BILL WILLINGHAM on His FABLETOWN Mythic Fiction Con

Bill Willingham's Fables has been a Vertigo staple for a shade over a decade this year, and at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina over this past weekend, he had some exciting news for fans — he's hosting his own convention, Fabletown and Beyond. The event is designed to celebrating the mythic fiction movement.

Confirmed guests already are Mike Carey and Peter Gross (The Unwritten), Bryan Glass (Mice Templar), David Petersen (Mouse Guard), Matt Sturges (House of Mystery), and Mike Oeming (Powers). Newsarama spoke exclusively with Willingham about what his con is all about, guests, and his hopes and expectations are for it.

Newsarama: Bill, Fables has been around for about a decade now, what made you decide to finally get a convention going?

Bill Willingham: A couple of things: One being the Sandman fans put together one that they called "The Fiddler's Grave" that came off very well. It wasn't an anti-convention, but in the sense of a sort of convention where it's a little more relaxed; a little more devoted to getting a lot more intimate in the non-gaudy way of conversation between the guests and the attendees without the constant formality of having a table between you, or a panel room as your only avenue to connect with these guys. And apparently it was quite successful. So that was part of it.

The Fables forum board that was going well for quite a few years tried to get up a similar thing for Fables, but the problem with the forums is that they have a lot of good ideas and no leader emerged to say "we need to narrow some of these good ideas down," like picking a place and etc.

So the ideas dwindled because no one really would step up and take command with it. So I tried to stay out of it because it was their thing, but the idea just stayed with me for a while. When the 10th anniversary started coming up, I thought, well, that was an occasion worth marking. You know how every single cop spends his entire career, whether it's a good cop or bad cop, planning the perfect crime. "If I had only done this, instead of this... if I'd ever kill my boss, this is how I'd do it." You know, stuff they use for mental exercise. Well, every comic person who goes to these conventions keeps a mental exercise, "You know the perfect convention would do this instead of that," or "This is what this convention does that I love." That kind of thing. They start forming this type of convention in their mind, and I thought I'd take a shot at it.

Now let me just say that any person that willingly that does a convention is clinically insane because it is so much work! The conventions that run wonderfully the people think they must be easy because they run so smoothly. If they could see behind the scenes what some of us get to see, like just how many fires are being put out constantly, no one should willingly want to do this to themselves. Here at HeroesCon, Sheldon has been doing this for 30 years and I can't believe he's still sane.

I remember 10 or 12 years ago somebody asking Sheldon at what point of doing this convention did it start making any money, going from in the red to black, and he said well if it ever happens, I'll let you know. I mean you do this for love, you don't do this for greed. It's a passion. So I'm not sure why in my old age I've decided to do something silly. That said, I think I think the convention is worth doing.

It's not just a Fables-centric convention, although that is a big part of it, but it's books like that. It's the books that I like reading now, which are talking animals, Shakespearean characters, all those mice with swords, things that Jill Thompson is doing with Beasts of Burden. The things that have their own little corner that Kurt Busiek has dubbed "mythic fiction" which I think if you need to pick a name, that's a good name. So we have a guest list that will reflect that.

Don't get me wrong about superhero writers. I write superheroes. I got nothing against them or superhero artists, but this is just focusing on this corner for once. The other thing we're going to do is the kind of programming that used to be at comic shows, and is becoming rarer and rarer as the various TV companies and the big publishers have learned the utility of having big panels that are basically sales pitches for their whatever. We love those. They're great, but it uses all the programming time and San Diego very seldom has programming about stuff; about an idea to be discussed anymore. Which I miss, so we're doing that. All our programming is going to be about ideas or interviews with an interesting writer or artist, or maybe two interesting people interviewing each other.

At the same time running concurrent with that, we have purchased the rights to re-open an old medieval bar for the convention that will be staffed, not really around the clock, but open early/close late where our stars are going to be there on a schedule. So if you want to interact with so-so in a relaxed intimate setting where there isn't a table or microphone and podium between you, you can have that as well. We will serve food and beverages and we might even get a real butler and serving staff because that might be fun.

Nrama: What went into choosing your guests?

Willingham: Choosing the guests was ridiculously easy. We don't have a large budget for this and we thought we could go whole hog and bring in one major guest, so it had to be Mark Buckingham, from England, as the Guest of Honor for the show. The other guests are anyone who does our kind of books are invited to be guests. We can get you a room, but can't pay your way. If you can get there, we'll set you up with a room, a table, all that. I am pleased there have been no nos so far. There's been a about a half a dozen instant yeses. But since we've announced it, folks like Ed Brubaker and Kurt Busiek have said "I'm coming". And, maybe, just maybe a surprise name to drop later on.

Nrama: What are you hoping fans get out of this in comparison to a San Diego Comic-Con, or a regular convention?

Willingham: I sort of have one foot in both worlds right now in the sci-fi and fantasy cons and comic cons. They're a little similar except they started from two different notions. Comic conventions started because a bunch of guys rented a room and wanted to sell their old comics. That was the only way to do it back then. There was no programming; it was hucksters. Sci-fi/fantasy conventions started with, "Let's get together and let's talk about the books we love with each other." There was no dealer room at first, but then added a little dealer's room.

Well, the comic conventions started adding programming because that's what happens at these things and they started to grow together. The things I love about most sci-fi conventions is that they have an opening ceremony. A little place where it's about to begin, let's get everybody in a room and say thank you for coming, this is what's happening this weekend and here's some people you'll want to interact with. So it starts the conversational aspect early, and I like that, so that's what we're doing.

But comic conventions don't do that. There's a some point where it's begun and maybe part of it's because you want to buy the cool thing or the cool sketch and if you want to be at so and so's table, and if you want to do that at our convention, God bless you. More power to you. For those that want a little get together, we'll do that as well. And I think that is what the show is going to be about. My hope is in all these settings, an extended conversation between the readers and the pros.

Fabletown and Beyond will be held March 22-24th, 2013 in Rochester, MN.

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