DC Comics Creator Takes Entire Series And Makes It Public Domain

By Sean Thiessen | Published


Wanna hear something totally punk rock? SlashFilm reports that Bill Willingham, the creator of the comic book series Fables, has released the intellectual property of the series into the public domain. Willingham explained in an open letter that his frustrating relationship with DC, which publishes Fables, incited the choice.

Bill Willingham, author of the influential series Fables, is relinquishing all copyright and sending it into the public domain.

Fables follows a cast of fairy tale characters that, after being exiled from their Homelands, congregate in a New York City neighborhood called Fabletown. The series flips classic characters on their heads, adding depth and dimension to age-old archetypes like Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf.

Willingham created Fables with artist Mark Buckingham; the duo crafted most of the original series 150 issue run from 2002 to 2015, and the series was revived in 2022. According to Willingham, changes in leadership at DC in the past 20 years slowly eroded his relationship with the publishing house.

The Fables video game, A Wolf Among Us

In his letter, he acknowledged that the personnel at DC he first worked with were people of integrity. They interpreted his contract fairly, always in keeping with the deal’s spirit. Since then, DC has had what Willingham describes as a “revolving door” of employees.

The turnover has seen his Fables contract unfairly interpreted and even ignored as executives have attempted to box Willingham out of his own IP. He made allusion in the letter to a script DC hid from him, which many fans speculate to be the dead Fables film adaptation.

Fables redefined classic fairy tale characters and was the inspiration for ABC’s series Once Upon A Time.

The creator also alleged that DC has intentionally withheld money owed to him, all of which he intends to pursue. According to Willingham, his relationship with DC deteriorated to the point that legal action seemed the logical next step. 

Batman vs. Bigby

At 67 years of age, he decided not to burden his remaining years with a costly lawsuit. In his search for a counter, he leveraged the one piece of his contract he believed to be indisputable: Willingham is the sole owner of the Fables IP, so today, he released it into the public domain for all to adapt.

Any new Fables stories from Willingham must still be published by DC. Likewise, DC is still obligated to pay Willingham. Now, however, DC must compete with the Fables stories of all who choose to supply their take on the story and its characters.

Despite Bill Willingham’s declaration about the rights of Fables, it’s expected that the battle with DC will remain ongoing.

Willingham expressed his hope that the masses would take up their pens and pencils to craft new Fables stories outside the toxic machine in which his work is trapped. He also laid out his vision for revised copyright law, which would dramatically reduce the amount of time work exists in the exclusive grips of rights holders.

He proposed that all published work would enter the public domain after 20 years, with entities like DC able to purchase the rights to the work, which would add an additional 10 years to that time. After that, it is fair game.

Willingham’s vision of copyright law that serves creators and the public over corporations will not likely materialize in the United States any time soon. However, the Fables creator hopes that others follow his lead, freeing beloved stories from the greedy grips of corporations to put them in the hands of the people who love them.