At Disney World’s EPCOT theme park in Orlando, Florida, there is a ride titled Journey Into Imagination. And now Marvel has assembled creators Jim Zub and Filipe Andrade to take the spirit of the name and the characters of that show and give them a full life – and a series – in the upcoming comic book Figment. Announced earlier this month, this five-issue series tells the origin of a man known as Dreamfinder and how he came to create the popular purple dragon mascot, Figment.
Figmentis the second entry in Marvel’s Disney Kingdoms line of comics after the current miniseries Seekers of The Weird, which takes concepts from the Disney parks and elaborates on their story inside a comic series. Showing the synergistic relationship between Marvel and its parent company Disney, the line’s editor Bill Rosemann works closely with the Disney Imagineers who create rides for the Parks, and for this comic series he even worked with one of the original Imagineers who created the characters back in 1983.
Newsarama: Wow, Figment! A blast from the past. What can you tell us about this story you’re doing based on the old EPCOT mascot, gentlemen?
Jim Zub: This is a roaring adventure story giving readers the origin of the man who will be known as Dreamfinder and the creation of his closest ally, the curious and courageous dragon called Figment. Like the name of the ride this story is built from, it really will be a “Journey Into Imagination” through and through; fantastic locations, strange denizens, unexpected challenges, and big dreams.
Filipe Andrade: Wow! I can't tell that much but the first issue seems to set up an amazing platform for what is coming up. We step up in the story in the steamed London from 1910. How cool is that?
Nrama: Figment is a part of Disney lore, but popularity wise he’s no Mickey Mouse. How would you describe Figment and his creator, Dreamfinder?
Zub: Figment is a little piece of pure imagination made manifest – an inquisitive dream creature who wants to explore everything he can see, and a bunch that he can’t.
Dreamfinder is an eccentric inventor, an excited adventurer, and an intrepid explorer. He’s trying to tap into the limitless creative power of the mind and his ambition is the catalyst for the whole story.
Andrade: They seem to be an uncommon team, in a good way.
Nrama: And what about this world that they live in?
Zub: The story begins in London, England, 1910. It’s the turn of the century, post industrial revolution and our Dreamfinder-to-be is searching for the intersection of science and imagination. There’s a steam-powered sensibility to the original Journey Into Imagination ride and so we started with that technological timeframe and built outwards from there.
Andrade: It’s afantastic, imaginative and a not predictable world.
Nrama:Wow, Figment. As a lifelong Florida resident, I remember him from EPCOT. But Bill, let me ask you: how'd he end up rearing his head here at Marvel and in the Disney Kingdoms line?
Bill Rosemann: Because we were having so much fun creating Seekers of the Weird, discussions quickly began between Marvel's David Gabriel (our #1 Disney fan and champion of Disney Kingdoms) and our core Imagineer team, which includes Creative Designer Brian Crosby, Assistant Producer Jim Clark, Creative Designer Josh Shipley, and Executive Creative Director Tom Morris. Now that we had dug deep into the vault to unearth the legendary Museum of the Weird, we thought it would be fun to switch gears, aim for a different genre, and give our take on characters that had a faithful fan following.
Also, as luck would have it, Tom Morris had personal involvement in the creation of Figment and the Journey Into Imagination attraction as part of the concept development team. Tom helped refine the design of the Dream Catching Machine, which was the touchstone for Jim Zub and I leaping enthusiastically into steampunk as an inspiration source for our story. Tom also drew several graphics featuring Figment to help guide guests through the pavilion, and was the creator who had the brilliant idea to color Figment purple!
With an Imagineer as knowledgeable and deeply connected to Journey Into Imagination as Tom is on our team, we knew we had to seize the opportunity to swing the spotlight on everyone's favorite inquisitive dragon.
Nrama: From what I see of this cover and the information Marvel has provided, Jim and Filipe are expanding somewhat on what Figment is. Can you tell us about doing research on this small purple dragon and then deciding how to expand on him?
Zub: Like working with any established character, I think it’s important to do research and try to understand what’s at the core of the concept. It’s a neat situation because Figment and Dreamfinder are known characters but they haven’t been fleshed out before, so there’s actually a lot of room to build up to whom they become and how they got there.
It’s easy to just look at the surface and go “Well, it’s a curious cartoon dragon” and write it off as shallow, but I think that’s a disservice to the creative design work of the Disney Imagineers. Figment comes, quite literally, from the spark of imagination and that’s fertile ground worth exploring.
