(Creative Commons image, Leo Reynolds)
Refugees from the fairy tales you read as a child streamed into our modern world to escape a conqueror named “The Adversary.” They secretly settled in a New York City neighborhood, where they coped with challenges, both mundane and magical.
That’s the premise of “Fables”, a popular comic book that’s been published for the last decade. So many other comics have adopted similar approaches, utilizing folklore or characters from legends, that a new comics genre has been coined: mythic fiction.
“Fables” writer and creator Bill Willingham said it’s possibly “the most vigorous movement in comics since superheros took over everything.”
The first official gathering of mythic fiction in comics will take place in Rochester, Minn. at the Fabletown and Beyond Convention from March 22-24. It will include panels with creators, comics-themed events and even a full Elizabethan bar.
Mythic fiction comics include “Fables,” Jeff Smith’s “Bone”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” and host of others. Willingham said these sort of stories resonate with readers because the folklore they play with changes in the details, but never grows old.
“There’s love lost, and love found, and regrets, and betrayals and fighting for a cause you believe in,” Willingham said. “All the standard stuff that makes up everybody’s life, to one extent or another, is in there. And that’s what we keep returning to.”
The term “mythic fiction” might not stick, Willingham admitted. But the growth in popularity of the genre does reflect some larger changes in the comics industry, especially as comics like “Persepolis” and “Safe Area Gorazde” have garnered serious literary attention in recent years.
“We’ve dragged ourselves in the comics industry kicking and screaming into a more mature area of storytelling,” Willingham said. “Part of it is that we’ve been shouting from the rooftops for so long that comics are just not for kids anymore, at some point we begin to wake up and say, ‘Well, we’re starting to get heard, so maybe we should start working towards making sure that’s true.'”
Also, since the 1980s, comic creators have started to gain more power over their creations, which allows books that are more story-driven. Characters can even die in service to the greater story.
“Superman and Batman and the X-Men, in addition to being fun characters to tell stories with, they are important assets of a big company,” Willingham said. “If someone dies they’re going to have to be back because you just don’t throw away stockholder-owned corporate assets.”
Michael Drivas, owner of Big Brain Comics in Minneapolis, said comics are still changing and growing and shifting genres because they’re a relatively young art form.
“The first comic books are less than 100 years old,” Drivas said. “Some things got stuck in superheroes for a long time, that was the thing that did really well. Now it’s kind of coming back to where other genres are possible.”