Author: Bill Willingham
Illustrators: Esao Andrews, John Bolton, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, Derek Kirk Kim, Jill Thompson, Charles Vess, Michael W. Kaluta, Tara McPherson
Bill Willingham has a unique talent in taking the fables of old and weaving them together with a theme to form a unique story. In his second collection, Animal Farm, he adapted George Orwell’s satirical classic. In 1001 Nights of Snowfall, Willingham borrows from the One Thousand and One Nights compilation from the Islamic Golden Age.
Like the Arabic collection, 1001 Nights of Snowfall uses a framing sequence to unfold several tales. Snow White, on behalf of the exiled fable characters, travels to the Middle East to seek an alliance with the Sultan against the Adversary who drove them from their homeland. She is deceived by one of the Sultan’s officials and finds herself selected to be the Sultan’s next wife. To many women this would be an honor; however, the Sultan marries a new woman every night, only to have her executed in the morning.
Snow White employs the same strategy as Queen Scheherazade (of the Arabic collection) and begins to tell the Sultan stories in hopes that it will deter him from killing her. The brilliance of the Arabic collection is that Scheherazade fails to finish her story, giving the Persian King a reason to postpone her execution so that he can hear the conclusion the following night. Willingham keeps his stories intact, which makes the Sultan’s motivations less believable, but the format is more convenient for the graphic novel medium.
But really, the frame story is mostly a clever way to tell a collection of stories that take place many years before the time period of Fables comic series. For readers of the series, 1001 Nights of Snowfall contains many origin stories. We learn how Bigby Wolf came to be, why Snow has a problem with dwarves, Flycatcher’s escape from the Adversary, and a closer look at the benevolent King Cole.
The artwork makes this collection a keeper. Having a different artist for each sequence helped differentiate the various tales. Just as the Sultan eagerly came to Snow each night for a new bedtime story, we as readers turn to each story with a fresh set of illustrations. The beauty of the artwork lies in its diversity, from John Bolton’s realism in “The Fencing Lessons” to Jill Thompson’s children’s book art in “Fair Division.” The highlight of the artwork is Vess and Kaluta’s old-fashioned artwork of the frame story.
While I enjoyed the collection and found Willingham’s approach to be creative, it is not without fault. For the most part, the artwork is good, but there are some illustrations that fall a little flat. Bolton paints some absolutely stunning panels, but then a few panels later we see a flat, rigid portrait floating on a white background. Wheatley’s artwork on “The Runt” has its aesthetic moments, but in several panels comes across as messy. Even the writing is hit or miss. “The Fencing Lessons” story was particularly tragic, essentially blaming Snow for her divorce from Prince Charming, who was brilliantly crafted as a fabled player, using his charm to gain favors from naive women. “A Mother’s Love” also seemed to be an afterthought tossed into the collection without thoughts of continuity. Parts of me suspect that the Sultan would have killed Snow a few times over again.
The merits of 1001 Nights of Snowfall far outweigh its shortcomings. There is an added depth that can only be grasped by reading the comic series, but I think this collection stands alone quite well. I really enjoyed the concept of this novel and found the execution to be satisfying. For Fables fans, this is a must read. For others new to the series, feel free to give it a shot, but I would start with the original series first.