Written by Bill Willingham, art by various.
One of the magical (if you’ll pardon the pun) things about comics is that they can do just about anything: anthropomorphised rabbit samurai in feudal Japan, a barbarian aardvark, a former preacher with the voice of God whose best friend is a vampire, three animals encased in robotic armour escaping from the facility that created them – you get the idea. What is even better is when a comic comes up with a great idea and then executes the concept just perfectly. In Fables, Willingham has hit on the fantastic idea as well as seeing it through to monthly entertainment.
Fables has been a deserved success for Vertigo, which naturally leads to spin-off material. This can sometimes be just cashing in, so one learns to be wary of them. They can still be told well and be entertaining but you are left wondering whether they really needed to exist. I knew I was going to buy 1001 Nights Of Snowfall (when it was softcover) but I still didn’t know what to expect. The concept is simple enough: this is Willingham’s Fables version of Arabian Nights (he even has his cake and eats it too by having Snow White actually meeting Scheherazade at the end of the story) – Snow White is held captive by the Sultan of Arabia and keeps him from executing her by telling stories. This conceit allows Willingham to tell stories of Fables that wouldn’t fit into the monthly book so easily, and also allows each narrative to be drawn by different artists, so we can see different interpretations of well-known characters (even though Mark Buckingham is de facto Fables artist).
The real delight in this book is the fact that the stories are effectively ‘origin’ tales for our characters – revealing the transition from their own stories to versions we know from Fables. So we have Snow White marrying Prince Charming and extracting her revenge on the dwarves, Reynard the trickster helping the animals of Fables to escape their lands, the truly tragic tale of Prince ‘Flycatcher’ Ambrose, the early days of Bigby, a curse on a rabbit soldier, Snow White and Briar Rose’s escape and their meeting with Frau Totenkinder (as well as Frau’s story, which features cameos from other well-known tales) and a noble story of King Cole and how he became mayor of Fabletown. These stories enrich the mythology of Fables and give resonance to the characters – if your heart doesn’t break a little when you read Flycatcher’s tale, then you aren’t human – and provides wonderful nuggets of information.
The stories are illustrated in a variety of styles: Charles Vess in his inimitable style, John Bolton providing some beautiful painted work for Snow White and Prince Charming, the charming art of Tara McPherson and Jill Thompson, interior art by cover artist James Jean, a two-page vignette from the fine craftsmanship of Brian Bolland, and even space for regular artist Buckingham. With the combination of a reason for the stories to be told and as a display for such diverse artists, this anthology is well worth your time an money, especially if you’re a fan of Fables.