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Sunday, May 06, 2007


by Bill Willingham, Charles Vess, Michael Kaluta, John Bolton, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, Mark Wheatley, Derek Kirk Kim, Tara McPherson, Esao Andrews, Brian Bolland & Jill Thompson

I've read a handful of the on-going FABLES series over the years, never really got too much into it. The art was usually really good, but the writing was uneven. Clever bits every now and then, but rarely as clever as it felt like the writer thought they were (I can never quite put my finger on it, but Willingham's writing is the type that sometimes just exudes an air of smarminess), and irritating stuff just as common as the good stuff.

Anyway, last year they put out this book of short stories based on the series (which, for those who don't know, is that characters who inspired all the old public domain fables, fairy tales and fantasies are real, with a large group of them living in exile in modern day Earth after being driven out of their native lands by a mysterious Adversary). This collection is set in the early days of that exile, when Snow White goes to warn and enlist the aid of Arabian fables in their cause. In this framing sequence (prose illustrated by Michael Kaluta and Charles Vess) she finds herself cast in the role of Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights, telling the Sultan stories night after night to avoid execution. The stories she tells are about herself and the other FABLES characters, generally in the form of "What really happened" or "What happened next" on the stories everyone knows, or what happened when the Adversary attacked.

I had a slightly better reaction to this than I did the on-going series. The art was excellent, with each artist being well suited to their individual story, and well-handled in production (not always a given in comics, alas). No surprise on a lot of the familiar names (the Kaluta/Vess illustrations on the framing sequence are as gorgeous as you'd expect (see this page for a look at how they collaborated)), but the artists who were new to me were great as well.

The writing still had the mix of clever, not-as-clever-as-it-thinks and just plain irritating, but leaning more towards the first.

"A Most Troublesome Woman" is the framing sequence, and my favourite art in the book. I'm just a sucker for Vess's work, and he's a good combination with Kaluta (I think the only previous time the worked together was on some minor STARSTRUCK related stuff). The writing strikes a few sour notes, and I'm not sure on the chronology at all (I'm pretty that in the real world the story of the 1001 Nights far pre-dates when this story could take place, but I'm not quite up on my Fables-logic of what influenced what).

"The Fencing Lessons" is a long story that combines the "what happened next" and "what really happened" concepts for the story of Snow White. It's kind of predictable, and I'll give Willingham the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't intend for the ending to a surprise to anyone. John Bolton's art it pretty good, although a disappointment considering how much I like some of his older work.

"The Christmas Pies" takes off from animal fables, showing what happens in the forest when the Adversary tries to take over. Nicely designed by the ever-versatile Mark Buckingham and a smart story with a twist I didn't see coming.

"A Frog's Eye View" is a short bit drawn by James Jean, who also does the covers to a lot of FABLES stuff. Gorgeous little story about the aftermath of a princess kissing a frog, though the actual story didn't really interest me.

"The Runt" is my overall favourite story in the book, with some great art by Mark Wheatley, and presenting the origin of the "Bigby Wolf"/"Big Bad Wolf" character in the series. In typical FABLES fashion, he's the source for virtually every wolf character in any public domain fantasy story, and there are some clever twists on some of those. Wheatley's expressive style really sells it.

"A Mother's Love" is a short little story about fighting rabbits and a reverse of the usual "Frog Prince" type curse. Fortunately short at just three pages, so it makes its point quickly and doesn't wear out its welcome. Attractive artwork by Derek Kirk Kim completes the package.

"Diaspora" is another tale of Snow White, this time with her sister Rose Red (mixing a few fairy tales together), on the run from the Adversary and encountering a witch in the ruins of a house made of gingerbread. This one is pretty much just a story fragment in the larger FABLES tapestry, so doesn't work as well as I imagine it would knowing the series. Some nicely off-kilter art by Tara McPherson, though.

"The Witch's Tale" takes place in the middle of the above story, as the Witch gives her life story in a story drawn by Esao Andrews. As it goes in FABLES, she's the Witch character in any number of stories, although with far darker twists.

"What You Wish For" is a two-page story by Brian Bolland, which I guess fills his quota of non-cover and non-Mr. Mamoulian comic book art for at least a year (is anyone else surprised that we aren't still waiting for CAMELOT 3000 to end?). No real point to the story, but it's pretty enough to look at.

"Fair Division" is drawn by Jill Thompson and explores another region of the Fables lands under attack, this time that of King Cole and his talking animal subjects. Nice little piece, although the ending is another one of those that probably only makes sense if you read the series.

So a pretty solid book, well worth taking a look at. Doesn't really convince me to read the on-going series, but I'm more inclined to give them a look someday.

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