Fables by Bill Willingham: A Series Overview

It’s difficult saying goodbye to a series you’ve been off and on reading for years at a time. It’s going on a journey with a cast of characters you’ve loved and then being told you’ve got to go back to work in the real world, thankyouverymuch (which, to be honest, is my general outlook in life, hah!). Fables was pretty much that journey, and it was sad to see the series actually, truly “end.”

To preface: this isn’t a typical review. I’ve finished 150 issues in 22 volumes, spanning thousands of dialogue and illustrations, panels and pages, and I’m finding it impossible to judge a series by its final volume. Farewell does a good job tying some loose ends, but leaves many things to the imagination, and encompassed several problematic elements that deterred it from being the penultimate volume of Fables volumes. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s an actual key within the foldout that tells you who each Fable is on this cover. It’s magnificent in scope.

Those who haven’t read Fables and are interested in delving into fractured fairy tales and modern retellings should really give this Willingham series a try. I must have pushed this series to a number of my reader friends (and my not-so-reader sister and best friend) because at the time I was:

  • A) in a Vertigo Comics reading spree (owing to my love of Sandman by Neil Gaiman) and
  • B) always on the lookout for fairy tale comics.

Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales piqued my interest in artwork, but it was Willingham’s Fables that had the staying power when it came to its characters and story.

The Fables series follows the story of the Fable community, a group of fairy tale, folktale, legendary, and mythological characters and their struggles to live in the Mundy (mundane, magic-less) world. After their defeat against the infamous Adversary, most of the Fable worlds have been subsumed into the Adversary’s empire, and many are forced to retreat to the mundane world of Manhattan and its surrounding areas. The first volume title, Legends in Exile–as well as the first cover, an illustration of Fables characters running and cramming themselves into Manhattan’s subway train–pretty much gives an accurate portrayal of how they’ve been living for hundreds of years.

In Legends in Exile, we encounter the prominent figures of Fabletown, and interestingly enough, the story begins with Snow White and Rose Red. I point this out because Willingham returns to the rivalry between the two sisters one final time in Farewell, and it becomes a rivalry of epic proportions. To be honest, this wasn’t the bit that endeared me to the series.

It was this particular panel that did.

I adore Bigby Wolf, and the fact that much of the first half of the series pits Bigby as a prominent character–and important member of Fabletown–is most definitely why I kept reading. Ever since my entry into urban fantasy and the were-creatures that litter the genre’s pages, I’ve always kept a fondness for werewolves, and Bigby is not only THE Big Bad Wolf of stories, but he’s a REFORMED Big Bad Wolf. By this point in the Fables series, he’d even been appointed as the Fables’ town sheriff, a character you would not have typically visualized as someone who would uphold the law.

But Bigby does in his own way, and it is easy to see later on why.

Um. I totally ship it.

The first volume did its job introducing a colorful cast, but it was Vol. 2, Animal Farm, and Vol. 3, Storybook Love, that cemented my love for the series. By the end of Vol. 11, War and Pieces, I thought this series was the bees’ knees. And it continued to be, though to be honest, once the Adversary Arc came to a resolution, nothing came quite close to the magic that the first 11 volumes held in their pages.

The series comprises of a few major storylines:

The Adversary (Vols. 1-11) – Wherein the Fables community try to find a life within the Mundy world, at the same time that many of them attempt to retake their Homeworlds from their enemies. Pretty epic stuff, especially considering who the Adversary is revealed to be, and how each of the Fables characters played a part in taking the evil kneevil down.

Mister Dark (Vols. 12-17) – After the fall of the Adversary, a new villain comes into town in the hopes of wreaking destruction to a newly-recovering Fable community. This arc was difficult to get through because the antagonists were arbitrary and highly annoying, but the arc also gave us Ghost, the North Wind, and Frau Totenkinder, and they are worth the waste of space that is Mister Dark.

The Werewolf Cubs (Vol. 18) – A prophecy comes to light upon the birth of Bigby’s seven children, and each are tied to their fates. This includes the spinoff volume Werewolves of the Heartland, which I considered as part of Vol. 18, to be honest.

Snow White and Rose Red (Vols. 19-22) – The finale pits us back to the rivalry between the two sisters and a curse revealed that explains it all. Or, well, tries to explain it all. It failed in my book, but Vol. 19, Snow White was well worth the read because it pretty much delves into Snow’s past and shines a light to how truly badass she is (although, if I’m going to be honest, I totally skipped everything about the damn flying monkey). Vol. 20, Camelot, follows in Snow’s wake by highlighting her sister Rose Red, and it is still one of my favorite covers in the series, even though Rose Red is quite possibly my least favorite lead.

I mean…taking on a fantastic swordsman one-handed? How is that NOT badass?!

