“Jack of Fables”

By | September 20, 2012

The nine volume graphic novel series Jack of Fables written by Bill Willingham tells the story of the trickster Jack (e.g. Little Jack Horner, Jack the Giant Killer (from Jack and the Beanstalk), and Jack B. Nimble – with overtones of the Jackal from other mythologies), his son Jack Frost, sidekick Gary the Pathetic Fallacy (not a traditional fable), and a cast of other characters – most notably Babe (from the Paul Bunyan fable).  As with Neil Gaman’s Sandman series, part of the fun of reading this series is spotting all of the fable cameos and figuring out which characters are ‘real’ (i.e. are not original creations of Bill Willingham).  I’ve also enjoyed revisiting stories that I haven’t read since I was a kid – or hadn’t read in the case of many of the ‘original’ versions of Grimms fairy tales.  This series runs in parallel to Willingham’s Fables series (Vol 18 due to be published 2013 Jan 22); the two series may be read in parallel (most notably Jack of Fables Vol. 6 intersects with Fables Vol. 10 & 11) or completely independently.  While the Fables volumes are best read in order, since much of Jack of Fables consists of loosely connected tales (ostensibly as told by Jack) of Jack in his various incarnations, and since part of the glory of Jack is that he doesn’t (spiritually or emotionally) mature, the volumes can be enjoyed in any order.

Wikipedia article on Fables and Jack of Fables characters

Jack of Fables Vol. 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape

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Jack of Fables Vol. 2: Jack of Hearts

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Jack of Fables Vol. 3: The Bad Prince

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Jack of Fables Vol. 4: Americana

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Jack of Fables Vol. 5: Turning Pages

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Jack of Fables Vol. 6: The Big Book of War

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Jack of Fables Vol. 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack

Jack ‘N’ Apes: Jack as the inspiration for Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who did indeed work as a pencil sharpener wholesaler prior to becoming a successful writer) – complete with a lovely simian Jane.  The apes include King Kong, Magilla Gorilla (a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that aired 1964 – 1967), Clyde (Clint Eastwood‘s orangutan sidekick from the 1978 box office hit Every Which Way But Loose), Edgar (per Wikipedia, presumably the murderous orangutan from Edgar Allan Poe‘s short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue), Curious George (by H.A. and Margret Rey), Aesop (the ape from Aesop’s Fables), and Saunders (the previous occupant of Winnie-the-Pooh’s tree trunk home – not the name of Winnie-the-Pooh!).

Fat Jack: Jack Horner, Gary the Pathetic Fallacy, and Babe hoof it somewhere in Middle America while Jack Frost takes leaves of the Page Sisters and hooks up with (and names) MacDuff, a wooden owl.  (MacDuff is presumably a Macbeth allusion.)  Jack Frost retrieves Gertrude Goat – a possible reference to Gertrude Goat, a Fabuland Figure released in 1983.  The Night Walkers, from African fables? – chase a damsel through a Homelands forest.  Jack Frost and MacDuff set up shop at the Red Cockatrice Inn – a cockatrice is an Elizabethan mythological two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head – which is depicted with a trio of saddled dodos tied up to the hitching post near the entrance.  Not sure as to the reference of Mr. Krumper / Krumpler, the Red Cockatrice Inn’s proprietor; Beatrice, the innkeeper; or Miss Elsa Fen, the damsel in distress.

Twice the Hero: –

Jack Dragon: The Deep Crawlers?  A bogan (or boggart) is Celtic; a house spirit or akin to a bridge troll.  In the Legend of Fafnir in Norse (Icelandic) mythology, thanks to cursed gold a dwarf succumbs to greed and turns into a dragon (a symbol of greed).  Fafnir is later slain by his brother’s foster son.

Babe’s Characters: Oliver Freekindle Puck, dashing prefolded origami entrepreneur; Rolf Weiner, noted phlebotomist (a person who collects venous blood samples); Bob “Smiley” Gordichuk, Poet Laureate of Anamoose, North Dakota; Fafnir… Jack Candle, the world’s richest, sexiest and most elusive movie tycoon.

Jack of Fables Vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade

This Volume is all about Jack Frost.  ‘The Fulminate Blade’ appears to be a Bill Willingham creation.  Fulminate compounds (such as mercury fulminate) are very explosive.  Per Wikipedia, “The Empyrean, the abode of God in Paradiso, the final book of The Divine Comedy“.  The Dalek aliens in Dr. Who have Ruby Ray Lasers.  The Witch of the Wood comes from Slavic folklore.  (“The Witch in the Wood” was the original title of The Queen of Air and Darkness, the second book in The Once and Future King (as in King Arthur) by T.H. White.)  “ERROR CODE: 04GAEBGF” doesn’t appear to have any real meaning.  The City of Landfall is in Washington County, MN… though that’s probably coincidence.  Per Wikipedia, Deirdre (or Dierdre or Derdriu) is the “foremost tragic heroine in Irish mythology”; though the Witch o’ the Woods introduces herself to Jack as Dierdre, her name is probably not intended to evoke the Deirdre of mythology.  A homunculus (plural homunculi) is a representation of a human being.  Most likely there is no connection between Portia the virgin to be given as tribute to Empyrean and Portia the heroine of The Merchant of Venice.  ‘Welkin‘ is essentially synonymous with ’empyrean’.  ‘Skyward Wolfe’ appears to be a Bill Willingham creation.  ‘Vrumpus’ – not real.

Babe’s Characters: Clovis Sandoval, the world’s foremost toothbrush historian; Hamilton J. Farber, author of Hamiton J. Farber’s Guide to Being a Sperm Whale in Today’s Economy; Winston Borkus, inventor of electric fish and the future King of the Greater Newark Area; Un-named Character, child of Main and Supporting Character, desirous of changing his last name to Assailant, Accomplice, or Antagonist; Milton O’Shaunessey, the world’s most cutthroat corporate raider.

Books on the shelf next to Babe / Winston Borkus: Bridgman’s Guide to Drawing – more or less real; Drawing Animals for Fun and Profit – not real; Akins on Design – not real (though there is Atkins: Architecture & Urban Design: Architecture & Urban Design, Selected & Current Works – but it was published after Volume 8); Color Theory by L.L. ? – not real; Bill & Matt’s Big Adventure – a takeoff of the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?


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