Bill Willingham Speaks On ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME Having A Similar Plot To His Comic Series FABLES

ABC had made plans to adapt Bill Willingham’s popular comic from DC Comic’s Veritgo line, Fables, as far back as 2009, but budget concerns soon promoted them to scratch the idea.  Now two years later they debuted Once Upon A Time during the start of their fall season, which held eerily similar plot details to Willingham’s Fables; Now the creator speaks on the similarities….. 

Source: Comic Book Resources

Bill Willingham: So let’s dive right in to the deep end. Is “Once Upon a Time” (which we should now refer to as “Once” for brevity) a rip off of “Fables?”

Bill Willingham: My best guess, based upon the scanty evidence, is probably not.

Bill Willingham: Is “Once” influenced and at least in part inspired by “Fables?”

Bill Willingham: My best guess, based upon the same scanty evidence is, yes, it probably is, but perhaps not on more than a “this is the type of thing that’s in the air these days” level..

Bill Willingham: Why do you say that? The characters from “Fables” live in modern times, in a secret community called Fabletown, more or less hiding in plain sight, and the characters from “Once” live in modern times, in a secret community called Storybrooke, more or less hiding in plane sight. That seems pretty close to me.

Bill Willingham: That’s hardly damning. Our fantastic literature is rife with “they’ve been hiding amongst us all along” scenarios. There were plenty of such tales long before “Fables” came along. There will be scads of them long after “Once” has aired its final episode and “Fables” shipped its final issue. If you start with the notion of fairy tale characters still alive in the modern world, the next step of placing them in a secret community seems almost axiomatic.

Bill Willingham: What about the network? Long before “Once” was aired from ABC, didn’t that same network have a deal to produce “Fables” as a TV series?

Bill Willingham: Yes, but that by itself doesn’t prove anything. First of all, I am and always was on the outside of any deals between DC/Warner and any studio regarding a “Fables” adaptation. DC didn’t want me as part of the deal making and paid handsomely not to have me directly involved. So it was their baby all along. As such, I was never privy to the details of that supposed deal with ABC. I heard the same rumors you did, that the writers of that project weren’t supposed to have made the big announcement when they did. In any case, the ABC “Fables” project went no further than creating an unproduced pilot script. I eventually got to read that pilot, and it was a far cry from anything to do with “Fables.”

Bill Willingham: So there was no actual deal for “Fables” at ABC?

Bill Willingham: Who knows? There was something, but my limited experience with the imaginary place called Hollywood is that there are levels of deals, always including plenty of opportunities to kill a project. Judging entirely by my admittedly biased take on that proposed pilot, this was a deal worth killing.

Bill Willingham:So how did that lead to them doing a different but similar fairy tale project?

Bill Willingham: I can imagine many scenarios that don’t involve anyone at ABC or the “Once” camp doing anything nefarious. In fact, one would have to be mightily conspiracy minded to suspect some sort of attempt to do a “Fables” knockoff so as not to pay for it. It’s much easier to presume a situation where, since the “Fables” deal fell through, for whatever of so many possible reasons, some of the folks at ABC still wanted to do something in that subgenre and found a way to do it. No villains needed in this version. No smoking gun. Remember, this is the age where fairy tale and folklore based stories are in the air. “Fables” didn’t start it. In that light, it would be harder to imagine situations where there weren’t plenty of similar projects making the rounds.

Bill Willingham: So, if there’s no problem between “Fables” and “Once,” why concoct this interview?

Bill Willingham: Partly as a call to arms — or more accurately, a call to disarm. As grateful as I am to discover so many loyal “Fables” readers, willing to man the barricades, to help protect a story they love; as much as it moves me to realize I’ve been part in creating something that clearly moves you, affecting your lives in ways only a good story, well-told can, I think it’s time to lay off. Perhaps it’s time to quit rising up in public venues to accuse these folks of Grand Theft “Fables,” even if you still think it’s so.

One of the wiser men to enter my life was a humble but impressive itinerant history professor, who taught satellite college courses to soldiers stationed in small bases, scattered throughout Western Germany (back when Germany was still divided). He once gave me very good advice I’ve tried to live by ever since. “Choose your causes carefully,” he said. “If not, if you try to champion every good cause that comes along, you’ll wear yourself out, at best, and worse, become a dilettante — an ineffective dabbler. Pick a few that are the most near and dear to you, and give them your all, trusting that others are out there handling the other causes with equal fervor.” So let me pass along his wisdom by urging you to choose your causes carefully, and in this case, champion better causes than trying to prove that one unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) entertainment story might owe too much to another. There are worse crisis and better things for which to boldly take up arms.

Bill Willingham: Do you like “Once?”

Bill Willingham: I’ll give you a general and then a specific answer to that. I like anything that raises the awareness of fairy tales and folklore as the raw stuff from which some of our best stories are being told today. The mercenary part of me hopes that every single fan of “Once” will also check out “Fables.” Remember, stories aren’t automatically in competition with each other. If I like Batman, it doesn’t mean I have to dislike Captain America. I’d hate for “Fables” to be the only fairy tale-based story out there. If that were the case, I’d have nothing to read or watch for pleasure in this genre I love. I want more of what I want. Snacks are nice, but a feast is better.

Bill Willingham: And specifically?

Bill Willingham: It’s not often a TV is known for subtlety, but to have Riding Hood, for example, whose original tale was all about food delivery to Grandma, translated into a waitress in a diner in the modern world, still bringing the goodies to — well the customers tables in this case — that was clever. But they didn’t shine a big light on it, they trusted the viewers to catch that for themselves. And the wink at CS Lewis by making their version of Geppetto carve a magic wardrobe as the way to transport Snow and Charming’s daughter away to safety — and to an alien world — that was nicely done.

As a writer toiling in the same vineyards, there are some things that I would have advised doing differently. The use of modern attitudes and colloquialisms in the flashback scenes to a medieval(esque) past was not a choice I would have made, but it’s not a deal-killer for me.

The real proof of a story is, does it draw you in? In books, does it keep you turning the pages, and then inspire you enough to make that effort to get the next issue? In TV, does it bring you back next week for the next episode? “Once” does that for me. I want to know what the evil queen is up to. Why did she craft a curse that imprisons everyone in the future, but leaves them unaware of their punishment? And what value is it to her, if she has to stay in town with them, working her ass off to keep them contained? So far, it seems more of a punishment to her than to them. This makes me suspect many things. One possibility is that she somehow fell victim to her own curse, and the show’s other villain, Rumplestiltskin, is the one playing the more complex and manipulative game. Who knows? But apparently they’ve hooked me long enough to want to find out. There are other things worth mentioning, but I’ve babbled on too long.

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One thought on “Bill Willingham Speaks On ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME Having A Similar Plot To His Comic Series FABLES

  1. Pingback: Ke$ha Hits NYC, Speaks Out Against Seal Clubbings | Workout Routines To Build Muscle

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