WonderCon: Spotlight on Bill Willingham

Fri, February 22nd, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Chris Evans, Contributing Writer

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WonderCon started off with a bang in San Francisco as Bill Willingham spoke candidly about his writing and art, as well as a few hints about what is in store for "Fables."

The spotlight panel began ahead of schedule as Willingham entered the room a full 20 minutes early. He started right off with a simple declaration of there being, "No question too obtrusive or embarrassing."

Before questions began, Willingham pulled from his bag a packaged dropped off by his editor Shelly Bond. He jokingly remarked that even on vacation, his editor still has work for him to do, specifically proofs needed for upcoming issues of "Fables" #71 and "Jack of Fables" #21. Fans in attendance were given a split second look at the first page to "Fables" #71 barely enough to whet the appetite. This quick glimpse was followed by a voice message from Shelly reiterating that she "needs the corrections from 71, and hope you're having a good time."

The first big question was about the Fables' aging and how it works. The fan gave the example of Hansel having aged to adulthood and Pinocchio still being a child. Willingham said that near as he can figure out, the characters sort of age normally, unless there is something in their story that demands for them not to age. Pinocchio wished to be a "real boy" and thus we meet him early on in the series moaning about his "balls never having dropped." A character like Baba Yaga, seemingly an old lady, can magically control her age and she chooses to appear that age. For the most part, he considers the characters to age to a reasonable point and then stop, thus we have Hansel as a full-grown man or even Mary, from "Mary Had a Little Lamb," as a woman.

This led to Willingham mentioning that while he does have rules to follow, he has no problem breaking said rules if it means a good story or he feels like it. An example he gave is that Snow White seemed to be pregnant for 14 months simply because he wanted the storyline "March of the Wooden Soldiers" to take place in the month of March.

His actual writing career began accidentally during the Independent Comic boom of the early '80s. He prepared a portfolio of his own creations simply to have something to show to publishers that proves he can draw. He created a team of characters called "The Four Elements," and sent the designs to a small company called Nobel Comics. The company bought the idea as a pitch, and thus Willingham was drawing and writing his first published comic. He began to write more and more, mainly just to give himself something interesting to draw, and he quickly became the writer he is today.

The next question was what reference material is used for "Fables." Besides being a lifelong fan of fairy tales and folklore, Willingham makes use of two websites. He frequently uses Wikipedia, but he also makes use of the site SurLaLunefairytales.com, a website that contains myriad versions of fairy tales known throughout the world.

Another fan asked Willingham how he feels about digital comic books, and specifically his comic "Pantheon," which was recently placed on the digital comics site Wowio. He's not quite sure how he feels about it, but he likes the idea of his older stuff being available online for free. He also likes the fact that Wowio is able to pay the creators through the revenue generated from advertisements on the site.

Asked if there are any plans to expand the "Fables" universe or introduce new characters, Willingham said while there are no plans for another comic series based in the universe, there will always be one special project in the works, the last few having been "The Last Castle" and "1,001 Nights of Snowfall."

Willingham even treated the fans to a short reading from the yet to be titled special. While the reading may not have revealed the actual storyline, it did give new insight into the "Fables" world. Specifically revealing that the Fables were surprised to learn upon entry into "our world" that the countries of our planet are smaller representations of the worlds the characters come from. For example, England is a small version of the fable world Albion, where all the British fairy tales and folk heroes originated.

After the captivating reading, one fan asked if Willingham has any plans to draw an issue of his upcoming comic book "House of Mystery." Simply put, there isn't a very good chance as he is simply too slow an artist. Although he is currently drawing "something."

Another fan asked if the Fables are religious or if there were any plans to introduce religion-based characters. Willingham explained that most of the characters come from Western European culture and are steeped in religious themes. He doesn't plan to make a big deal out of their religion, but it is a part of the characters. He added that it is a fuzzy line between folklore and myth, and an even fuzzier line between myth and religion. His final answer on the subject being, "Yeah, but not so much."

The final question of the panel was if his comic "Shadowpact" had its start as a Vertigo proposal, DC's mature readers imprint. Willingham revealed that Karen Berger, the executive editor, had originally asked him to write up a proposal for a team starring characters that were currently not appearing anywhere in Vertigo. She specifically asked for no costumes and no clubhouse, and Willingham couldn't help but include those two demands in his proposal. The project fell through, but a couple years later DC Executive Editor Dan Didio called asking about the project as he was looking for a team of mystics in costumes hanging out in a clubhouse. Some characters may have changed, but the basic idea remained the same.

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