Special Guest - Bill Willingham
Best known for his creation of Fables, the award-winning urban fantasy series about folkloric characters exiled from their homelands to the mundane world, Bill Willingham's current work includes writing the Angel series for IDW, working on the Justice Society series for DC Comics, Fables prose novel Peter and Max (Vertigo), and the short story "Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings" in The New Space Opera 2, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. Peter and Max was the first prose novel published by Vertigo. Willingham has also created the Elementals series, the Ironwood series, the Coventry series, and Proposition Player, among other works. Besides Vertigo/DC and IDW, he has worked for Marvel, Fantagraphics, Comico and TSR. While he started work as an artist, he is better known for his writing.
As a more personal introduction to Bill Willingham and his work, we're delighted to present the following appreciation by friend and fellow member of the Clockwork Storybook writers' group, Chris Roberson.
Bill Willingham – an Appreciation by Chris Roberson
Chris Roberson is an award-winning writer of both prose fiction and comics, as well as (with his partner Allison) the publisher of MonkeyBrain Books, and one of the founders of the Clockwork Storybook writers' group.
Don't tell him I said so, but Bill Willingham is the best person I know. I might even go so far as to say he's one of the best human beings on the planet.
But seriously, don’t tell him I said so.
Bill doesn't take compliments well. Considering the number of award nominations and wins that he and his work have received over the years, to say nothing of the unending choruses of critical acclaim, you’d think he'd be used to it by now. But he's not.
So whenever Bill is around, those of us lucky enough to count ourselves as his friends make jokes at his expense, kid him for being a few years older than us, chide him for his complicated relationship with deadlines, groan at his horrible puns ... But when Bill isn't around, all we do is talk about talented he is, how generous he is, how great he is.
Comics is a devilishly difficult industry to break into, as anyone who makes their living making comics can tell you, and for writers it is especially difficult. The only reason I have a career in comics is that Bill held the door open for me and vouched for me to his editor at Vertigo, Shelly Bond. The same is true of Matt Sturges, and of several other writers I could name. Bill claims that it was self-interest that motivated him to hand us our careers, but I don't entirely buy it. To me, it was just another example of selfless generosity that I've seen him display time and again over the years.
But don't mistake my meaning, and assume that Bill is some soft-hearted pushover. Bill lives by a code, in a way that few people I've known have ever done. To his friends, he is generous to a fault, the very definition of selfless. To those that cross him, though, he can be an implacable foe, and one who is not quick to forget. He's like a character out of a late-period Heinlein novel, one who makes his decisions quickly and sticks by them, and who would take a bullet for his friends, but would also not shrink to put a bullet into his enemies (I'm speaking figuratively, of course ... probably).
Leaving matters of character aside, though, the thing that distinguishes Bill from the rest of us is the sheer fecundity of his imagination. I have seen him sit down at his keyboard and dash off a genius opening to a new story or novel, seemingly without any preparation or forethought. (Frustratingly, that very same imagination can interrupt the process, and he'll set aside a few thousand words of genius prose to start work on something else that's caught his attention.)
Many readers are only familiar with Bill's work in comics, such as his early work in Elementals or his award-winning (and long-running) Fables series for Vertigo, for which he is justly praised. But in a just world more readers would recognize his brilliance at prose, as well. That's how I first got to know Bill, myself. I had read a smattering of Elementals comics over the years, but it wasn’t until I joined Bill and our friends Matt Sturges and Mark Finn in forming the Clockwork Storybook writers group that I really came to know him as a writer. Every week the four of us would meet and read new prose stories to one another, and then exchange comments and criticisms. And as good as Bill was when we started, he got better and better with each passing month.
For my money, Bill Willingham is the true inheritor to the legacy of Roger Zelazny, one of Bill's personal heroes. In Bill's stories as in Zelazny's you’ll find that peculiar mix of the mundane and the magical, with plainspoken protagonists navigating worlds crammed with mind-bending ideas, of notions taken to their logical conclusion and then one step further.
With the publication of Peter & Max, the first Fables novel, and the forthcoming release of the revised and expanded Down the Mysterly River, more readers will be given the chance to gain an appreciation for just how talented a prose writer Bill is. And any reader that has not sampled the Fables comic series is in for a treat.
But if you should be lucky enough to encounter Bill Willingham in person, you'll be able to see for yourself that he is a great and generous person, and possibly one of the best human beings on the planet.
Just don’t tell him that I told you so ...
- 2003 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards - Nominee - Best Writer: (Fables [DC/Vertigo])
- 2005 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards - Nominee - Best Writer: (Fables [Vertigo/DC])
- 2009 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards - Winner - Best Writer: (Bill Willingham, Fables, House of Mystery (Vertigo/DC))
Some other useful resources for Bill include:
- Bill's entry at The Comic Book Database,
with a comprehensive listing of his work.
- The Discussion Forums at Clockwork Storybook.
- An extended interview (originally from 2006) at The Comics Journal.