Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fables Recommendation

It's the second Wednesday of the month, which means it's Fables day, always an exciting day for me.

I need to recommend for anyone who likes comics even at all, appreciates classic fairy tale characters even a little bit, and--importantly--has an at least slightly twisted sense of humor and story, the Vertigo comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham. I'm confident you'll enjoy the clever storytelling and original perspective Willingham brings to these traditional characters. I've gotten several of my otherwise non-comic-fan friends hooked on it, and I've been pushing it to Michele Catalano, a self-described "full fledged comic geek," and Emily Jones, who for all I know may have no interest at all.

The premise has all the old fairy tale characters driven out of their respective homelands by a common enemy, so far unnamed and known only as The Adversary, who has conquered all those lands, while our heroes have all taken refuge together in our world, principally Manhattan and a large rural estate in upstate New York.

Any character who could be the same from one fairy tale to another is the same person here, so Prince Charming is one guy who was married to each Snow White, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), and Cinderella and is just too much of a sleazeball to stay married to anyone. The Big Bad Wolf of the Three Pigs was the same as the one for Red Riding Hood and is here known in (usually) human form as Bigby Wolf, sufficiently reformed and covered under a general amnesty to serve as the somewhat shady sheriff in the expatriate community known as Fabletown. While Old King Cole is the official mayor of that community, Snow White, as deputy mayor, really runs things.

Profanity, nudity, and violence are employed from time to time, and Willingham makes damn clever use of Beauty & the Beast, Jack of the Tales, Boy Blue, Pinnochio, the 3 Pigs, the 3 Bears, the Jungle Book characters, Cinderella, Ichabod Crane, and a host of others that don't leap to mind right now. Lord of the Flies and Orwell's Animal Farm each serve as inspiration in one storyline.

For a general overview, I'm not altogether satisfied with even the site I linked above, but you may find any of the following relevant:

There's an article up on the DC Comics site from when the series first started. I think it's come a long way since then, both in terms of the story and the art.

Bill Willingham has a website on which there are forums of fans discussing the issues in depth. I learn a lot there about the allusions and obscure characters he works in. Used to be here. Now it's here.

The cover artist for the series, James Jean, has a website where you can view the covers for each of the issues. They often tend to be pretty impressive. Click on Coverwork, then Fables.

Also, if you go to buzzscope.com and search for Fables, it'll come up with previews that'll show you the first four pages of each of about half the issues.

It's up to issue 37 right now, and everything through, I think, 33 is collected in five trade paperbacks. The story in the first one feels to me mostly like exposition for Willingham to set up his little universe, so I think it's good but not great (though I've got friends who loved it). Markedly better in the 2nd (issues 6-10), and I feel like it really takes off around with issue 14. I don't think they're too expensive, they're available on Amazon, and, in fact, the first one I read I checked out of a library. So there's that.

If you're already familiar with this series, I can only imagine you love it as much as I do. If you're not yet, I strongly encourage you to check it out from the beginning and get caught up. I think you'll thank me.

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