But as far as it ended? I’m of two minds on that. In some ways, I appreciated Willingham trying to tie in loose ends in Farewell. It was a better volume than what came before, but it was also a bit of an anticlimactic disappointment. It also begged the question of “Who can truly come back to life?” Early on, it was established that the more famous Fables are able to return from death because hell, they are legendary in the mundy world. But then by the end of the series, even the popular fables don’t come back, and yet…some of the not-so-famous do. It bothered me to no end, almost as much as Rose Red’s lack of character development did.

In fact, if it weren’t for this magnificent four-panel foldout, I wouldn’t have rated Farewell as high as I did.

That all said, I’d still highly recommend this series. Heck, I’d highly recommend its spinoffs, too, especially Fairest and Telltale Games’ A Wolf Among Us (which also has a graphic novelization out). I wouldn’t so far as recommend the Jack of Fables spinoff, mostly because I effing HATED Jack and his Literal friends (and gods, AVOID Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover if you can, it really doesn’t add shmat to the story), but hey, who knows, it is probably enjoyable to others.

Alright, there. I’m done tooting the Fables horn.

Have you read the series? What did you think?

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Fables of Arabia || 1001 Nights of Snowfall Review

Initial Thoughts:

I’m really sad that it ended! I would have loved to hear more stories that Snow told of the Fables in the early days, even though for the most part, we get a bunch of that narrative in the actual series. All the same, this was super enjoyable!

FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL

by Bill Willingham
Vertigo, October 2006
Graphic novel, fairy tales
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Traveling to Arabia as an ambassador from the exiled Fables community, Snow White is captured by the local sultan who wants to marry her (and then kill her). But clever Snow attempts to charm the sultan instead by playing Scheherazade, telling him fantastic stories for a total of 1001 nights, saving her very skin in the process.

Running the gamut from unexpected horror to dark intrigue to mercurial coming-of-age, Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall reveals the secret histories of familiar Fables characters through a series of compelling and visually illustrative tales. Writer Bill Willingham is joined by an impressive array of artists from comic book industry legends to the amazing young painters of the next wave.

I will preface this review by letting you know that I am a big Fables fan. I have been since Volume 2 and I have quite literally two more volumes to go before I’m finished with the series. So it’s kind of weird that I haven’t read this particular volume until recently.

And like most of the Fables volumes I’ve read, I really enjoyed this one.

While 1001 Nights of Snowfall is listed down as book 7 of the Fables series, it’s not exactly within the series itself. I consider it a #7.5, as it were, because it really is a spinoff and standalone. It does deal with Arabian Fables, which makes sense that it was called #7, in conjunction with the actual volume 7, which is Arabian Nights (And Days).  In this particular case, though, the story takes place centuries before the actual Fables storyline.

And for those who haven’t read or want to know where to start with Fables, I’d probably recommend this volume, if only to put one’s toe into the water. That said, I would also like to make note that different artists were responsible for each story, which means Mark Buckingham, the main artist of the series, illustrated just one. I tend to point this out because varied artists usually play a part on how much I like a volume. Sometimes the fact that there are different artists takes away from my enjoyment, but other times the stories luck out because those helming the illustrations are a bunch of awesome talent.

1001 Nights of Snowfall is, fortunately, an assortment of the latter. It makes sense, considering who was recruited to fill up the pages of Willingham’s short stories. A few of the artists I’d been familiar with from previous works (Thompson, Bolland, Andrews, Buckingham of course). The others were just as great. All in all, I thought the artwork as a whole was fantastic.

But, of course, I’m biased, and most of this bias comes from the fact that Willingham’s short stories about his popular Fables characters were brought to life again on the page. Many of the backstories were fleshed out in 1001 Nights of Snowfall, including Snow’s background with Prince Charming, her fencing lessons (which come into play in Volume 19), and Bigby’s immense hatred for his father (which, to be honest, is a major part of the later Fables issues). It was also fun just to see other Fables get their origin stories, including some of my secondary favorites like Frau Totenkinder and Ambrose.

There was a lot to take in, and honestly, Snow could have kept going with her tales and I would have devoured every thing she told. But I suppose Willingham couldn’t keep going for a thousand nights and a night, haha.

4.5 out of 5 cookies!

Have you read this volume? What did you think?

Mini Reviews: Snow White, Camelot

Oh, blog. I know I have neglected you. Come to think of it, I’ve been neglecting many things lately. In lieu of the end of the year shenanigans, I’ve been generally swamped with grading, exam writing, teaching, and more grading. I’m behind on my Goodreads goal, I’ve not written a blog post since the end of May, and I’ve completely dropped off the face of the editing and short story writing circuit.

Buuuut…

I needed to get out of this slump/hiatus. And it’s ALMOST the end of the school year. And I have a ton of catching up blogging-wise, so hang onto your, uh, figurative hats, yeah?

