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From the moment news surfaced in October 2010 that ABC was developing a fairy-tale drama from Lost producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, fans of Fables began to grumble that Once Upon a Time was a rip-off of the acclaimed Vertigo series. You can’t exactly blame them, considering the network had optioned the comic two years earlier, only to have creator Bill Willingham declare the adaptation was “probably dead” — shortly after word of the Kitsis-Horowitz project began to circulate.
Like Fables, Once Upon a Time centers on a group characters for folklore and fairy tales exiled from a quasi-medieval magical realm to the modern world, where they live in secret enclaves, the former in Fabletown, New York City, the latter in Storybrooke, Maine. The creators of Once Upon a Time have been asked again and again and again about the similarities between their show and Fables, and while they acknowledge they’re familiar with the comic, they insist they’re not copying it.
“Look, these stories are iconic for a reason,” Horowitz told Spinoff Online in July. “We’ve all been told them, we all know them, they cross all cultural bounds, so I think that’s part of the reason people continually retell them and find new ways to spin them. We’re just trying to tell our own versions and our own kind of approach to telling these stories.”
Willingham, for one, believes them. Interviewing himself over the weekend for Comic Book Resources, the writer attempted to put an end to those rip-off accusations and to sound the call for his fans to “disarm.”
“As grateful as I am to discover so many loyal Fables readers, willing to man the barricades, to help protect a story they love; as much as it moves me to realize I’ve been part in creating something that clearly moves you, affecting your lives in ways only a good story, well-told can, I think it’s time to lay off,” he wrote. “Perhaps it’s time to quit rising up in public venues to accuse these folks of Grand Theft Fables, even if you still think it’s so.”
While Willingham conceded his comic may have partly inspired the creation of Once Upon a Time, he noted that Fables was influenced by works like Fractured Fairy Tales, Into the Woods and Castle Waiting.
He also dismissed the notion that there was anything underhanded in the network turning to Once Upon a Time after the Fables deal fell apart.
“I can imagine many scenarios that don’t involve anyone at ABC or the Once camp doing anything nefarious,” he wrote. “In fact, one would have to be mightily conspiracy minded to suspect some sort of attempt to do a Fables knockoff so as not to pay for it. It’s much easier to presume a situation where, since the Fables deal fell through, for whatever of so many possible reasons, some of the folks at ABC still wanted to do something in that subgenre and found a way to do it. No villains needed in this version. No smoking gun. Remember, this is the age where fairy tale and folklore based stories are in the air. Fables didn’t start it. In that light, it would be harder to imagine situations where there weren’t plenty of similar projects making the rounds.”