Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall (2006)
Author: Bill Willingham
Genre: Graphic Novel/Literary
Snow White arrives at the Sultan’s palace to negotiate a possible alliance with him against the Adversary. She is kept secluded for some time but is eventually brought before the Sultan who informs her that he will marry her that night and then kill her in the morning, something which he has been doing with women for the past three years. In order to stay alive, Snow White tells the Sultan a series of stories that last through the night. SPOILER: For three years Snow White tells stories until she has no more left. The Sultan says that for awhile he has had no intention of killing her because of her entertaining tales and lets her go although without creating the alliance that she had come for.
Geographical Setting: Varies
Time Period: Various
Series: Prequel to Fables Series
Although the writing is done by Bill Willingham, each story has a different artist penning the illustrations. This allows readers unfamiliar with comic book/graphic novel art to gain a feel for the variety of different styles that can be found. Combined with this variety of art, the reader gains a variety of stories. Willingham has a very concise writing style that manages to convey feeling and a sense of historical continuity with the disparate stories. In addition, the stories he writes run the gamut of tone; some are dark while others are light and even humorous. The characters he chooses are familiar since they are taken from fairytales but he adds a dimension of seriousness, resonance, and lifelike qualities that mature the beloved childhood characters. Hence, readers have a sense of familiarity with the characters, but in twisting them, Willingham’s characterization becomes something similar to a Brothers Grimm tale. Not only is there familiarity with characters, Willingham also includes familiar settings (e.g. the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel) but also gives them a twist that makes them more serious, sinister and eerie. In addition, the stories are framed within a bigger story, which is framed within an even bigger story, which together combines to convey a depth to the story and creates a subtle timeline that makes the reader want to find out about the bigger overall story. Finally, pacing varies throughout the book; some stories are only a few pages long while others extend to 10 pages. This variation makes for a quick read overall but not terribly quick in that the art must be taken in at the same time in order to understand what is going on.
Read-alikes: Those books that have a similar setting in taking familiar characters/plots and twisting them, include: Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid, Brian K. Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In the first book, the Black Orchid is a half-human, half-flower character who goes on a journey to find out who she really is. In addition to the similar setting, Gaiman has a similar writing style and tone to Willingham’s graphic novel. Vaughan’s book focuses on a group of lions who escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the American invasion of 2003. The lions are now roaming the city desperately trying to survive. The dark, desperate, survivalist tone found in this book is similar to the tone of some of the stories in Willingham’s novel. In addition, there is similarity in writing style and frame. Finally Moore’s bestseller features similarities to Willingham in terms of characterization, tone and frame as it follows a group of superheroes fighting against a plot to discredit and kill them. Another Gaiman book to try is The Sandman: Endless Nights, which follows the seven Endless characters in the Sandman series in their own stories, although the characters themselves are not the center of these stories. Once again, there is a similarity of writing style and tone to Willingham. In addition, each story is illustrated by a different artist thus lending itself, like 1001 Nights of Snowfall, as a showpiece to what graphic novel/comic book artists can do. Finally, there is Greg Rucka’s Whiteout, a mystery/detective graphic novel set in Antarctica. The main character is U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, who must find a killer before she ends up dead as well. A dark, desolate tone embodies the book along with a strong female central character, both elements similar to aspects in Willingham’s novel.
Red Flags: Violence; sexual references; disturbing imagery
Fables: Legends in Exile (2002)
Author: Bill Willingham
Genre: Graphic Novel (Fantasy/Mystery)
The adversary, a horrible creature, has taken over all the lands portrayed in fairy book tales and the characters, now in exile, have fled to modern day New York City, where in a luxurious penthouse they have made their own town, Fabletown. When deputy mayor Snow White's sister Rose Red appears to be murdered, Sheriff Bigby Wolf (formerly the big bad) works on the case. Bigby suspects include Jack (of the beanstalk) and Bluebeard, Rose's lovers, in this classic 'who-dun-it murder mystery. SPOILER: Though Rose's apartment was found covered in Rose's blood, Rose is alive due to a plot with her boyfriend Jack. Jack invested money into a dotcom scam and lost everything. He convinced Rose to make an agreement with Bluebeard---Rose would marry Bluebeard in one year’s time and be given a dowry of tons-o-money. When Jack lost all the money, they faked Roses' death to save her from marriage to Bluebeard and the money they owed him.
