Fables #83Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all. —Hans Christian Andersen
Beginning this week, the Great Fables Crossover will see the very existence of the universe threatened by the most powerful creature of all.
After all, if it's true that, as Shakespeare once said, all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players, then we're all in a lot of trouble if the guy writing the story decides to erase everything and start over.
Combing the forces of the Fables and Jack of Fables characters – as well as the talents of writers Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges – the nine-part Great Fables Crossover will explore what happens when the immortal beings called the Literals, the physical embodiments of literary ideas, have a family squabble that may cause a rewrite of the universe.
The crossover will take place in three comics a month for three months, starting in Fables #83 this week, followed next week by Jack of Fables #33. Then on April 29th, readers will get The Literals #1, the beginning of a special three-issue mini-series that weaves into the nine-part story.
Newsarama talked to Willingham and Sturges to find out more about the crossover and why the life of a poor, defenseless bug is depending on its success.
Jack of Fables #33Newsarama: Let's start by alleviating some fears of readers who haven't been reading both Fables and Jack of Fables. As we start the Fables crossover, will readers get an introduction to the concepts behind this whole thing, even if they haven't been reading these books?
Bill Willingham: Anyone who comes into this blind is going to get enough to fully appreciate the crossover story. We've seeded enough information in there for anyone to come in and know what's going on. At the same time, those people who have been following it from the get-go are going to get a little more context.
Now I don't think we have any character just turning to the reader and saying, "Here's what's going on; here's what's at stake," although that might be nice. We did that in the middle of one of the Jack episodes, didn't we Matt?
Matt Sturges: [laughs] Yeah, we quite literally did. That's why we couldn't do it this time. But we have things equally as ridiculous throughout the crossover itself.
NRAMA: Then let's talk about the basic premise here. Who is Kevin Thorn, and what is he up to? That's who the big adversary is for this crossover, right?
BW: For this story, yes. Kevin Thorn is the second of all the Literals, who are physical embodiments of literary ideas or concepts. The first, of course, is a character that Matt brought with him into Jack of Fables, which is Gary the Pathetic Fallacy. And he embodies the whole idea of giving life to inanimate objects. At some point, it occurred to us that that is pretty much the real basic rudiments of storytelling.
So the next generation is more formal storytelling. So we have Gary's son, Kevin Thorn, who is the embodiment of storytelling, including the writer. And he is the guy who, with a proper pen in hand, quite possibly wrote the universe into existence and can write it out of existence.
Fables #84NRAMA: So what's his problem? Why's he messing things up? He's done a pretty good job so far, hasn't he?
MS: It's arguable how good of a job he's done. I think he has come to believe that things aren't as he'd intended, and so he's got a bone to pick with the universe. And part of the crossover is explaining what that bone is that he's got to pick, and what he intends to do about it – one of his options being to destroy the universe.
BW: Having never been written out of existence, the good guys in this story aren't certain what will happen and how much power he wields. His son, Revise, is the next level of storytelling, which is the people who come along and say "no no no you're doing that wrong; let me fix it." So you have to understand that Kevin Thorn may have, as you said, written a pretty good universe, but the problem is that some time ago, possibly a long time ago, his son clobbered him and gave him a temporary lobotomy, so that his son Revise could take over the stories and fix things his way.
During this time – Revise being less powerful and skillful than he thought – much of the universe has been left to its own, with people writing their own destinies. When Kevin Thorn finally woke up, which happened in recent issues of Jack of Fables, he looks at what happened to his story and says, "This is crap! This is not what I wanted to do!!" But this guy – this son of his, this Revise, who's sort of the embodiment of all editors – just ruined it.
MS: It's not any editor in particular. [laughs]
BW: No, it's not any editor in particular. But you know, what I think this entire crossover is, it's a love letter to the editing process in general.
Jack of Fables #34MS: [laughs] Make sure you copy Shelly Bond on that one.
BW: Sure. And not just editors; publishers too. As long as we're going to bite the hand that feeds us, we should bite all the hands.
NRAMA: When looking at some of the solicitations coming up, it looks like Bigby is going to be affected by all this in a bad way, with him appearing as a monkey on one cover. Is it right to assume that Kevin Thorn is rewriting some of the actual characters?
BW: Kevin Thorn is a writer, and as some famous writer mentioned, all writing is rewriting. So yeah, he's doing a little rewriting. He's trying to get back in that groove. You have to understand, he hasn't been writing since... how long has he been out of touch, Matt?
MS: I think it's been at least 300 years since he's done anything of marginal significance. You know, you get rusty. So it's very likely that Kevin would start with a few smaller projects before moving on to the big, new universe.
BW: And unfortunately, Bigby seems to be one of his smaller practice sessions. And he's not going to enjoy it.
