The spirits of the Haunted Mansion are being called…to Marvel Comics. The newest title under Marvel’s Disney Kingdoms banner, which has included stories based on popular Disney attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Figment, is a spooky blend of horror and humor that brings one of Disney’s most beloved properties to life.
Written by Joshua Williamson with pencils by Jorge Coelho and a cover by E.M. Gist, Haunted Mansion #1 introduces you to the 999 ghosts that roam the mansion’s creepy halls, in an all-new story that is sure to ignite fight in even the bravest of mortals. “One thing that Marvel and I have talked about a little bit is making sure there’s really a horror aspect,” Williamson tells EW. “There are silly parts of the attraction, but we wanted to make sure there was horror there, which is not something I’ve done a lot with my other books.” Though Williamson has worked on both creator-owned books and licensed properties, in addition writing at the “Big Two” (Marvel and DC), the Haunted Mansion — which he’s unabashedly a huge fan of — represents the achievement of a lifelong dream.
“When we first started talking about it, it was one of those things where I was a little worried about my schedule,” he says. “But then I was like, there’s no way I can’t do this. I get to tell a part of a story, I get to add to something that I’ve loved since I was a little kid. And then to think it’s something that could introduce this franchise to people, that’s really powerful.”
Part of that magic of the Disney Kingdoms line comes from the fact that Marvel works closely with the Disney Imagineers. It’s a relationship that ensures that the properties being translated into these comics are able to keep what makes them unique and beloved among fans, from every angle of the creative process. “All of us involved are storytellers,” says Walt Disney Imagineer Josh Shipley. “We have just been telling stories in our different arenas. The team at Marvel has always been respectful of how we at Walt Disney Imagineering protect our theme park characters, while those of us at Imagineering graciously defer to our counterparts at Marvel to craft compelling stories in the comic book format. We all talk daily, and have such high levels of respect for one another.”
“What’s fun is that this has definitely been a love fest for everyone involved,” adds David Gabriel, Marvel SVP, Sales & Marketing. “From the Disney side, we see such a respect for our creative process and from the Marvel side there’s such a reverence for what the Imagineers have created themselves. It would be easy to clash over these properties and stories, but when there’s such a group of professionals involved, coming at this with a genuine spirit of fun, it really becomes a rewarding work experience for all.” For Williamson, the collaboration is a partnership that that’s helpful in more ways than one. “I think because I love the property so much, sometimes I can get caught up in things,” he admits with a laugh. “[Editors] Mark [Basso] and Emily [Shaw] have been working with the Disney Kingdoms stuff for awhile, and they have experience with Disney and with these types of books…it’s good talking with Emily about a lot of things, because she has a really good story sense, and she helped me navigate some things that I might be getting stuck on. And then I get notes from the Imagineers, and those have been really supportive and great and talking to me about what they want and what they don’t want, because it’s the same thing: I’m a fan and they’re fans, too.”
“With this, my big priority is just doing justice to the story,” continues Williamson. “One of my favorite stories about the Haunted Mansion is really the earliest story, which is about Walt Disney, and how he was in the UK being interviewed. And he was kind of asked what he was doing there, and he was like, ‘Oh, I’m going around inviting ghosts to this haunted hotel community I’m going to be making.’ And that was publicly the first mention of the Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t even built for more than 10 years later, but I always like that story.” Williamson notes that, like the making of the attraction, his ideas for the comic book always led him back to Walt Disney’s original revelation. “There’s a bigger story involved, there’s more things we’re doing with it — the Haunted Mansion will be a story, plus a setting for the story we want to tell — but that will be a big part of it, the idea of this place being a retirement community for these 999 happy haunts,” he says.
Thanks to Disney Kingdoms, fans are able to bridge a gateway between their interest in the Disney properties and in the comic stories, and as Walt Disney Imagineer Andy Digenova says, that’s what the plan has been from the start. “We knew that Disney Parks fans would seek out the comic books and comic readers might gain additional interest in our parks and attractions,” he says. “In the end, for those who might not be incredibly familiar with the attractions, we want the story to just be a great story that works on its own. But if you are a huge fan of our parks, there are going to be a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) nods that makes the book that much richer.”
As the man penning the original story behind the 999 haunts, Williamson is prepared to use his passion and knowledge of the property to give fans a doombuggy ride they’ll never forget. “There were a lot of characters I wanted to include. The hat box ghost was something I really wanted to do, especially because he’s finally in the ride for the first time since 1969,” he says. “I wanted to do stuff with the bride, and some of the bigger challenges were finding ways to do…I say the magic tricks that they do in the ride, but that kind of storytelling that they do in the ride. What was really important to me is the tone. In the attraction, they strike this balance between humor and horror, constantly. The first half is a lot of horror and the second half is a lot of comedy,” he explains. “I wanted to find ways of doing that in the book, because I think that really stands out. I want to find ways of mixing and matching both.” As Shipley points out, it’s that humor aspect that makes Haunted Mansion unique when compared to other properties.
“We as Imagineers do like to maintain levity in so many of our stories, but the Haunted Mansion has always been anchored in that humorous approach to the antics of the afterlife,” he says. “Marc Davis was so brilliant at establishing quick read gags, and the Haunted Mansion is overflowing with that humor.”
“What I’ve always loved about the Haunted Mansion is how timeless it is and rather than be a sequential storied attraction, it is a series of spooky vignettes,” says Brian Crosby, Creative Director, Marvel Themed Entertainment and a former Walt Disney Imagineer. “Each one of those vignettes is riddled with great characters both creepy and funny. To take all of those great moments and string them together into a narrative that adds to that mythology and lore is a wonderful challenge.”
Williamson can’t tell us all the secrets of Haunted Mansion just yet — neither can the Imagineers. But the excitement between both teams is synonymous. “As Imagineers, and fans ourselves, there’s nothing more gratifying than getting to share what makes these attractions so special in a whole new way while adding to the mythology of the stories,” says Digenova. “We’re incredibly proud of every title in the Disney Kingdoms line and that excitement never goes away.”
“If you’re a fan of the Haunted Mansion, you’re going to enjoy this,” Williamson promises. “This is an important thing to me. There are running themes throughout the whole series that we’re going to be doing, but I think when people read all five issues, I want them to have that same feeling they have when they get off the ride. If I can accomplish that, then I really feel like I’ve done something with it. Whether you’re a Marvel fan, a Haunted Mansion fan, a Disney fan, or even a comics fan, if you can get that feeling – that rush of fear and happiness — I think that would be great.”
Or, as Gabriel puts it: “Dancing ghosts.”
Haunted Mansion #1 will be available in March. Disney Publishing Worldwide will also be releasing multiple books based on the Haunted Mansion properties in 2016, including Disney Parks Presents: The Haunted Mansion and Tales from the Haunted Mansion Volume I: The Fearsome Foursome.