The Wolf Among Us and Fables creator clashes with DC and puts entire franchise into the public domain
Fables author and artist Bill Willingham – yes, the same Bill Willingham behind Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us game – has put the rights to the Fables intellectual property into the public domain.
“As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain,” Willingham wrote on his substack. “What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time. It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.”
Wondering why Willingham has done this? You’re not alone. The author said he’s made the decision to move everything into the public domain for “a number of reasons”, including “practicality” – Willingham feels much has changed since he first signed his contract with DC Comics – and “philosophy”, as his “thoughts on how to reform the trademark and copyright laws in this country (and others, I suppose) have undergone something of a radical transformation”.
“At one time the Fables properties were in good hands, and now, by virtue of attrition and employee replacement, the Fables properties have fallen into bad hands,” Willingham said.
“Throughout the years of my business relationship with DC, with Fables and with other intellectual properties, DC has always been in violation of their agreements with me,” he alleged in his statement.
Interestingly, Willingham specifically called out Telltale’s first Fables game, The Wolf Among Us, too, intimating that DC permitted Telltale to “radically alter” his “characters, settings, history, and premises of the story” and alleging that DC “tried to hide” the script from him, as well as withhold “any money for licensing the Fables rights to third parties”.
“DC officers admitted that their interpretation of our publishing agreement, and the following media rights agreement, is that they could do whatever they wanted with the property,” Willingham wrote.
“They could change stories or characters in any way they wanted. They had no obligation whatsoever to protect the integrity and value of the IP, either from themselves, or from third parties (Telltale Games, for instance) who want to radically alter the characters, settings, history and premises of the story (I’ve seen the script they tried to hide from me for a couple of years). Nor did they owe me any money for licensing the Fables rights to third parties, since such a license wasn’t anticipated in our original publishing agreement.”
He further alleged that “when they capitulated on some of the points in a later conference call, promising on the phone to pay me back monies owed for licensing Fables to Telltale Games”, they later “reneged on their word and offered the promised amount instead as a ‘consulting fee’, which avoided the precedent of admitting this was money owed, and included a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from saying anything but nice things about Telltale or the license”.
Consequently, Willingham has opted to “give [Fables] away to everyone”.
“If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands. Since I truly believe there are still more good people in the world than bad ones, I count it as a form of victory.”
DC Comics has yet to comment formally on the issue.
Telltale Games has delayed The Wolf Among Us 2 out of its 2023 launch window and into 2024, in order to avoid burnout and crunch at the studio.
The Wolf Among Us 2 – the sequel to Telltale’s acclaimed 2013 narrative adventure based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic books – has had an eventful development. It was first announced in 2017, but progress halted after the studio shut its doors the following year. It was then unexpectedly re-announced in 2019, after Telltale was resurrected under new management.
This new version – which is being co-developed by AdHoc Studio, co-founded by original Wolf Among Us co-director Nick Herman, and made up of almost 50-percent former Telltale employees – was initially expected to launch in 2023, but has now been pushed into next year.