"If Agent Graves was the devil, then it wouldn't have taken two years to get it started," he says, with a small laugh. "One thing that's really nice about working for Vertigo and why, as long as I am doing comics, I will do probably the majority of my work for them is there's a lot of freedom to tell the kind of story you want to. I could have taken it somewhere else, but I wanted the muscle of Vertigo behind it. I could have gone independent, and it would have lasted three or four issues--maybe."
Last year, Vertigo spawned two surprise hit titles: Brian K. Vaughan's Y--The Last Man, in which every male on earth save one dies; and Bill Willingham's Fables, in which fairy-tale favorites, such as Snow White and Big Bad Wolf, are expelled from their fantasyland and exiled to New York City. These days, the first issues of both titles are selling for as much as 10 times their $2.50 cover prices; rare is the week that their authors don't get calls about a movie deal. (Warner Bros. and DC are owned by AOL Time Warner, so guess who gets first crack.) Why both books succeed outside the comic-book locker room is no surprise: Y reads like classic Twilight Zone, as Yorick Brown and his pet monkey stumble across a dude-free wasteland in search of Yorick's girlfriend, while Fables drops storybook staples into the modern world. Unlike most Vertigo titles, you get them instantly--no translation, or hallucination, necessary.
"The funny thing is," says Willingham, "I didn't think it was what Vertigo wanted, because they want that kind of edgy, counterculture kind of thing. I don't consider myself edgy or counterculture, and this was going to be more of a kind of personal-look-at-the-world kind of book. I just happened to mention it in passing. I told my editor, Shelly Bond, a little bit about it, and that's how it ended up at Vertigo. Now there's not really a Vertigo-style book. You certainly don't have to be a disillusioned British writer to work for the imprint anymore."