March 20, 2013 by Heidi
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been on a bit of a fairy tale kick lately. So it seems like HIGH TIME that I sit down and talk about one of my all-time favorite (and ongoing) bookish things: Fables. Sure, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen me mention it before. A lot. But a lot of you probably don’t really know what I’m talking about, let alone why you should be marching down to your library this instant to demand that you be allowed to borrow a copy.
I realize a few of you are thinking, fairy tale graphic novels? So what? Zzzzzzzz. If this is you, I am afraid that I’m going to have to go ahead and tell you you are wrong (and refer you to the gun-toting image above). This isn’t any Grimm’s Brother tale retold. Oh no friends, Bill Willingham is much much more imaginative, fun, and yes–disturbing–than any old fairy tale you’ve ever read.
There are many worlds beyond our own, and each of these worlds are where the stories we grow up with take place. Several hundred years ago, the Adversary began conquering the lands of fairy tales and legends with his armies, murdering thousands without a thought and replacing governmental structures with his own harsh rule. Seeking refuge, Fables (that’s what we call these peeps, they call us mundies) escaped to our world, praying that the Adversary wouldn’t find them. They set up residence in NYC (and upstate for the non-human Fables), and closed all the gates between those worlds and this behind them.
Here’s a run-down of some of (but by no means all) our characters and their positions as of the beginning of the series:
Bigby Wolf, the cantankerous sheriff of Fable Town–you’d know him as the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. Everyone’s pretty much terrified of the guy (or they think he’s an ass, but he’s too scary to tell), but he keeps Fabletown strait and safe.
Snow White works as the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown wherein she gets all of the work and none of the glory of the actual mayoral office. She’s been at odds with her sister, Rose Red, ever since she caught Rose in bed with her husband, Prince Charming. Of course, since she shares her now-ex husband with his other ex-wives, Cinderella and Briar Rose, one could say the broken marriage wasn’t a total surprise.
Pinocchio isn’t your average eight year old. He’s (justifiably) pissed off about being eternally stuck as a little boy–it’s pretty much killed all chances for sex. Ever. He’s foul mouthed and conniving, but he also enjoys hanging out with his buddies, Boy Blue and Flycatcher (The Frog Prince) and is a huge comic book fan.
Bluebeard has a closet full of skeletons (literally–hyuk hyuk), but the handy-dandy Fabletown amnesty agreement has set him free to wheel and deal as much as he likes…as long as he doesn’t go around getting married or making deals that could expose the Fables to the mundy world.
Frau Totenkinder (that’s Mrs. Deadchildren for those of you who didn’t study German in high school) is leader of the notable 13th Floor–the level of the Woodlands building where all the witches and wizards reside. You might know her best as the witch from Hansel and Gretel, though we come to find out that she’s had her hands in a lot of cookie-jars (and curses) over the years.
Beauty and the Beast are a pretty stand-out couple as far as Fables goes–largely because they’re the only ‘classic’ couple I can think of that’s managed to stay together for hundreds of years. Beast still has anger issues, but he’s handy in a fight, and Beauty has a level head on her shoulders.
Obviously, this barely scrapes the surface, and you’ll meet many many more characters along the way. One of the great things about Bill Willingham’s Fables is that nothing is off-limits or sacred. He’ll take on any tale, and turn the characters you know upside down and back again.
So, you’ve sped through 18 trade issues of Fables and want to know where to go next, or, you’re just starting and want to make the series last as long as possible. Good news! You have a lot of options to keep you busy.
1001 Nights of Snowfall and Werewolves of the Heartland are each stand-alone graphic novels that work as sort of companion off-shoots of the main plot. The former focuses on Snow White, and can be read anytime in your exploration of Fables as the action of this story takes place prior to Vol. 1. The later focuses on Bigby Wolf, but due to references to the main plot, I recommend holding off on this one till you’ve read Fables: Super Team (Vol. 16).
Peter and Max is a stand alone Fables novel about (you guessed it) the Pied Piper. You can read this one without any prior knowledge of the graphic novel series, but I *gasp* have not actually picked it up yet (saving it for a Fables emergency).
If you’re as in love with the cover art of James Jean throughout your reading of Fables as I am, I really recommend picking up Fables: Covers, which holds preliminary sketches and annotated drawings, not to mention gorgeous two-page spreads of the wraparound cover work for the first chunk of the series. I was lucky enough to get this one for Christmas several years ago and I take it out just to look at pretties.
There are three spin-off series for Fables that feature the characters we know and love from the main series. They can all be read separately, though they will hearken back to the main story line on occasion, so it’s good to try to line up timelines if possible (or just read these after).
Jack of Fables chronicles the escapades of Jack, THE Jack–the one that’s in pretty much any ambiguous Jack tale as Prince Charming or Bigby Wolf are for Prince and Wolf tales. It begins with The (Nearly) Great Escape, meets back up with the main plot in The Great Fables Crossover (Fables Vol. 13), and ends at The End in its 9th volume. I honestly haven’t read this series as Jack was one of the only Fables characters I never really liked, but it does contain the Page Sisters–the most badass librarians on the block.
Now that Jack’s tale is all finished up, Bill Willingham’s gone on to writing a new spin off featuring the lovely ladies of Fabletown: Fairest. Volume 1, Wide Awake released last fall, starts up after some big events go down in the main series, so I wouldn’t pick this spin-off up until you’ve at least finished War and Pieces (Fables Vol. 11). It is fantastic though, my friends! My favorite by far of all the selections listed in this advanced reading section, and I cannot wait for Hidden Kingdom to come out this summer.
The Cinderella series is the only one to be taken on by another primary author, Chris Roberson. I’ve reviewed both volumes that have been released, From Fabletown With Love and Fables are Forever. I really liked the first volume, but was pretty disappointed in the second. I don’t want to tell you too much about the awesomeness of Cindy, but the titles should be a good hint. Still recommended, but with more reservations than the rest of the series.
Obviously there is are a huge number of people besides Bill Willingham working on the series, and the illustrators and inkers deserve every bit as much credit for making this series as amazing as it is. Over the years there have been tons of artists working on the project, but the most steady is Mark Buckingham, whose work I have most come to identify with the characters I love. Honestly, the art in this series is so stellar that it has become the staple by which I judge all other graphic series.
This series is epic, but it’s also unbelievably creative and fun. It’s often unexpected, has tons of fun little one issue plots, and packs on some impressive depth. Quite frankly, when it comes to graphic novels, my love for Fables is unparalleled. Even if you don’t like graphic novels, or are unsure about trying them, I recommend giving Fables a go–you just might be surprised by how much you love it.
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Category Adult, Graphic Novel, Miscellany | Tags: adult, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Cinderella, fables, fairy tale, Graphic Novel, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, series review, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Snow White and Rose Red, The Frog Prince