Hopeless & Walker Hop Aboard Disney's "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" for Marvel

The next Disney Kingdoms comic finds Marvel turning to a thrill ride for its inspiration. Following a steampunk fueled miniseries based on Epcot's Figment attraction and the supernatural "Seekers of the Weird" which had its roots in a never-built Disney park attraction, The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction serves as inspiration for an upcoming comic book set in the wild, wild West, with a story set to reveal how the Big Thunder Mountain gold mine became a haunted legend.

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Written by Dennis Hopeless and pencilled by Tigh Walker, the five-issue limited series stars Abigail Bullion, the teenaged daughter of the owner of the Big Thunder Mining Company. Abigail is caught in a dangerous situation when she moves to Big Thunder after the death of her mother, where she becomes embroiled in her father's business. Walker and Hopeless explain the challenges and unique opportunities found in developing a sequential story to go with the theme park attraction, and promise plenty of references and Easter eggs await DisNerds throughout the series while they tell a tale that is accessible and appealing to even the least-Disney fluent.

CBR News: What can you both share about the overall tone of the story?

Dennis Hopeless: I'd say the tone sits somewhere in between "Brave" or "Aladdin" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" is an all-ages adventures story, but we're not afraid to get a little dark at times. I've always liked a little emotional depth with my high adventure.

Tigh Walker: I think it has something to do with dynamite chewing goats? That's all I've got really.

Just kiddin'! There's lots of stuff going on in "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" -- not just goats! It takes place in the Old West and we'll be following Abigail Bullion as she moves to Big Thunder to live with her father, Barnabas T. Bullion, after her mother's death. Through her adventures, she finds out that her dad is essentially in the middle of a feud with a mountain because mostly, let's be honest, he's all about the benjamins. So there's Abby, stuck between a (really big) rock and a hard place, and she's got some serious decisions to make that will affect not just her life, but the whole town.
Do you plan to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over and over again for research purposes?

Walker: I wish I could! I sincerely do. But I live super far away, in the mystical land of Toronto. There you have it, the rumors are true. I'm Canadian. I'll understand if you'd like to stop. No? Phew!
Alright then, as I was about to say -- I've actually constructed my very own Big Thunder Mountain Railroad replica using cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks, three garden hoses, a chicken, some rocks, a 9V drill, another chicken, some scotch tape, and a whole lot of love. It takes up most of my living room; I actually can't even see my TV anymore. But that's what being an artist is all about isn't it? Sacrificing TV for your art?
Also, I'll be watching lots of videos of other people riding the real Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over and over again via the Internets.
Because the story is based on an attraction, do you at any point get to look at archive and reference material from Disney Imagineering?

Walker: Yes! Luckily, the Imagineers shared a ton of super cool art and reference material which was all very inspiring.

Hopeless: The Imagineers have been amazing. They gave us piles of reference material from all the different Big Thunder attractions and have been active participants in the development of the story. It's been very collaborative without feeling at all stifling.

Besides the ride, what other materials are you looking at for inspiration for this wild west adventure story?

Walker: I have a framed 9" x 12" glossy portrait of Dennis up on my wall that I just sort of stare at for hours and hours until inspiration hits me. And I know what you're thinking: "But Tigh, how is that conducive to the wild West?" Don't even worry about it; I drew a little cowboy hat on Dennis, so it totally works!
Besides that, I'll really look to anything I can get my little paws on: movies, TV shows, my cousin's cat, reference pics on the interweb, half a ham sandwich, Robert McGinnis' western paintings, a 9"x12" glossy of Bill Rosemann and Mark Basso high fiving. Really, anything I can find that will help inform and support the story in some way is useful.

How do you balance creating a story for DisNerds and those who have never heard of or been on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad?

Hopeless: I think the trick is to start with a compelling character and story. We'll be mining a lot of great world-building and personality from the attractions but all of it is being used to service the story. Uninitiated readers won't need to know anything but what they see on the page. It's a self-contained story set in a cool Old West mining town. DisNerds, on the other hand, will be treated to a lot of fun Easter eggs and attraction callbacks. We're shooting for the best of both worlds.

The attraction has some specific imagery and moments that Disney fans have latched onto over the years; how do you incorporate those into the story without making it feel like fan service?

Hopeless: It's all about world-building. Before I start any project I sit down with a notebook and fill several pages just fleshing out the world, backstory, and supporting cast. Usually that stuff comes from my head and/or decades of Marvel continuity. This time, I got some of it from the Imagineers. Obviously, not everything will make it to the page but we've built a cool world and now we're using it to tell our story.

Tigh, you've worked with Dennis before on "Avengers Undercover," but how did you come together for this project?

Walker: Two words: Editor Extraordinaire Bill Rosemann hooked us up because he's the best.

Dennis is awesome, I love working with him. He injects so much fun and action into his scripts while somehow still giving us really heartfelt character moments in between.

Hopeless: I couldn't ask for a better collaborator. The man can straight up tell a story. The fact that Tigh and Bill Rosemann were involved was an automatic yes for me. I'd work with these guys anytime.

Finally, since this is a project based on a park attraction, I have to ask -- do you have a favorite Disney Parks ride?

Hopeless: I'd say it's a toss-up between Big Thunder and Splash Mountain. I haven't been to the parks in years. Can't wait for my boys to get a little older so we'll have a great excuse.

Walker: I remember my fav ride being Space Mountain, but don't worry Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, that was a long time ago. 
One Disney World memory that still resonates with me: I remember looking down at the animation studio and seeing that everyone was drawing. They were drawing and flipping pages, drawing, flipping pages, drawing -- it was amazing. Before I saw that, as odd as it sounds, I had no real concept that animation was composed of a series of drawings made by actual people. I'm not sure exactly how I thought animation was made (I'm lying, I know exactly how I thought it was made and it involved a rhinoceros and lots of koala bears), but it hit me then that some people get to draw all day, that's just what they do, and to me, that was pretty magical.

"Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" #1 will be out in March 2015.

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