Why You Should Read… Bill Willingham

Our contributor this week is another of those bloggers who needs little introduction — he is a sunny presence from Bulgaria: Harry Markov. He is the benevolent Overlord of Temple Library Reviews and also owns Through a Forest of Ideas, where he discusses the principles of writing. He can be found lurking on Twitter as @harrymarkov. Harry wants to talk to you today about Bill Willingham.

I am pretty much cheating by default, because Bill Willingham doesn’t write novels, but has a career in comic books. He has been writing comic books from as early as 1983, but you would probably recognize him with his current, on-going series FABLES published by DC-owned imprint Vertigo. If you don’t know FABLES, then you are missing out, a lot, because this is one of the few long-running series [with issue #1 published in 2002] to have kept its core creative team: writer Bill Willingham and artist Mark Buckingham. This of course translates to comic book gold as the formula has already been discovered and doesn’t have to be tampered with.

But I’m blabbering without context. Why should you read Bill Willingham? For starters Willingham has a special gift at re-imagining classic folklore and fairy tale characters, both iconic and minor. You’ll have the immense pleasure of seeing the Big Bad Wolf as a sheriff, Cinderella as a secret agent, Boy Blue as an office clerk, then a one-man army and a war veteran and The Frog Prince first as a janitor and then as a sort-of Messiah knight conqueror. On their own, these characters possess immense cool factor, because they represent the types of characters we hunt for in whatever form of entertainment we enjoy. These are the fairy tale characters for grown-ups, who have grown up reading or listening to fairy tales or legends.

Willingham is also successful at handling a humongous cast with over thirty characters, major and minor combined. This is a complicated task, because it means straining the creativity of the writer and the memory/attention of the reader. Character development is a minefield and the story could be bogged down with a lot of story arcs to showcase the cast. To use the familiar high-school analogy, Willingham aced all his tests and passed with flying colors in achieving this.

Among the many cleverly plotted and well paced story arcs I’ll highlight my all-time favorites I think will grab your interest. Goldilocks, The Three Bears and the Three Little Pigs instigate a political regime to overthrow the current Mayor of Fabletown. Baba Yaga posing as Little Red Riding Hood infiltrates Fabletown and leads an army of wooden puppets to fight against Fabletown. In the end she has to face Frau Totenkinder [German for dead children, a subtle, yet effective nudge that this is the witch from Hansel and Gretel]. Boy Blue arms himself with the Vorporal Sword and an enchanted cloak and storms the Homelands [where the Fables are from] to reign bloodshed. By the way, this is just the start of the tale!

To recap: Willingham has upgraded fairy tale characters, given them weapons and has pitted them against each other in smart scenarios with a great deal of mystery and intrigue. Why are you not picking this up?

If you’d like to talk about an author you love, please get in touch!


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AMANDA RUTTER, one of our guest reviewers, used to be an accountant in the UK but she escaped the world of numbers and is now living in a fantasy world she creates. She runs Angry Robot's YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. And we knew her when....

View all posts by Amanda Rutter (guest)

2 comments

  1. This sounds like fun! Thanks Harry!!

  2. Love love love this series. I’m a bit behind though.. need the last few books that came out the last year or so. :-D But I agree, you must read this graphic novel series!!

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