Ever since the House of Mouse bought the House of Ideas, comic book readers have wondered what kind of crossover could be born from the intellectual property of Disney and the publishing might of Marvel. And while ideas as off the wall as "Deadpool Vs. Goofy" have never come to light,
Last week in the ramp up towards New York Comic Con, the latest and arguably biggest collaboration between the corporate cousins came to light in the form of "Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird" -- a new five-issue comic series by Brandon Seifert and Karl Moline.
The series takes its inspiration from the Museum of the Weird: a designed but never built Disney themepark attraction whose creation was led by Disney "Imagineer" Rolly Crump in the mid 1960s. Like Disney's famed Haunted Mansion, the Museum of the Weird would have been a ride chock full of Halloween-esque trolls, haunted clocks, mushroom men and other wacky creatures gathered from around the globe. Marvel's take on the idea focuses on two teens named Maxwell and Melody who discover the museum with the aide of a mysterious uncle.
"It's a pretty classic 'fish out of water' set-up," said Seifert, best known to comic readers for his creator-owned "Witch Doctor" comic. "Maxwell and Melody Keep are a pair of teenagers who live with their parents in New Orleans. The Keep parents own an occult bookstore. They're kind of scholarly, kind of goth-y -- and Maxwell takes after them. But Melody doesn't. She's on the high school lacrosse team and she doesn't want anything to do with the 'weird' stuff the rest of her family is into. But one night the Keep parents get kidnapped and the kids' 'black sheep' uncle Roland shows up to help. To get their parents back, Maxwell and Melody have to go on a quest through the Museum of the Weird. There's a really strong, personal hook to it -- the kids aren't doing this because they want to. They're doing it because if they don't, they'll never see their parents again."
Editor Bill Rosemann explained that "Seekers of the Weird's" birth came due to the legendary status the Museum of the Weird has gained amongst Disney fans. "The unexpected thrill and untapped potential is exactly why we choose to launch 'Disney Kingdoms' with 'Seekers of the Weird,'" he said. "For years, the Museum of the Weird was holy grail of sorts, a rumored 'could have been but never was' attraction conceived by the legends who built the original theme parks. What better way to kick off the fun than by achieving the ultimate What If scenario: not only what if Marvel teamed with the Imagineers to build stories, characters and world's around Disney's most famous attractions...but what if we did that with an attraction that was planned but never created?
"It's something that can only be done due to the new team that the Imagineers and Marvel now form. The access that we've been granted to designs, backstory and even audio interviews is unprecedented...and way, way cool. We're finally bringing to life Rolly Crump's amazing creations, concepts and characters that true blue Disney fans thought they'd never get to experience and that Marvel fans never knew existed. It's biting into the forbidden fruit, and in this case a really weird fruit!"
Seifert himself became well versed in the original attraction's history while preparing this new story. "One of the things I find most interesting about Rolly's work for the Museum is that he didn't actually know why he was making the stuff he was making," the writer noted. "This was back during development of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, and Rolly didn't like the direction the Mansion design was going in. So he just started doing his own thing, making up all these weird objects and special effects without any real idea of what they were for or what he could do with them. He was really just letting his muse work. It was Walt Disney who looked at all Rolly's work and decided it would all fit together if they made it a 'Museum of the Weird.'
"Marvel's working really closely with the Imagineers on this project, and they've provided a lot of reference materials for it. We're got a couple dozen different designs from Rolly, both his concept art and the mock-ups he and other members of the Disney staff made. Disney also hooked us up with Rolly's memoir and a bunch of unedited interview audio of Rolly talking about the Museum and his designs for it. On top of all that, the Imagineers also sent us a pitch they'd put together a few years ago for a Museum of the Weird comic. For an amusement park attraction that never actually existed, we ended up with a lot of material to work from!"
Rosemann agreed. "The key to the entire 'Seekers of the Weird' story is the mind of Rolly Crump. Our goal is to bring his unique, breathtaking and quirky cool visions to life in a fully-realized world. Everything is built around being true and authentic to his particular aesthetic and showcasing his amazing imagination to a whole new generation.
"What's been particularly enjoyable is the ease in which writer Brandon Seifert, artist Karl Moline, and cover artist Mike Del Mundo -- guided by the insights and ideas of the Imagineers -- have been able to weave an action-packed, character-driven story with Rolly's creations," the editor added. "I mention 'character-driven' because while the story's foundation are Rolly's amazing items, we quickly found that they've inspired the creation of characters with personalities, abilities and motivations that both drive the drama and give birth to even more possibilities. In fact, because Rolly's designs instantly generate so many cool ideas, the most difficult thing has been to decide what not include in Seekers...so maybe we'll just have to save something for a sequel?"
Before the new "Disney Kingdoms" franchise can branch out that far, Seifert and company have their work cut out for them filling in the blanks of a project that never fully came to fruition. "I've really been drawing on elements from all my different experiences in comics as I work on 'Seekers of the Weird,'" the writer explained. "On the one hand, it's a licensed project that I didn't originate -- so the working process has a lot more in common with my work on 'Hellraiser,' 'Doctor Who' or other franchise-based work I've done that hasn't been announced yet. But on the other hand, I wasn't really 'playing in someone else's sandbox' as much as I was helping build a sandbox myself. There's been a lot of collaboration in this, a lot of back and forth between me and Bill and the Imagineers -- and now Karl Moline since he's started on the art. So that's much more like working on 'Witch Doctor' or the other projects I've co-originated."
Moline is taking a page from Disney's classic style mixed with his own horror and sci-fi skills to develop characters around Crump's world, Seifert said. "I'm a huge fan of Karl's work, going back to the 'Fray' series he did with Joss Whedon. For me, Karl's strength is to be able to take fantastic things -- whether it's monsters or flying cars or whatever -- and ground them in the real world, give them a weight and a gravity and really sell them to you. Karl's really doing that heavily in his pages so far. 'Seekers of the Weird' starts in a very normal, real-seeming New Orleans -- and that's exactly what Karl's giving us. That way when things get 'weird,' there's it has even more impact -- because it's such a contrast with what's happened before. I'm also having a really good time working with Karl, and coming up with extra-crazy stuff for him to draw -- like umbrella-guns that shoot lightning."
Overall, Rosemann expressed hope that "Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird" would provide a model for future Marvel/Disney collaborations. "Instead of revealing differences, the creative process has underlined the shared elements that have made Disney and Marvel such powerful storytellers," he said. "Drama, humor, action, heart...these are the ingredients that the Imagineers and Marvel know drive every great story. One visit to a Disney theme park makes you realize that if you unleash unrestricted creativity, anything is possible...which is the same experience you get when reading a Marvel comic...and that's what Disney Kingdoms and 'Seekers of the Weird' represents. Brandon and Karl are creating a wild ride that you've always wanted but never knew existed."
"Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird" will launch in January from Marvel Comics.