As referred to on Cap's blog, here are some of the posts that I put up as I read my way through Bill Willingham's Fables epic.  

 

I saved them before all the Vertigo Discussion group was closed down.

 

Having read 70+ issues, I couldn't take any more, so don't worry if any of your replies contain spoilers for future storylines. 

 

Perhaps I'd modify these views if I was rewriting these posts, but here they are more or less as I first posted them.

 

Book 1 - Legends in Exile (Issues 1-5)

 

I was very pleasantly surprised with the first volume. The idea of a universal pardon for everyone and starting again with a clean slate is a very progressive one. Its a position not normally taken by those on the right, except perhaps Christian preachers who have been caught spending the hard-earned money of the gullible on motel rooms filled with drugs and prostitutes.

And as close to the knuckle as Jack and Rose Red's scheme for self-enrichment was, no-one was violently killed during the course of it. Which was nice...

The text story about the Big Bad Wolf's early encounters with Snow White was excellent too, and showed just how large a canvas Willingham was painting on. There was a little glitch in it though, as at the very end Wolf thinks that he knew he'd never forget the scent of Snow White after their first meeting, but still, when he meets her in Europe for the first time, he doesn't know who she is.

Bit of a bullshitter the Wolf maybe?

 

Book 2 Animal Farm (Issues 6-10)

Anyway, I went into the second volume - Animal Farm - with enthusiasm. Here Willingham gets a bit silly.

Basically, I thought Goldilocks got a hard time in this book! The other characters are beautifully portrayed and it’s possible to see how they'd progress from the characters we know to where they are in the situation Willingham depicts in the 21st century. Goldilocks just seems horribly forced though.

Is Willingham un-American or something? Someone should tell him that the US exists because of idealistic insurgents. It was called the Revolutionary War after all. I can see that in Goldilocks he is knocking the common tendency for revolutions to get out of hand and degenerate into inhumanity, but doing this with the Goldilocks character, who is licking her chops thinking of kangaroo courts, show trials and gulags before even a shot has been fired, is a bit much.
Those do often follow after people have risked so much and lost loved ones and families for the cause, so that the stakes of what people are prepared to do for the revolution are raised and the revolution itself, rather than what it was fighting for becomes the end, not the means. But Willingham seems to be putting the cart before the horse here and not allowing for any gradations of thought.

It’s like you're reading a story a story about the aforementioned Revolutionary War and a member of the Continental Army gathers his mates around the campfire.

“Never mind Cornwallis’ battalions of British troops,” he says to his shivering and half-starved comrades in arms. “Mere details. Let’s talk about when the fun begins.”

He then pulls out an atlas.

“Let’s talk about what countries we are going to invade and pour vast quantities of our national wealth into holding against their wishes!

"What democratically elected governments should we overthrow and replace with puppets?

"Where can we get our shadowy security services mixed up in huge illegal narcotics operations?”

It doesn’t seem fair way to approach what the founding fathers were about, does it?

Goldilocks depiction similarly seems like a low blow.

But I’ll admit to a slight bias. I’ve always found it hard to dislike bookish girls in glasses. Throw in a healthy suspicion of authority and the ability to look good in leather and I get very uncritical.

But apart from all that, any schoolchild will tell you Goldilocks, far from being a hardhearted extremist, is a moderate. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. The happy medium in all things.

 

(300 - 20/12/12)

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I used some fo the comments on my posts to expand what I was traying to say about Fables: so some of these reposts will be replies to comments in that long-ago thread that got retconned away.

 

Travis said: Well first off if I can handle the super-liberalism of a Peter David who is a lot more vocal, then I think you can handle Willingham.

I was very conscious of this when I posted. Not you personally of course, but 'non-liberal' readers generally.

My being dismayed by a right-leaning script isn't a very common occurance. I'd say the default position for most comicbook writing is quite liberal. In fact superhero comics seem like a cold house for conservatives. As has often been pointed out, the government and all the security services are portrayed as corrupt or suspect or incompetant regularily. It's just a given.

Just like its a given that any mid- to high-level CIA operative in an action movie is going to be up to his beady little eyes in Columbian drug money.

It's very rare that the ideological stance taken by a comic gets me riled up enough to post about it, so I was somewhat amused to discover that, yeah, this must be how those right-leaning fanboys feel most of the time! It’s always interesting and instructive to have the shoe on the other foot for a change. I sympathise man, and now I feel your pain.

Plus, many revolutionary leaders have come from normal backgrounds.

All of them were but children once...

I think targeting Willingham specifically on this is a bit unfair, as this has been a story used by a million authors a million times.

I'm writing about Willingham's script for Animal Farm. Why shouldn't I target him? True, other writers have looked at revolutions from all angles, but I'm taking issue with how he presents the one in his book!

