Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Bill Willingham's amazing graphic novel series Fables is one of those unbelievably, game-changingly epic series, one where I'm just as excited to get a peek at the edges of the world and the backstory of the characters as I am to see how the grand sweep of the plot turns out. The last one of these I can remember is Stephen King's Gunslinger books, where the sidewise discursions were as exciting as the forward movement.

Volume 18 of the Fables was published last week, and it's definitely more sidewide than forwards. Cubs in Toyland is a blood-freezingly scary episode exploring the ancient parent's nightmare of a child spirited away, one that combines the inherent creepiness of anthropomorphic toys (Chucky, anyone?) with the mythic resonances of the Fisher King.

By the time it was over, I was wrung out, but not exhausted. For all that my emotions had been taken through the gamut of wonderment, fear, disgust, suspense and triumph, I wanted more. Specifically, more about the future of the Fables, and the place where they will all go when the tale has run its course. In other words, this is yet another volume where Willingham hits it out of the park; it's reason enough for you to start reading the series, or to keep up with it.

Fables, Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland Read the rest

Gift Guide 2012

Welcome to this year's Boing Boing Gift Guide, a piling-high of our most loved stuff from 2012 and beyond. There are books, comics, games, gadgets and much else besides: click the categories at the top to filter what you're most interested in—and add your suggestions and links in the comments.

Fairest: the women of Willingham's Fables stories get their own comic

Fairest centers around the lives of many of the great women of fabledom: Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty's fairy godmothers and the frost queen, merging their stories with the tale of Ali Baba (albeit a different Ali Baba than the one you may have encountered in legends).

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Fables creator Bill Willingham continues his impossible run of prolific, high-quality, highly varied stories based on the idea that all the fables, myths and stories of the world are secretly true, and that they all live together, hidden among the real, "mundy" world. The hardcover Werewolves tells the back-story of Bibgy Wolf -- his time as a crack Nazi-hunting guerrilla in the dark forests of Germany. This past comes back to haunt him when he discovers a midwestern town populated entirely by werewolves that have been created by a beautiful, ruthless Nazi scientist who isolated a serum from blood that Bigby left behind when he helped foil a Nazi attempt to revive Frankenstein's monster to fight on their side.

Werewolves draws on the likes of EC Comics' Two-Fisted Tales and other hyper-violent war comics, with plenty of gory decapitations, ruthless executions, suicides, immolations, and tough talk. It's just the right kind of story for Bigby, who's one of the best characters from Fables, which has lots of terrific characters to choose from. The book could conceivably stand alone -- it has its own complete storyline -- but it's much richer in the context of the wider Fables universe.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland Read the rest

Sneak peek at Jim Woodring's collection of sketchbook drawings, Problematic

I'm beside myself with excitement about Jim Woodring's upcoming 300-page collection of sketchbook drawings, Problematic.

ElfQuest and the secret history

The message of Elfquest is not only a creation myth but the eternal return: a story of magical beings raised by wolves and tied to intergalactic science fiction. One can only imagine the creators have a drinking buddy in the Illuminati.

Gweek 067: Eugene Mirman, the world's greatest podcast co-host

Co-hosted by Glenn Fleishman. Our guest is comedian, actor, writer, and filmmaker Eugene Mirman. He played the character Eugene in the HBO television series, Flight of the Conchords. He currently plays a Russian hit-man/comic in the Adult Swim Series Delocated and does the voice of “Gene” on Fox’s animated series Bob’s Burgers, which has a new season launching on September 30.

Fables 17: Inherit the Wind

The latest installment in Bill Willingham's astonishingly, consistently great, long-running graphic novel series Fables is volume 17: Inherit the Wind.

The premise of Fables lets its creators use any mythos, any tradition, any narrative, and mix and match as necessary, and Willingham and his illustrators continue to show that these possibilities are indeed endless. While the long arc of the story continues in this book -- movingly along very snappily and satisfyingly -- the real delight is that what that Oz, Dickens, and highbrow narrative theory all climb around on top of each other in a squirming puppy-pile of greatness.

If you've been following the story for all these volumes, then you can rest assured that the Fables are really cracking along -- but you can also be assured that you'll find all the characteristic funny asides, meandering noodly mini-tales that are there for the sheer exuberance of the thing, and sly asides are not set aside for mere plot.

I'm told that this story definitely has an end, but it's hard to imagine. As Fables subsumes literally every other story ever told, and as Willingham shows no sign of boring with his creations, I can easily imagine reading this until Willingham breathes his last (and may that day come a very, very long time in the future). If he keeps writing them, I'll keep buying 'em.

