FABLES' BILL WILLINGHAM On Editorial Mandates, the Series' Approaching End & Its FILM Future

DC Comics April 2014 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Bill Willingham is writing his last few issues of Fables, and as he starts a new ongoing series at Image, he's leaving behind the challenge of working with comic companies that want to control his stories — and the movie adaptations made from them.

Willingham, whose Fables series with Mark Buckingham has been one of the best-selling titles for Vertigo since it began in 2002, already told Newsarama that he originally considered offering his new Restoration ongoing to Vertigo.

"We offered it to Vertigo first," Willingham said. "But, you know, the Vertigo contract has changed. And my desire to have more control over what I do and actually be able to say yes and no to certain outside exploitations of the story has changed."

While the Fables comic finishes up — and Willingham teases the last story arc in this interview — the property has just been developed as a video game called The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games, and Warner has announced Fables is also being developed as a film by Harry Potter producers David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford of Heydey Films. Newsarama talked to Willingham about the end of the series and the status of the movie.

Newsarama: Bill, last time we talked, you said you were near the end of writing Fables. Are you on your last few scripts for Fables?

Bill Willingham: Well, it's hard to say, because the last Fables arc is 10 issues long. It goes from issue #141 to #150, which is 150 pages long. And so much of it has been written. There are certain scenes that have to happen in certain order, but things that I know are coming up, I couldn't resist writing them in advance.

So the last handful of scripts is what I'm on. But much of that has been written, as sort of pages waiting to be plugged into the individual issues.

But yeah, I'm about a month away from being done.

Nrama: This two-parter that's going on right now, with art by Steve Leialoha — "The Boys in the Band" — ties into the destruction of Fabletown, according to the beginning of the story. So is this the beginning of the end?

Willingham: Yep.

Nrama: It's all Boy Blue's fault?

Willingham: It's all his fault for forming a band, yeah.

Credit: DC Comics

Us old fogies have been trying to show what goes wrong, and those young kids with their hair and their musical instruments get together and sew their corruption and their ideas in their songs. Finally, I get to say that.

Or… it's just sort of a "here's the first group in which the idea that underlies why it needs to finish, why Fabletown needs to go away" just happens to have been with this group first.

Nrama: Well, to be fair, Fabletown hasn't exactly been… healthy lately.

Willingham: No, no. Well, it's never been healthy. A secret society in exile is never stable, almost by definition. If your entire reason for existence is to hide from something or someone, then everything is sort of subjugated to that idea.

Well, that something or someone has kind of gone away now. And there was a chance that Fabletown would continue to exist in a more stable form, because we don't just exist to hide out.

But the other idea is, well, maybe our reason for existing has gone away, and it's time to go home.

Nrama: We've seen solicitations for the first issue in the final arc — Fables #141. So "Happily Ever After" is the final story's title?

Willingham: Yes, "Happily Ever After." It remains to be seen whether that is sincere or ironic. But yes.

Nrama: And I think we had discussed last time we talked that it's heavily tied into Rose Red and Snow White, but this issue's solicitation also makes it clear that it surrounds this idea of Camelot.

Willingham: Yeah, Rose Red and the Camelot story were really a prequel arc to this.

But that's just one aspect of it. There are many aspects to this big, final story.

It really does contain all the elements of a big, final story.

We've explored the idea of Snow and Bigby as the central, romantic, married relationship behind Fables, and we explored it pretty well, I think. It's on rocky ground right now because, you know, one of them happens to be dead at the moment, but that's neither here nor there.

The other relationship central, I think, to Fables has been the sibling rivalry of Snow and Rose Red, one that started with them being just the best sisters ever, loyal to a "t" with each other. And the only way that the absolute true love can go bad, it went bad in a big way. It turns pretty toxic for a long time.

And then there were moments of forgiveness and moments of return to the rivalry. And it's been kind of a roller coaster since them.

