Creator of Acclaimed Comic ‘Fables’ Declares It Public Domain Amid Fight With DC

Bill Willingham created the series for DC/Vertigo in 2002 – how much of it is affected isn’t yet known

Fables Comic Book becomes public domain
Bill Willingham for Vertigo/DC

In a move with potentially large implications, the creator of the groundbreaking DC Comics series “Fables” says he has released it into the public domain. The transition will take effect Friday.

“Fables,” which originally ran from 2002-2015 as part of DC’s Vertigo imprint, was created under a deal that gave Willingham sole ownership, the writer explained in a statement released Thursday. And the decision to give it away comes in response to what he described as years of bad faith dealings from DC Comics and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.

Philosophically, Willingham said he opposes the current state of copyright law and doesn’t want to be a hypocrite. But he also described “a revolving door of strangers, of no measurable integrity, who now choose to interpret every facet of our contract in ways that only benefit DC Comics and its owner companies” that replaced the people he initially contracted with. As a result, “the Fables properties have fallen into bad hands.”

Among other things, Willingham alleged that DC Comics has repeatedly failed to consult him on new projects, licensed “Fables” characters and concepts to third parties without permission and attempted to interpret the terms of their agreement to exclude him from decision making. Willingham also wrote that the company attempted to classify his contributions to recent “Fables” projects as work-for-hire and has refused to pay him royalties and other compensation he is owed.

“They practically dared me to sue them to enforce my rights, knowing it would be a long and debilitating process. Instead I began to consider other ways to go,” Willingham said.

Citing his age — 67 — and financial position, Willingham decided not to sue. Instead, he wrote, “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. I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want.”

The writer noted that making “Fables” public domain doesn’t severe his contract with DC Comics. “I still can’t publish ‘Fables’ comics through anyone but them. I still can’t authorize a ‘Fables’ movie through anyone but them. Nor can I license ‘Fables’ toys nor lunchboxes, nor anything else. And they still have to pay me for the books they publish. And I’m not giving up on the other money they owe,” he said.

“For better or worse, DC and I are still locked together in this unhappy marriage, perhaps for all time,” he added.

With the works no longer held under copyright, people who did not sign the contract can use the intellectual property however they want, Willingham said.

The full extent of what has been made public and what is still owned by DC Comics is not known. Also unknown is whether or not DC will attempt to fight Willingham’s decision.

Representatives for the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap. We have reached out to Willingham for further comment.

“Fables” tells the story of various characters from mythology, legends, fables and folklore — including Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, Boy Blue and Prince Charming — who live in secret in New York City, centuries after being forced to flee their magical homelands. Mining real life politics and history as well as meticulously researched folklore and literature, the story covers family drama, war and rebellion, metafictional musings and even a sendup of Hollywood.

The sprawling epic was a major critical and financial success throughout its original run, and spawned several successful spinoffs.

And yes, if you’ve never read “Fables,” there’s a reason the synopsis above sounds familiar. In 2008, ABC optioned it for development as a potential TV show, only to let the deal lapse within about two years. The network later commissioned the very similar “Once Upon a Time,” which also features characters from fables and folklore in the modern world.