I love Fables by Bill Willingham. It’s one of my favourite comics ever and the only multi-volume comic book series I own a complete set of – although I’m almost there with Thorgal (3 volumes missing from the main story, spin-offs aren’t that good so they don’t count), and I will own entire Sandman one day, it’s just that this version is too expensive…
Anyway, I love Fables and (almost) all of its various extras (with exception of Jack of the Fables, main character’s a dick). The main story has 150 issues/22 volumes and I haven’t read the final one yet – I plan a great re-read before that, any time now. Then, apart from Jack of the Fables, there is Fairest, short series focused on female characters, two-volume spy thriller Cinderella and stand-alones 1001 Nights of Snowfall and Werewolves of the Heartland. Also, an album of selected covers, encyclopaedia, novel and computer game. I have it all.
Computer game, The Wolf Among Us, is especially recommended. One of Telltale Games interactive stories, it combines great plot with exquisite graphics. Noir crime story in urban fantasy New York that is just very good but itself, but for Fable lovers… wonderful chance to get into the world we know and love so much.
By now you have some idea about the basic premise of Fables, but let me start with an excellent quote that begins tvtropes article:
Bigby: You’re lying now, because you always lie.
Jack: Not this time!
Snow White: Jack, did you ever hear about the boy who cried wolf?
Jack: Sure, he lives up on the seventh floor. So what?
Snow White: Never mind.
Fables are real. And, exiled from their worlds by (initially) unknown Adversary, they live in our world. Mainly New York, as usual ;), but not only. Centuries ago a huge army started to conquer one world after another (in a kind of multiverse where every legend has its place, and Earth acts as an Amber of sorts, the core reality where mundane people live, creating and remembering stories*). Many Fables were killed, most subjugated, some serve the new regime, but some escaped to Earth – and dream of regaining what they lost. They formed a government of sorts, with HQ in NY, and they live among us. At least those of them, who can maintain human-like form, the rest live on animal farm in the wilderness of New York State countryside.
*Willingham uses popular system, where the strength of belief in something influences its power. Popular Fables are really powerful, forgotten – decline in time.
Ok, so some of the main plot points are already clear: supernatural beings struggling with fitting into mundane world (and sometimes taking shortcuts), internal conflicts (main one – between Fables able to sustain human form and live in the world and the rest confined to a relatively small farm to maintain the Masquerade), grievances from before great war – the pact that constitutes Fable community stated that all the old crimes were forgotten and everybody starts anew, but not everything is easily forgiven. And, of course, the main dish, at least till [spoiler erased] – struggle to defeat the Empire of Evil and get the Fable worlds back.
The best of Fables, are, IMHO, the characters. Some of the most popular fable characters ever (from the Western fables, sorry, that’s how it is, although later some of the others join), some of the most obscure, all reinterpreted by Willingham and forced into scenarios far different from the old stories we know them from.
My personal favourites are Snow White and Bigby (big Bad Wolf). A minor spoiler here – major characters in the first volumes, they become a couple and move into the back seat for the rest of the series, never going away. But close behind are, among others, Cinderella, Frau Totenkinder, Boy Blue, Colin the Pig…
A couple thousand pages altogether give Willingham a chance to try a bit of everything. We have all kinds of stories, emotional tones, levels of seriousness, hundreds of tropes. He plays with stories we all know, leaving enough that everything is recognisable, but adding lots and lots of good stuff.
I’m a man of the scripture 😉 I don’t care about any holy text (apart from Silmarillon), but I’ve been devouring books since I was seven (not a very early start, I know, I just couldn’t find the right books before my first summer vacation in primary school) and I feel more at home analysing novels than any other medium. Comics… in primary school my literature teacher claimed that the worst book is better than the best comic… what a terrible thing to say, I totally disagree, but it delayed my adventure with graphic novels by a few years. I’ve only started reading more comics in my twenties, and it started with Sandman, by Neil Gaiman whom I’d already known as an author of some of my favourite novels. Sorry for the digression, I just wanted to explain why it’s mostly story and characters, and only a little about art.
Art of Fables… lets start with covers. They are amazing. Some of the best covers I’ve ever seen, usually followed by pretty standard (art-wise) comic. Not bad – high quality, it’s Vertigo, but no surprises. Experiments are mostly relegated to stand-alones, with 1001 Night… being the most interesting one – that’s why I will follow this introduction with it mini-review. Many artists were involved and I can’t name a single favourite. But I really like the visual conservatism of most of the Fables’ issues, I like being able to recognize shapes in comics I read 😉 Colours are optional, I love quite a few mangas and western black&white graphic novels like Pratt’s adventures of Corto Maltese.
Fables are amazing and worth the time of anybody interested in good story and solid non-superhero graphic novels.
1001 Nights of Snowfall
This is my single favourite Fables volume. One book, 140 pages, and 10 short comics fit within an illustrated story of Snow White’s diplomatic mission to the Sultan of Arabian Fables. Ten tales, eleven artists, various and unusually (for Fables) bold styles. Inspiration is obvious, here Snow White takes place of Scheherazade tells stories to keep Sultan from killing her and to make him into an ally of the Western Fables.
Her stories are more Grimm than Disney and include her unhappy marriage to Prince Charming, disturbing retelling of Snow White, rather sinister Seven Dwarves and her revenge upon them, and various tales from the times of war with Adversary and early days of Fables’ lives in diaspora.
It’s mostly seen as developing the background of some of the main story’s characters, but I think it’s also a great introduction to the world of Fables. If you’re unsure whether of not to begin, here are some self-contained stories that will give you a few samples of Fables’ different faces. Only be careful when you read it, as one Goodreads reviewer wrote, it is ” as comforting a collection of bedtime stories as anything from Brothers Grimm” 😉
Score: 9/10 overall, it really is great. 1001 Nights: maybe 9,5/10, I try not to give 10/10 😉