The House of Ideas has a new neighbor: Disney's Haunted Mansion.
This Wednesday, Marvel launches its The Haunted Mansion comic book series, and according to writer (and fan of the ride) Josh Williamson, it's a match made in ghost heaven. The long-time writer charts the roots of his love for horror back to a childhood visit to the iconic Disney Parks attraction, and now with artist Jorge Coelho he's bringing the 999 ghosts to life -- or rather, to their afterlife.
Newsarama spoke with Williamson about this new miniseries from Marvel's Disney Kingdoms banner that debuts this week, from the new residents taking up abode in the Haunted Mansion to his deep fascination with the ride in its numerous variations both in the United States and abroad.
Newsarama: Joshua, what is The Haunted Mansion series about?
Joshua Williamson: The Haunted Mansion is about a young man, named Danny, who believes that the ghost of a recently deceased loved one has joined the happy haunts within the mansion, and he is trying to find them. But Danny also needs to help the rest of the ghosts with a big… problem… that they have. I don’t want to give too much away.
We get to show off a lot of the mansion… even some new locations never before seen on the attraction. It’s almost like a horror fantasy story within the Haunted Mansion. I tried to incorporate as much from the history and the mythology of the original ride as I could.
Nrama: Will there be Doom Buggies?
Williamson: [Laughs] Maybe? It won’t be quite like it is in the ride, but I’m trying to get as much of the original in there as I can. As much as makes sense for the story.
Nrama: How many of the 999 Haunts will readers get to meet in this series? And can you tell us about some of your favorites?
Williamson: All of them? Nearly all of the ghosts are in here, or at the very least make small cameos.
I love the Hatbox Ghost. His look and the history behind him in the original ride. He was sort of a Disney myth for a long time. He was on a lot of the promo material and was a part of the ride itself for a brief time, but he was taken out before the official opening in 1969. For years people would claim that they saw him in the attraction.
It was as if he really was a ghost haunting the Haunted Mansion.
Recently… last spring… they put him back in after 45 years. And he looks awesome.
And I was always a big fan of the Hitchhiking Ghosts., who do appear in the comic in one of my favorite scenes.
Nrama: We've talked about the ghosts -- what about the living and breathing members of your cast, led by Danny. Who is he, and why would he go to a place like the Haunted Mansion?
Williamson: For the most part Danny is really our only living character. Danny being lonely and ignored by the people around him is part of his life and the story.
But we also wanted to focus on the ghosts. They are the stars after all. So once we get Danny into the house, he’s pretty much surrounded by dead people.
Danny is a teenage kid who is a bit of a scaredy-cat. Not too brave. He’s in a bit of a dark place. Spending a lot of his free time at graveyards talking to the tombstones…
But when he is called to the Haunted Mansion… he gets just brave enough to explore it.
Nrama: Can you tell us about Constance and the Captain, who were mentioned in the solicitations?
Williamson: Constance is the Black Widow Bride who lives in the attic of the original attraction. She is almost a Grim Reaper character in our story, in that she is a supernatural force of nature that kills anyone alive in the mansion. She is uncaring and unfeeling… just a specter of rage that roams the mansion, and she is at her most deadly within the attic…definitely a bit different than what you experience on the ride!
The Captain is an old cursed pirate who has been trapped in the house. He’s always been angry that other ghosts could come and go while he could not. He hates that the ghosts enjoy being dead. It annoys him that they are resting in peace.
One of the plot points that we’ve created for the Haunted Mansion comic is that people who died within its walls have extra magic inside the mansion. It gives them an edge over the ghosts who are merely guests under their roof. You might say, it’s their mansion…and their rules. The Captain and Constance both play major roles because of this factor in the story.
Nrama: How much research did you do to get down Disney Parks' The Haunted Mansion in order to turn it into a comic book series?
Williamson: I’ve always been obsessed with the original attraction, so research wasn’t an issue. I already knew a lot about the ride and experience. I have a lot of books on the Haunted Mansion, and I collect the merchandise. I did some research to confirm things while I was working, and I was able to partner with the team at Walt Disney Imagineering, who oversee the design and building of Disney rides, to make sure I stayed true to the original.
I had actually recently visited Disneyland Paris before starting work on the project and had the chance to experience their unique version of the ride, called “Phantom Manor.” And of course, I went to Disneyland in Anaheim when I started to work on the first issue.
The challenge was making sure that we were true to the tone of the original. Finding a way to get a story into the Haunted Mansion that honored the ride but was also a compelling story.
Nrama: You mentioned being a big of a fan yourself of the ride, but do you have any specific memories that you’re mining for the story?
Williamson: Just my love of exploring the ride. The amazing visuals within the attraction and the work by Disney’s Imagineers. It’s a full experience that you dive into. From the moment you start to walk up to the building, it takes over your senses.
It’s such an important part of my childhood. My love of horror and the macabre started with the Haunted Mansion. So I’m mostly just tapping into those feelings. What made me fall in love with the ride in the first place, y’know?
To me, Danny exploring the Haunted Mansion is just like when I was first exploring it as a kid.
Nrama: For this you're working with artist Jorge Coelho. How is it having him turn your script into a comic book, and do you have a favorite moment from his art so far?
Williamson: Jorge is the best. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this comic. You recently interviewed him on the book, and I was really happy to see that. He’s putting a lot of work into the series and has been a blast to work with. He nails the horror and humor that we’ve talked about a lot.
My favorite moment from him so far is from the start of #2. He did a really cool two-page spread, and we introduce a new character there that is super animated. Jorge nailed the emotion of the scene. It’s awesome work.
And it looks beautiful with Jean-Francois Beaulieu on colors. Really, I’m excited for people to see the pages from #1. Those two guys are the stars of this comic to me. I’m super lucky to be working with both of them.
Nrama: Last question: Big picture, what are you hoping to evoke from people with this series?
Williamson: That same love that we have for the original attraction. I want readers to get that same fun from the horror and fun of our story.
I love that being scared can be fun. It’s a big part of the theme of the attraction, and if we can accomplish that here, it will magical. It’s really great to be contributing to the mythology of something that I’ve loved my whole life.