Textual Traditions in Comics
Fables, Genre, and Intertextuality
A man leaves a note for the woman he has just spent the night with. He asks her to pick up his suits from the dry cleaners and to do his laundry. He mentions that he has helped himself to her spare apartment keys and some money from her purse. “I didn’t want to wake you to ask,” he writes, “and knew you wouldn’t mind” (Fables 1:30). This man, who treats women like domestic servants and suppliers of money, and disenfranchises them, is none other than Prince Charming, the coveted spouse and the character supplying the happy ending for many fairy tales. In Fables, he turns into an opportunist and exploiter of his own myth. The series seems to adopt the subversive strategies of postmodern fairy tales such as “The Story of the Eldest Princess,” in which A. S. Byatt extends Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love” with verses detailing grinding chores, domestic violence, and infidelity in married life (1995, 59),1 or Jeanne Desy’s “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet,” in which the princess asserts her own worth against the arrogant expectations of her suitor. Fables presents Prince Charming after multiple divorces from fairy-tale princesses and seems to expose the shallowness of their happy endings.
However, the series strongly affirms happiness in marriage when it represents the wedding of Snow White to Bigby Wolf, the humanoid Fables version of the Big Bad Wolf, and when it chronicles their domestic bliss. It also reestablishes Prince Charming as a positive character, learning to cope with diplomatic difficulties and sacrificing himself in battle. At first glance, Fables might seem similar to postmodern fairy tales in its subversive take on the ideological implications of the tradition. Looking more closely, however, it becomes clear that Fables draws on established genre patterns and traditional strategies of storytelling in order to create an immersive and compelling narrative rather than to expose their biases. Different modes of intertextuality in comics story-