This is a unique edition of Cult Fiction (CF) because it isn’t about a comic.
Then, it is extraordinary simply because it would seem to be dealing with an extraordinary talent.
Among contemporary comic-book writers Neil Gaiman has perhaps made the most successful journey into non-comic literature. American Gods, Anansi Boys, and The Graveyard Book are all minor classics (American Gods, this writer believes, is well on its way to becoming a major one).
Peter & Max: Vertigo/DC Comics, 376 pages, Rs995.
Peter & Max marks Bill Willingham’s first effort to move from comic to non-comic literature and the result is one of the finest works of fantasy—and arguably one of the finest first works of an author—this columnist has read (and he has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy).
Willingham has made an appearance in CF before. He is the author of the Fables series of comic books, about Fables (think Red Riding Hood, Old King Cole, Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty) who have been thrown out of their homeland by an enemy known only as the Adversary, and who live in exile in a part of New York that is warded off from the Mundys (as the Muggles are known in this book). Fables has sort of reached its end (and all has ended well), and Willingham has spun off a side project on one of the characters Jack of Fables, but Peter & Max (Peter as in Peter Piper) is his first effort to write a book (a Fables novel, he calls it).
I don’t know what it is about comic-book writers who end up writing non-comic books—they write so well. Willingham’s prose is, in many ways, like Gaiman’s— lucid, charming, as light as a cold glass of beer on a pleasant summer afternoon.
You don’t have to be a Fables follower to read Peter & Max (this writer is aware that a lot of serious readers have a mental block when it comes to reading comics), which is a story about sibling rivalry, magical pipes, and, for those into such things, the real story behind the Pied Piper (yes, of Hamelin).
I am hoping that the success of this book (which came out last year) will encourage Willingham to write more non-comic books. Peter & Max is published by comic-book publisher Vertigo and features around two dozen wonderful illustrations by Fables illustrator Steve Leialoha.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org