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The extra-sized Fables finale marks the end of an era at Vertigo

Cover by Nimit Malavia
Cover by Nimit Malavia

As the longest-running Vertigo book, Fables is the last reminder of the imprint’s glory days as a major force in the industry during the early ’00s. It was a time when creators like Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Aaron, and Brian Wood rose to popularity, but as the editorial climate of DC Comics changed, Vertigo became less of a priority for the publisher. The future of Vertigo looks bright thanks to a slew of intriguing announcements at Comic-Con International, and the sheer number of new titles being launched at the end of this year suggests that the imprint is hungry for a blockbuster title to fill the void now that one of its biggest titles is out of the game. The conclusion of Fables isn’t just the end of a series, it’s the end of the Vertigo that was, which explains why it’s such a big package.

Fables thrived thanks to the sales of its collected trade paperback editions, and for the book’s grand finale, Vertigo thanks the trade-waiters by publishing the conclusion in their preferred format. Fables: Farewell contains the final issue, #150, of the ongoing series, but it’s also a graphic novel in the vein of Fables: 1001 Nights Of Snowfall, teaming writer Bill Willingham with some of the industry’s top artists to tell short stories about the later days of Fabletown favorites. It’s a hefty read that is sure to please fans who have stuck with the series over the last 13 years, and the shift in format gives this goodbye even more gravitas.

In terms of content, Willingham neatly wraps up the main story, concluding the war between Snow White and Rose Red with events that bring about the end of some of the book’s most beloved characters and set up exciting new directions for others. There’s swashbuckling action and explosive spectacle rendered with dynamic energy and impeccable detail by Mark Buckingham and his team of inkers (Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, and Jose Marzan Jr.), but the artist also has plenty of opportunities to show off his nuanced character work during the more emotional moments of Willingham’s main story.

Lee Loughridge’s coloring gives Buckingham’s art a smooth, hand-painted look evocative of fantasy illustrations, and that visual richness has been a main draw of Fables for years. For this extra-sized farewell, artists like Neal Adams, Michael and Laura Allred, Russ Braun, Gena Ha, and many more get to play around in the Fables sandbox one last time, spotlighting the wide array of styles this series has embraced in its considerable history and exposed to readers that were entering the larger comics world through the Fables gateway.

With this series, Willingham and his artistic collaborators—with a special shout-out to Todd Klein, who provided expressive, sophisticated lettering for every single issue—have taken characters from classical myths and fairy tales, along with more modern public domain creations like L. Frank Baum’s Oz series and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and continued their stories in a brand-new context. By finishing the series with glimpses of what’s to come for these characters and their worlds, the creative team invites others to keep those stories going, and there’s a very good chance readers could see some Fables spin-offs from Vertigo in the future. This finale is an effective happily ever after for these characters, but this is one of those rare instances where a continuation with different creators feels like a logical next step considering the title’s central conceit. [Oliver Sava]

One of the best parts about comic conventions, in particular ones that focus on independently or self-published works, is finding astonishing gems scattered along tables and tucked behind button collections. Gatherings like TCAF and CAKE are the best places to discover off-the-beaten-path stores and new creators to follow. MariNaomi’s Dragon’s Breath And Other True Stories (2D Cloud and Uncivilized Books) is a prime example. Autobiographical graphic novels aren’t new, but they are enjoying something of a moment. Female creators in particular seem to be gravitating toward the subgenre, with women like Lucy Knisley putting out a slew of books as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home enjoys success both in print and as a Broadway musical.

Rather than writing about one specific period of her life, MariNaomi recounts vignettes from her childhood all the way to the foibles of her adulthood. Parts of the book are reminiscent of Persepolis: MariNaomi and Marjane Satrapi are both women of color, and they both write honestly about their struggle with their cultural heritage and the way that they were treated by people who did not share their experiences. But the nature of Dragon’s Breath keeps thoughts flowing differently, sliding from one subject to the next without a distinct chronology or over-arching plot. Rather than feeling disjointed, it seems conversational and kind, as if the author is recounting her adventures over drinks with a friend.

