Fables cover art
Bill Willingham, the creator of the popular Fables comic series, says he’s surrendered the entire series, its characters, and all spinoffs, to the public domain, in a stunning move in protest of publisher DC Comics. Willingham announced the move in a press release on his Substack blog, explaining the reasoning behind it and what it means for the future of the franchise.
Fables was first launched under DC’s Vertigo label all the way back in 2002, where it almost immediately became popular for its reimagining of classic fairytale characters like Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf. It remained in publication in one form or another – all written by Willingham – for over 13 years, with the final issue, Fables #150, being released in July 2015. A further 12-issue anniversary arc started in 2022, although it has yet to finish.
In recent years, the series has perhaps best been known for the prequel video game The Wolf Among Us, which focuses on the Big Bad Wolf (Bigby) and was developed by Telltale Games. A sequel to that game was announced in 2019, and is set to be released at some point in 2024 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series XS, and PC.
Willingham’s Substack post says that, as of September 15, 2023, the entire franchise is now in the public domain. He says that he and DC had a creator-owned contract, which saw Willingham retain ownership of the intellectual property of Fables and its spinoffs, despite it being published and largely controlled by DC.
“What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time,” Willingham said in his press release, “It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.”
The reason for making Fables public domain, as described by Willingham, is a years-long conflict between the comic creator and DC Comics, which he says is now “a revolving door of strangers, of no measurable integrity.” Willingham says DC has, over the past two years, attempted to wrest control of the series from him, at one point telling him that officers at DC believed the company already owned the property.
An additional FAQ post on Substack goes into this in greater detail, with a series of complaints about DC’s contacts since the contract negotiations for the 20th anniversary series. Willingham says that DC attempted to force him into a “work for hire” contract which would have made DC the sole owner of the new stories, before lawyers got involved and came back with a new contract that “reflected the previous service contracts.”
Willingham says that he doesn’t have the time or the money to sue DC over the various transgressions, so instead he’s making it all public domain.
“The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can’t contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property,” Willingham said, “I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want. I chose to give it away to everyone.”
In a statement to CBR, DC said that Fables comic books and graphic novels published by the company are “owned by DC” and that the company will take action to “protect its intellectual property rights.”
Willingham disagrees, saying in a follow-up post that his decision still stands, “even in the face of cranky denials from those DC folks.”
The series that spawned The Wolf Among Us is apparently in the public domain now. Read More