Fables has ended. The 13 year run of the Vertigo imprint, the multiple Eisner award winning comic is over. And I’m heartbroken.
When I first picked up Fables, my life was a little lost. I had recently been dumped, which in turn left me homeless, jobless, car-less…you get the picture; it wasn’t a fun time. Now, I won’t lie by saying the books alone turned everything around for me. No one thing can do that for anyone. However, I will not discount the significance it had on me. At that time, I had stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped doing just about anything that provided me with a shred of happiness. So I walked into an incredibly small comic book store in Springfield, MO and the clerk recommended Fables. Fairy tales have always spoken to me. I’ve constantly been inspired by the romance, the magic, the underlying darkness. It was an obvious match. I picked up the first trade and read it in an hour. And I’ve been reading it ever since.
I was reading the comic when I uprooted my life and traveled the country. I was reading the comic when my nieces were born. I was reading the comic when I got married. I read the comic during my divorce. I connected with the characters the way you connect with family. It’s been an incredibly large part of my pop culture life and I am truly grateful for its existence. The profound imprint that it has left upon me will never be forgotten.
Do you think I’m being a little too emotional over a comic book? That’s fair. That’s just, like, your opinion, man. But what started as a comic book erupted into a revolutionary run in comics. I remember in 2003 that the comics I wanted to collect were few and far between. I picked up Neil Gaiman’s 1602 and started The Walking Dead like everyone else, but, honestly, that was about it. Comics was this huge boys club that thought they were being inclusive when really they were making tacky sex jokes and killing off characters without any poignancy. If it wasn’t for Gail Simone, the 2000’s would have been a dark time indeed. Then Fables came along. It featured a well-rounded ensemble cast of familiar faces with what can only be (poorly) described as twists. It also featured a woman as its main character and that is incredibly important to a female reader.
I connected immediately with Snow White. Why? Because I am Snow White. That is me. You may never meet me, but if you’ve read Fables, then you’ve met me. All of her strengths and flaws I see in myself. She’s a woman hardened by her past but a leader in her community. She’s trusted, loyal, over protective, scared of letting go and loving others, accomplished… She’s the one in that town that gets shit done. I wasn’t the only one that connected to her. Despite valiant efforts to focus on other characters, Fables creator Bill Willingham and his second in command, Mark Buckingham, kept going back to Snow White, and subsequently, Bigby and Rose Red. She didn’t by any means carry the comic, but she lead it, just like she lead Fabletown. She was the foundation for hundreds of fairy tale characters to grow. But more on them later.
This comic was so highly regarded and successful that it spawned two more ongoing series (Jack of Fables and Fairest), three limited spin-offs (Cinderella, which also had a sequel, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, and Wolves of the Heartland), one novel (Peter and Max), one art book dedicated to the beautiful covers produced over the years, and one video game (Telltale Games’ A Wolf Among Us). At one point, both NBC and ABC held the rights to a television adaptation, and instead of producing the superior Fables, we were given the crude Grimm and the contrived Once Upon a Time, both easily inspired by Fables. While it may seem that my dedication to this comic book is both extreme and obsessive, I clearly wasn’t the only one. Without further ado, here is my ode to Fables. Caution: there be spoilers ahead.
Fables starts us off with a small mystery story that gets us familiar with the main players. It’s opening revolves around Rose Red’s murder, wrapping her sister, Snow White, and the town’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, into the fold. The whole story line takes place in the first six issues, what is possibly the shortest story revolving around those characters.
We were also introduced, very subtly, to the characters that would play larger roles in the series: Jack, Flycatcher, Boy Blue, Prince Charming, Beauty, Beast, King Cole. The Manhattan settlement of Fabletown was established as a safe haven for Fables fleeing the Homelands, various magical worlds in which these characters originated. We also got some brief hints at why they came over, but nothing too detailed yet.
To be honest, the story was rough, as most origin stories are. If I had based my opinion solely on those first six issues, I never would have continued. It’s brash and clumsy writing, over flowing with curse words and nudity (I’m no prude, but, like everything, moderation is the key to writing). We have to get the who and what and when and where because otherwise no one will continue. The problem is, that stuff is boring and reads more like a text book than a comic. However, I kept going because if there’s one thing Bill Willingham knows how to do it’s create subtext. Every face in the background was intriguing. Every side comment from side character from side panel was going to come into play and I knew that. I wanted to watch where it was going. From then on, it all just got better.