Geographical Setting: New York City, Fabletown
Time Period: Modern Day
Willingham has created an elaborate fantasy setting with familiar fairytale characters with unique and eccentric twists; feuding and poor Beauty and the Beast, playboy Prince Charming and his infidelity leading to his and Snow White's divorce, the reformed Bigby (bad) Wolf characters all provide strong characterization that will intrigue readers. An interesting element in this graphic novel is the world within the world that Willingham has created with the setting. The dialogue is both witty and humorous, and the mystery of Rose's apparent murder provides a lot of twists and challenges. The graphic novel is quick paced and the series alternates between different characters so readers who like different perspectives and highly characterized depictions will enjoy this series. Often there are surprise endings and many books in the series involve different subgenres including mystery, conspiracy thriller, and caper. The art for this graphic novel, primarily illustrated by Lan Medina and Steve Leialoha, is whimsical at times but the horror scenes are full of elaborate details and graphic depiction. The art is also cartoon-y which suits the fairytale characters and helps provide contrast in their emerging new world; one full of conflict.
Read-alikes: Readers who enjoy strong characters should continue with the Fables series. This winner of 11 Eisner Awards has a lot to offer in terms of character development, variety of subgenres, and interesting plot twists. Readers should also check out Jack of Fables, Willingham's spin off from the Fables series. Here the story continues with Jack as he travels to Hollywood where after making movies based on his life, Jack finds himself in trouble. In volume 1, Jack becomes prisoner in a retirement home that he must escape from. V is for Vendetta by Alan Moore is a classic that readers may enjoy and find similarities with Fables for its depiction of a dystopian future, this time set in Britain, run by a right-wing dictatorship and the exile this character faces. The main character here takes on fascism much like Snow White and Bigby Wolf battle crimes in Fable town. However, V's more anarchist approach may remind readers more of Jack from Fables and Jack of Fables series. Another classic graphic novel is The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. If readers continue with Willingham, they will notice that Willingham has added to the Sandman legacy by writing stories for the secondary characters Gaiman has created. Readers may prefer to start from the beginning with The Sandman volume 1 Preludes and Nocturnes, where a wizard's failed attempt to conjure Death conjures Dream instead, trapping Dream for 70 years until Dream/Morpheus is freed and searches for his lost powers. Similarities include mythic characters confronting modern day human life, the setting of New York City, and the combination of humorous and dark tones and the quick pace of the novel. Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway, by Mike Carey, takes a character from Sandman and breaks off into its own storyline. Fleshed out with new characters, the story follows the modern life of Lucifer, who has left his throne in Hell to run a bar. Another urban fantasy setting, with a quick pace and often dark tone, this tale may be of interest to fans of Fables. Ex Machine and the Y the Last Man series by Brian Vaughan are also good readalikes for the similarity in writing style, especially in connection to male female conversation and relationships. Ex Machina in particular shares the New York setting, having a mayor as a main character, murder plot elements, Eisner awards, and intertwining story lines. Sin City, a series by Frank Miller, is also a good suggestion for its intertwining eccentric characters and their connections that are developed throughout the series, its quick pace, and mysterious undertones. This series also involves thematic elements of corruption, revenge, and murder within a town made of criminals and will evoke Fable town but in a darker, more sinister tone. Readers who would like to see more artwork by one of the main the illustrators for Fables, Lan Medina, should try District X: volume 2 Underground where the art continues to be whimsical but strong, especially in darker scenes with more details, in this story about the X-Men who must solve a mystery where something underground is killing people in the city. If you like the retelling of fairy tales and the art style, you might want to check out The Book of Ballads by Charles Vess. This graphic novel contains the retellings of traditional ballads, each scripted by a different author. Some remain true to the original while others, such as Twa Corbies by Charles DeLint, are set in modern times. Vess’ illustrations are much like those found in Fables, making each retelling fun to read. Another graphic novel set in modern times and using a fairy tale as inspiration is Sparks: An Urban Fairytale by Lawrence Marvit. Jo, a girl with a troubled family, decides to build a man from metal. Much in the way of Pinocchio (or Frankenstein), the metal man is brought to life by a jolt of lightning and Jo must teach him about being human. This story takes on a few of the darker tones of Fables, showing something less than an idealized portrait of life, yet managing to stay positive and hopeful.
Red Flags: Graphic sex, violence, gore, profanity, and nudity. Also readers who don't want to see beloved fairytale characters gone wrong, this graphic novel is all about the "no more happily ever after." (p. 32)