Linda Medley's Castle Waiting isn't the only series out there at the moment covering what happened to fairy-tale characters once the story ended. One other, which has sadly gone on temporary hiatus while artist Jay Anacleto works on Marvels: Eye Of The Camera, was the eye-wateringly beautifully-drawn Image series Aria, although it often steered clear of stars of specific stories in favour of chronicling the lives of the fairy folk in New York City. One series which merges both approaches to great effect is the award-winning Vertigo book Fables.
Fables, written by Bill Willingham and drawn initially by Lan Medina (although most of the series has to date been pencilled by the equally talented Mark Buckingham), centres on the dramatis personae of a metric tonne of fairy tales and nursery stories and rhymes, from the obvious (Snow White and the Three Little Pigs) to less obvious ones (the North Wind, Bluebeard) and some who don't seem to fit into the whole mileu at all (Mowgli, Santa Claus). Y'see, they've been driven from their storybook homelands by the mysterious Adversary, and for the last few hundred years have been living in our world, some struggling to get by through working in bookstores, while others, who managed to get some of their wealth out of the kingdom and into the real world, have the kind of opulent lives they always had.
The cast is pretty big, moving around between stories and rhymes both familiar and obscure as it weaves the protagonists and antagonists of all of them into each other's lives. Snow White is the hard-as-nails deputy mayor of Fabletown, the building complex where many of the more human-looking fables live, serving under the former King Cole and doing the day-to-day running of the fable shadow government. She's helped and occasionally hindered by the former killer Bigby Wolf, the closest thing she has to a chief of police, and tormented by her ex-husband Prince Charming, who, ahem, gets around a bit. While she's one of the major characters in the series, it would be misleading to suggest that the book revolved around her - others, such as Jack of the Fables (who, it transpires, was Jack of the beanstalk fame, Jack of Jack and Jill, little Jack Horner and many other Jacks from story and rhyme) and Red Riding Hood, have had major storylines focus on them, and this ensemble cast means that Willingham is free to tackle whatever kind of story takes his fancy, as appropriate characters suggest themselves.
The political maneuvering and seedy goings-on among the characters gives Willingham an opportunity to keep the book fresh by changing the styles of the stories featured - beginning with a murder mystery, the next story is a conspiracy thriller, and the rest of the series has seen war stories, capers and explicit political allegory move to the forefront in turn. To his credit, Willingham has been able to integrate all of these seamlessly into the ongoing storyline, which deals with the identity of the mysterious Adversary (I won't spoil it here, but it's smart and makes sense) and the struggle to return the fables to their homeland.
The artwork on the series complements Willingham's stories well - guest artists such as P. Craig Russell (who famously drew the Ramadan issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, among other things), Luther Arkwright creator Bryan Talbot and Castle Waiting's own Linda Medley. The lion's share of the art has been handled by Hellblazer, Miracleman and Spider-Man penciller Mark Buckingham, whose work is just realistic enough while retaining the soft-edged style which is just right for the storybook nature of the protagonists. He's such a good fit, in fact, that Willingham has gone on record saying that Buckingham will be first in line to take over the writing of the book if circumstances ever require Willingham to step down.
Don't be fooled into thinking that this series shares much with Castle Waiting other than a level of quality and a basic commonality of premise; Fables is a Vertigo title, and as such has enough swearywords and bloody death to keep Thomas Bowdler busy in his next life. The point of the series being to show the true nature of the characters we remember from our Ladybird books and bedtime stories, though, that's not in any way a negative point - after all, you can't spell "Grimm" without "grim", and not all stories have happy endings. With the success of Fables being what it is (seven Eisner awards, a spin-off ongoing starring Jack, a hardback original graphic novel featuring the 1001 Arabian Nights), though, it looks as though the series could continue, happily, ever after.