When Bill Willingham was recruiting the next writer for the Fables tie-in series Fairest, he voiced the need for one character to be introduced right away: the Maharaja of the Indu.Not only does the Maharaja play an important role in the future of Fables, but this next story in Fairest promises to "transform all of Fables forever" —so much so that Bill Willingham is encouraging fans not to wait for the trade on this one.
Titled "The Return of the Maharaja," the arc that begins with Fairest #15 on May 1st is being written by Sean E. Williams, a Hollywood veteran who wanted to work within the world of Fables.
Willingham's request for a story about the Indu of the Homelands worked well for Williams, who has an affinity for the India of this world, as well as a love for the stories of Rudyard Kipling, which have already played a part in the Indu of Fables.
The Fairest story arc will pair penciler Stephen Sadowski with inker Phil Jimenez, after the two have been wanting to work together. Their art debuts here.
"Return of the Maharaja" probably won't be the last time we'll see Williams working in the Fables universe. Although the writer has been busy in Hollywood for the last decade, he recently moved to Minnesota for his wife's job, and that puts him in the same state as Willingham. In fact, both creators recently attended the "Fabletown and Beyond" convention in Rochester, Minn.
Newsarama talked to Williams to find out more about his plans for Fairest and how the Maharaja's important introduction led him to the story of Nalayani, the heroine of the Fairest tale.
Newsarama: How did you get recruited to write a story in Fairest? Was this your idea, or Bill's?
Sean E. Williams: Well, for this story in Fairest, it's kind of both. Let's see... that story starts before I even knew Fairest was happening.
Back in 2010, I had an idea for a character who was underutilized in Fables, and after the Cinderella mini-series, I decided to tell Bill about it at Comic-Con that year. So I put together an outline of the story and a pitch for the idea, and he said he liked it. That got the ball rolling.
So later that year, I was going to be in Minnesota for the holidays, and I ended up going over to his house, and we started talking about the idea for the story arc. And that's when he mentioned that Vertigo was going to do Fairest. And he said, "Oh, and by the way, I've got this idea for a different character that I'd like you to do too."
And I'm not an idiot, so I didn't say no.
But that's how it all started.Nrama: Now I'm dying to know what character you pitched to him originally. Will that still happen down the road?
Williams: That's the plan right now. But after Fairest got put together, [Editor] Shelly [Bond] and Bill decided this story should come first, because Bill needed one of these characters to be introduced to audiences so he could reintegrate him into the Fables universe.
So we're still hoping to do the other one. It's just a question of when.
Nrama: You said that Bill wanted one of these characters introduced. Can you say which one?
Williams: It's the Maharaja. The name of the arc is "The Return of the Maharaja," and we introduce that character in the story.
Nrama: The solicitation says that the main character goes on a quest that will "transform all of Fables forever." So it does sound important to the future of Fables. But you're saying Bill needed this Maharaja character introduced for something coming up in Fables?
Williams: Yeah, the Maharaja character in particular he wanted for the very near future for Fables, which is why we're jumping into it now.
Nrama: So this is a "must-read" story for Fables fans?
Williams: It's going to lead right into what's next in Fables. And you know, a lot of Fables readers wait for the trade paperbacks, so with this arc in particular, and the way Bill has plans for these characters, we're trying to dissuade people from waiting for the trade paperback, just because there's going to be spoilers popping up immediately.
So we're trying to get people to read this story [in Fairest] right out of the gate. It is going to have that immediate crossover into Fables once it's done.
Nrama: You said that Bill had an idea for that character. How did the story evolve from there?
Williams: Bill said he wanted that character to be introduced in this arc. But then it was up to me how to go about it.
I had been to India before and had absolutely fallen in love with it. And I'd subsequently read a number of Rudyard Kipling stories, particularly The Jungle Book. So I had an interest in those things.
I also wanted to keep it as far away from Fabletown as possible. Bill's really good at killing off characters. For that first idea I had, that first pitch, right after I wrote that up, Bill killed off one of the characters I wanted to use. So getting it away from Fabletown was one of the main requirements I had.And around the same time, I had been to a couple of the Fables panels, and the fans had expressed a desire for some diversity, asking for stories that fell outside the Western fables that had dominated the series in the past.
So I decided to explore Hinduism. I know Rudyard Kipling has gotten a bad rep for writing a Westernized version of India. So I decided to present that conflict in the actual arc.
So I read through a few couple different annotated epics of Hinduism and found this character Nalayani, who works perfectly as a foil to the Maharaja. So I focused on her.
Nrama: Who is Nalayani? Where do we pick up her story?
Williams: The story picks up with her in her village, within the land of the Indu. All the Adversary's forces have been driven out, so it's been left on its own for awhile. But all the men in the Indu went off to fight the Adversary, and they didn't come back. So there are no men. Nalayani has stepped up and become the leader of her village. Times are hard, and they're not going to be able to get through on their own. So she's going to have to go off and get the Maharaja and enlist him to help get them through monsoon season.
Nrama: What's the art like in this arc? Because it's got a pretty unique art team, with Phil Jimenez doing inks.Williams: Yeah, it's being penciled by Steve Sadowski, with Phil Jimenez inking him and Andrew Dalhouse doing the colors. And for people who've been reading Fairest, Phil and Andrew did the first arc of the comic, so getting them back was great. And Phil wanted to work with Steve; it was his idea for them to work together, because they had been wanting to do this.
The art's got a little bit more of a realism to it than some of the other stuff we've seen in Fables and Fairest. It's not as cartoony, so it's got an element of realism that I definitely love.
Nrama: You just recently attended the "Fabletown and Beyond" convention in Minnesota. How was it interacting with the fans?
Williams: It was fantastic. The great thing about the Fables readers is that they're very vocal in their love for this universe. So it's nice to have that already in place. It's not like we're jumping in the deep end, not knowing what to expect from the readership.
Nrama: It sounds like you're planning to stick around in the Fables universe and do more.
Williams: Oh yeah. Both Bill and I would love to do the first arc that I pitched. And then additionally, with what characters survive this arc, we'd like to do more with them as well. We'll see how the fans respond, but my hope is to write more in the Fables universe.