ABC has been touting its new fall show Once Upon a Time and releasing trailers—and anyone who has read a comic book in the past 10 years scratches his or her head and says, “Doesn’t that sound a lot like Fables?”
Brought to you by the producers of Lost, Once Upon a Time tells the story of Snow White and Prince Charming (who is said to be working as a bail bondsman) in a town in the real world where fables, myths and reality co-exist. In Fables, the story is set in Fabletown, N.Y., where Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf (who works as the local sheriff) live in the mundane world while plotting to take back their own magical homelands. It’s easy to see why people would see a connection.
Add to that the fact that Fables has been under option from ABC for a few years, and you get a suspicious picture. They seem reasonably different in some ways, and the producers seem to be saying, essentially, “We’re glad you’d compare us to something so cool, but you’ll need to see it to see how different it is.” For now, we’ll have to take their word for it.
Until Once Upon a Time starts in the fall, however, there is plenty of time to catch up on what is one of the best non-superhero comics ever conceived. Written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by a cadre of artists across the series (including fan favorite Mike Allred), Fables has been unfolding for almost 10 years and gets progressively better.
The first volume (Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile) is available everywhere and can be found dirt cheap. The cover price is less than $13 wherever you go, as an introductory price. The comic tells a fascinating tale: Rose Red, Snow White’s little sister, is found dead, and the Big Bad Wolf (who goes by the name of Bigby) has to investigate. The list of suspects includes Jack (the Jack from every fable: Sprat, Horner, the giant killer, over the candlestick, etc.), Prince Charming (who was the Prince Charming from all the fables who summarily cheated upon and divorced all the princesses) and any other bad guy from classic fairy tales you can imagine. It’s written like a gritty cop drama and immerses readers fully, laying down the groundwork for Fables’ entire mythology. It’s cleverly written—and not for kids—exploring these characters in a new way, turning each of them on their ear.
The story grows more epic in scale as characters try to take back their homelands. You see, they’re in New York not by choice, but because an evil adversary has marched over all their original homes of the fables, establishing a tyrannical rule. It’s like Lord of the Rings as a modern-day fairytale.
For those not interested in diving into a comic book just yet, Willingham even wrote a novel set in the same universe that tells the tale of Peter Piper and his brother, the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It’s called Peter and Max, and I would give it my highest recommendation. It’s completely riveting, and, though it’s set later in the comic series’ chronology, you don’t have to have prior knowledge to enjoy it. If reading isn’t your thing, you can pick up the audio-book version as read by Wil Wheaton. That’s a treat in and of itself.
I’m moving into a “wait-and-see” pattern on the Once Upon a Time show, set to debut on ABC on Oct. 23, but why do I need to wait? Just writing this column has me thirsty to relive all 15 (so far) volumes of Fables. It’s too bad I don’t have a fairy godmother of my own to give me the time to read them all between now and next week’s column. I’ll do my best.
Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.