Ever After #1
photo: Vertigo Comics

"Fables" is back — and this time, it has zombies. 

Widely regarded as one of the best comic books of the past decade, the long-running "Fables" imagines a world where fairy tale creatures live in New York City after fleeing their magical homeworld. It ran for a whopping 150 issues between 2002 and 2015 and inspired several spin-off stories, including the 2014 video game prequel "The Wolf Among Us." 

Now series creator Bill Willingham is handing off his world to a new creative team: Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus, who've previously worked on the comic adaptation of "The Wolf Among Us," as well as artist Travis Moore. The first issue of their new series, "Everafter #1," hits comic book stores Wednesday (September 7), and it's set to radically change the status quo of the "Fables" franchise. 

Revelist spoke with Sturges and Justus about the challenges of writing new "Fables," and which fictional myths, heroes, and villains they plan to bring to life next. Check out the interview below: 

The last time you both played around in this world it was with “The Wolf Among Us,” which was set decades before “Fables.” Now, you’re picking up after the series left off. How are the challenges of writing/drawing a sequel different than the ones in writing a prequel? Do you find one to be easier or more enjoyable than the other?  

Matthew Sturges: Interesting question. Normally I’d say that writing a prequel would be more difficult, since you’re constrained by what everyone knows is going to happen. You can only get an audience so worried about a character that they’re certain is going to be okay later on. In the case of "The Wolf Among Us" it was a bit of a different animal, since we were adapting the story of the video game rather than writing a new story. We added a lot to that story, and fleshed out the world around it quite a bit, but having a path to follow made the plotting of it substantially easier than it would have been otherwise.

Dave Justus: While we thought that the game’s story was fantastic, and we had a great time (and a sizeable challenge) deciding which paths to make “canon” for the comics universe… it probably won’t come as any surprise that the material we spun from whole cloth for "Wolf Among Us" was the most satisfying to write. Crafting Bloody Mary’s origin as Victorian horror, or creating the world of The Silvering — the bits where we got to add to the "Fables" mythos ourselves were what we lived for.

That said, for me personally, I often like to have some boundaries, like “this character can’t die because we’ve seen them in the future,” or “these characters are married, so that has to be taken into consideration.” What Bill Willingham did in "Fables " #150 was to give us a giant cake to feast upon — the reveal of magic to the Mundys, which is the crux on which "Everafter" turns — but also scatter several cake crumbs into the far future, such as a Pinocchio Presidency, or the tale of Connor Wolf as a space hero. So we’re free to do a great deal of our own storytelling in this book, but working toward stories like those is going to be a hell of a lot of fun for us, too.

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In the first issue, it’s set up that new Fables are now being created, which is such a powerful idea. How deep into the world of modern myths are you planning to go? (There aren’t going to be any memes, are there?)

Sturges: Pepe the frog will definitely be showing up, as will the defiant baby with his fist in the air… okay, no. There probably won’t be any memes, but starting with the first issue you can see that we are playing with different types of mythology and folklore. It’s amazing how much folklore there is in our world that’s resting just beneath the surface. Not urban legends per se, like Mikey from the Life cereal ad dying from Pop Rocks, but more like strange legends and ghost stories and odd fables that are part of the history of just about every place; the things that aren’t “canonical” folklore, but have been passed around verbally and in the form of “copypasta,” along with the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe and things like that.

Justus: The great thing about "Everafter" is that there’s room for all kinds of modern Fables to appear. And, like Matt said, we’re not necessarily going to just run down the list of known urban legends (although you’ll probably catch a couple in the mix) and we’re not just going to spotlight ancient myths that Willingham never got to (although you’ll see several of those, too). We’re going to explore all-new creations -- witches and naiads and impossible beasts -- who were never possible before the release of magic in "Fables" #150. Legends in the making. Creatures who live under your bed now, but weren’t there the last time you checked. Scary monsters and super freaks.

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Adding new classic characters to “Fables” must be a daunting, exciting task, and you’ve already started doing just that in the first issue — with a H. Rider Haggard reference, no less! Can you tell me more about why you chose to bring “She Who Must Be Obeyed" into the world of “Fables” and what went into her design?

