by Matt O’Keefe
Many of the FablesCon panels were held in the Talk Show Room. Set up like a late night program, at the front of the room there was a desk for the host and a couch and armchair for his guests. For this panel Peter Gross acted as the host with Van Jensen, Mike Carey, and Chris Roberson as his guests. The general topic of the discussion was using different versions of well-known characters from fiction. Gross introduced himself as the artist of the Vertigo Series The Unwritten and told his guests to talk about their new projects. Jensen said that he’d soon be writing Green Lantern Corps. Mike Carey talked about how in issues fifty to fifty-four the characters in The Unwritten would be meeting the cast of the fellow Vertigo series Fables. Roberson mentioned that he’d just taken over The Shadow at Dynamite Entertainment, had an upcoming series from Oni Press called Strangers, and that his digital-first comic Edison Rex will be collected into a trade in June. After their introductions, the creators opened the floor to questions.
A big topic that came up was the power of stories and how it influenced the creators’ work. Carey shared his view that the world is in flux and stories kind of fix it. Gross mentioned that both he and Carey were atheists who may not believe in a religious god but in a story can completely invest in the idea. Using the teachings of Jesus as an example, he said that you don’t need to believe something is true for it to have power. Roberson talked about a past interview in which he told the reporter that he believed in Superman the same way others believed in Jesus, which made him sound crazy to people but he stuck with it.
On the subject of plotting Jensen spoke highly of the book Seven Basic Plots, which argued that there are only truly seven different types of stories. He found it fascinating, saying it made him think about how life is complicated but is still restricted to a few basic themes. Gross expanded on that, saying that we are fighting wars in the stories we tell; it’s a practice in defining our reality.
Asked about themes, Roberson said that he doesn’t tend to find them until he’s revising his novels and often not until after his comics are at the printer because of the rapid release schedule. Unlike the other panelists, Jensen said he focuses on themes from the very start, extremely conscious of the story he’s trying to tell, but he also makes sure the story is character driven and allows characters to veer off in different directions than he’d originally planned.
Talk soon turned to structure. Carey said that in writer’s workshops he ran he used to talk about story in terms of three acts but he doesn’t anymore. Jensen agreed that over-formalizing the three-act structure leads to stagnant stories.
An attendee brought the focus back to themes and asked if the creators had ever been presented with one in their work they weren’t aware of. Gross mentioned that there are a lot of crazy interpretations on the internet. Carey said that sometimes he’d get more credit than he deserved, citing a time he was praised for referencing a book in Lucifer that he’d never read. Roberson joked that his readers never realize how clever he is. He went on to say that comic readers seemed more discerning than prose readers to him, pondering if that were because of the monthly format. He went on to suggest audience members compare the reading experiences of monthly issues to paperbacks and, if they were feeling extra generous, the paperbacks to the hardcovers.