VIII: Ruptured Fable Talesby Bobby Acosta on Jul. 20, 2011, under Comic Books, DC, Opinion, Reviews, Vertigo
Since a recent surge of superhero films have been trouncing movie theaters the past few weeks, I’ve felt a recent desire to delve into some of the best non-superhero comics that have or are currently being published. Over the last few weeks, we looked at the horror-psychological thriller of going to Morning Glory Academy in Morning Glories. Following that, we discovered what it would actually be like to be the last man on Earth in Y: The Last Man. Now, we take a look at fairy tales?
This week’s story is the first volume of the ongoing Vertigo Imprint series, Fables, entitled Fables: Legends in Exile. Currently, the series has been published since 2002 where it made a huge splash in the comic book world. Not just for its spectacular writing and integral artwork, but mainly because of how good it was for being based entirely on a concept that sounds odd if you try to explain it to people. Do not fall for this, though, as this comic is one that I constantly recommend to everyone that came in the comic shop while I worked there.
Fables chronicles the life and times of real-life fable characters, from Snow White to the Big Bad Wolf (renamed Bigby Wolf), to Beauty and the Beast to Boy Blue to Goldilocks to the Three Little Pigs to Jack (of “Jack be Nimble” and “-and the Beanstalk” fame), and their adaption to being forced out of their world and into the real world of modern day New York.
I’ll let that process for a second.
In the beginning we learn that the Fables were ousted from their land by an enemy known as The Adversary. (Who this is we don’t find out until much later, later on, so for now we won’t even worry about it.) Since they had no other options and needed to be able to adapt, they set up shop in a smaller area of New York that they name “Fabletown”. All Fables with human resemblances are able to reside in Fabletown, however, creatures like The Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk or the talking Three Little Pigs, who would probably cause a scene, are sent up north to live at The Farm.
An interesting concept, to be sure, but made all the better by the writing of author, Bill Willingham. His guidance, along with long time collaborator artist Mark Buckingham, have lead Fables to earn 14 Eisner Awards. First, they won in 2003 for Best New Series. Following that, the first three graphic novels, including Legends in Exile, won the Eisner for Best Serialized Story. Rightfully so.
We’re thrust deep into a murder mystery that spans the entirety of the Fabletown citizenship as Rose Red, the slightly less than pure sister of Snow White, is murdered. The suspects? Everyone from current boyfriend Jack to loan shark-esque, former pirate/wife killer businessman Bluebeard. Sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby Wolf (The Big Bad Wolf), is on the case in the fashion of the old film noir movies. Throughout, he’s assisted by Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, and Rose Red’s sister, Snow White.
The author of these reality-driven adventures is Bill Willingham. The prose that Willingham gives his characters, and the entire world that they live in, is a smart, intelligent look at fairy tales through a different lens. Willingham would have to be a master craftsman, or a concept like this would fall into absurd horribleness. (I’m looking at you, ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”.)
He understands the characters and what they would be like in our times. Or, as close to what they would really be like were these characters real and placed in modern day New York. Snow White has a fast wit and a wicked tongue to boot, and will cut you down if you try to pull one over on her. The way Willingham creates Bigby Wolf to be the kind of man you’re never sure if you can trust, speaks all for itself every time he’s on the page.
In reality, the true difficulty Willingham faces is trying to create a history for these fable characters. How do you adapt characters like these so they can act like they belong in the modern age? How do you create a more realistic air of characteristics about them? Willingham naturally evolves these characters and takes several liberties with the choices they would make.
Snow White, with her awesome managerial skills as evidenced in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, runs Fabletown. She’s become a bit jaded because her ex-husband, Prince Charming, cheated on her with, well, just about every other princess from Cinderella on to even the local waitress at the nearby diner. Why did Jack climb the beanstalk and for what reason was he quick enough to jump over the candlestick? Maybe because he’s in debt to some powerful individuals and owes lots of people money. So it goes on, then, that the characters we knew as kids are identifiable, even though they may be slightly off course.
Following Willingham’s step is his collaborator from the very start of the series, Mark Buckingham. Buckingham is no stranger to drawing comics, doing it for well over twenty years at this point. His styles have varied over the years and if you were to pick up a Mark Buckingham illustrated comic from five to fifteen years ago, it might look very different than the one he’s drawing today.
Interestingly enough, Buckingham’s art style is similar to Pia Guerra, known from last week’s column on Y: The Last Man. It delves in the realm of realism, in that Buckingham gives each character their own distinct features and traits, so you can always tell who is talking even when no one is wearing a costume. Each person looks different and emotions are always portrayed excellently.
There is something to note about Buckingham’s artwork in this series that strays from the harsh realism that Guerra brought to Y: The Last Man. Since he is dealing with characters from fable lore, there does have to be a strong sense of fantasy to the series. Buckingham does that through background features or maybe even the way a character dresses. They could blend in with society, but there is always something a bit off about them. Could be a shirt, or a charm, or maybe even the way an office or a bedroom is designed, but Buckingham subtly gets the point across that these people and creatures are not from this world. This could be why Buckingham and his inker, Steve Leialoha, won the Eisner Award for best Penciller/Inker Team in 2007.
So, besides this story carrying with it an award winning team of author/artist/inker/etc., why does this book matter so much? What does a tale about a couple of fables living day to day offer to the average reader?
Besides being consistently one of the best comics being published, for all nine years of its story, it offers a modern twist on classic stories that are going to be around for much longer than us. These old fables, Little Boy Blue, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, they are all going to be around after we all leave this world. This is just a new twist on our legacies that brilliant minded writers, like the Brothers Grimm, concocted centuries ago.
Willingham crafts each one of these characters by acknowledging their past and bringing them to their natural state within the real world. This is not a mockery of the tales that came before. It’s homage. It’s an honor. It’s creating stories for entertainment value. It’s cracking what we already know to create something new without disrespecting the source material.
This is just another process meant to honor and service the classics and making sure they endure that long known about test of time. If we don’t, we most certainly lose the value they offer to us. There’s a reason that stories like the ones that Fables are based off of stand around for so long.
They defined the word classic.
I consider this a step in the direction of the multiple Disney movies that were made, as well as any other publication for children with interpretations that alter from the source material.
And it’s a damn good step, too.
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Rob Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at email@example.com