Bill Willingham’s longrunning Fables comics series ends on July 22 with periodical issue #150—but as those who have been reading the most recent issues already know, there’s no fairy-tale ending.
Fables, which is published by the DC Comics imprint Vertigo, is a story about characters from fairy tales and legends—from Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf to Rapunzel and Paul Bunyan—now forced to live in exile from their fantasy lands in the human world. The main series has been collected into 21 trade paperback volumes so far, and the final periodical issue will be a book-length 150 pages; in addition, there have been a number of spinoffs—also collected into graphic novels— including Fairest, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, and Jack of Fables, all of which told side stories about different characters in the Fables universe.
PW talked to Willingham about winding up his best-known series after 13 years.
The last issue of Fables is July 22, which means you finished writing the story some months ago. How does it feel to have that story no longer a part of your day-to-day life? Have your feelings changed since you finished that last issue?
When I finished my script and sent it in, it wasn’t really done. [I was] checking out the artwork as it comes in, placing lettering—it wasn’t so much a run across the finish line and then the race is over then but increments, dialing it down until after a while there was nothing left to do. As you can see by this interview the “nothing left to do for Fables” thing hasn’t quite ended yet. It’s dialed way down, I don’t have [Vertigo executive editor] Shelly [Bond] nagging me for the next issue, but it doesn’t seem entirely over yet, and I suspect that if there is any “Fables is over” feeling that is going to kick in, it’s going to kick in once the issue is out.
Stories aren’t done until the audience receives them, because so much of the work of telling the story is done in their heads.
When you first started writing Fables, how much did you know about where it would go and how it would end?
I had an original idea of how it was going to end—the war is over and Geppetto is forced to sign the Fable Compact—but I felt that would get stale if we sat on it for too long, so we decided to do it and keep going. Since then we have had a few different ideas. The ending this time I think you will find is pretty final.
No room for sequels?
I don’t know that that’s true, but we tried to make the ending a definite ending. A thing I have always liked is when a movie ends and you get those little bits that tell what happened to each of the surviving characters. We did that in a rather large way in the issue leading up to the final one, the last story of this character and that character. A lot of that makes some things for some of the characters pretty darn final.
Did expanding the final issue to 150 pages make it any easier to wind up all the plot threads?
No. I don’t think so. If it was going to be a normal size issue, I think we could have done it, because we had a year to plan for it, but when Shelly suggested we do an overlarge issue, that sort of opened the door for things to get a lot more complex than they would have been the other way, which was good, because we were able to pay much more attention to various characters and dangling plot lines. But adding complexity to anything, if that makes it easier then you’re doing it wrong. It was harder to do it this way, but perhaps more satisfying.
How has the world of the story, the underlying structure of this universe, changed as the story evolved?
It grew in the telling. I think that’s kind of required if it’s going to keep going for this many issues: You cannot recycle the same stories over and over, nor can you allow the setting to remain static. I think especially in the final issue, people will see that it’s a very complex universe indeed. We may be guilty of only having scratched the surface of that. That said, icebergs are great to look at even though you only get to see a small percentage of them; what you do get to see is pretty cool. I hope that’s what we are doing: You see just enough of this vastly complicated magical universe to be entertained and to feel intrigued and satisfied enough to feel there’s something there.