We don't have to go far for a comparison. Willingham called his story Animal Farm after all. True, Orwell also shows that revolutions can lead to undesirable consequences, to say the least, but he takes us on a proper journey. It’s quite clear at the beginning that the animals have legitimate grievances (not least being sent off to the butcher's) that justify the revolution. He shows us how good intentions can lead to disaster, step by step, if we don't factor in some kind of controls on the leadership.

Willingham seems to be saying revolutions start because blood-thirsty zealots want to set up gulags and initiate pogroms. He takes a short-cut that devalues his story (and history).

So revolutions are bad and must be nipped in the bud with extreme measures?

If you've voted in the last 10 years; if your wife or sister is able to work in a worthwhile job; if you have any rights as a worker; if you can say what you believe with no greater worry than an online roasting; then that doesn't seem like a rational position, and any writer with that position trying to lead me into his world is going to have his work cut out getting me to accept that!

Not every revolution is a just revolution

A very good point and I'm fine with Willingham showing me the outworking of one that isn't. But Goldilocks is just too obvious a straw man. (A sexy female straw man yes, but still).

If it was just this one story I'd be ok with it. But I haven't got on to the later books I've read... Goldilocks is part of a pattern. To continue my Revolutionary War anology, Willlingham looks like being one of the 15-20% of Americans that supported the British in that period. Again and again he pushes the position that those who lead are wiser than the led. It’s how he's set up his little storybook world, so it’s obviously a position that he’s comfortable with. I might elaborate on this if I post about the later books.

Mark said I have heard that Willingham is personally right-leaning,

Here's his essay on Superheroes.

I don't mind him being right-leaning. It's good to have different voices in our hobby. I'm always aware that I don't know everything (the omniscient gene skipped a generation with me!) and I'm happy to contemplate other ways of looking at things. I'm a God-damned moral relativist, truth be told.

But arguments have to stand up, and with fiction, I don't want to feel like the dogma is getting in the way of the storytelling!

And, yes, I am aware that Willingham isn't a card-carrying assault-rifle toting cartoon of a republican. I'm sure he's as prone to subtlety of thought as the next highly successful comicbook writer, which is why I am only commenting on what he puts in his stories.

... but I think you're being hypersensitive in reading Fables that way.

Granted.

But you know, I'm just talking about what Willingham put there in his comics. I can't just whistle and pretend there isn't a (red) elephant in the room.

Dr Hmmmm? said So you're enjoying Jack of Fables, then?

Sounds like I'm going to...

Just to fill out the picture here, I am currently halfway through book 5 - The Mean Seasons. Snow White is preggers, Fabletown has just beaten off the wooden soldiers, and Prince Charming is going for the Mayorship.

(So - easy on the spoilers!)

So when does Jack of Fables diverge from Fables proper? Should I read them turnabout from that point on?

I am enjoying this series. The set-up is beautifully simple but also genius - as in "why didn't anyone else think of that?"

Mark Buckingham is a master storyteller too. I hope he’s won a bucketload of awards for this series, but he’s one of those artists whose genius is to tell the story in the most unshowy direct way possible, so perhaps not.

My initial thoughts on Animal Farm were that the Farm Fables had a legimate dispute. They were prisoners, despite being in a beautiful, comfortable prison. The Human Fables, especially Snow White, were condescending towards them. Violence to the leaders of the uprising was the only way to get the attention they wanted. Unfortunately we never see the build up to this. Were there previous cries for freedom? How were they handled? What twisted Goldilocks so much? And what was their actual goal? The Head Pig was overly aggressive. He had no real plan to succeed beyond intimidation and threats.

But Goldilocks was a zealot, the dark side of revolution. She wanted blood to prove her right. Snow White dies, she wins.  have no doubt that she cared that much for the Cause as long as she got to kill whoever she wanted. But the rebels were no democracy either. You were with them or you were killed. Their new regime was a dictatorship.

Another odd thing was the clemency provision. Shere Khan was roaming free yet Bigby was forbidden to set foot on the farm? Were they that afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, even though he was no longer bad?

As has often been pointed out, the government and all the security services are portrayed as corrupt or suspect or incompetant regularily. It's just a given.

As someone who has worked with government entities either directly or indirectly for most of my working life I view them as corrupt and incompetent as well. Plus, regularly reading news stories of the Dallas city government (thank goodness I don't actually live in Dallas proper anymore)

I sympathise man, and now I feel your pain.

I didn't ask for it, but I appreciate it! :)

For me to actually get into it again with you I'd probably have to go back and re-read a lot of it, and that I don't think I could commit to. Maybe...

I'm not ready to re-read Fables right now, so I may not have anything new to add. I'm glad you saved this thread from the axe, though, Figs. I saved a few myself. Some of them were fed into my blog (my reviews), but I've got the ones devoted to general Vertigo repertoire like The Sandman and Preacher ready to reload if a new discussion starts.

