I’ve been reading Bill Willingham‘s Bad Doings and Big Ideas which collects his non-Fables Vertigo books in one. I have a fair few of these books but it is always good to have one place to go for a good and challenging read.
The Proposition Player, a house player who keeps the tables looking full, was a short run of six issues, which sets up familiar territory of the mundane work intruded on by the supernatural. Joey accidentally buys his co-workers souls for some beer and becomes a minor player in the God Game. When heaven and hell turn up to convert him to their cause, he sees a way of realising his dream and literally becomes a god. The wise-cracking, smart talking ravens (Hugin and Munin) reveal the real game to him in an apartment party (which reminds me of Gaiman’s American Gods). The player becomes a Player, overturning the notion of the god game where the player is being moved around. Increasingly one wonders how stable the notion of the god game is and how much it has changed in a wider, less Christian oriented world. It becomes more interesting and more cultures and deities become involved but also as its stricter hold becomes looser.
There is, of course, the notion of Willingham undermining our expectations. In the Thessaly stories, Thessaly-Witch for Hire and the Thessaliad, show how e takes one of them minor Dreaming characters and develops her as a player who knows the game. Unlike Joey, she knows precisely what is happening and uses it to subvert and change the notion of the story. There is a keen sense of the quest and the revenge tale being taken apart subtly and playfully with a witch wearing fluffy bunny slippers. Having done this, he also uses the original mythology in novel ways which is possibl why I have more than one copy of the Thessaliad.
More recently, his contributions to the House of Mystery push this agenda of the club story and the remaking of horror stories. ‘Gothic romance’ (Issue 9) and the ‘Lace Anniversary’ (Issue 13) are, to my mind, the most fun of these and show how he manipulates the reader’s expectations. In both he leads the reader up a garden path and encourages us to fill in the blanks. It shows a trust in the reader and their expectations and care.
It strikes me (as a sudden thought) that this trust in the reader, that they are capable of reading between the lines and exploring further if needed as well as riffing off other media, is a key to the interesting Weird fiction. Its refusal, or subversion, of expectations makes weird fiction genuinely Weird since it does not appear to conform to rules and can be read in a multitude of ways.
Perhaps this is a whistle stop tour of the book but I’ve spent a great afternoon perusing it and revisiting some old friends.