You know, one of the things we want to crow about with this crossover, when you mention most crossovers, characters don't really cross over. They mention the other characters, but they don't actually leave their books. But damnit, we really have characters cross over. We have Jack leaving his book for Fables, and we have Bigby and Snow leaving their book – they get exiled to Jack's book for awhile. There is actual crossing over taking place.
NRAMA: Last we saw the characters in Jack's book, they were marching to Fabletown. Yet as Fables readers know, the Fables had to leave Fabletown because of the foreboding presence of Mr. Dark. Will Mr. Dark play a part in the crossover?
MS: Everyone has his or her part to play in the crossover.
NRAMA: Will we see Jack with Rose Red? She's not exactly having a good time lately in the Fables series.
Fables #85BW: Jack is going to have an interesting conversation with Rose Red. She is, as you mentioned, not going through a great time. She has had a couple of bad things happen to her and around her, and she has come to grips with the fact that she's just screwed up some vast aspects of her life. She was always the kind of screw-up of the two sisters, or at least felt she was, and played that out to the hilt for awhile, but when she took over the Farm, she was starting to get her act together and was becoming kind of a capable, interesting, reliable person until this stuff started happening, some real body blows. She's not doing well right now.
Luckily, Jack, when he comes to the Farm, is so noble of spirit that he would never, never do anything...
MS: He would never dream of taking advantage of that.
BW: No, Jack would never take advantage of a woman at her most vulnerable moment. Luckily there's the fact that Jack kind of embodies the idea of chivalry and manners and doing what's right. Otherwise, Rose Red could be in a little trouble, couldn't she?
NRAMA: You know, we probably should have guessed all along that Jack had a little of Prince Charming's blood in him. Just the scoundrel gene, you know?
BW: They were very much alike, although Jack is a more vulgar version. Prince Charming had style. They're both womanizers. They're both kind of rogues. But Prince Charming had that panache that made up for it.
MS: The panache was on a different chromosome, I guess.
NRAMA: There's another problem with Jack coming back to the other Fables. Beast made it clear that Jack was to stay out, so what's it like for this character to just come marching back?
BW: What should happen is that Beast would arrest him and have a quick court trial, and Jack would get his head knocked off. In a good universe, a just universe, that's exactly what would happen. But Jack is like a force of chaos. Things that should happen to and around Jack don't always work out that way.
MS: Jack takes some of his Jack-ness with him when he returns to Fables.
BW: He does, but I think he left some behind too, because what Bigby goes through is something I don't think would have happened if he'd stayed in the Fables book. When they're stuck in Jack's crazy book, this is the kind of crap that happens in Jack's book, so Bigby really gets put through the ringer.
NRAMA: Let's talk about that, because the tone of these two books is different. Jack's book is a little more wacky, and Jack is the narrator, while Fables plays it a little straighter. How's that going to work in the crossover?
BW: It will all cross over.
Jack of Fables #35MS: Yeah. Everything crosses over. The characters cross over, the tone crosses over, and then it all gets mixed up very sweetly in the Literals mini-series, which is sort of the best of all possible worlds in terms of the tones and the characters and all our favorite bits.
BW: Even the artists cross over. When Jack quits his book, he takes his, to quote him, favorite artist with him.
NRAMA: Let's talk about this Literals mini-series. You've mentioned the Pathetic Fallacy and Kevin Thorn and Revise, but the Literals aren't just those three. We've had another family member, Bookburner, who made his own trouble recently, right?
BW: Yes. Bookburner is Revise's brother who doesn't think Revise goes far enough.
MS: Bookburner was trying to take things to the logical conclusion of getting rid of the stories and sticking with real life, but that didn't work out too well for Bookburner.
NRAMA: With the Literals, are we going to see a lot more of the family?
BW: A lot more Literals. And you know, we just found out that Jack is half-Literal.
NRAMA: So he actually is half-Literal? It's hard to tell who's telling the truth in this comic sometimes.
BW: He actually is.
MS: Although... is Wicked John half-Literal?
BW: Technically, Wicked John is half-Literal and Jack is a copy.
In any case, Jack's a half-Literal; we have Gary the Pathetic Fallacy; we have Kevin Thorn the storyteller; we have Revise the editor; we have his daughters, the Page sisters, who are the embodiment of organizing and codifying this stuff (of course, their way of organizing is to capture them and put them in concentration camps, but that's a form of organization); there's the four walls; and we have introduced Dex. There is a new Literal introduced – he's not new in the sense that he's existed as long as the other Literals have – but he's a very important Literal that Kevin Thorn is going to interact with in ways that he possibly wishes he didn't. And we will have him interact with some other Literals who are his nieces and nephews.
MS: It's a big family.
NRAMA: Well, in the last issue of Jack of Fables, Revise mentioned Onomatopoeia, and he mentions Foreshadowing and says, "although we'll have some advance notice if she gets involved." Are we going to see them?
