The first doom buggies rolled through the halls of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in 1969. The spooky but friendly attraction takes riders through the halls of a dusty home where 999 happy haunts reside. The ethereal specters have elected to spend eternity waltzing in the ballroom or raising a transparent glass in the graveyard to the cheerful notes of “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” It’s a fan-favorite attraction at Disney Parks, and it’s about to undergo an expansion — well, at least as far as the story goes. Marvel Comics is building upon the ghosts’ cheerful afterlives with their new Disney Kingdoms title “The Haunted Mansion.”
CBR News Resources channeled Madame Leota and made contact with “The Haunted Mansion’s” writer Joshua Williamson, who admits to be more than a little obsessed with the Mansion, and penciller Jorge Coelho to discuss their experiences with the attraction, the tone of the comic book, and how their series stands apart from other Disney Kingdoms offerings. Is this interview actually stretching? You be the judge.
CBR News: Josh, I read you’re a bit obsessed with the Haunted Mansion attraction. Tell me the story of your first experience riding it and what about it speaks to you.
Joshua Williamson: I’m a California kid so I’m not sure if I can tell you my first time riding it because we were close to Disneyland and would go all the time. I probably rode it a few dozen times before I was even a teenager. But I remember waiting in the line for it and being crazy excited to get inside that house. I loved reading the tombstones outside and the sounds around the house. It had such an air of mystique to it. Disney does just an awesome job of creating experiences, and the Haunted Mansion is one of the best. When I was around ten or so I remember going in and being less scared and more fascinated — trying to see and soak everything in and to understand the story. After that my love for the attraction kept growing. It became my first ride every time I visited the park for a long time.
With the Haunted Mansion setting, the door is open to horror but the Haunted Mansion balances the spooky with fun. What sort of story will you tell and which of the 999 happy haunts will be at the center of it?
Williamson: We really wanted to find that balance of the humor and the horror. Thankfully, I love writing black humor. The first part of the ride is all about setting up the atmosphere and then you dig into the horror part of the ride and then right when it hit its highest point of horror, it becomes funny and there are a bunch of sight gags. Really the whole ride is a bit of a back and forth between the two that escalates in the attic and then descends to the graveyard where you are able to relax and laugh. That was what I wanted to do with the book. To follow the path that the amazing Imagineers at Disney created in 1969 when the Haunted Mansion first opened.
Our first issue is actually a slower paced issue to just nail down that atmosphere that the attraction has and to get the set up to our story. Most of our story focuses on a young boy named Danny who is called to the Haunted Mansion. It’s adventure and mystery story mixed with horror. He enters the Haunted Mansion to help the ghost of a lost loved one but also to help the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion. They’ve been trapped and need help finding a way out.
Jorge, are there any of the happy haunts you especially enjoyed drawing?
Jorge Coelho: At this point, I’ve just finished a few shots with the happy haunts. As I’ve played amateur bass, [I’d pick] the Graveyard Band for sure.
I’ve heard the comic will be a bit different from other Disney Kingdoms titles — how so?
Williamson: It has a higher rating because we wanted to have a few more scary moments, thrills, and chills — just enough to make it a scary comic, while keeping with the tone of the Haunted Mansion. It’s also centered on one location with very few characters. The happy haunts are the stars of the show after all.
The Haunted Mansion maybe has the strongest following of any Disney attraction. What challenges come with knowing fans will be looking for all their favorite things about the attraction in the comic?
Williamson: Oh, since I’m a big fan too it’s been on my mind. Big time. I made sure that if I wasn’t the one writing it and I was just a reader that the fan in me would be happy with the comic. It’s full of so many Easter eggs; the fans will be happy.
I was a little bit of a nut in making sure that we stuck as close as possible mythology and look of the Haunted Mansion. I even drew a map of it to show Jorge the path the riders take through the house. Trust me when I say that I made sure to stay accurate with the ride.
What has it been like working with each other?
Williamson: Jorge is amazing. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, so I was really excited when he got the job. I knew he’d be able to really get the horror and humor we were going of. He’s the best at adding the little bits of touches to make the comic feel like a horror comic, and he’s been nailing the look of the ride. He’s helped me figure out beats in the story later and has me super excited to show off the comic. There is a splash page in #2 that I know he will make especially creepy. His inks are the exact right kind of moody I was hoping for and that color by Jean-Francois Beaulieu — it’s beautiful.
Coelho: [It’s been] super! We’ve exchanged some ideas and thoughts, he seems like a really standup guy. I would very much like to meet him in person in the near future.
Did you get to speak with Disney Imagineers about the ride for research, and if so, what sort of things have you asked?
Williamson: I already know a lot about the ride and have plenty of books and material to draw inspiration from and we worked with the Imagineers throughout the process. I actually built a reference book for Jorge that told him what things looked like in the Haunted Mansion page by page so he’d know the exact details of items or a scene within the ride for parts of the comic. We got really specific with it. Marvel has been our go between with Disney, and it’s been awesome. They’ve had great things to say and add and have been invaluable in building this book.
Coelho: Josh and the Disney Imagineers helped me a lot with references and the relations between the rooms with mostly images and some videos, too.
Josh, do you prefer the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom?
Williamson: I grew up visiting Disneyland, so that attraction will always be special to me. The Disneyland and Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansions are pretty similar except for the exterior and a few spots here and there. Actually, I recently rode the one at Disneyland Paris which is very different. Especially in the outside and the second half. It has a completely different story, but some of the same gags.
Honestly, I’m really excited to go to Disneyland again and see this comic there. I get to add to the mythology of the ride and be something that people who love the ride or are riding it for the first time can pick up and get a little more from the experience. It’s amazing.
“The Haunted Mansion” #1 debuts March 9 from Marvel Comics.