Willingham: Two people. We have Nurse Sprat, who just finished her transformation into a femme fatale of considerable allure, and we've got this character Werian Holt, her fencing instructor, who was just introduced. And although I cannot promise that he's vital or important or something dangerous lurking in the wings for later stories, I can say that we tend not to introduce too many characters who don't have more than one thing going on.

Nrama: Anything you can tell us beyond "Inherit the Wind" about what we can look forward to?

Willingham: Yes, "Inherit the Wind" will end in November. So because of that timing, in December we'll have another Christmas story. This Christmas story will feature some of the folks who showed up in the previous one, but because so many Christmas stories do this, it's become a tradition, we'll do a take on A Christmas Carol, taking one character and introducing them to many ghosts or spirits whose purpose is to instruct them into the right attitude about things. We just introduced the fact that Rose Red has been selected as an agent of the character Hope. One of her paladins amongst Fabletown and the Fables. We'll use the Christmas issue to introduce her to the other three paladins of Hope on Christmas night.


When you read the story, you'll see why this is appropriate as a Christmas story. And also it will set up the next big storyline.

Following that, we'll have a one-issue collection of short, short Fables stories where we get the artists we've been wanting to work with again to do some short stories that have particular meaning in some of the events coming up. The title of that issue is: "In Those Days..." And every story starts off with those words.

Following that, we have the next big arc, which is called "Cubs in Toyland." And I'm not going to tell you anything about that, other than that there are cubs in Toyland.

Nrama: What's the latest on Werewolves of the Heartland? It's coming out in October?

Willingham: Yes. It's Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland. Not in the Heartland, which even people at DC keep misstating it as, because that sounds like a weather report. "Tonight, rain and werewolves in the Heartland." So Werewolves of the Heartland.

It is a single story, 144 pages. I think 136 are the actual story pages, with some stuff before and after. It's Bigby in the Heartland. The title is not misleading. There are werewolves there.

Nrama: I noticed there were people dressed in Fables costumes in San Diego, which points toward people really loving these characters. But I know you also get some flack from fans of characters that have died.

Willingham: I honestly like that, because I like that these characters are important to people. Although Fables has a little more blood on its hands than the average comic book, we don't really make those decisions willy-nilly. It's about whether we can get a compelling story out of it, and one that matters.

In defense, though, our body count doesn't even begin to approach something like George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones book.

Nrama: A lot of your dead came back on the trip to Haven, too, right?

Willingham: Yeah, some of them are half-back from the dead. They're fine as long as they don't leave town. And we'll explore some of the consequences and repercussions of that in the future as well.

Check back soon for the final installment of our talk with Bill Willingham when we discuss what he's doing next in prose.

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