Bill Willingham's Fables is one of the select, wonderful group of long-running graphic novels that I follow religiously. The premise is that all the mythical creatures of our fables have been chased from their homeworlds by the Adversary, a shadowy figure who sends an army of goblin warriors before him to rape and plunder. The Fables have settled on our world, in New York, back in the days when it was New Amsterdam, and they have lived there ever since, hidden in plain sight.
A new volume in the series, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, has just been published. It is set outside of the main action of the series, with Snow White visiting Scheherezade's Sultan to beg his help in rallying the Arabian fables to fight the Adversary, who even now marches on their worlds.
The Sultan imprisons and threatens to kill Snow White, but she charms him with her life's story — a retelling of the Snow White myth from the dankest, filthiest Grimm rendition, mixed with enough vivid detail to curl your hair. The Sultan spares her life, but promises to kill her the next night if she doesn't have another story. So the next night she tells the origin stories of two more of the Fables whom we've met through the long-running series, and then again the next night, and the next.
I love origins-of comics, Peter Parker and his radioactive spider and all that. But this is absolutely the cleverest frame for an origins story I've ever read, capturing (as all the Fables storylines do) the true feeling of old legends and the odd dissonance of imagining them unfolding today.
The wonder of Fables is the treat that comes from the mixing of all the fables together, the great mythic 16-car collision. Willingham wrings genuinely original stories out of these old, old characters. Of course, he's just the latest steward of their storylines, in a centuries-old tradition of storytelling that has every generation reimagining its heroes and villains, fools and tricksters. It's the path that goes from Pygmalion to My Fair Lady to Trading Places.
1001 Nights of Snowfall mixes the artistic styles of several guest illustrators, each a loving tribute to the subject and each different from the ones that preceded it. This is a handsome hardcover gift-book, and it was certainly part of my Christmas present to myself.