Anyway, got a few blog posts I need to write for the next few weeks, I just need the actual time to write it now!

So first, a couple of graphic novel reviews. I went back to reading some Fables goodness because it was high time I finish reading this series once and for all. My goal this year is to at least finish a couple of completed series, novels and graphic novels included!

** Note: These two graphic novels are Volumes 19 and 20 of the Fables series by Bill Willingham, so while I do attempt not to spoil the story so far, there is a bit of a jump.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

A Fabletown Mystery || The Wolf Among Us Review

wolfamongus-review

Initial Thoughts:

Reading this volume really made me want to play the game again, if only to redo some of my crazy decisions (like trying NOT to get certain people killed, hem hem). That said, this was highly entertaining to read, and I adored the addition of random fairy tale summaries as told by various Fables characters (honestly. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood was THE best.)


FABLES: THE WOLF AMONG US, VOL. 1

by Matthew Sturges, Dave Justus (writers)
Vertigo, November 2015
Graphic novel, fairy tale fantasy
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

wolfamongusEven before the first issue of Fables , there were stories to be told, shadowy avenues to explore, and lives hanging in the balance! Bigby Wolf has seen plenty in his time as Sheriff of Fabletown…but nothing can prepare him for this…

It all starts with a simple domestic disturbance. But when Bigby learns that his old nemesis, the Woodsman who has an axe to grind, is part of the scene, things go downhill fast. And how will Bigby and Snow White keep their heads long enough to crack the case when they get caught up in a grisly murder mystery?

So there’s this series I’ve enjoyed the past couple of years called Fables. I had heard of it a while back because of course I had, being a fairy tale enthusiast and an admirer of comic books. I mean, come on. Fairy tale characters living in secret in the Bronx because some crazy Adversary took over each of their worlds. That’s the kind of shit I’d read in a heartbeat. Admittedly, the Fables series didn’t really pick up for me until I’d read the text story of how Bigby met Snow White in Volume 2, and from there, I was hooked.

When I’d first heard that Telltale was actually doing a game based off of it, I was pretty damn excited. Heck, it was one of my first posts on this blog.

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Needless to say I have since played The Wolf Among Us game and loved it. And then I realized that they made a graphic novel of TWAU, which was based on the works of Bill Willingham. Funny how that happens, but I went ahead and decided to read it just to see which route the writers went and decided was “canon.”

That can sometimes go either way, to be honest. Either you’re the type of person who likes having a canon story to fall upon, or you like paving the path of your character with your decision. In any case, it’s not really feasible, making the graphic novel a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kind of thing, and in this case, I’m not the type of person who minded so much that it didn’t. So generally, I enjoyed it.

What I Loved

First off, the illustrations. The artwork in TWAU is stellar, and I absolutely loved the issue covers as well. I’ve always adored Bigby, but his rendering in the TWAU graphic novel is definitely my favorite of the lot (that said, Bigby in the actual Fables comic will always win out for me).

Character retellings of fairy tales. The major difference in the game and the graphic novel is definitely the addition of visual retelling in the novel. Where the game focused on a showing-not-telling format and an action-packed pacing, the graphic novel took a few breaths in the pages by getting characters to color the retelling of a story in their own words. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Bigby Wolf’s past has got to be my favorite. Bigby’s own retelling of Gren’s past was just as good.

Bigby’s sardonic humor is still there. Honestly, I always play scumbag!Bigby, but his sarcasm in the graphic novel is even better. Especially where Colin is concerned. Colin’s a lovely pig.

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The tie-in with Ichabod Crane and Bigby, as well as some interesting backstory. I really loved that Bigby’s backstory is a bit fleshed out here. We don’t really see much of what has happened prior to present-day Fabletown, so seeing a glimpse of how Bigby and a few other of his fellow Fables dealt with living in New York throughout the centuries is an eye-opener. I liked that they put Bigby in Salem during the witch trials. Gives you an idea of how the whole thing might have gotten instigated by Fables living among the mundies, haha.

My ONLY caveat of having a graphic novel (and a story) take place way before Fables: Legends in Exile, is that Snow and Bigby are going to be dealing with so much sexual tension and absolutely NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. I can tell you that much. Unless they completely change the canon. I’m hoping to see more Snow/Bigby moments anyway, even if Bigby doesn’t get the girl until Volume 5 of the actual series. And OH. No Cinderella. Bummer. She was definitely my favorite of the Fable women, hands down.

4 out of 5 cookies! I’ll have to hunt down a copy of the second volume, just to see how Bigby canonically deals with a few baddies that have yet to show up in Volume 1.

This counts as #1 of the Graphic Novel Challenge Reading Challenge and #2 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


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Have you read this book? What did you think?