Theme Park Magic Gets a Little Too Real in Welcome to Wanderland

Step aside, Disneyland, there's a new most magical place on Earth. Writer Jackie Ball (Goldie Vance) and artist Maddi Gonzalez have teamed for an all-new four issue miniseries, Welcome To Wanderland, under BOOM! Studios' BOOM! Box imprint. CBR has the first details.

The series follows Bellamy Muñoz, a young girl with a passion for her local theme park, Wanderland -- that is, until she accidentally stumbles through a magic portal and winds up in the real Wanderland, a place that might not be quite as innocent and fun as the theme park she loves. Inspired by Ball's career in theme park design, Welcome to Wanderland is "a hilarious, gleeful exploration into creativity and what happens when you let something you love define your identity instead of illuminating and informing it," according to senior editor Shannon Watters.

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CBR sat down with both Ball and Gonzalez to get the inside scoop on the new story -- as well as a closer look at the personal details that inspired the book.

CBR: Now, I'm a bit of a theme park fan myself so I've got to know before we even get started -- what sort of park are we dealing with here? A full-on Disneyland affair or something more like a Six Flags or a Knott's? Or is it a special blend?

Jackie Ball: Wanderland Park is definitely heavily themed. It takes a lot of cues from places like Disneyland, and small European parks like Efteling, with deeply immersive environments, and story-based rides. Disneyland is unique even among Disney parks in its connection to Walt and a very specific time period of time in American history. There’s a kitschy, rose-colored historical side to Wanderland and its relationship with its creator that allows us to explore some mystery in the connection between Wanderland Park and the Kingdom of Wander.

Maddi Gonzalez: Wanderland is huge! Vast, sweeping lands stretching numerous themes, styles, and genres -- I’d liken it to an old platformer game. Y’know, one of those where there’s the ice level, the fire level, the water level, the city level, the cowboy level -- it’s like you can hop from place to place and see all kinds of wonderful nonsense all under that Wander umbrella, which, in my opinion, translates wonderfully to a real magic world.

And of course, the obvious follow up: Are you both theme park fans yourselves? Can you share your earliest or your favorite park memories?

Ball: [Laughs] I guess you could say that! I’ve been working for various theme park design firms for the past decade. But before I started working in the industry, I was a much more casual fan. I was mesmerized by the rich theming, and the feeling of stepping so completely into another world, but I had no idea that there was so much that went into the conception and realization of a park, or that there was such a rabid fanbase. We didn’t have any big parks near us growing up, so on my first trip to California at age 9, I just about lost my mind. My strongest memories are of walking into Toontown, and being just blown away that there was a place where I could step into a Disney Afternoon cartoon. E.T. was also a big one for me, because not only was there a forest inside (and it was just the line! WHAAAT???), but flying over a miniature Los Angeles on our bikes remains to this day the memory I return to when I need to evoke wonder.

Gonzalez: Jackie’s deeper in the trenches of theme-park-ery than I am just by nature of her being behind the curtain, but I love being a tourist. Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, the closest park to us was a waterpark at South Padre Island: Schlitterbahn. I very fondly recall being a child and having a grand old time on one of those lazy river dealies, chillin’ in a big inner tube, not a care in the world -- then suddenly getting trapped under a gigantic waterfall! I thought I was going to drown right there. But I lived.

My second favorite memory was a moment when I went to Disney World with my family. I had this lanyard with these beautiful official pins of the characters from the Hercules movie. I got them in the '90s when the movie opened, so they were fairly rare for a kid to have. A very well-dressed man saw me, stopped me right in the middle of the park, got down on one knee, and wordlessly opened a huge specialty briefcase stuffed with tons and tons of the most beautiful Disney pins! His intention was clear: he was looking to do a pin trade, which is a common Disney park thing. I politely turned him down, because the Herc pins rule. If you’re out there, Pin Trader Briefcase Guy, bless your hustle.

When it comes to big theme parks and fandom, things can get pretty intense here in the real world, even for adults. There are a lot of people who take their parks very, very seriously. In this world you've created, is that something Bel has to deal with? Does she have a community in her love of the park, or is it something more personal to her?

Ball: I think it’s a bit of both, In the beginning, the Wanderland Fandom (the Wanderlandom? No.) is Bel’s only non-familial social outlet. She spends much of her time on The Forums discussing the park with people she’s never met before, often roundly criticizing the park for changes and flaws, but she is still struggling to connect. Even though the fandom shares her passion, she still hasn’t found her people, and that’s a big part of her journey once she starts walking through portals and whatnot.

Gonzalez: In my research for Wanderland, I’ve discovered the wild and wacky subculture of theme park bloggers that go to parks 50,000 times a month and know the minutiae of every single speck of dust on park grounds. Bel is absolutely one of these people! Unlike a lot of these bloggers that have get-togethers and online friend groups and meet-ups and such, though, she’s a little shy about it. She prefers to stick to a general forum rather than go out of her way to make any personal connections through it.

Once she is thrust outside of her comfort zone, though, the world starts to open up for her and she starts to really “get” why everything about the parks means so much to her, deep down.

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