Bill Willingham Interview

Bill Willingham is the writer of DC/Vertigo's Fables and has written DC's Day of Vengeance and Robin, and has written and drawn Coventry from Fantagraphics, and much more in his career in comics. This month, he and co-writer Matthew Sturges along with artists Tony Akins & Andrew Pepoy, bring us DC/Vertigo's Jack of Fables. Westfield's Roger Ash contacted Willingham to learn more about the series.

Westfield: For those who may be unfamiliar with the character, can you set up Jack of Fables for us?

Bill Willingham: Yes I can. The new series spins directly out of the two-part Hollywood Jack story in the regular Fables series (collected in the Fables: Homelands collection). In fact, the first issue of Jack of Fables begins a mere two or three seconds after the Hollywood Jack story left off. Jack is alone, banned from ever visiting Fabletown again, kicked out of the movie business and hitchhiking along a California back road. The story begins when a mysterious dark van pulls over to give him a ride. Our hero Jack is basically all of the Jacks who have ever appeared in fairy tales, folklore, nursery rhymes and old folk ballads. He's the Jack who climbed the beanstalk. He's the Jack who was the famous giant killer. He's Jack Horner (who sat in the corner), and if we figure out a way to do it he's also Jack Frost and Jack O' Lantern. Actually we've already pinned down how he was Jack Frost - which we'll see in issues 6 and 7 of the new series. As established in the Fables series, Jack fancies himself a trickster, and this is true, except that his schemes rarely turn out the way he likes. Jack is a con-man, womanizer, arrogant self-infatuated jerk, and those are merely his good qualities. I see him as an occasionally likable rogue, which is one of my favorite types of character. The main idea behind Jack of Fables is that this is a story for those of us who enjoy following the adventures and misadventures of such a fellow.

Westfield: What can people look forward to in the book?

Willingham: Jack of Fables isn't just a spin off of the original Fables series. In some ways it's an Anti Fables series. Where Fables is an ensemble book, set for the most part in a single location, Jack follows a single character (Jack of course) as he wanders the wide, wild world, stumbling from one adventure to another. In Fables you had to wait 40 issues before we revealed the identity of the main villain. In Jack you get to meet the main villain in the first story arc - in the second issue in fact. I should point out that even though this series centers around Jack, there are many new characters who will fill all manner of odd supporting roles. In Jack we'll find out what happened to many of the beloved American folklore characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. We'll find out that there are more magical communities working their plans in our world, other than just Fabletown or The Adversary. We'll meet the mysterious Mr. Revise. We'll learn of the secret lives of librarians. We'll thrill to the exploits of everyone from Humpty Dumpty to a bizarre fellow called The Pathetic Fallacy (but he'd prefer it if you just called him Kevin - or maybe Gary). And we'll see what became of perhaps the most denigrated, oppressed, suppressed, maligned and pilloried Fable in American history - who turns out to be just the kind of fellow Jack likes to hang with. He's a character everyone will know and no one will want to admit he knows.

Westfield: You're co-writing Jack of Fables with Matthew Sturges. How do you two work together? Who does what?

Willingham: We work together just spiffy. Basically Matt and I take turns taking the lead on Jack stories. When a new Jack story needs to be plotted, we'll get on the phone (he lives in Texas and I'm way out here in Nevada) and bounce ideas off of each other and work out plot points and gags. Then one of us will take the lead on producing a first draft of the tale. Then the other will take the first draft and rewrite everything, changing dialogue, taking out every fun thing the other painstakingly put in there, and so on. Then we get back together and fight over what the final version of the issue will be. It's actually a pretty fun process that takes about twice to three-times the effort it takes one (me for example) to produce a comic script on his own. But in return for all of that extra effort we're amply rewarded by getting only half as much cash. But seriously folks, collaborating with a writer of Matt's skill, talent and amazing insight is a true privilege. He comes up with things I'd never dream of and that's what makes this project a joy to work on. Once Jack hits the stands Matt's going to get far too many offers to write various books solo. When that happens, more power to him, but I hope he'll always remain on Jack. It wouldn't be the same book without him.

Westfield: How will this book be different from or similar to Fables?

Willingham: Well we covered some of that above, but one of the main reasons for bringing Matthew Sturges on board, to write the series with me, was to insure that Jack would have a different voice' than the original Fables book. We didn't want to do a Fables Lite series, or a Fables Junior. Jack of Fables needed to be its own unique thing, or it wouldn't be worth doing.

Westfield: Speaking of Fables, issue #50 hits in a few months. Anything you want to pass on as far as what you have planned for the book?

Willingham: It's going to be a very big, very important story. Readers have already scoped out that Bigby is back, but this isn't necessarily a good thing. When Bigby left he promised that, "You'd better hope I can stay away, because when I decide to come back, no power on Earth will get in my way," or something along those rather ominous lines. One thing that's been well established in this series is that any reliable measure of happily ever after' is damned hard to find. This is a double-sized story and it involves commando operations, goblin hordes, big explosions, revenge, retribution, startling surprises, irrevocable changes in the status quo& and cake. Don't miss it.

Westfield: As if that weren't enough, you're also doing Shadowpact. Is there anything you want to tell us about that?

Willingham: Sure. Shadowpact is a DCU superhero team composed of magic-based characters, who deal with magic-based problems, disasters, incidents and crises. Not in any official way, but you can think of them (as I do) as Justice League: Supernatural. It will be a regular, ongoing series, written and penciled by me (with occasional guest pencilers pitching in now and then, because I'm not exactly the quickest artist in the funnybook biz). The Shadowpact team is composed of: Nightmaster, Blue Devil, Enchantress, Ragman, Nightshade and Detective Chimp. We plan for lots of action, drama, suspense and low comedy.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you're working on?

Willingham: Writing monthly issues of Fables and Jack of Fables, along with writing and drawing monthly issues of Shadowpact, keeps me pretty busy. Outside of comics, in my nearly non-existent free time, I'm writing a novel for St. Martin's Press. I won't tell you its title because every time I settle on one I find out that a recent book just came out with that same title. I'm not a superstitious man but it's beginning to get annoying. In any case the book is about the never ending war between the forces of light and darkness and how that can't necessarily be equated with good and evil. It's about the trust of true friends. It's about how wolves and dogs get along together - or don't. It's about annoying black birds, modern farming, the terrible need to kill helpless bunnies, in order to keep our civilization safe, and it's about the most wretched job in human history. It's about the bizarre conspiracy behind collective nouns. And finally it's about mankind's eternal quest to come up with the perfect pickup line.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Willingham: Only that I'd like to thank those who read Fables and invite them to pick up Jack of Fables and Shadowpact when they debut. For those who've not yet tried Fables I'd like to invite you to try it out. Even though nearly fifty issues of Fables have been published, you haven't missed the boat. Every single issue of Fables is still in print, in half a dozen collected editions, so the entire sprawling saga is patiently waiting for your day of discovery. Every story is brand new until you choose to begin it. Pretty cool, huh?