Fabletown and Beyond: Bill Willingham launches mythic convention

March 20, 2013 | 10:10 a.m.

"Fables" creator Bill Willingham, a veteran guest of comic-book conventions, is trying his hand at producing and hosting one. Fabletown and Beyond is this Friday through Sunday at the Mayo Convention Center in Rochester, Minn. (Michael Jara Photography / DC Entertainment)

Telltale Games will preview its "Fables"-set video game. Might Bigby Wolf have something to do with it? (Fabletown and Beyond)

"The Unwritten's" Tom Taylor and "Fables'" Bigby Wolf connect in this teaser art for "The Unwritten" No. 50, due June 26. Art by Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham, with colors by Chris Chuckry. (Vertigo)

The cover of "Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood" No. 1, which launched the new arc last month. Art by Simon Davis. (killshakespeare.com / IDW Publishing)

"Fairest" No. 15, due May 1, is written by Sean E. Williams and features cover art by Adam Hughes. It will introduce readers to Nalayani, whose quest will have ramifications throughout the "Fables" world. (Vertigo)

This weekend, an acclaimed comic-book creator, colleagues and fans will attempt to open a portal between our mundane reality and the worlds of legend.

Fabletown and Beyond, “Fables” mastermind Bill Willingham’s convention devoted to “mythic fiction,” becomes a reality this Friday through Sunday at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn. But will the gathering itself enter lore?

When the creator of the long-running, mature myths-in-modernity Vertigo series spoke with Hero Complex in November about plotting the con, named for the New York neighborhood where many fables reside in his comic, he said he’d learned that “good convention hosts must be just a little bit suicidal” and “this is not something I would wish on anyone.”

Willingham was kidding (a little). But the goal of the gathering is to create an environment where fans and creators “talk about the meat of storytelling and what makes it up and what’s good and what’s terrible and what’s wonderful about it.”

(Fabletown and Beyond)

(Fabletown and Beyond)

Still, the inaugural event isn’t taking itself too seriously – one of the two larger programming areas is dubbed the Boring Panel Room (so-called because of the typical convention format, not the content), and the other is the Talk Show Room, featuring a late-night TV layout with a host in position behind a desk with guests to be seated on a couch.

In addition to panels, there will be an exhibition floor with art, signings and some convention-exclusive items, and the convention center’s adjacent Kahler Grand Hotel will house after-show-hours trivia and pool party events.

Fabletown’s special guests include veteran comics creators, such as multiple-Eisner-Award-winners Kurt Busiek (“Astro City,” “Marvels”) and guest of honor Mark Buckingham (“Fables”), and newer talent, such as Lauren Beukes and Sean E. Williams, the writers of the current and next arc, respectively, of the female-focused “Fables” spinoff title “Fairest.”

Each special guest is scheduled for multiple panels, and will be making appearances in the convention-exclusive Kill Shakespeare Bar for informal interactions with fans.

The programming schedule includes discussions of barbarians, heroic mice, obscure legends, fantasy world-building, the exhilarating and exasperating comics industry and more.

Following are some highlights:

Friday
3 p.m. – In the Talk Show Room, four writers who’ve told tales of the “Fables” universe – Chris Roberson (“Cinderella” miniseries), Matt Sturges (“Jack of Fables”), Beukes and Williams discuss playing in someone else’s playground in “The Sandcastle Show.” Meanwhile, in the Boring Panel Room, Busiek, who came up with the term “mythic fiction,” leads a discussion on what exactly this whole event is about.

4 p.m. – Convention host Willingham greets attendees in an opening ceremony before Buckingham delivers the keynote address at 5 p.m. So far, there are no details on what the affable artist might say.

Saturday

"The Unwritten's" Tom Taylor and "Fables'" Bigby Wolf connect in this teaser art for "The Unwritten" No. 50. Art by Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham, with colors by Chris Chuckry. (Vertigo)

“The Unwritten’s” Tom Taylor and “Fables’” Bigby Wolf connect in this teaser art for “The Unwritten” No. 50, due June 26. Art by Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham, with colors by Chris Chuckry. (Vertigo)

10 a.m. In this hour and again at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Shelly Bond, the executive editor of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, will review artist portfolios, with an eye toward selecting someone to illustrate an upcoming “Fables” story. But artists hoping for a storybook ending to the weekend should beware – this is not for the faint of heart. Of Mice and Men Room 2

11 a.m. Mike Carey and Peter Gross, creators of the Vertigo series “The Unwritten,” a reality-bending and literature-rich adventure about the nature of story, are joined by editor Bond to discuss, among other things, the upcoming Issue 50, the kickoff of the five-part “The Unwritten Fables” crossover, which lands fictional boy wizard / real adult Tom Taylor in unfamiliar territory. Boring Panel Room

1 p.m. When Willingham spoke with Hero Complex in November, he threatened to throw “acerbic old fart” Adam Hughes, who others might more flatteringly refer to as an “accomplished covers artist,” and Gene Ha (“Top 10” with Alan Moore) together for the silliest of reasons: Hughes signs his work “A.H.,” so this could be the AH-HA panel. Well, he did it. Regardless of the back story, this discussion of comics art from these two multiple Eisner winners should be engaging. They’re joined by Gross and Chrissie Zullo. Talk Show Room

2 p.m. Arguably the center of Saturday’s programming is two hours of “Fables.” The first half is the “Fables” panel. Expect revelations and maybe, based on the series’ past panels at Comic-Con International, giveaways. That’s followed by a preview of the long-in-the-works “Fables”-universe-set video game (and possibly the announcement of its actual title) from Telltale Games, the company behind last year’s acclaimed “The Walking Dead” game. Boring Panel Room

The cover of "Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood" No. 1. Art by Simon Davis. (killshakespeare.com / IDW Publishing)

The cover of “Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood” No. 1, which launched the latest arc last month. Art by Simon Davis. (IDW Publishing)

5 p.m. “Kill Shakespeare” creators Connor McCreery and Anthony Del Col discuss their IDW comics series about Shakespeare’s cumulative dramatis personae, who are in deadly conflict over what to do about the great Will behind their world. Boring Panel Room

Sunday
1 p.m. In “The Mythology Hour,” Mark Finn and guests Busiek, Mike Oeming (“Mice Templar,” “Powers”) and Bryan J.L. Glass (“Mice Templar”) discuss mythology’s appeal to contemporary creators and consider the ethics of repurposing legends that were part of others’ religion (and might still be). Talk Show Room

2 p.m. “Fables’” sister series “Fairest” gets its hour in the spotlight with Willingham, Bond, Hughes, Beukes, Zullo and Williams. Boring Panel Room

3 p.m. Willingham leads the “Big Announcements Show.” Let the rumors begin. Talk Show Room

5 p.m. Two burning questions will be answered as the convention closes: 1) Did any artist win a gig working on a “Fables” story? 2) Is Fabletown and Beyond a one-shot, or are there plans for next year? Boring Panel Room

The full schedule is available here. Tickets are available online until 5 p.m. central time Thursday for $15 for a daily pass or $30 for a weekend pass. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door for $20 per day or $50 for the weekend.

Check back with Hero Complex next week for a wrap-up of the news from the event and details from the scene.

– Blake Hennon

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"Fables" creator Bill Willingham, a veteran guest of comic-book conventions, is trying his hand at producing and hosting one. Fabletown and Beyond is this Friday through Sunday at the Mayo Convention Center in Rochester, Minn. (Michael Jara Photography / DC Entertainment)

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