If anything epitomizes my interview with Fables creator and literary comics doyen Bill Willingham (epitomizes that is, at least for me, Bill himself might have a different take on this), it’s a conversation strand that begins with Bill meditating on Peter Pan and the act of kidnapping, and ends with some few minutes later with riotous laughter from us both, and Bill tasking me to reenter the world of professional scholarship.
But all of that literary expansiveness, all of that convivial meandering down the back country roads of myth and fable does not relieve one ounce of tension when it comes to how Bill set the stage for this newest collection of Fables. “It’s darker”, he’d said, “darker by far than the earlier volumes”.
Cubs in Toyland picks up on the cubs sired by Bigby Wolf and Snow White. And it starts a little like J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, or the Boy who Wouldn’t Grow Up, with a kidnapping to a distant land that promises a richer and simpler life that will last forever.
“I never thought of kidnapping as a good thing”, Bill admits and already at this point in the interview, I’m getting a sense for a dry, intelligent and above all friendly wit. Things are hardly ever as good as promised Bill reminds me, especially promises of utopias. Getting hauled off to Toyland is no exception.
It’s Bill’s wrestling with the trope of “benign kidnappings”, abductions by fae and other “friendly” spirits that has me excited already. What can I say? I’m a fan. But what he says next just compounds my excitement.
Fables 18: Cubs in Toyland tells the story of a broken Toyland, where things no longer work the way they should, and the happiness has already flown. But woven into its warp and weft is the myth of the Fisher King, something else Bill has struggled with for as long as he cares to remember. He offers in an almost conspiratorial tone, that there doesn’t appear to be one definitive reading of the Fisher King myth in scholarship. And that’s where the joke comes in, right at the turning of the tide.
A joke that does nothing to alleviate the tension of an ominous warning, that this may be the darkest Fables collection yet.
The rare exclusive with Bill Willingham runs next week in the Iconographies, in the meantime, enjoy our exclusive preview of Fables volume 18: Cubs in Toyland.