Bill Willingham’s Bad Doings and Big Ideas

Bill Willingham (writer and artist), and Mark Buckingham, Zander Cannon, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Gross, Paul Guinan, Nico Henrichon, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Michael Wm Kaluta, Jason Little, Marc Laming, Shawn McManus, Linda Medley, Albert Monteys, Kevin Nowlan, David Peterson, Paul Pope, Eric Powell, Ron Randall, John Stokes, Jill Thompson, Daniel Torres, Bernie Wrightson (artists), John Costanza and Todd Klein (letterers), Bad Doings and Big Ideas: A Bill Willingham Deluxe Edition (Vertigo 2011)

As I continue on my intermittent re-entry into the world of comics, which I abandoned at roughly 12 and came back to in my late 50s, it’s the non-fiction that I respond to most, and after that – oddly, since I don’t care for it in non-graphic narratives or movies – it’s fantasy-horror. Or maybe it’s not so odd, as it was Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman that re-piqued my interest.

This hefty hardback full of horror was a Christmas gift, and one that gave me a lot of pleasure. Bill Willingham, I gather from his entertaining interstitials here, is a writer and artist best known for a series of comics called Fables. This is not that. It’s a collection of Other Stuff, including a number of adventures of minor characters from the Sandman universe. I don’t know what the uninitiated would make of these, with their injokes and unexplained walk-ons, but the stories stand up by themselves, especially the 60 or so pages of Thessaly the witch (the second half of which I read in its own book, also a gift, a while back).

The opening story, Proposition Player, is the longest (130+ pages) and most interesting. Willingham tells us it was the first thing he wrote for Vertigo, having been an artist with them for some time. It must have been quite a debut: the hero starts out working for a casino and ends up through a series of poor choices and successful gambles as the most powerful God (capital intended) in the cosmos. The gambles are much grander than Pascal’s bet, and I wonder if the story’s cheerful blasphemy does more damage to the cultural authority of established religion than the humourless argumentation of, say, Richard Dawkins.

I’m currently leading a double life as a reader. In one life, I’m reading a number of huge books, and in the other a whole lot of smaller ones as counterpoint. When I was reading Reamde, which is great fun but far too big to lump around in a shoulder bag, I read poetry books and literary journals, physically but not intellectually light. Now I’m a third of the way through Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light, not as physically weighty as Readme, but quite a slog – the slogginess doesn’t make me want to give up on the book, but it does make me cry out for something lively to relieve the pain. Bad Doings and Big Ideas was perfect for the part. And I have a couple more Christmas present comics that are also looking good.

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