MS: I don't know if that's been properly foreshadowed. [laughs]
There are a number of Literals that we'll run into who are all of a breed and who will come to Kevin's aid during the course of the crossover.
BW: We would even challenge the readers. If they have notions of literary concepts that should be embodied, there's a very good chance that they'll see them in this series.
NRAMA: Are they all helping Kevin? Or are some going to be a problem for him?
BW: It's a family squabble. Some are helping Kevin. Some are not.
NRAMA: And you mentioned Dex, but for those who are not familiar with that character, who is he?
MS: Well, Dex is the literal embodiment of Deus Ex Machina who showed up at the end of the Turning Pages arc to save the day at the very last minute, although one of the things he says about himself is that he can't get used very often because he gets old really quick. So he really has to pick his battles, which means that it's questionable whether he's going to be effective in the crossover at the last minute.
NRAMA: As you've been working on this, have you just pulled the lid off the bottle in terms of what can be done, since Kevin is able to rewrite anything? Is it just going to be kind of kooky?
MS: With this whole Great Fables Crossover, what we wanted to do is take all this stuff that we've had going on with the Literals for years now and just sort of bring it to a head and see what happens. And what happens is other madness.
BW: There will indeed be some kookiness involved. There will also be some drama. And personally, I think the comedy sets up the drama to come as a surprise. And the drama sets up the comedy to come as a surprise. So ideally, you have a healthy mix of both.
As kooky as it gets, the results of this will absolutely matter to the two Fables series that continue on from there.
NRAMA: It's good to hear you say two series, because it was a little alarming to see the solicitation where Jack said he was quitting his series. Some wondered if that would be the end of the Jack of Fables series.
BW: Well, if Kevin Thorn isn't stopped, then he will undo the universe, in which case we don't have to continue the two series, do we?
MS: That's true. A lot less work for us.
And you know, Jack may not be the star of Jack of Fables. Who knows?
BW: I'm hoping it's Gary that inherits the title, because I think the cute little fella deserves something.
MS: I think it should be Babe. All Babe, all the time.
NRAMA: Is Babe going to show up in Fables?
MS: Mmmmmm... no comment.
NRAMA: Surely Babe will be part of the story, right?
MS: Babe's participation in this story is top secret.
NRAMA: OK, then let's talk about the overall theme you're exploring here. As storytellers yourself, when you came up with this concept of a Literal who wrote the universe named Kevin Thorn, were you identifying with this person?
MS: Yeah, in very concrete ways. When we were thinking about what Kevin Thorn was up to and what his problems were, we really did, somewhat playfully but a little seriously, think about how, as writers, they are the kinds of problems you have and the kinds of problems you have to overcome. We sort of took those things and symbolically, or in some ways actually, made those things Kevin Thorn's problems. So in some ways, Kevin Thorn is us. But also, in a lot of ways, not.
NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the Fables crossover?
MS: One thing I want to say is that the whole Fables and Jack of Fables team has been working very hard on this crossover. A lot of different artists passing back and forth different art references, and everyone's been working really, really hard to get the trains there on time.
BW: And, arguably, I think, producing the best work of their career. Some of this stuff is absolutely maniacal, the level of the art being handed in by Tony [Akins], by Russ Braun, by Mark Buckingham. And there was a little concern, as there always is, when massively coordinated projects like this happen, about will they ship on time?
With this series, it's very important that they be read in order, otherwise what little sense we've injected into it will make no sense at all. So everyone from the inkers to the colorists to the letterers have done heroic last-minute work at times to make sure these are done and will come out on time. And they should all be applauded.
Plus, for some reason beyond my understanding, Matt, whose enthusiasm gets away with him sometimes, has volunteered that if they don't ship on time, every time, during this crossover, he's going to eat a live bug and post it on Youtube.
MS: I was volunteered. I did not volunteer.
BW: I don't know what motivated him to make such a promise.
MS: [laughs] Your understanding of causation is deeply flawed in this.
BW: Here's the thing...
MS: I ain't eatin' no bug.
BW: Either you get a great crossover, a wonderful story, all on time, in order and perfectly told. Or you get to see Matt eat a bug on Youtube. It's a win-win situation! There's no lose here!
NRAMA: I'm trying to decide whether it's worth it for something to ship late just so we can see Matt eat the bug.
BW: I know! The temptation to screw up and cause everything to go late just because I forgot to send script pages in is pretty vast, because I would love to see Matt eat a bug. At the same time, I pity the poor bug, because being eaten by Matt is not a good way to end it all.
MS: I ain't eatin' no bug.
BW: All I'm saying is, a lot of the people working on this crossover are working to save that poor bug.
In any case, those readers who have been following Fables and Jack of Fables will enjoy the story. Those who will use this event as an opportunity to try it out for the first time, we hope they'll feel more than welcome to do so, and we'll try not to waste their time.