Unfortunately we never see the build up to this. Were there previous cries for freedom? How were they handled? What twisted Goldilocks so much? And what was their actual goal? 

 

Those are great questions Philip.  All revolutions have their contexts, and if they are violent, usually have a long period before them where the agitators use peaceful means to try to win their case.  We see this on the news every day.  Willingham left out that context to de-legitmise this revolution, and in a story about stories, all revolutions. 

 

That this is really the first big storyline in the series makes it a foundation block of the whole series for me.  BW sets the ground rules of his new set-up and what happens afterward buiilds on this.

 

The Head Pig was overly aggressive. He had no real plan to succeed beyond intimidation and threats.

 

But Goldilocks was a zealot, the dark side of revolution. She wanted blood to prove her right. Snow White dies, she wins.  have no doubt that she cared that much for the Cause as long as she got to kill whoever she wanted. But the rebels were no democracy either. You were with them or you were killed. Their new regime was a dictatorship.

 

Well, Willingham wrote it all...

 

He deviates from what we know about real world revolutions, especially their context and the build up to them, in order to justify his political stance regarding the right of the marginalised to try to change the status quo and question their 'betters'.

 

The American Revolution turned out all right, after all, and the revolutionaries behaved themselves well enough once they took control, but that seems to be a deliberate blind spot for mister 'America First'.

 

One of my favourite commentators is George Monbiot of the UK Guardian newspaper.  The motto on his site is 'Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable'.  Those are noble aims to aspire to for anyone with a public voice.  (Having a public platform for your views brings certain responsibilities, as well as all the good stuff.)

 

By taking such a stand against the right of the misfortunate in society to protest their lot, and in tryihng to persuade the readers towards his point of viewWilllingham comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. 

 

I used to read the phrase 'running dog of capitalism' in my comics (probably written by Stan Lee).  It was a term of abuse used by Communists, but I never really understood what it meant.

 

Then, only  a few years ago, it came home to me.  I was listening on the radio to some apologist for the right of big business to cheapen all our lives in some situation or other.  The capitalists concerned were in line to make millions from what he was arguing for, but this jerk was only going to get a few crumbs from the feast for all his adulation and service towards his masters.  Running dogs skip along beside their masters, looking up to them and thinking that they are just wonderful, but they don't understand the gulf between them and their masters, or how little their masters think of them when all is said and done.

 

Willingham is is kind of earning that comically hackneyed old label here.

I'm glad you saved this thread from the axe, though, Figs.

 

Thanks.  My views have developed a little since I put the original posts up, but the essence of my argument hasn't changed.  That it appears to be such a contrarian view to the consensus opinion probably makes it worth sticking up again.  Gotta afflict the comfortable!

 

:-)

 

I'm sure Willingham didn't know how long his series would last at first, so he made sure to put the essence of his views in the first few story arcs, so what he puts there can be given more weight than what happens later on.

 

It's occurred to me that the longform nature of this series will probably save Willingham in the long run.  As the series stretches out, he can't have the status quo winning all the time.  The second, more democratic revolution in the series, where Prince Charming deluded those stupid voters to put him in charge, is an example of this.

 

As the story goes on, people of other races and cultures start to get a look in, rather than the core Americanised Middle-Europeans of his cast.

 

Has anyone remotely gay appeared in Fables yet?  Again, the longer the series continues, the more likely it becomes that someone will appear.

 

Even without the PC axe to grind, the 80 odd issues I read felt very strange and artificial in not having even a tiny number of gay people in it.  Cinderella can become a prostitute, and Snow White can fall in love with the Big Bad Wolf, but none of his huge cast turned out to be gay?

 

Maybe if they are, it's their business, as far as Willingham is concerned.

 

Don't ask, don't tell. ;-)

In Animal Farm, Rose hinted being bisexual.

And there's been nothing done with that since? Sounds like a little wink towards the standard red-blooded male girl-on-girl fantasy rather than an attempt at genuine inclusivity.

(I'm a tough crowd, I know.)

Well I was going to say this is comics, so 9 times out of 10 gay is lesbian.

In this series there are a ton of characters yes, but we don't get into all of their personal lives. Plus, some seem to be more of an asexual nature.

Figserello said:

And there's been nothing done with that since? Sounds like a little wink towards the standard red-blooded male girl-on-girl fantasy rather than an attempt at genuine inclusivity.

(I'm a tough crowd, I know.)

Kevin Keller and various X-Men and Young Avengers characters have raised the number of male gay characters in mainstream comics a lot over the past few years.

Plus, I suspect we've got a new one in Flash, as well. I asked Francis Manapul, and he just said, "Keep reading ;)"

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