Ever since ABC rolled out their nacho cheese fairy tale series Once Upon A Time, a large group of Fables loyalists have been pointing and shrieking Body Snatchers-style that Once is an obvious rip-off of the treasured comic book story.
And the fact that ABC once planned on making a Fables series (which fell apart) and instead aired this drama (seemingly skirting paying for the Fables title) wasn't doing the comparison any favors. Until now. Fables creator Bill Willingham has finally sounded off on the whole conspiracy. Here's what he had to say.
It's hard not to see the similarities between Once and Fables: both revolve around a secret community of fairy tale creatures set in the present day. Interviewing himself on Comic Book Resources, Willingham asked the angry masses to cool off. According to the author, no one is stealing from anyone else and there's no bad blood between the creators of Once and Fables. Especially since he discovered that the similarly scruffy sheriff on Once is in fact NOT the Big Bad Wolf:
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.
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.
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?
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."
So there was no actual deal for "Fables" at ABC?
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.
So how did that lead to them doing a different but similar fairy tale project?
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.
Just to reiterate that there's no war here. If you like "Fables," you needn't dislike "Once," and vice versa. Join me in wallowing in all of it. And then take a look at all the other grand stuff out there right now, or coming down the pike. Along with "Fables," read "Kill Shakespeare" and "The Unwritten," "Memorial," "Mice Templar" and "Mouse Guard." Read "The Stuff of Legend" and "Castle Waiting" and all the other gems in the same general category. It's the new age of old time stories. Along with "Once," I'm looking forward to "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Mirror, Mirror." There can't be enough different takes on this character, which very much mirrors the way it worked in the olden days. The Brothers Grimm didn't collect one version of every folktale; they discovered dozens of versions of each one, because it's the nature of folklore to be altered to suit every different folk who wants to make use of it. Why should today be any different?
Read the full self-interview (it's quite long) from CBR.