The book feels intimate and vulnerable. It’s a bit like reading someone’s journal, and there are specific sections that are difficult as the reader’s attention shifts from feeling familiar and welcome to something uncomfortably voyeuristic. MariNaomi is intentional with this; there are sections where she’s not particularly easy on herself, especially as the stories shift into young adulthood and she explores her responsibilities and choices. Her life is perhaps not so universal that everyone will find something identical to their own youth, but her struggles and choices are recognizable and relatable. It makes the lessons she learns as a character cut a little deeper into the readers as they follow her journey.

The simplicity of the art only magnifies the universality of the stories. If each of the pages were full of specific features and places, it would be more difficult to identify with what she’s gone through and how she’s lived. But MariNaomi draws people sweetly, with little detail but a lot of expressive facial features, particularly eyebrows. She’s got a knack for using white space, most of her panels floating without borders so they flow without effort. Some pages are packed with clean, round writing, solidifying the impression that this is a diary, something secret that MariNaomi has deemed you worthy of reading. It’s no surprise Dragon’s Breath was nominated for a 2015 Eisner.

What’s particularly gratifying is that MariNaomi’s sharp honesty extends to her other work, much of which is available on her website. She earned a bit of fame in late 2013 when she published “It Happened To Me: I Was Sexually Harassed Onstage At A Comic Convention Panel.” Dragon’s Breath is an excellent MariNaomi primer, a way to dip a toe into a vast pool of stark, generous, authentic comics from a woman who appreciates the importance of ’80s pop. [Caitlin Rosberg]

Forget Secret Wars or Convergence, the biggest comics news of the last year has been the commercial resurrection of Star Wars. As everyone and their mother knows, the first issue of Marvel’s Star Wars topped a million copies ordered, a number not seen in more than 20 years. (We discussed the first issue of the new Star Wars series here.) Six months into the relaunch the franchise remains a sales juggernaut. Anecdotal evidence from retailers indicates that the return of Star Wars to Marvel has resulted in a not-insignificant influx of new customers, in some cases readers walking into their neighborhood stores and starting new pull-lists that say, simply, “Star Wars—all.”

Given the line’s status as the best-selling non-superhero franchise, and given the fact that the line’s heat is only slated to increase as the months go by (for obvious reason), the health of the line will have a disproportionate impact on the health of the direct market for some time to come. The first real test of the line’s long-term stability comes with this week’s Star Wars #7. Marvel has so far done an excellent job of stocking the books with top-shelf creators. This is important, because the fact that the publisher is willing to draft creators like Jason Aaron, Mark Waid, Charles Soule, and Kieron Gillen sends a message that it’s serious about these books “counting.” Therefore, the first creative shuffle on one of the line’s two ongoing series marks a significant moment.

Marvel stunned the world by publishing the first six issues of Star Wars, written by Aaron and drawn by John Cassaday, more or less on time. Cassaday isn’t the industry’s fastest artist, and his successful completion of the first arc is a significant achievement. But Cassaday was never a feasible long-term choice, so issue #7 features the art of Simone Bianchi, filling in before the arrival next month of Stuart Immonen. Bianchi is a good fit. He’s been a solid performer for many years, even if he hasn’t yet made as big an impact as his skills might merit. His art is significantly more stylish than Cassaday’s, whose best work leans heavy on photorealistic effects. Where Cassaday’s lines are precise, sometimes even to the point of feeling stiff, Bianchi’s composition is loose, his pages more design oriented. The desert setting of Tatooine gives him lots of opportunities to draw cool wind-swept cloaks.

This issue is the first to be set away from the main post-Episode IV period, taking place 10 or so years before the events of A New Hope, and featuring a prematurely aged Obi-Wan Kenobi protecting young Luke from afar. Aaron’s Kenobi is a depressed, somewhat aimless figure, living in anticipation of one day being useful again, shadowing Luke and fighting the urge to intervene against the constant irritation of Jabba The Hutt’s thugs. It’s a downbeat story that picks up right where Revenge Of The Sith left off in terms of showing the forces of good at their lowest ebb. It’s also proof, for the moment at least, that Marvel is serious about keeping the quality of its Star Wars books as consistent as possible. With so much riding on the line’s continued prosperity, here’s hoping Marvel can keep it up for a long time to come. [Tim O’Neil]