EXCLUSIVE: Interview With FABLES' Bill Willingham
Creator and writer for Vertigo's popular Fables series took some time out to chat about Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland and Fairest, Vol. 1. Plus, the other creator-owned serious he'd love to write and the difference between DC Comics and Vertigo.
Fables from Bill Willingham is an extremely popular title for Vertigo and is one of the best comics created in the last decade. Recently, CBM caught up with Willingham to discuss his latest graphic novel from the world of Fables, Werewolves of the Heartland as well as the first volume in the Fables-spinoff series Fairest.
Mark Julian: Thematically, what are you looking to explore with Werewolves of the Heartland?
Bill Willingham:A couple of things. We always have our eye out for things that would make larger sidepieces. In all of Fables, I've never sat down and written a single story of this size. I've written arcs of Fables that turned out to be this size or larger in some cases but the act of doing that in a serial fashion sort of breaks up the pressure or the worry of 'does this hold together as a single story'. I wanted to find something a little more challenging Fables-wise and we've been after a good venue in which to get Bigby off alone for some time and really show what this popular character is made of. In past Fables, we've hinted at and teased his violent, monstrous past but we've never really shown part of it, so that was one of the goals of this story, to have his monstrous nature get out a little bit. And then the questions being once he lets it out, can he get it safely bottled back up again. I think that's one of the thematic questions for this story. All things considered, whenever we do Fables stories it's 'can we tell an interesting story that will keep the readers engaged, turning the pages and not feel cheated at the end'.
MJ: At what point did you come up with this story? It takes place during Fabletown's confrontation with Mister Dark , so was Werewolves of the Heartland originally meant to be included in that arc or did you come up with the story later and this was just an ideal place to put it?
BW: It's more of a case where that's the ideal place to put it. Once we got Werewolves of the Heartland up and running, finding a place, with all the Fables plans in the future, where we could reasonably get Bigby off on his own was proving a little difficult. With some of the things that have happened and the things that are coming up, it was tough finding a spot. That particular point in Fables seemed a reasonable time to where if you're going to look at another place for an alternate to Fabletown, that would be the good place to have it. So that worked out, it was serendipitous that the story worked out within the timeline at some point. That's important for those for whom the timeline is significant. For most readers, not so much, it's a self-contained story. As long as we know that yes, at some point Bigby can get out on his own, that's what really counts.
MJ: As you said, Bigby is a fan favorite character for a lot of readers. Did that play a part in your decision to do a solo Bigby story- that is to say is this a reward for the fans? Or do you yourself have a special place in your heart for Bigby?
BW: I think both; I don't think they're exclusive motivations. Always, always, I hope to reward the fans for being fans with good stories. Bigby, he's a protagonist of the old-school writ large. I think that lends itself to telling a good story. The other thing is of course I have an affection for the character and would like to get him out and make him the thing around which the story revolves rather than just someone who is also taking place, whose events are also part of the story. If you go back you'll see that in very few instances is Bigby wolf one of the two main characters in Fables. It can be argued that he's the driving force in possibly the first story where he has to solve a crime that didn't actually get committed and maybe during the Mister Dark arc in the sense that it was very important that he accidentally convince his Dad to sacrifice himself to end this big, God-like evil thing coming after him. And I think that's about it. So it was time for him to be the single mover or shaker that's driving the plot. And in this case, it could only be this character since the plot was about a secret town of werewolves. If you have a secret town of werewolves anywhere and you also have a character that's arguably the god of all wolves, you should probably find some way to get them together and see what happens.
MJ: Fairest, Vol. 1 was also just released and I know you wrote the first volume but going forward you're turning that series over to other writers. What's it like having other writers tell stories in the world you created?