Fables 17: Inherit the Wind

See also: My reviews of the previous volumes Read the rest

Daniel Pinkwater explains his role in the mystery of the NY State reading test pineapple race kerfuffle

Absurdist kids' literature hero Daniel Pinkwater is at the center of an appropriately absurd kerfuffle. An eighth-grade New York reading test published by Pearson republishes an edited (and much less funny) version of a fairy tale told in his novel Borgel (reprinted in this outstanding omnibus). In the original, an eggplant challenges a rabbit to a footrace and a group of spectator animals bet on the eggplant (figuring it must know something they don't). But eggplants can't run, so it loses. Then the animals eat it.

The test version changed the eggplant to a pineapple, and rewrote the passage so it is in "test-ese," then asked the kids to explain the "meaning" of the scene. Lots of students are mystified by this, and so is Pinkwater, who gave a gracious interview with the WSJ on the subject (who didn't do him the favor of mentioning that he has a tremendous new book coming out next week called Mrs Noodlekugel, which I'll be reviewing when it's out).

It’s a nuclear little family, a mother, father and three kids. An old man shows up at the door and says, “Hello, I’m your relative, I’m 111 years old.”

“You’re our relative how?”

He said, “I’m not quite clear about that. I know we’re related. I’m moving in.” And he brings in all his valises and moves into the back room. He becomes great friends with his great-great-great nephew.

In this particular passage, they’re on a bus, and Borgel, the old man, is telling him one of these fractured fables after another.

Read the rest

Jim Woodring's new crowd-funded project: a 100-page graphic novel

new UnitedStatesArtists.Widget({ project: 'fran', video: true, version: 2 }).render(); Jim Woodring is one of my favorite living artists. His comic books and graphic novels (usually wordless) are funny, power, and awe-inspiring. I'm so excited he is about to embark on a new crowdfunded graphic novel. He's already past the halfway point to get it funded. His last crowd-funded project, a giant ink pen, was a rousing success.
FRAN is the title of a projected 100-page graphic novel, the sequel to 2011's Congress of the Animals. This book will not only continue the groundbreaking, influential and award-winning series of Frank stories but will resolve the events of Congress of the Animals in a way that will no doubt be deeply affecting to the thousands of Frank devotees worldwide who have become emotionally invested in these wordless metaphysical fables of love. discovery, transformation and transcendence. The writing of this story has taken me an entire year. All stories prior to Congress of the Animals have been set with the confines of The Unifactor, a realm of enforced moral algebra where nothing is allowed to change permanently. In COTA, the generic anthropomorph leaves The Unifactor and not only learns things for the first time, he acquires a girlfriend, Fran. The story ends with Frank and Fran back in the Unifactor, settling down to a life of companiable bliss. This new book will take this situation in an unexpected direction that pulls the Frank mythos into new realms of emotional and philosophical depth and complexity.
Read the rest

2012 Hugo Award nominees announced

Last night saw the announcement of the 2012 nominees for science fiction's prestigious Hugo Award. It's a particularly fine ballot, reflecting a record number of nominating ballots (wisdom of the crowds and all that). Included on the ballot are our own moderator Avram (as part of the team that publishes The New York Review of Science Fiction) and one of my all-time favorite books, Among Others. Also noteworthy: the much-deserved John W Campbell Award nomination (for best new writer) for the fabulous Mur Lafferty, a nomination for the indispensable Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Third Edition, a nomination for IO9's Charlie Jane Anders's story Six Months, Three Days, and a fourth nomination for much-favored Fables graphic novels.

Best Novel (932 ballots) Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor) A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra) Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit) Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey) Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

Best Novella (473 ballots) Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit) “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction November/December 2011) “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's June 2011) “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov's September/October 2011) “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3) Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

Best Novelette (499 ballots) “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov's July 2011) “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four) “Ray of Light” by Brad R.

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Fables Super Team: turning the Silver Age superhero inside out to find the fables within

The sixteenth collected volume in Bill Willingham's long-running Fables series is Fables Super Team, and Willingham uses the volume to demonstrate his absolutely catholic approach to mythmaking and storytelling. The Fables, faced with an impossible fight, decide to plumb new mythologies to find ways of overcoming the odds, and hit on the idea of creating an archetypal, X-Men style Super Team. They hold tryouts, locate their miniature person, their giant, their vulpine berserker, and all the other necessary personas for completing the Silver Age formula. This is a lovely bit of inside-out storytelling, a sly way of calling our attention to the ways in which the earlier comics creators filed the serial numbers off the Old Stories for the raw materials to make their spandex-clad heroes. But it's more than a conceit -- because this is Willingham, who never lets it rest at a mere conceit -- and Super Team is actually a suspenseful and sometimes scary story about hopeless bravery and impossible choices. The literal Deus Ex Machina is a rather nice touch, too.

I wouldn't try to read this until you've read the other fifteen volumes in the series. But if you haven't read those, you should.

Fables Super Team Read the rest

Boing Boing Gift Guide 2011

Though we're delighted to have our own online toystore up this holiday season, there are a thousand things we could recommend from elsewhere. Cutting it down to a couple of hundred, for our fourth annual gift guide, wasn't easy; this year was a fantastic one for books, games, gadgets and much else besides. From stocking stuffers to silly cars, take yer pick.

