The frontispiece to the story “A Frog’s-Eye View,” about the Frog Prince, was written by “Fables” writer Bill Willingham and illustrated by series cover artist James Jean for the graphic-novel anthology “Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall.”
The end is coming for some favorite fairy-tale characters.
Comics have been the inspiration for today’s many fairy-tale shows, and preceding “Once Upon a Time” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” was “Fables,” a title from DC’s mature-readers line Vertigo. Largely a collaboration between writer Bill Willingham, artist Mark Buckingham and cover artist James Jean, “Fables” launched in 2002 and has been a backbone title for Vertigo ever since — because it’s really good.
Willingham created an elaborate structure for these characters that rings “true,” and even plausible, in a way. His premise: Fairy-tale characters exist in proportion to how much we are aware of them, and the best-known characters are the most powerful. Normally they all reside in other dimensions of a sort, “Homelands” for English-speaking fables, Arabian fables, Chinese fables and so forth.
Willingham established the “The Adversary,” who had harnessed many of the magic powers of various fables and conquered most of the Homelands. The unconquered fables had fled to Earth, where they’d established a magical “Fabletown” in New York for the human-looking characters, and “The Farm” for your Three Little Pigs and the like.
Further, Willingham combined many fables, so that the various Prince Charmings in Snow White, Cinderella, etc., were all the same Prince Charming — meaning he’s something of a cad. Every Jack in every story — Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack B. Nimble, Jack-O-Lantern — are all the same Jack, making him something of a trickster.
Other characters arise organically from this premise, and “Fables” has been humming along for more than 10 years, reaching its 135th issue in November. But Willingham announced Nov. 1 on his website (billwillingham.com) that the series will end after 15 more issues.
That’s sad, but we ought to celebrate, too, the many fine moments the series has given us. Which is easy to do, given the many collections and original works available.
For example, there’s “Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book Seven,” a delightful work that collects stories from near the end of the war with the Adversary (which should wrap up in Book Eight). If the Deluxe editions are too pricey ($29.99), there are trade paperbacks and other formats.
Also released this month: “Fairest in All the Land” ($24.99), an original graphic novel spinning off from the “Fables” spinoff series “Fairest” (starring the various women of fairy tales, which will also end in 15 months). This is a story more for people already immersed in the “Fables” universe, because Cinderella’s hunt for a serial killer in this story requires knowledge of the series. (In the “Fables” universe, Cinderella isn’t the weeping willow she is in the fairy tale — she’s Fabletown’s chief espionage agent.)
For an original graphic novel that doesn’t require much foreknowledge, try “Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall,” which transposes Snow White for Scheherazade, allowing for the telling of many short stories.