As the creator of the hit Vertigo comic book Fables, Bill Willingham has not only produced a diverse and beloved fictional universe, but he's also built an enthusiastic audience for any comics, graphic novels or prose books set within that world.
The latest successful spin-off is Fairest, the Fables tie-in comic that comes out every month from Vertigo. And what's most notable about the comic is that it features a changing slate of guest writers and artists, expanding the Fables world to other creators. Of course, Willingham still oversees the storylines, plus he writes issues of Fairest himself from time to time (such as April's Fairest #14, previewed in the gorgeous Barry Kitson art accompanying this interview).Fairest #14 Fairest, which focuses on fairy tale princesses and other fine mythic folks who generally fit the description in the title, is getting even more attention from Willingham this summer. DC Comics, the parent company for the Vertigo imprint that publishes Fables material, just announced that Willingham will also release a new hardcover, illustrated book called Fairest: In All the Land this June.
Fairest: In All the Land is the latest in a series of spin-offs, sequels and prequels tying into the Fables universe, including the recent graphic novel Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland, the story collection 1001 Nights of Snowfall, and even a successful prose novel called Peter and Max.
And June will not only see the release of the Fairest: In All the Land hardcover (which Willingham says is similar to the 1001 Nights book), but readers will also get a Fables Encyclopedia that month.
As if that wasn't enough activity for Fables fans, later this month, the comic is even spawning its own convention, "Fabletown and Beyond," in Rochester, Minn. The "Beyond" part, Willingham says, is because the convention will also spotlight other popular works of "mythic fiction," like Archaia's Mouse Guard and the Vertigo comic Unwritten. The show has an impressive line-up of guest writers and artists, plus Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond will be reviewing portfolios, intending to choose a guest Fables artist from among convention attendees.
In the first installment of a three-part interview, we talked with Willingham about specifically about Fairest and the new hardcover graphic novel, Fairest: In All the Land.
Newsarama: Bill, we've got a lot to talk about!
Bill Willingham: You know, I've never had a conversation that started with a woman saying, "we've got a lot to talk about," that ended well. So let's see if we break that mold this time.
Nrama: I should have chosen my words more wisely. How about this: You're doing a lot of things that interest me. Let's start with Fairest. You've got a new hardcover coming out in Fall 2013, Fairest: In All the Land. That's all written by you, unlike the Fairest comic. But it's related to the comic?Fairest #14
InteriorWillingham: It is, in the sense that it's the same cast and is dealing with some of the characters that we've got lined up for the Fairest series.
But it is for the Fairest series sort of what 1001 Nights of Snowfall was for Fables.
It's a series of short stories, each written by me and drawn by various artists. It starts with the Magic Mirror — which is lost in... wherever the Business Office is lost to — being asked to settle an argument amongst a lot of those miniature Barley Corn Girls that have infested the Business Office. Inevitably, the Magic Mirror is asked, amongst the Barley Corn Girls, who's the fairest? Who's the most beautiful? Because apparently, when you have magic mirrors, that's what's important to ask. Me? I would go with, like, what is the stock market going to do, or I would ask to anticipate who's going to win certain sporting events, or what have you. But "who's the prettiest amongst us?" I'm sure that's very important.
But, the switcheroo... the clever change on things... comes when the Magic Mirror finally says, "Look, I'm not beholden to anyone anymore. I'm not anyone's servant this time. So I get to A) refuse to answer that question and B) finally tell you my own definitions of what beauty and fairness are all about. And it's got scant things to do with just who's physically the most attractive. And being the only species of 'mirror-life' so far, my ideas of what physical attactiveness would be are probably vastly different from yours anyway."
And through story examples, he shows, "this is what I believe is worth celebrating in sense of beauty and fairness and all that."
And then we have anecdotally, we have the different stories that appear in the book, drawn by different artists and starring various different characters, some of whom will see a little odd starring in a book about the "Fairest."
Nrama: You have a one-shot that you're writing, coming up in the Fairest ongoing, which I know you had said would come along from time to time, in between the other writers who are featured there. Now that we've finished the Rapunzel story, was this just a story you came up with and wanted to share at this point in the series?Fairest #14
InteriorWillingham: Yep. It's Princess Alder, who's the young lady with the leaves for hair. In this issue, she decides to take up dating, with hilarious results. And it's a done-in-one. Barry Kitson is drawing that, so it should be pretty darn good.
Nrama: After that, you've got Sean Williams, who was announced awhile ago.
Willingham: Looong ago. Yeah. I think since the beginning of the series, we've been talking about this.
Nrama: Now that we know it has to do with the Indu, the Fables version of India, can you tell us anything more about that story?
Willingham: Well, yes. There's an Indian folklore character who, in their parlance, was the "fairest in all the land" (hence the tie-in). And I'm going to butcher her name, but I believe it was Princess Naliani. And it's about her. And it's about her adventures. When the Empire fell apart, what happened with the outlying worlds like the Indu was that they were suddenly on their own again after having not been on their own for some time.
And so it is a rough-and-tumble world right now, where what usually happens does in this case, which is that, when a vacuum is created by one departing power, big strong characters decide to step up and say, "Well, maybe I can run things from now on." And they usually do this by creating big messes.
So this is her struggle within this context to make things turn out OK for her village.
And then we have a couple of surprises and all that in store as well.
Sean Williams is writing this. He's a Hollywood expatriate who, like many I suppose, got tired of being ground up by the Hollywood machine, which seems for a storytelling industry surprisingly uninterested in telling stories. And he wanted to write this up as a comic. And so he did.
It's going to be pretty interesting, I think.Fairest #14
InteriorNrama: Now that Fairest has been around a year, how do you think it's been fitting into your plans for the Fables universe? Do you like how it's been going? Has it been pretty easy to hand over your baby to other writers?
Willingham: Well, it's never easy to hand over one's baby. But my answer to your question is going to be terribly prejudiced by the fact that, of course, I like what we're doing here. And I think, evidenced by the fact that Laren Beukes and Inaki Miranda took the reins on the second major story arc, and it turned into this wonderful Rapunzel in Japan story that, yeah, I think it's a terrific series right now. And a way to focus on different things other than whatever the big, grim, overriding plotline is in Fables at any given time.
We can do things that we have less opportunity to do with Fables anymore, but some of my favorite Fables stories were the flashbacks and the stories of old times. We can do more of that in Fairest. And I think that opens up... I mean, when you have essentially immortal characters, you have the entire tapestry of history in which to play, if you want to. And Fairest gives us that opportunity, and we're taking full advantage of that.
Check back on Newsarama for the next part of our Willingham interview, as we ask about the future of everyone's favorite "fairest" princess Cinderella, plus we discuss the Fables Encyclopedia, the "Fabletown and Beyond" convention, and what's coming up within the pages of the Fables comic.