Boing Boing Gift Guide 2011

Surfaces - a short story for a thesis on border security

The dilemma of how to reconcile the needs of security with the desire for humanity is the defining question of the twenty-first century.

This sentence opens my thesis, "Loss Prevention: Customer Service as Border Security," written for the strategic foresight and innovation program that I just graduated. I decided to write about the future of border security after my friend and fellow writers' workshop member Peter Watts was beaten, maced, and arrested at the Port Huron border crossing. I remember the decision very clearly. Peter was facing a prison sentence, and I was on the phone with David Nickle. I was in tears. But as we spoke, something overwhelmed my despair. Something hard and sharp enough to cut a path down the centre of my life. An idea. Read the rest

Willingham's Down the Mysterly River, a kids' novel that captures the glory of Fables

Up the Mysterly River was Bill Willingham's first kids' novel, published by a small press in the 1990s, long before his multi-award-winning (and most excellent) Fables graphic novel got underway. After languishing out of print for many years, Tor Books has finally brought it back to shelves. It's high time, as this is a ripping good read that explores many of the themes that make Fables such a tremendous read, but in a form that's accessible and appropriate for younger readers.

Mysterly River opens with Max the Wolf, a young cub scout, wandering in a mysterious forest with no memory of how he got there. We quickly learn that Max the Wolf is an accomplished boy detective of the sort that ripping kids' books are written about, and it seems reasonable to assume that this is going to be a book in that mold.

And then Max meets the talking badger, Banderbrock, who is a fearsome warrior himself, and who believes that he has come to the badger afterlife (he can remember dying). Just as Max and Banderbrock are getting their bearings, they encounter McTavish the Monster, a foul-tempered tomcat who is fleeing from a savage hunter and his baying hounds. The hunter turns on Max and Banderbrock, and they overcome the odds to best him, and they escape him with their lives, now a company of three.

So begins a fast-moving, utterly charming fairy tale about a mysterious land populated by speaking animals and the wicked cutters -- a brotherhood of vicious swordsmen who use their magical blue swords to cut away at their prey, turning them into inoffensive, narratively convenient literary constructs in keeping with whatever the current storytelling vogue demands. Read the rest

Rose Red: the Fables fight fear itself

I gobbled up the fifteenth Fables collection this weekend: Rose Red raises the stakes yet again on the Fables -- the mythical creatures long exiled to the human realm. Having fought their battle against the Empire, the Fables now face the dark powers that were suppressed by the Emperor and his sorcerers, and the darkest power is Mr Dark, the embodiment of fear. Mr Dark (whose story is detailed in volume 14, Witches) is one of the great immortal powers of the universes, and Bill Willingham and company do a hell of a job in embodying fear in a genuinely scary villain. Mr Dark's presence coincides with a series of vicious, bitter struggles among the fables, a fight for leadership of the Farm (where nonhuman fables are sent to live), another for the leadership of the witches' coven (Frau Totenkinder having gone off to do battle with the dark one) -- and the leadership of all fables. Add to that the ecstatic cult around the martyred Boy Blue, and some awful, grimmer-than-Grimm backstory for Rose Red herself, and you've got another knock-out volume in this epic, eminently pleasurable and exciting series.

Fables Vol. 15: Rose Red Read the rest

DMZ: MIA Redemption without forgiveness

DMZ: MIA is the ninth collection of Brian Wood's spectacular (anti-)war comic set in a Manhattan ravaged by an American civil war that is fuelled by scumbag profiteer military contractors, sensationalist right-wing cable news, hard-ass pandering politicos, and a redneck separatist army who've all converged on New York for a decade of house-to-house fighting amid gangs and co-ops and losers and heroes.

Hearts and Minds, the last volume of DMZ, finished with Matty in a terrible, howling moral vacuum, and this volume opens up with a series of guest-written/drawn sequences that offer flashbulb glimpses into the nobility and sacrifice, the venality and cowardice of war-torn New York.

Then Wood retakes the reins, and paints a picture of Matty Roth, transformed hero of the series, wracked by guilt and self-pity, careening toward self-annihilation, having lost all hope and will. But Wood's not done with Matty, and by the time this episode ends, there's a trademark Wood-ian mixture of redemption without forgiveness to be had through a series of satisfying plot twists that illuminate and confuse the story at the same time.

Wood's written a lot of great stuff (I ran out and read everything he'd done as soon as I'd finished with DMZ one) but this is really his masterwork, an end-of-the-world story that refuses to buy into trite cozy apocalypse, into dog-eat-dog self-rationalized barbarism, or into Pollyanna fables about everyone kissing and making up.

I don't think you can really read this volume without getting into the earlier ones (and I'd argue that the series is so big that it's time for some giant hardcover omnibuses, like the Walking Dead hardcovers), but that just means you should go out and read those earlier ones. Read the rest

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