At New York Comic Con this past October, it was announced that the Fables-based video game The Wolf Among Us will be adapted into a comic via DC/Vertigo’s digital first initiative. Yes, it’s a comic adaptation of a video game adaptation of a comic.
With Bill Willingham’s long running Fables series coming to an end, as well as its spin-off Fairest, The Wolf Among Us comes at a time of need for Fables fans so they’re not left empty-handed. With the first chapter released this week through any digital comics app, and soon to be released in print, Fables: The Wolf Among Us takes the Fables Universe in a direction that hasn’t been explored before.
Newsarama spoke with series writers Matt Sturges and relative newcomer Dave Justus about the series and its tone, which characters are getting more of a chance to shine, and why fans of all things Fables should stick around.
Newsarama: David, Matt told me to give you some hard questions, so let’s talk about Bigby’s manscaping routine. How difficult is that for him?
David Justus: You know it’s something we want to reveal very slowly. The digital first format gives us the ability to draw it over several clicks of the mouse. He rolls his sleeve, he unbuttons the top button, he pulls up his pants leg and really let’s the reader have this experience that is very slow and very tantalizing. I think that’s the thing people will be talking about the most here.
Matt Sturges: Wow! [laughs]
Nrama: Had to get that out of the way! Now, for real though, Matt, you’re no stranger to the Fablesverse, having already worked on Jack of Fables, and some of Bigby in the Great Fables Crossover (but sparsely), how are you approaching things from Bigby’s point of view this time around?
Sturges: Well that’s a very interesting question because the story and the world of The Wolf Among Us has a different feel to it than the main Fables series and certainly more different than the Great Fables Crossover where Bigby was a chimpanzee at one point. Nothing like that happens here, though, and it’s a darker, sort of noir feel to the story and gives us the opportunity for Bigby to be put in situations where you wouldn’t always see him and opposite characters that are a bit more seedy and unpleasant than the kind the people he’s used to.
Instead of putting Bigby in a supernatural world, he’s in the underbelly of the Fables Universe and creates a lot of great opportunities for stories to tell.
Nrama: Now as you just mentioned, the game is full of this dark and moody noir vibe that feels like an R-rated murder mystery, are there going to be different tones differentiating the book and the game or are they pretty much in sync?
Justus: I think the answer is both yes and no. There’s a lot of that noir vibe and R-rated feel to it and there’s this murder mystery you’re going to get, but we’re also very quickly going to be branching off of that and going into different directions. Whereas in the game you’re pretty closely following current events as Bigby, as he’s following the clues and figuring out what’s going down we’re able to do some flashbacks and we’re able to get more esoteric. We are able to do things the game isn’t able to do at all.
Sturges: Overall the tone matches the game to a large degree, but we have taken the liberty to provide a lot of side stories and flashbacks and things like that where we can change the tone significantly and do some fun things.
There’s this fairytale in poem form that Dave did that’s fantastic. We sort of do a “Drunk History” version of Little Red Riding Hood as if it’s being told like a Little Golden Book. There’s lots of different places we’re going to we can inject horror and poetry and just has given us the license to do fun things and Vertigo has been very cool with us take these sometimes these mad explorations with the story.
Nrama: This is more of a prequel, so were you given a lot of notes from Bill Willingham or did you have carte blanche in a way in how you wanted to do things?
Sturges: Yeah, Bill is not the sort of tyrant you expect him to be when it comes to his characters. He pretty much said “Ehh you can do whatever you want” and he knows that if he has agreed to work with someone – because he had a say on who worked on this project – and he knows that he trusts you and they’re not going to mess things up. So he gave us pretty much free range to do whatever we wanted, and that could just end up blowing up in our faces, but that’s the deal we took.
Justus: And the scripts are going through him so if there’s anything we try to get away with that he doesn’t care for or contradicts something that happens later in Fables, he’s going to call us out on it. I think we respect enough of what he’s built that we’re not going to try screw it up.
Sturges: And if that does happen, I’ll just blame Dave.
Nrama: I hear he makes a fantastic scapegoat. Now, you guys are paired with three artists for the series: Travis Moore, Stephen Sadowski, and Shawn McManus, what’s the collaboration process like for this hefty team?
Sturges: Dave, why don’t you take this one.
Justus: They are cycling through every three chapters. I’m not articulating this very well, so thank God my job doesn’t have anything to do with words [laughs].
So Sadowski will do chapter one and he has got I would say a more traditional style that he’s working in. Then Shawn McManus, you’ve seen him do a lot of different Vertigo and the Sandman universe. He’s the one that worked on the poetry part Matt talked about earlier and pulled a completely different style from his sleeve and surprised everybody. I wasn’t too familiar with him before working on this and I am fascinated by his style. He is a fantastic storyteller.
Each of them is bringing something different to the table in terms of their style, but it’s all flowing together really well. If you sit down and read the three chapters in a row, you’ll see how well it flows and that it’s all part of the same work, even though it’s three different illustrators. The colors go a long way to give it a sense of consistency and that it’s all one piece.
Sturges: Yeah, as we work with these guys and learn what they like to do and how to let them shine. So we’re able to get the best out of each artist and keep it all together as a cohesive experience.
Nrama: Being a digital first series, what are some of the pros and cons with the process in comparison?
Sturges: Well it was definitely a learning curve because the layout of the pages are different. The more startling thing was if you do a splash page that is oriented as a landscape image rather than a portrait which, when you think about it, it makes a huge difference. Even that kind of difference, it creates all these new opportunities to show things that might be more awkward to show on a more traditional comic book page, or do layouts that wouldn’t work on a traditional comic book page. We’re able to create this sense of motion and sense of time that are completely unavailable in print. One of the neatest parts about it is that because these will be shown first digitally and then collected in print, we can do very sneaky things where we can have a page layout that works one way on the screen and a completely different layout on the page. So it’s little challenges like that make working in digital first format such an exciting experience because there’s always something new to try and we’re lucky we have these fantastic artists who read our insane panel descriptions and go “okay, I’ll do that”.
Justus: Yeah, I’m going to say that it’s chapter 8, Matt, that you did that it’s the foot chase where in digitally you’re going to have characters that are on different levels in a building and it looks differently on the screen, but when it’s compiled on the print page you’re going to see them interact with one another in the chase and the energy of it will be different on the printed page. It’s been very cool to have the artists turn in their pages and see what works and what needs to be rethought.
Sturges: And things that don’t work we hide from the end product so nobody has to see them.
Nrama: Was there a certain character that you wanted to expand on that didn’t have a lot of screen time, per se, in the original Fables run? I know Bluebeard was offed pretty early on and this being a prequel, you now have the chance to go back and explore things.
Sturges: I’ll take Bluebeard. Absolutely. He’s a character that is fascinating to me and didn’t last long in the main series – spoiler alert – and while we haven’t gotten to the sections that contain Bluebeard in them, I am excited to play with him because he’s such a fun villain.
Justus: Personally, I’ve had a lot of fun with Toad. I did not realize how fun and multi-faceted he was until we started playing with him. Now he has become one of my favorites and I’ve really enjoyed messing with him.
Nrama: Lastly, gents, with Fables about to end, why should Fables fans stick around for The Wolf Among Us?
Justus: Because it’s more of a good thing! Fables is fantastic! It’s been going on for a long time and I’ve been a fan since the beginning and I plan on sticking around to see everything with the Fables name on it. I don’t want that world to go away and being part of it and helping it continue on is for me as a fan and as a creator.
Sturges: I can end on that [laughs].