BW: It's both gratifying and fearsome. I likened it to the new parents that go through the tragedy of turning the kid over to the babysitter for the very first time. You know, 'how much do you really know about this girl, is she going to look after your kid, does she know what to do if an emergency comes up?' 'How can our child be as important to her as it is to us'? All of those things do indeed go through my mind with the prospect of turning this story and these settings over to someone else. At the same time there's a really nice payoff in that for the first time, I get to read Fables stories as a 'reader' and kind of wonder what’s happening next. Unfortunately, the way we work, I sort of have to know how the stories are resolved in order to do it but there is a lot of detail- like Lauren Beukes run on Rapunzel right now, which is in the monthly issues of Fairest, there's a bunch that comes as a surprise to me and I get to read for the first time as a reader and that's great, I love that part of it. Finding the balance between the two, that ‘careful, kind of concerned, looking over /looking after' feeling watching these properties to make sure they don't fall into evil hands is important but being surprised by good stories is equally important. The trick is I think, is finding good writers with good ideas and so far we've been quite successful at that.
MJ: Let me put the shoe on the over foot, is there someone else's creation that you would love to write for a story arc or two?
BW: Oh, constantly. The two warring things there is 'this is wonderful, I wish I could do that' and 'don't let me get in there and screw it up, keep it wonderful by keeping me out.' I'm reading Saga from Brian K. Vaughn and Fionna Staples right now and there's so much in there that I just wince at, it's so well done. I look and say 'agh I wish I could've done that or I wish I'd thought of that and how fun would that be.' But I know if I did, it wouldn't have that same quirky-oddness that they bring to it because it’s their quirky, odd creation. I'm going to just have to settle for the quirky-oddness that I can bring to my stuff. The one telling thing about any good story well told is that the readers get drawn into it enough to want to be part of it. I think that's the case with any good story.
MJ: A more general question, is there any discernible difference between writing a Vertigo title and one for parent-company, DC?
BW: There's quite a difference. For one thing, the stuff I did in the DCU with Superman, Batman, Justice Society, Robin and Shdaowpact and various other things are that they're all DC's characters. Ultimately, DC gets to decide what happens to them and what you can do and what you can't do. I did blow up all of Chicago once without getting permission and that caused a little bit of chagrinry. It was allowed after some consultation but generally you can't do anything you really think of with those characters. With Fables, the limiting factor is 'what can I think of doing' and 'what do I want to do' and that's it which is nice. Although sometimes it's not nice in the sense that too much freedom is almost a constraint in itself in that if you can do anything then is any given story good enough?' Which happens from time to time but mostly, with lots of 2x4's to the head and hard drinking, I dampen down those thoughts and move ahead. Who knows what the perfect story is but we'll do the best stories we can do. With DCU, you can't do everything you want to because they're not your characters, I mean I could kill a whole bunch of them and I doubt that they'd lift that stick. Not that I want to... that sounds terrible, all I want to do is kill (laughs)...but I did have plans to have some iconic characters that had been around for 50 years, odd bits of them married off to each other. Which I guess when it comes down to it is a shipper. And that's what they really didn't want to have happen, they can deal with dying because they kill their characters all the time and they know how to bring them back. Breaking up marriages, there's only been one substantial marriage broken up in comics which is Spider-Man making the deal with the Devil to breakup his marriage and save his Aunt and readers hated that. So I don't think we're good at dealing with how to fix that particular plot development.
You can purchase Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland by clicking HERE and Fairest,Vol 1 by clicking HERE. Or better yet, you can go purchase both from your Local Comic Shop. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillWillingham. We'll have more from him in the coming days.
Fables is a comic book series created by writer Bill Willingham, published by DC Comics's Vertigo imprint beginning in 2002. The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore – referring to themselves as "Fables" – who have been forced out of their Homelands by "The Adversary" who has conquered the realm. The Fables have traveled to our world and formed a clandestine community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables who are unable to blend in with human society (such as monsters and anthropomorphic animals) live at "the Farm" in upstate New York.
When you think of fables and folklore you naturally think it's kid's stuff but Fables is anything but, the series imagines your favorite fairytale heroes and villains as real individuals. They smoke, drink, lie, steal, cheat, find love and lose it in manners dripping with real-world panache that at times will have you howling with laughter or sometimes shedding a tear or two.
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