Sturges: Glad you picked up on her! Ayesha is a favorite of ours. In the novel she’s clearly presented as a white person who rules over a city of Africans, which is a difficult thing to work with in 2016. So we figured maybe Horace Holly got it wrong — she wasn’t a white woman (which makes no sense anyway) but an albino African woman with unusually pale skin. In the same way that fairy tales and nursery rhymes evolve over time, there’s no reason that the meaning of a public domain novel can’t do the same — we can take the parts that resonate with us and leave behind the parts that don’t work.

Justus: The idea that Ayesha would be the real glue that holds the Shadow Players together — the “behind-the-scenes” manager who makes everything run smoothly — fell into place almost immediately. We hope that readers come to love her as much as we do… especially when they see her really cut loose, really drop the civil façade and do whatever it takes to defend the Shadow Players’ ideals.

Speaking of which, were there any already established characters in "Fables” that you were especially excited to get your hands on? 

Justus: From the very beginning, we were excited by the idea of continuing the story of Peter Piper and Bo Peep. I think Matt and I were both affected by Bill’s novel, “Peter & Max,” and we both wanted to explore what more could be done with a master assassin and a skillful thief. What better setting for such characters than a spy story, where their abilities would be put to the test time and again? We also wanted to pry into their marriage: What makes it strong? What are its weaknesses? How do we pick it apart, subtly, over the course of our series? If true love is never tested, how do we know that it’s true?

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You’re also bringing a new villain to the world. Can you give us any hints as to what they’ll be like and how they’ll come to threaten the newly blended Fable/Mundy world? 

Sturges: There isn’t a single all-encompassing villain in “Everafter,” not in the same way that you saw it in “Fables.” In the newly magic world our characters now inhabit, anyone can become a villain. The rules of society are being rewritten around them, and what was evil yesterday may be value-neutral today, and might be heroic tomorrow. A big part of “Everafter” is about how to be moral when the world around you keeps changing and becoming more dangerous. When do the rules change? What rules never change? That to us is more interesting than focusing on a single bad guy who is diametrically at odds with our heroes. Our heroes aren’t even sure if they’re all on the same side as each other!

Justus: The best thing about “Everafter,” I think, is that the person you hate in issue #1 may well be your favorite character by issue #6. Readers expect a double-cross when they’re reading a spy story, and of course we’re going to deliver. But are we going to walk that back in the very next issue? Are we going to ask you to see both sides as your favorite character makes the hard choices? Are we going to throw in a third option that changes everything? The notion of who’s “good” and who’s “bad” is so mutable in this book. I’d love to see “Feathertop Was Right” shirts bumping up against “Connor Was Right” shirts at the next San Diego Con. But I’ll never reveal which I’ll be wearing!

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“Fables" has such a complex history as a franchise. Is there any part of the series that you think is required reading (or at least encouraged) before “Everafter,” or do you hope that new fans be able to come in without any background knowledge? 

Sturges: With any new series, the goal is always to make it new-reader friendly. With “Everafter,” that wasn’t difficult to do because it’s a whole new world, and most of our main cast are characters who weren’t much in the spotlight in any of the previous “Fables” books. All that being said, of course, knowing the backstory of all these people and places will certainly inform what’s happening. If you asked me to name the one thing that would be most helpful in laying the groundwork for ”Everafter,” I would probably suggest Bill Willingham’s excellent “Fables” novel, “Peter & Max,” which tells us all about Bo Peep and Peter Piper, and how they became the people we meet on page 1 of “Everafter.”

Justus:  We’ve done everything we can to make sure you can dive into “Everafter” #1 with no prior knowledge whatsoever. The opening monologue tells you the difference between this series and anything that came before. But anyone who hasn’t checked out “Fables,” and its spinoff series “Jack of Fables” and “Fairest” and “The Literals” and the accompanying graphic novels and non-graphic novels and bandanas and stuffed animals and sculpted bookends… you know you’re missing out. You just know it.

Sturges: We’re not saying that “Everafter” will be incomprehensible to you if you don’t have the sculpted bookends. But we’re not not saying it, either.

Fable Ever After Issue 1
photo: Vertigo Comics