28 June 2012

Bill Willingham on Oz in the Fables Universe

Sequential Tart interviewed writer Bill Willingham, who’s been slowly unrolling some Oz-themed storylines in his Fables comic book:

ST: I have a couple of questions about some of the current storylines. What led to the idea of Bufkin leading a revolution in Oz? Frank L. Baum had some strong political opinions; did that play into at all?

BW: To a certain extent. My reading of the Oz books was woefully antiquated in that I did it early on in life and hadn't revisited them as often as I should. And this is what I found out about Oz readers: Oz readers are fanatical readers. They want things correct. The few dips I've made into the Oz world had readers and some of the people who work in the Fables camp, like Eric Shanower, who has done the odd Fables book, and who, of course, is a massive Oz fan [Shanower writes Oz-themed comics for IDW and Marvel Comics], and Todd Klein, our letterer from day one: massive Oz fan — which apparently is a redundancy. There's no such thing as just a middle-of-the-road Oz fan. They called me out on the tiniest little thing. It is not the Lunchpail Tree; it is the Lunchbox Tree.

I realized that if I wanted to play in Oz at all, which I wanted Bufkin to eventually do again someday, I'd have to either have all my ducks in a row and massively re-immerse myself in the Oz stuff — or create a situation wherein I'm the only expert, [and can say], "Todd, Eric, what you don't understand is that when the Adversary conquered Oz, he made all these changes and all these changes are inscribed only in my mind, so nyah nyah, here's the way it is now, and you're just going to have to live with it."

I decided to go that route, so Bufkin finding that the whole place was conquered and overrun by the gnome king, who, when the big empire fell, continued on with his little local empire. Well, it was obvious that Bufkin, having defeated the djinn and slain Baba Yaga would think, "Overthrow a dinky little side-empire like this? Easy." It almost wrote itself, and it solved the problem of these guys who could so easily point out where I got things wrong.
I suspect Sequential Tart asked about Baum’s “strong political opinions” because he was progressive for his time while Willingham identifies himself as a conservative. But Willingham didn’t address that potential conflict.

I’ve written before about how the Ozma and Dorothy of Willingham’s Fables universe bear little resemblance to Baum’s characters. In contrast, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Glass Cat act quite familiar. As for Bufkin, he’s a true original.

(Hat tip to Blair Frodelius’s Daily Ozmapolitan.)


rocketdave said...

I need to get caught up on Fables; I haven't read anything past the 11th tpb, when the Adversary is defeated.

The idea of Ozma and Dorothy being very different from the books doesn't bother me so much; I suppose they could have changed a lot over the centuries.

Speaking of which, how could the Adversary have conquered Oz centuries ago if the Oz books are set in the period they were written? Is Dorothy from some alternate universe Kansas that was a few hundred years ahead of us? Not totally sure what the real explanation there is.

I wonder if it was planned from the start that the little girl hanging out with the other witches was going to turn out to be Ozma. If that was something that was only decided later, it would help explain why she's blonde instead of dark-haired; because Willingham didn't know who she was going o turn out to be at first.

Can't say I'm shocked that Willingham identifies as conservative. Thankfully, it doesn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the comic.

J. L. Bell said...

Ozma and Dorothy are only slightly more than a century old—long enough to be in the public domain, but not the same sort of fables as the rest. Except that for Willingham’s universe, all the public-domain characters exist together, and any chronological questions of the sort you raise can be answered with hand-waving magic.

The defeat of the Adversary is actually a logical place to stop reading Fables. I don't think the series has found quite as good a storytelling engine since, though there are many fine moments.