10 Questions for Bill Willingham
With Vol. 15 of the New York Times best-selling series FABLES on sale this week I thought it’d be great to catch up with writer Bill Willingham to discuss this incredibly vast and magical world he’s created.
Q: It’s been said that you got hooked on reading and storytelling after getting swept away in the adventures of Tarzan. What’s your favorite book of all time?
Bill Willingham: It will have to be The Return of Tarzan, because that was the book that kicked the door open, setting me on the path of exploring a vast number of infinite fictional worlds, and showed me for the first time that reading wasn’t a chore.
Your knowledge of fairytales, nursery rhymes and many other forms of literature in this series is obvious. Are you always looking for new books with stories you’re unfamiliar with? Do you have library at home where you research new ideas for storylines?
BW: Yes, I am always looking for new folklore, mythology and fairytales books – or at least I’m always on the lookout for them, if not actively looking. My personal library of such books at home has grown pretty extensive.
FABLES is a series that lets you run with your imagination with different communities of Fables and other lands. If you could choose one, where would you want to live?
BW: I’m not sure. In a world still dominated by kings, queens and landed hereditary nobility, I’ve little doubt I’d end up firmly ensconced within the peasantry and therefore have to earn my living tilling the fields from dawn to dusk. Having had that job in my past, I’d like to state that the romance of the simple agrarian life is only romantic to those on the outside looking in. For those who actually have to do it, it’s hard, dirty, unforgiving work.
And life in a magical world? Magic, at least the way I conceive it, is basically having the cheat codes of the universe – the ability to break natural laws. Life is difficult enough in a world where crooks, scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells can only break manmade laws. Add to that the ability to break natural laws and I suspect life would be problematic for those of us consigned to being “just normal folks.”
Not to flog a dead horse, but I really do believe the world we live in now is the real world of miracles and wonders, and those of us lucky enough to be born in America have already won the lottery. Even our poor have TV’s, cars, access to miracle medicine, and other things that the greatest king of antiquity could only dream of.
I suppose, if I could change one thing in the world as is, if I could adopt one aspect from the various Fables worlds, I’d institute worldwide legal (and not only legal, but encouraged) dueling. I’d bet we would be astonished by how polite people got all of a sudden.
Who’s your favorite character to write?
BW: That changes too. I tend to like the struggle of writing complex characters like Bigby and Snow, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break by writing one of the more steadfast characters like Jack. And I mean “steadfast” not to imply that I approve of Jack, but only in the sense of unchanging and predictable. I always know what Jack will think about any given situation, and therefore what he will want to do in any situation. A self-loving venial jerk is easy to predict, and therefore easier to write, as opposed to one of the more nuanced characters. Flycatcher is also easy to write because he occupies the far end of the virtue spectrum from Jack. He’s so good and decent it’s not at all hard to know what his stand will be on any given situation.
Oddly enough, the hardest ones to write are the comedy relief characters like Pinocchio, Bufkin, or Frankie. It’s hard to bring the funny.
Who’s your favorite animal character from The Farm to write?
BW: Reynard. Which is why we need to get back to him soon.
If any, what Fables character is most like you?
BW: Hmmm, which one is best at stealing naps during work time, but always showing up early for suppertime?
This volume includes issues #94 through the very special issue #100. Is it daunting or exciting for you to have written so many issues and where do you go from here?
BW: It’s pretty exciting to have written the past one hundred. The work done, published and behind me is never daunting. The work ahead of me is always daunting. From here we keep going. There are more stories yet to tell now, that we’re a hundred-plus issues down the road, than there were waiting to be told at the beginning. They keep breeding, piling up at the door, wanting to be told. When Fables ends, it won’t be because we’re out of stories, it’ll most likely be because we’re out of time.
What’s been your favorite storyline so far?
BW: Probably The Good Prince. It’s hard to choose.
Though these characters are fictional they have many real life emotions and relationships. In this volume Rose Red, sister to Snow White, while in a deep depression, learns the truth behind her sibling rivalry. Why was this an important story to tell?
BW: Because it’s so comforting, or at least so tempting, to give up, close down, and let all of life’s troubles overwhelm you. Not yielding to those temptations is the hardest battle most everyone faces in life, and it’s a battle that has to be won every moment of every day. I’m not sure I captured the universal essence of that with the Rose Red story, but I took my best shot at it.
If you weren’t writing such amazing stories, what career would you like to have?
BW: There are people who do secret quality control inspections for restaurant chains. I’ve met a few and their lives seems wonderful to me. They travel a wide route (and I’ve always been afflicted with wanderlust), eat for free (actually reimbursed – but essentially that’s the same), judge them in secret, report back to Central Command, and then move on, like a phantom breeze, a gastronomic ninja, no one ever knowing (until much later) that they struck.
Then of course there was that long stretch of years where I wanted to be a Mountie – the Sergeant Preston kind that rides dog sleds in the great open north.