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FABLES/BILL WILLINGHAM

I have to admit I didn't know the writing of Bill Willingham until fairly recently. I knew his work as an artist on some DC projects in the 1980s, but it wasn't until DC editor Shelly Bond, who had long spoken highly of Bill to me, asked him to script issue 55 of The Dreaming in the year 2000 that I was able to experience the delights of Bill's writing. "The Further Adventures of Danny Nod, Heroic Library Assistant" turned out to be my favorite issue of the long-running series, as the title character trudges stoically through a variety of imaginary worlds and stories from classic literature in search of missing library books.

Later that year I lettered an extended-length Dreaming spinoff, Sandman Presents: Mervyn Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M., featuring one of my favorite Sandman characters. The art by Mark Buckingham was as fun and as delightful as the James-Bond-with-humor storyline.

Merv Pumpkinhead page

©DC Comics, Inc.

In 2001 I lettered another Willingham Sandman-related project, Sandman Presents: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Dreams, a series of vignettes written by Bill for a variety of fine artists. Again, humor was the overall theme.

Also in 2001, Shelly Bond sent me a proposal by Bill for a new monthly series he had pitched to DC titled Fables. I was very impressed with the concept: characters from myth, fable and fairy tale hiding out in present-day New York City and upstate New York, after having been run out of their original story settings by an unknown enemy. Bill outlined some of the stories he had in mind, and they all sounded great, but what I liked best was the broad outline of the concept, allowing for a wide range of stories and including all sorts of familiar characters, but each with some sort of modern-day twist. In fact, I thought it was the best new series concept I'd encountered since Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I was happy to sign up to letter it.

Fables #1 page

Fables #1, ©DC Comics, Inc.

The first story arc, "Legends in Exile", had some fine art by Lan Medina, and featured an intriguing murder mystery. It introduced some of the most popular Fables characters, including Snow White and Bigby Wolf, shown above. Later storylines featured artist Mark Buckingham most often, with other artists stepping in for an issue or two, but it is Mark that has become the central artistic core of the series, and his always inventive character and page designs make Fables fun to work on and fun to read.

I first met Bill Willingham in person at the San Diego Comicon, probably in 2001 at the first annual Fables dinner, hosted by Shelly Bond. In the course of the meal, we talked about all things Fables, and Bill had some interesting things to say about lettering. He told me he liked plain lettering, and preferred I not use the kind of style variety he had seen from me in Sandman and elsewhere. "I just like regular lettering," he told me. "Let's stick to that." I said it was fine with me.

But, you know, lettering styles are a tool that a writer can use to help tell stories. It wasn't long before other styles began creeping into the book, one by one…such as the ornate style I thought Bill used very cleverly to denote the language of the Arabian Nights fables, as in the example below.

Fables page

Fables #42, ©DC Comics, Inc.

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All text and images ©Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.

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