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Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham reflect on 'Fables' ending after 13 years

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After 13 years and 150 issues, the Fables saga by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham has come to a close. Since its debut in 2002, the fairy tale-inspired comic from DC’s Vertigo imprint has consistently been a best seller. It’s currently being developed for the silver screen by David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford (Harry Potter) and the series even helped inspire a video game from Telltale Games called The Wolf Among Us.

In advance of the final issue, which is in comic stores Wednesday, EW spoke with Willingham and Buckingham as they reflect on the book’s journey and what it’s meant to them as a creative team. Read more below, and view exclusive art from Neal Adams’ short story The Last Christmas Story and Joelle Jones’ short story The Last Gepetto Story.

EW: How does it feel now that Fables has finally ended, given that it was such a large part of your lives?

BILL WILLINGHAM: It feels sad in the sense that it really was an enjoyable series to work on. At the same time, there was a determination. There’s been a lot of writers of my generation dying lately, dying and leaving their stories unfinished like Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time being a good example. I’ve left a lot of unfinished series in my wake due to things like the publishers self-destructing. So the one determination was I didn’t want to die at my keyboard and leave the thing incomplete. So yeah, wrapping it up was important, but at the same time, it’s sad to see something that was the central preoccupation of 13 years of my life go away.

MARK BUCKINGHAM: From my point of view, it didn’t really sort of hit home for me until the box of copies arrived at my home a couple weeks after the final issue, and there was the reality of this is the last one of these I’ll see. And that was quite a shock. It was hard as I was working on those last few pages, realizing that every time I came to the next page it was, “Oh, this is the last time I’m going to draw such and such as a character,” so you were progressively saying goodbye to this cast of characters you’ve been working with all these years. But I think the hardest bit for me is saying goodbye to the whole team we worked with. We were one of the most consistent and unified creative teams that there’s been in comics for a very long time, with Bill and I and Steve [Leialoha] and Todd [Klein] and Lan Medina. Everyone was in it for the long haul and with Shelly [Bond, Executive Editor of Vertigo] being there guiding us all the way through, it felt like a little family. I think that’s the bit that’s been the toughest, missing that contact, missing the excuse to have that phone call, that chat every few days.

WILLINGHAM: And it is true, it is quite the rarity to have the creative team essentially stay the creative team for more than a decade. It’s hard to come up with other examples of that.

What specifically made you decide that this is the time to end this series?

WILLINGHAM: As Mark and I have said before, we’ve written several endings into Fables before, and in each case the ending wherein we could’ve said, “Okay, that’s it, we’re done,” has generated plenty of ideas of what to do next. This time, going into the story of Rose Red and Snow White finally having it out with each other, I don’t think that it was planned it would be the ending at first. I think it slowly dawned on us that in order to do the big things that you could do in this story rather than hold back, it sort of forced itself to be the final story.

There was also a practical aspect, even though we were doing this for 13 years, there was this kind of ticking time bomb wherein Mark had a previous obligation that he would have to deal with some day, and to have someone who actually held onto an obligation for another series for more than a decade is an extraordinary thing in itself. But I think the plan, if I’m recalling correctly, is that when Mark had to take a leave of absence from Fables to do Miracleman for about a year, then he would be gone for a year and then come back. I didn’t want him to go away for a year. As much as I was looking forward to seeing him on another project, I didn’t want to lose him. So when it began to look like this could indeed and possibly should be the final story, it just coincidentally lined up in a practical way in the fact that we were about to lose Mark, anyway.

BUCKINGHAM: I think you did a slight disservice. [laughs]

WILLINGHAM: Right now, she’s writing the headline “Mark Buckingham killed Fables.”

BUCKINGHAM: The reality is, Marvel acquired the rights for Miracleman in 2009 and it’s actually been six years before we kind of got to a point where Neil [Gaiman] and I are even beginning to get that material sort of up and running. I think the funny thing is that yes, that was kind of hanging over our head for years, but I must admit I’d reached a point where I thought it was never going to happen, so I sort of stopped worrying about it.

WILLINGHAM: There were moments particularly with me, because it was vital and coming soon for a while and then it wasn’t, so I’m not entirely sure I believed him at first. Because the universe can be cruel but can it be that cruel to me? [laughs] I don’t know.

So that’s what helped you decide to make the ending what it was, then?

BUCKINGHAM: During the time we’ve been working on Fables in the past few years we’ve been lucky enough to not only chat on a weekly basis, but we’ve also been meeting two or three times a year in the States which is really helpful, too. I remember meeting at Baltimore Comic Con and discussing the next year’s worth of story and there was sort of no inclination that we were moving into an end phase. Then I think a month later, Bill had spent enough time with the story to realize, “Actually, this is the last one.” I think it was just something about returning to the core story about the two sisters that really was taking us completely full circle and wrapping up what was probably the most important plotline in the series. Everything sort of came together. We gave a huge amount of notice. I think we gave DC something like 16 months. Everybody had plenty of time to get used to it and sort of deal with the fact that it was ending. I think the funny thing is we’ve gotten to a point where we kind of forgot we were ending it. [laughs] I don’t know about Bill, but certainly for me.

WILLINGHAM: I think that’s true. I think the pressure of, “We have to produce today’s pages,” was a lovely distraction from the end coming, like a meteor towards earth. You had to do the daily life thing instead of worrying about that. Talking about the practical aspect, there was a consideration in my mind when we’re thinking of it. I didn’t want you to be homeless and out of work so having the other project and being able to go from this to that rather seamlessly was a consideration.

Speaking of other projects, what’s next for you now that Fables is completely finished?

WILLINGHAM: If you would believe my girlfriend, apparently all that I think is next for me is to sit and play video games. I have taken a little bit of a respite, but there are novels that have been in the works the entire time I was writing Fables, and now I get to concentrate on them without the distraction of the things that needs to be done right this moment. And some new comic stories, none of which is planned to be a 13 year epic. They’re all going to be a little more contained. Mark, we know a little bit about what you’re doing…

BUCKINGHAM: Well, Miracle Man is pretty much a full time deal for me now at Marvel, so that’s really what’s keeping me busy, working with Neil Gaiman again. We’ve been remastering all the old material and now we’re starting to get into the process of writing and drawing new stories. We had 13 years of Fables, but our obligation to return to work on Miracleman  actually dates back 22 years, so it’s rather nice to be back on that, to be working on it with an old friend, to have a chance to finally see some closure to a book that meant a great deal to me in the formative stages of my career. Beyond that, nothing too major. I’ve got various little projects I’m working on with different folk, not necessarily comics, either. I’m kind of working on new different things to take me into other areas now that I have a little free time. I’m sculpting more and doing other things. So, kind of giving myself a bit of breathing space to reconnect with myself as an artist in a more kind of wide sense of the term.

WILLINGHAM: There’s this weird moment now. Fables hasn’t come out yet, but like Mark said, we’ve gotten our copies. It’s inevitable, it can’t be changed, and now all that’s left is to wait for the reader reaction to it. I have to tell you, I have no idea whether they’ll be satisfied or angry or what have you, it’s a little bit of an odd. At least while Fables was running, we could still do the next pages and try to make it better. We can’t do anything but wait now. That’s a little bit unnerving.

BUCKINGHAM: I have a secret fear the fans will kidnap us both and lock us in a cabin. Basically, no one lets us go until we write the ending they actually want. [laughs]

Fables is available at comic shops today and will be available everywhere books are sold on July 28.

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