Monday, 10 August 2009

‘Fables: Animal Farm’ – Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)


I am one of those people who will go on about how great the opening book in a series is (and swear mighty oaths to read the rest of the books as soon as possible) but then somehow never manage to keep going. I’m full of good intentions but there are just so many books to read and only one of me to read them all! :o)
You would have to go back to Christmas last year to see what I thought of the first ‘Fables’ collection, ‘Legends in Exile’ (to sum it up in two words, ‘bloody good’) and the plan was to read the sequel as soon as possible. Eight months later and I finally got round to it (whilst hoping that the tent didn’t spring a leak, it’s happened before!)
‘Animal Farm’ was bloody good too; I’m certainly not going to hang around before picking up the next book. No, seriously I’m not! ;o)

There’s trouble down at the Farm and this isn’t just any old farm that we’re talking about here. The Farm is where the Fables, fairy tale characters hiding out in our world, who just can’t live in our world (a dragon really wouldn’t go un-noticed in Manhattan) have to live. These Fables aren’t happy with their lot though and the revolutionary rhetoric of Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs is fanning the flames... Snow White and Rose Red are about to find that the annual trip to the Farm will possibly be a little hotter than they can handle!

I thought I was done with the tales of characters like Snow White and the Three Little Pigs at primary school; how wrong could I be? Willingham brings back all your favourite childhood characters and leaves you in no doubt that this isn’t a kid’s story that we’re talking about here. If you haven’t read ‘Animal Farm’ then I’m willing to bet that you haven’t seen Goldilocks toting a sniper rifle (well, maybe you have but this probably isn’t the place to be talking about that kind of thing...), you will here. This is an adult story with all the trappings that come with such a tale. No-one is safe (well, some are but that’s all part of the story) in the crossfire so don’t be surprised to see at least one of your childhood heroes bite the dust. Willingham also opens things up by redefining the term ‘Fairy Tale’. Characters from other childhood tales also make an appearance (as well as established myths and legends) which results in a wider cast to call upon and this means a richer tale to be told. The sight of the ‘Jungle Book’s’ King Louie up before a war crimes tribunal means that I’ll never look at the book (or Disney film) in the same way again!

I was captivated by a tale in which both sides are evenly matched and only ingenuity can tip the balance. It turned out to be a real page turner where things could change from one panel to the next. There are also a number of interesting hints at future developments that have ensured I will be back to see what happens next (no matter how long it takes this time!) Why is Goldilocks one of the most feared and hated people in the land of Fables...? I also liked the way that Willingham ties classic fairy tale figures in with another modern fairy tale and shows us what could happen when the march of revolution isn’t quite as easy (and not designed at teaching readers about the inherent corruption in humanity)... This ‘Animal Farm’ isn’t so clear cut and it’s that kind of vagueness that appeals to me in a story.

It’s a slight shame then that the artwork didn’t match up to the storytelling, at least in my opinion anyway. For a tale that comes across as very adult, the artwork came across (to me) as a little too cartoonish and not really able to capture what Willingham was putting his characters through. This certainly wasn’t enough to put me off reading though and it won’t be enough to stop me reading the rest of the series. Who knows, the artwork will more than likely grow on me as time goes by.

I’ve decided not to give marks to books that I buy but I think you can probably guess how I feel about this one. The next ‘Fables’ review will not be as long in coming as this one was! Highly recommended...

4 comments:

Joe Sherry said...

Fables was one of my great discoveries of the year. I think it just gets progressively better and there's a lot to come.

Thea said...

Ahh, Fables. I love this series so much. And I agree with Joe Sherry, it just keeps getting better. The next volume, featuring Snow and Bigby, is probably my favorite collection of the lot. Can't wait to see what you think of STORYBOOK LOVE! :)

Graeme Flory said...

I'm off into town tonight and I wouldn't be surprised if I came back with a copy of 'Storybook Love'... :o) I really shouldn't leave it so long before picking up the next book!

Joe - if it hadn't been for 'The Goon' then 'Fables' would probably have been my comic book discovery of the year. I'm really enjoying what I've read so far.

Nicola said...

I'm working my way slowly through these too! Wish I could read 24/7! I just finished Vol. 4 March of the Wooden Soldiers the other day and "bloody good" sums it up as well!