When ABC announced it was developing a series called Once Upon a Time about fairytale characters living in the modern world — and then when it premiered and featured familiar faces like Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin — outraged fans accused the network of ripping off Bill Willingham‘s comic book series Fables. It’s not an irrational jump: The more accomplished Fables has been around for 10 years and has already tried to make the jump to TV twice.
Way back in August, TVLine asked executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz if there were any truth to the Fables connection. The two answered that while they had read a few issues, overall the two series play “in the same playground, we feel we’re telling a different story.” However, Willingham’s fans wouldn’t be assuaged until the creator himself responded to the controversy. (And as it turns out, they’re still not satisfied.)
Over the weekend, Willingham conducted an interview with himself over at Comic Book Resources, where he played the parts of comic book creator telling his fans to calm down and reporter pushing for a scandal. His first answer is similar to the producers’ “playground” analogy; he says that Fables may have influenced Once, ”but perhaps not on more than a ‘this is the type of thing that’s in the air these days’ level.”
Over and over throughout the interview, Willingham defends Once, saying that any possibly incriminating similarities come from the fact that fairy tales are in the public domain, and writers take the same mental leaps without copying existing material. He also reminds readers that writers often internalize plenty of random details and influences from other books and TV shows without realizing they do it.
Most importantly, we now know that scruffy Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan) is not a ripoff of Bigby Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf who became Fables Sheriff. If that were the case, Willingham said, “I might have started to get a wee bit territorial. But he’s not.” How does he know? Why, he asked the creators. He even helped tease the show a little: “Sheriff Graham is exactly who I guessed he might be. But I won’t give that away.”
This was never an article intended for the Once creators; it’s for the fans. Willingham asks his loyal readers to back off:
As grateful as I am to discover so many loyal Fables readers, willing to man the barricades, to help protect a story they love; as much as it moves me to realize I’ve been part in creating something that clearly moves you, affecting your lives in ways only a good story, well-told can, I think it’s time to lay off.
…So let me pass along his wisdom by urging you to choose your causes carefully, and in this case, champion better causes than trying to prove that one unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) entertainment story might owe too much to another. There are worse crisis and better things for which to boldly take up arms.
Unfortunately, even that’s not enough, and the more cynical of his fans have been calling Willingham a “coward” on the CBR forums. Just lost a lot of respect for Bill Willingham for being such a pusillanimous coward, one fan writes. Sounds like Bill is trying to convince himself. What a lame, bizarre defense of a show that is a BLATANT rip off of his comic book series. I cannot believe that he’s cool with it. The very fact that this is the SAME CHANNEL that was circling his series for adaptation seem to completely not bother him. Did they pay him hush money?
As of now, Willingham has not responded to his detractors on the forums.