With a stage full of almost as many folks as had taken the same stage for Friday's Vertigo panel, the creative team behind Fables, Jack of Fables, and House of Mystery led the capacity crowd in an informative roundtable discussion early Sunday afternoon at Comic-Con. Being the thoughtful folks they are, they even brought gifts for attendees in the form of a very special Comic-Con exclusive: a one-page Fables story, written by Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, signed by both, limited to just over three hundred copies and, in a Fables first, drawn by Bill Willingham himself. Oh, and did I mention that this story will never be reprinted anywhere?

Fables #63 coverContinuing the "autopsy" tradition which began at the first Fables forum at Comic-Con last year, editor Shelly Bond led her fellow panelists through a step-by-step process in the creation of a single issue of Fables, in this case, #63. Oddly beginning the autopsy with the cover by James Jean, rather than with the script by Willingham (I say oddly because, for obvious reasons, Jean takes his cues for the cover image from Willingham's script), Jean spoke of his decision-making process in choosing an image to illustrate, and took us through the process from rough sketches to finished cover painting.

From there, Bond discussed the script (and script editing) process, praising Willingham's scripts and explaining that she uses them as examples for new writers as to how to craft a comics script. Bond reads, edits and marks up the script with notes to penciler Mark Buckingham ("just to let him know that someone is editing it," she joked) before sending it off to the artist. From Buckingham, the pencils go to inker Steve Leialoha, who joked that his inking philosophy is that he just does his best to "try and stay within the lines."

Next up is coloring, with Danny Vozzo sat in as the coloring representative and finally, it's off to Todd Klein for lettering. In these days of scanned artwork and computerized lettering, Klein enters the process much later than would have been the case even a few short years ago. Klein explained that "when things are on time," he letters over finished inked pates, but has been known to letter over everything from pencils to faxes of rough pencils, depending on how late a given issue might be. Sounds like Fables train isn't exactly an express on many occasions, but hey, you can't rush quality.

While a Brian Bolland cover involving a sword through Jack's chest was projected on screen, writer Matt Sturges provided some details on the upcoming Jack of Fables arc. It seems that the sword running through Jack's chest in Bolland's striking cover image is the Sword in the Stone ... and the sword is to remain planted in Jack's chest for some time since, as Sturges explained, "Jack is the stone."

In response to a question from the audience, Willingham confirmed that since Peter Pan enters the public domain in February of 2008, "Peter Pan will be a Fables character in March of 2008."

Willingham also referenced the escalation of what seems to be a march to war in Fables of late, saying "when that pressure cooker blows, things are going to get really exciting for the next twenty issues." The story in question is what Willingham had originally cooked up to be the last Fables story, but since they've come up with so many more stories to tell since then, at Bond's suggestion, they're moving what was to be the last Fables story up in the batting order. Needless to say, given that what we're about to get was meant to be the grand finale of the title, it sounds like we're in for a hell of a ride over the next couple of years.

In the words of Willingham himself, "hold onto your hats."