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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Worldcon Notes: Discussion with Bill Willingham

Fables is by far one of the most interesting comic books today. One of the big draw of WorldCon was the chance to meet author and creator Bill Willingham. I met him on multiple occasions, and since I did not take notes, I wanted to write down various bits while they are fresh on my mind. Note that I very likely paraphrased him, so don't take this as literal quotes.

On Long Story Arcs

One of the things I learned was that you cannot write long story arcs without owning the characters. I got addicted to long story arcs when I wrote Elementals. One of the big villains was a shape shifter, and basically showed up as the boyfriend of one of the characters. When the big revealed happened, I got so much fan mail that I decided that this was my schtick. I tried this again when I wrote Batman. I was going to do this long story arc where Robin's father (we had a female Robin at that time) would slowly pierce together that she was Robin and then they'd have a confrontation about it. But then DC had this crossover where Robin was going to die, so I had to compress that story arc into 3 issues, which was really lame. I got all sorts of mail saying how Robin wouldn't be so stupid, but I couldn't defend myself. Now as owner of Fables I get to do long story plotting again and I love it.

One reason that I'm doing the Fables spin-off is I'd like new writers to get a chance to do this as well.

On the Fables Movie

DC has tried to sell rights to Fables movies/TV series for a while. It's a very frustrating process, because what happens is we'd get it all but approved by a TV executive, and then he'd switch jobs and the new executive would come in and kill everything approved by the previous guy. That's because if he's successful in the series, the success would be credited to the prior executive, but if he fails, he'd get the blame.

For the movies, DC set it up so that I wouldn't have approval over any Fables movies. But when I read the scripts proposed, it always seems like the script writer has never read any issue of Fables or understood the story. It might very well be that it's easier for me to learn how to write a movie than to wait for someone else to write a decent Fables movie.


There's no chance of Elementals getting reprinted any time soon. The guy who owns it is basically a douchebag. I sold the rights at a time in my life when I really needed the money and this guy was willing to pay me. Every time someone else would want to buy the rights from him, he'd counter with a doubling of the price, and even if that person agreed, he'd immediately back off and decide that he wanted even more money. He's just proven himself to be too hard to work with.

How many Fables comic book readers are female?

I'd like to think that it was 50/50, but to be honest we don't have the money to do proper demographic analysis. At this point, the collected published printings have outsold the individual issues. What happens is that as each new book comes out, the previous books all sell, while the sales of the individual issues have held steady.

Why is it so hard to get a subscription to the individual issues? They used to have a subscription service but what happened was that so many series got cancelled, and each time you'd have to refund the subscriber. So at this point, individual issues are the province of the comic book store.

I found Fables at my local library

Isn't it wonderful that libraries have turned around? It used to be that librarians hated comic books. Now, the big metric that libraries are measured on is circulation. So some guy said, why don't we have a shelf for comic books and a brave librarian finally did it and discovered lo and behold, that comic books circulate like crazy! That's why libraries have finally gotten around to stocking comic books.

The ending of the first long arc looked kind of rush. Were you pressured by the publisher to keep the page count down?

No, we did this silly thing where we tried to do something special for issue #75, which was pretty arbitrary. Given the chance to do it all over again, I would have just let the story run out at the natural pace and then it would have ended on issue #77, which was just as good an ending issue. We learned from this and for issue #100, I asked for 100 pages, which solved the problem of the story arc length nicely.


Tom Galloway said...

You've conflated two, maybe three comics stories in the first one. Tim Drake (aka Robin III) was the one whose father would piece together that he was Robin, and he'd then have been replaced by his off and on girlfriend, Stephanie Brown (aka Spoiler) as Robin. At the kaffeeklatch with Willingham I went to, he said he told DC Steph would only be Robin for a few issues, but his intent was to hopefully show them increased sales from having a girl wonder Robin and get to keep her on.

Then word came that the Identity Crisis "event" would kill off Jack Drake, so things had to be compressed. Steph was also marked for death in a different crossover (said death being incredibly poorly done, to much protest, to the point where she was brought back. She's been Batgirl for the past couple of years, but DC's reboot is about to change that. Steph's status/history in the new DCU is as yet unknown).

Piaw Na said...

Thanks for the corrections!