Well, now the roller coaster's on one of its big falls. The central, driving plot behind the last story arc is Snow White and Rose Red finally having it out, bearing all their old resentments in big, larger-than-life ways.

Nrama: What's the status now with the Fables movie?

Willingham: Well, you got me, Vaneta.

Nrama: My second part of that question was going to be, "or do you even know?"

Willingham: The "or do you even know" question has been probably the most applicable since Fables started.

Early on in the process of producing Fables, DC sewed up the rights for a movie and/or TV show with me. They wanted to control it themselves, control the sales and exploitation of this. And they have.

Since that time, they've shopped it many times. There have been other deals that, who knows why they fell through.

Credit: DC Comics

But I've never actually been a part of it, other than, from time to time, someone would pick up the phone and say, yeah, there's a deal in place, or there's a pilot being written, or what have you.

And twice, it went as far as having a pilot written for a TV show.

Right now, it is supposedly green lit as a movie. I can't tell you too many details beyond that, only because, you know, if things are moving on it, they're forgetting to pick up the phone to tell me.

Nrama: But you did meet with the filmmakers and make suggestions or something, right? Am I remembering that right?

Willingham: Yeah.

Nrama: And you said, if you make this movie, here's what I think it should probably be.

Willingham: Yeah. I was in a room. They asked me what the movie should be, and I told them what I think the movie should be.

This is in light of the fact that, on those two previous pilots, in both cases, they seemed like interesting stories. They just weren't Fables.

So my point was, you know, if you're going to go to all the trouble to make Fables, why don't you actually make Fables?

The most wonderful aspect of the renaissance that Marvel is having with movies right now is that the ones that really work best are the ones that are truest to their source material. And if any lesson is to be learned from it, I think the lesson is, look what you can do when you're not embarrassed by the source material.

So… that was my advice. And I outlined what I considered to be a good idea for a first either stand-alone, or one among many movies.

The problem with that is, I'm just one more guy that they have no obligation to listen to. I learned early on — I mean, the first movement on the Fables movie was in the first year of Fables, and that was 11 years ago — I learned early on that meeting them in Hollywood can happen without any relationship as they continue moving the ball foreword.

Now I don't get my hopes up at all.

Nrama: So you've got Restoration, which you're taking to Image. You've got the end of Fables coming up. Any other things on the back burner that you're hoping to get to after you're done with Fables?

Willingham: There are things on various burners, yes, none of which I'm disposed to talk about, except in this general way.

I will continue to do novels and prose. And those are in operation. I will continue to do comics projects.

But I think, in the future, rather than starting a series with someone who immediately says, "OK, now as the publisher and money person, I'm going to inject my ideas about what would make this series work"… I'm getting a little spoiled now, and I think the novel writing template is a better way to go. You do the story, you get it done, and then shop it around if you want a publisher and say, who wants to publish this story? Not who wants to help produce the story and start chiming in with ideas. But just who wants to publish the story that actually exists here and isn't going to be changed?

So in my "grumpy old man" years, I think that's a good adjustment to make.

Nrama: I think that's it, Bill, unless there's anything you want to warn readers about, or thank people for doing?

Willingham: Well, thank yous are always, always in order, and never said often enough. So of course, thank you to the loyal Fables readers.

It is hard for others to remember, but I remember it daily. It's hard for others to remember how rocky a road my comics career was pre-Fables, to the extent that more than anyone else in this business, I trust the success of Fables least. I'm always willing to believe that the collective comics reading world will wake up simultaneously and say, "What the hell have we been doing reading this nonsense?" and go away.

So my appreciation that, at least 11 years and counting, they have not gone away is pretty vast. And so I would like to, as always, communicate my thanks to the readers.

The readers really direct what does and does not happen in the comic books, like any other form of entertainment. So thank you. Thank you for letting me have a job.

As Fables comes to a close, I promise not — or at least do my best — not to screw it up.

And of course, I have other things out there, and I hope you'll give them a shot.

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