Interview: Sean E. Williams on Fairest

Sean E. WilliamsThere’s no way to talk about Sean E. Williams’ arc on Fairest (the spinoff title of the hugely popular Fables series by Bill Willingham), without talking spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

Not one to waste time, in the first issue of his run on Fairest Williams brought back a fan favourite character assumed dead by pretty much everyone. This was also his debut in mainstream comics, by the way, though Williams’ is also the co-creator of the new Artful Daggers series. In an industry where covers, art, and other spoilers are leaked within moments of their inception, it is no small feat to keep a secret for over two years, but Williams and the entire Vertigo team managed to do so with the return of Charming. That’s right, everyone’s favourite smug prince is back. We talked to Williams about resurrecting Charming, the debut of Nalayani, and what it’s like to be the new guy among veterans of the Fables universe.

Fairest 15 CoverA series several years in the making, Williams’ involvement was part of the Fairest series announcement at San Diego Comic Con in 2011. “I was up there at the Fables panel and they’re like ‘Sean, why don’t you tell us something about your arc?’ I said, ‘No, no comment.’ Finally, I was  like ‘Okay, you guys want to know what my arc’s about?’ and then Brad [Thomte] came over and duct taped my mouth shut.” Although the creators kept quiet, Williams admits there was a slip directly from the publisher. “At San Diego last year, someone asked Karen Berger [Executive Editor for Vertigo at the time] if we would ever see Prince Charming again. She said ‘Yeah, in one of the upcoming arcs’ just out of the blue. So I saw that, and thought, ‘We are so boned,’” Williams said with a laugh. “Bill [Willingham] smartly said, ‘If we ignore it, it will go away and no one will probably mention it. By calling attention to it now, we’ll get in trouble.’ So we ignored it and nobody noticed.”

The last time fans saw Prince Charming, he’d sacrificed himself in an explosion that saved Fabletown. Presumed dead, his appearance in Fairest as the Maharaja was a shock, but also the perfect title for Williams to talk about his return without ruining the surprise. “The first interview I did about it, I was like ‘How in the hell am I going to talk about it? Oh my god, I could just call him the Maharaja because that’s what he is!’ To me, he’s always just been Charming because he’s not the prince anymore. The jump to calling him Maharaja Charming was easy. I could be coy about the Maharaja, talk about the plot without spoiling anything. Then we started to talk about Nalayani and people forgot the other side of it.”

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NalayaniCharming may have been the big surprise in the first issue but Nalayani is the real focus. “She’s a really strong character in her [original] story and in my mind, she’s the protagonist but I can also see how she was used as kind of a warning? A parable?” William’s mused aloud. “That’s the thing: she’s a strong willed character, she does what she wants, she gets what she wants and she gets punished for it in the original story.” Although that may not be the case in Williams’ arc, he admitted, “she’s the perfect foil for Charming. As soon as I found her, I was done looking. Those two combined made it a no brainer. It’s perfect.”

Between Charming’s return and Nalayani’s debut, there has been a lot of chatter amongst fans. “So far it’s been good! People seem to be liking it.” Williams’ said with a relieved laugh. “They’re loving the art, which is great because I freaking love it. I’m eager for people to see the payoff for Todd Klein’s font that he did for it, because there’s a reason we’re doing it. I hope people like it! I mean, I got Todd Klein to do a font for me… how cool is that? I was a huge fan of Todd’s for years, so I was geeking out the most about working with him right out of the gate. Then I had the idea for the font and thought ‘Oh my god, if we do this, it’s going to be amazing!’”

Working with big names in the Fables creative world (and comics at large) is still new to Williams. “Coming into comics as recently as I have, I’m kind of ignorant of a lot of the people I’m working with— or at least I was. So when Bill mentioned Adam Hughes [would be] doing the covers for Fairest, I was like ‘Oh that’s nice… who’s Adam Hughes?’ Then I got to know Adam as a guy, and now he’s my friend, but as I started delving more and more into comics, it’s like ‘Holy shit, it’s Adam Hughes!’ Working with him and talking about the covers, sometimes it’s easy to forget. Oh right, you’re Adam Hughes… maybe you know what you’re doing and I should shut the hell up.”

Nalayani

Williams’ excitement at working with artists Stephen Sadowski and Phil Jimenez is obvious as well, but he really perks up over Andrew Dalhouse’s colour work. “I love the colours for this issue, both digitally and on paper. They’re just gorgeous. [Andrew] is using more subdued colours in the real world, away from the throne room, because their clothes are more threadbare— they’ve been wearing them for years. The fact that he’s as into those details as I am? That’s awesome. It makes it easy to collaborate.”

As for what’s to come for Nalayani and Charming, Williams is hesitant to share too much detail. “I don’t want to spoil too much but I’m leaving a lot for Bill to play with down the road. We’re going in a couple of different places and introducing a bunch of new characters in the second issue that we haven’t met yet. We saw a glimpse of one of the characters, in one panel, but we’re going to see a lot more of him. Plus a bunch of Jungle Book fables that we haven’t seen yet, besides Tabaqui. We’re going outside of the Jungle Book too, into some of Rudyard Kipling’s other stuff, which I’m really excited about introducing Fables fans to.”

Fairest #15: The Return of the Maharaja Part One is on stands today.

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