Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall
- by Bill Willingham, Todd Klein, Charles Vess, Michael Wm. Kaluta, John Bolton, Jill Thompson, Mark Buckingham, et. al.
- HC, © 2006, 144 pp, DC Comics, ISBN 1-4012-0367-1
The premise of Bill Willingham’s Fables is that the homelands of many classic fairy tales have been conquered by a mysterious Adversary, and many fables have escaped and are living in our world in New York (city and upstate). The framing sequence here sees Snow White sent as an ambassador to a Sultan in the middle east, to warn him that the Arabian fables’ lands may be next. Instead, she ends up playing the part of Scheherezade and telling the Sultan stories of her friends’ lives in their homelands to stave off her execution.
The framing sequence is charming, but as an illustrated text piece it drastically underutilizes the skills of Vess and Kaluta (I had similar misgivings about Vess’ illustrations in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust). But it’s the tales that Snow is telling that make up the meat of the book.
The book leads off with John Bolton’s piece, which is about a couple of very-well-known characters (no, it’s not a big mystery, but I won’t spoil it for you), and is the longest and best piece of the book. Bolton has been one of my favorite painting comic book artists and has been for years (for instance, I love his work in Gaiman’s The Books of Magic), and while his stlye has evolved, his sheer skill is not diminished; his work here is gorgeous, and unlike some painters, he’s also skilled at laying out a graphic story. (Some artists – to my eyes – seem to draw some stiff pictures that just don’t flow as a story; Bolton does not have that problem.)
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1001 Nights is sort of a primer to Willingham’s overall approach to Fables: Start with some well-known (or not-so-well-known) fairy tales, and either explore the ramifications of the story by considering what happens after it ended (or before it began!), or put it in a world with other such tales and meld them together into a larger whole. So here we see the early life of the Big Bad Wolf (appropriately drawn in a rough, wild style by Mark Wheatley), and a nasty witch of some reknown (in an eerie style by Esao Andrews – one of several artists here I’m not familiar with). While these contortions tickle the geek in me due to their cleverness, they’re also just good entertainment.
The witch story, actually, is the one story in the volume where I wasn’t fond of the artwork. It’s the one story illustrated by two artists: Andrews and Tara McPherson. In the case of each artist, it’s the stiff poses and relative lack of detail that turn me off. It’s not that their art isn’t expressive, bit it didn’t feel as fully-realized as that of the other artists.
The thread running through most of the stories is that this is backstory for the characters in Fables, and we get many different pictures of characters fleeing their homelands when they’re conquered. Such tales are typically grim, but “Fair Division” – featuring Old King Cole – is charming and heartwarming despite this, which is fitting considering its main character. It’s also wonderfully drawn by Jill Thompson, an artist whose style changes almost every time I see her work. Sometimes it like it and sometimes I don’t, but she brought her “A” game to this yarn, and it’s a fine bookend to Bolton’s story at the front.
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Whether or not you read Fables, you can enjoy this volume. It’s pretty to look at, fun to read, and worth coming back to. (But I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to wait for the paperback.)