Nrama: Figment is a part of the Disney family, but he's been out of sight for a number of years. Can you tell us about how that might have given you and the creators more latitude to elaborate on him, Dreamfinder, and that world?
Rosemann: With each Disney Kingdoms adventure, our goal is to combine the best of Marvel storytelling with the unrivaled creativity of Disney. In many ways, the Imagineers encourage us to run wild as only Marvel can, but at the same time our goal is to respect and showcase the amazing work by so many legendary Disney creators. It's our attempt to follow the success that Marvel Studios has found by balancing the mix of celebrating the source material while also shaping what's needed as you transfer the stories to a new medium.
In this particular case, we began by diving into piles of behind-the-scenes reference and studying video footage of the original version of Journey Into Imagination. Everything -- from the story themes to character arcs to the overall visual vibe -- grew from the rare and authentic materials that the Imagineers were gracious enough to share with us. In my first conversation with Jim, we both pointed to same photo of Dreamfinder sailing along in his amazing flying machine, and agreed that we had to utilize the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" feel of that crazy contraption. That's why -- even as our story sails off into hilarious and even frightening fantasy realms -- our story begins in the bustling streets of Victorian London and is infused with all the ideas and elements that everyone loves about steampunk adventure.
Nrama: This is part of Marvel’s Disney Kingdoms line, telling stories based on characters and rides from the Disney theme parks. Can you tell me about your own Disney fandom, and if you ever got to see Figment when he was at EPCOT?
Andrade: I grew up in Europe so unfortunately I’ve never been able to get in EPCOT but I went to Disneyland Paris. My connection with Walt Disney World is through Disney movies such as Toy Story or The Lion King, which I was a big fan of. I’m especially a big fan of the classic 2-D animated movies.
Zub: I’ve only been to Walt Disney World once. My family went when I was 14 as part of a long road trip around America. Journey Into Imagination was one of the rides I remember quite well. At that point in time I was obsessed with everything sword & sorcery, so a ride with a dragon mascot and magical adventure was a big plus. When you’re that age the whole park seems full of endless possibilities, but Journey Into Imagination really takes that concept to another level by stressing the creativity within all of us.
While I was doing research for my story pitch, I started to discover howmuch fandom there is for the park, the characters, and the rides. As much as some comic fans may want to hand wave away anything that’s not superhero-centric, Disney has a massive creative legacy that reaches back for generations. Getting the chance to bring new characters, plotlines, and depth into that legacy is a real honor.
Nrama: And how did you get involved with Marvel to do this project?
Andrade: I’ve been working for Marvel almost for 5 years now. In October after I finished Captain Marvel I was invited to do an issue of Seekers of the Weird. After that I received the invitation to do Figment and I said “Yes!” immediately.
Zub: I was contacted out of the blue by Editor Bill Rosemann at Marvel. He’s been handling the Disney Kingdoms comics Marvel has been co-producing with Disney and, with so many fantasy projects under my belt and with magic and whimsy showing up in other stories I’ve written, he felt I’d be a good fit to pitch on Figment.
I love the street level urban, magic, and supernatural characters of the Marvel universe, so although this is my first Marvel writing project I'm hoping it's the first of many.
Nrama: Bill, you really made some inspired choices with the creative team in Jim Zub and Filipe Andrade. What made them the right people to take this on?
Rosemann: I'm glad this dream team excites you! One of the most fun elements of editing a series is the "casting" process. It's like fantasy football, but instead you're trying to draft the most talented and appropriate creators for each skilled position. I've been wanting to work with Jim Zub ever since I read a few issues ofSkullkickers, which he gives the perfect balance of humor, action, and fantasy fun. And who can forget Filipe's amazingly kinetic issues of Captain Marvel? I suspected that together, Jim and Filipe would bring the magic combo of creativity, passion, individuality, and flat out talent that this story deserves, and they've far surpassed my hopes. Add on the beautiful hues of Jean-Francois Beaulieu, the storytelling chops of letterer of Joe Caramagna, and the jaw-dropping covers of John Tyler Christopher and you have a team that will ignite your imagination.
Nrama: Any chance we could see some Marvel/Disney synergy and have this and/or Seekers of the Weird for sale at the Disney parks?
Rosemann: As part of our continuing efforts to reach new readers of all ages, issues of Seekers of the Weird are already available at various locations throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland...and issues of Figment will soon follow. There's going to be lots of smiling readers at the happiest place on Earth!