The Main Characters
Snow White – Her origin was peppered over numerous stories, the audience getting a small piece every collection or so. We saw her early life unfold, the one from the fairy tale which we know and love, beginning with her life as a twin, to her marriage with Prince Charming, and her fight against her former oppressors. Each part was filled with twists to the familiar story that gave the character more depth than any other incarnation of her has been given to date. It made watching her grow as Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, leader of the Fables against The Adversary, becoming a wife and a mother, to moving on outside of Fabletown even better because we knew she had to fight for it.
Bigby Wolf – He was constantly misunderstood. Haunted by his past as one of the most notorious villains in all of Fables’ history, Bigby had to fight for a place in Fabletown. After signing the Fabletown pact (an agreement of a truce that every Fable had to sign once admitted to the New York neighborhood), he was placed as the town’s sheriff, mainly because of his ability to be both big and bad if needed. He worked for the trust he gained, and he worked for the love of Snow White. The overall growth of his character was probably the most satisfying of any out of the whole book. His roles as devoted son, town hero, fearsome villain, immortal god, father, husband, savage, spy, mercenary, etc., gave each of his fans reason to love him over and over. I hold a special place in my heart for Bigby since he is my boyfriend incarnate (which he would recognize as high praise if he would read the comic).
Rose Red – She was never my favorite, which was always part of her charm. She isn’t supposed to be anyone’s favorite, but as a reader, you root for Red because she’s trying so hard. She’s impetuous and foolhardy and never fully aware of the whole story. But her level of passion always got me excited. I wanted her to succeed. I hoped that each new relationship she threw herself into was going to be fulfilling. I hoped she would have seen her privilege and grow from it. I hoped she would see herself as an ambitious and determined woman instead of the family screw up. And the moment she did, all of this relief swept over me as a reader and loved her even more.
Flycatcher – You don’t think too much about him. He’s the janitor of The Woodlands apartments you see off to the side. It’s not until later you see just how much more to him there really is. He was once a king, inflicted with an inconvenient curse to turn into a frog whenever his anxiety levels rise. When The Adversary’s army attacked his home, leaving him without family, he fled his homeland and blocked the tragedy from his memory. When The Adversary turned his sites toward Fabletown, Flycatcher is the first to sign up to fight for his new home. He created the first kingdom in the Homelands post The Adversary, rightfully named Haven. No matter what Fly faced, he was always better than the problem. He remained moral and fair, never wavering.
Jack Horner – Jack is the antithesis Flycatcher. He’s out for himself, full of get laid, get rich schemes. But you know, somehow that he’s inherently good. Maybe it’s because The Adversary was his enemy too. Maybe because you can see that he truly cares about Gary, the Pathetic Fallacy (his sidekick). Maybe it’s because he gets his comeuppance more than once. For whatever reason we sit through his story lines (and spin off), we can at least all agree that he’s entertaining as hell. Fun fact: main artist Mark Buckingham hated drawing Jack and was thrilled to pass him off to a new artist when he got his own series.
The Adversary – For 75 issues, this character was the biggest bad of them all. He put to shame any other villain who had appeared or would appear in the comic. His goblin and orc decimated homeland after homeland until eventually he came for Fabletown. Once the reveal hit of who was behind the massive attacks on the Fables, the story grew that much more. The fearless wooden army made sense. The true horrors of his crimes were more intense. The cabal of villains he had in his pocket were more frightening. And when he was finally defeated, the victory was sweeter. The best part was the character wasn’t forgotten. Willingham kept him in the mix of things from then on, letting his story evolve like everyone else’s. Most importantly, the story didn’t die afterward, either. To have one villain for so long made me as a reader nervous for what they would do next, but it turned out, I had no reason to be. Fun fact: the Adversary was originally planned to be Peter Pan, however, the character is not free to use so that idea was scrapped when Willingham could not secure the rights.
Look for Part 2 coming soon where we see the highs, lows, and those moments in between from Fables!
Continue to Part 2.