Obviously I've heard of Fables for years, and I have even read writer Bill Willingham's work in both Robin and Angel, yet for some reason I never picked it up. I knew it dealt with fairy tale characters in the modern world, which is the kind of premise I would certainly enjoy, and it was critically acclaimed and highly recommended. So why did it take me so many years to finally read it?
For one thing, while I do read the occasional independent comic, I don't read many, and while Fables is a Vertigo (DC) comic and thus not strictly independent, it certainly isn't a Big Two Superhero book. And I have enough of those on my pull list to strain the checking account already.
Secondly, it's a bit daunting to jump into a series when there are already so many issues out there. At the same time, there's a feeling of deferred excitement because you know one day you will look into it, and then you will have about 80 issues waiting for you, which is wonderful fun and precisely how I finally read numbers 1-70 the Walking Dead in one night.
Thirdly, the covers. I absolutely hate the covers of Fables. I can't really explain why it won Eisner award(s?) for best cover artist, other than assuming my taste and the Eisner' board's differ wildly. The photoshop aesthetic combined with slight elements of surrealism combined with very depressing coloring led me to believe that this wasn't my kind of comic. You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover (I definitely do though) but for 24-page comic books the cover is an essential part of the package. It sells the story and the tone of the book. Naturally, I thought Fables was grim, bizarre, and possibly illustrated by one of those photo-realist artists. And being a John Cassaday kind of guy--clean lines, bright colors, clear faces--I never picked it up.
Well, now I finally have. I'm only up to around #34 (issue #100 came out on the stands not that long ago) but I love it. To be clear, I still hate the covers, but that's the only thing. The art inside is lovely, discernible, whimsical and tonally perfect. Willingham's characters are completely believable, utilizing their myths and folktales ingenuously and extrapolating their personas in the modern world after centuries of exile from their homes with brilliance, humor and authenticity. The main characters, Bigby Wolf (a reformed Big Bad Wolf, currently Sheriff of Fabletown) and Snow White (Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, to King Cole's Mayor, but she does all the work) are perfect leads. Bigby mixes noir with fantasy and humor and Snow gives us the competent, strong-woman-in-charge character (always pleasing) while briefly hinting at great pain and loneliness. These are immortals, beings of great power and history, and while Willingham reminds us of this constantly, he also writes them as human beings. But they are anything but Mundane. (The sleazy, manipulative but...well, charming, Prince Charming is particularly enjoyable. In fact, eventually every character introduced becomes familiar and endearing.)
The plots are deftly woven together, each one somehow feeling epic. From murder mysteries, to communist uprisings on the Farm (where all Fables who can't pass as human live), to all out war against wooden soldiers, each storyline moves quickly and with weight. The premise alone is insanely rich when it comes to story ideas, whether they be flashbacks from past centuries or future action. Like most creators, Willingham throws in the sporadic death of a character to solidify the intensity of various conflicts, and the fact that he doesn't really foreshadow it and makes it seem as if no one is safe makes it all the more effective. (The one-shot story where Boy Blue recounts the tale of the Last Castle actually made me cry. I can't remember the last time a comic made me cry.) I pray the characters I've grown fond of so quickly will all last throughout the 70-some issues I have left before me, but I was raised by Joss Whedon and I know better.
Still, tragedy is a part of each genre Fables touches on; fantasy, adventure, mystery, and especially fairy tales. Even when there's a happy ending, there are casualties along the way. Fortunately, however, Willingham doesn't get bogged down in disaster or death. The humor of the series balances out its drama very nicely, and provides us with an interesting, fast paced, lovely read. Not to mention that often a new character requires a quick google search, and thus enriches your knowledge of folk and fairy tales. Also it seems even the covers have gotten better.
Go out and find it.