The idea of haunted houses aren’t a completely unusual thing. Popularized in movies, books and even comics, even the general public might know of a local house that has rumors of ghostly possession hovering around it. But if you were to rank the most popular haunted homes of all time, one at the top of the list would be the Winchester Mansion.
The house was born out of the Winchester family, the same family that made the Winchester rifle famous. The house came to be because of Sarah Winchester, the heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune. Following the death of her husband, Winchester commenced renovations and additions to the house that lasted for over 38 years. The rumored reasoning behind this was to appease the spirits of people killed by her family’s creation of the Winchester Rifle.
While that particular detail may be truth, fiction or somewhere inbetween, the legend of the Winchester Mansion has been documented in books, movies and documentaries. And now a new comic, simply entitled Winchester, takes that legend and turns it into the roots of a fictional story of not only the mansion itself, but Sarah Winchester and the ghosts said to inhabit her house.
This historical/horror series is coming by way of California-based publisher SLG. SLG’s own founder and publisher Dan Vado has stepped in to write this tale himself, joining artist Drew Rausch. The duo are no strangers to haunted houses, having recently done work on SLG’s Haunted Mansion comic book based on the Disney ride. In addition, Vado himself is a native of San Jose, where the true Winchester Mansion is today.
For more, we talked with the publisher/writer by email from his offices in San Jose, California.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Dan. Let’s get into this first with your own motivation – why did you want to do this comic?
Dan Vado: The place is virtually around the corner from my house. I drive by it almost daily. It always seemed to speak to me.
VADO: Not literally of course, but as I grew up I always thought it was cool that this was an (alleged) haunted house that was smack dab in the middle of the city instead of in some far secluded corner.
NRAMA: Give us a glimpse at the kind of stories you'll be telling in this new series.
VADO: The initial story arc will be one set in the present day as a police detective gains access to the mansion grounds in searching for a missing person. In my world the Winchester house is not a tourist attraction and not really a feared place, just someplace most people avoid. It is right next to the freeway and a shopping mall and movie theater. I will use that story to tell what little is known about Sarah Winchester and to interpret her motives in a way that goes a little against conventional wisdom. My goal is to make her more of a sympathetic character.
NRAMA: In addition to Sara you’re also bringing in Harry Houdini, the famed magician. What’s his connection to the manse?
VADO: Harry Houdini spent his non-magical life debunking the notion of a spirit world. He had an ongoing feud/relationship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about the existence of an after life. Spirituality was big in those days and Houdini so completely debunked a seance that he and Doyle attended (Houdini, being a magician, knew everyone's tricks) that Doyle asked him if he wasn't himself channeling the spirit world.
I thought it would be cool irony for someone who did not believe in ghosts and spirits to end up as one and to then decide to try and rule a corner of it.
Houdini did visit the Wunchester Mansion two years after the death of Sarah Winchester and he did conduct a seance there, but never really discussed it with anyone. Legend has it that he actually met with Sarah Winchester BEFORE she died, but he agreed to never speak of their meeting. Houdini is my bad guy, I think he will be a memorable one.
NRAMA: Speaking of memory, correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't done a full comic in some time. What made you come in to do this story?VADO: I think the last regular comic writing I did was Scarlet Thunder and my mostly forgettable Justice League gig. I have always felt kind of retired as a writer, I kind of figured I was better at running a business. The thing about this is that I WANTED to write about Sarah Winchester. I feel like she has gotten kind of a bad rap, I just want to toss in my two cents worth on the subject and show another side of her. Sarah Winchester was a very intelligent woman, she patented several labor saving devices after she moved out west and she ran a very successful fruit drying business. The Winchester Mansion itself was a model of self-sufficiency and in some ways could have been considered "green" long before the term ever existed.
If she had chose to live a more public life, I believe she would have been one of the most famous women in American history and a role model for both men and women. Sure, she believed in ghosts, but at the time that belief was shared by many.
NRAMA: This reminds me of your recent series awhile back, The Haunted Mansion, based on the eponymous Disney ride. Any connection, creatively wise?
VADO: There are a ton of connections. When the Haunted Mansion ride was being designed, Walt Disney brought his design team to San Jose to see the Winchester house. A few things from the house influenced the design of the Haunted Mansion including the ballroom with the organ, the long corridors and the overall design with wood paneling and floors.
The project for me started as a way to keep telling some of the stories that I had in mind for Haunted Mansion, but the Winchester project has taken on a life of its own.NRAMA: Will Winchester this be a one-shot, ongoing, miniseries or what?
VADO: I hope to make it ongoing, market conditions may dictate otherwise. I would like to get the first story arc done and collected at least, but we will see. Winchester has a much broader commercial appeal than even The Haunted Mansion had, at Comic-Con people were jumping out of their skins when they saw the posters, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.
NRAMA: You’re living in San Jose. Were you born there?
VADO: Born, raised, probably die here.
NRAMA: Since you’re from there, and said you live around the corner so to speak… Tell us about your own personal experience with the Winchester Mansion.
VADO: I tried to get a job there when I was 16. I messed up my tour pretty bad and was either fired or not asked to come back.
NRAMA: It’s a good thing – who knows, if you would have stayed on you might not have ever got into comics. But since you’re so close by to the mansion, do you plan on doing any local promotion/events to coincide with you making this book based on a local landmark?
VADO: Yes. I would like to get something going at the Mystery House itself, but I am going to wait until the book is complete and lettered so I can show it to them. The horror aspect may put them off. We will be doing an Art Of Winchester featuring Drew Rausch's great work in a gallery show here in our office during one of the First Friday Art crawls.