“Seekers of the Weird” is the first time we’ve seen a Disney Parks and Resorts property turned into a Marvel comic book series. Marvel has been creeping into the parks with comic book properties inspiring in park experiences, most notably, the Iron Man and Thor experiences in Innoventions at Disneyland. However, this is the first time this crossover has gone in the opposite direction, from park to book, since Disney purchased Marvel. Many Disney fans who have never picked up a comic book before are interested in seeing what Marvel does with Disney’s rich park history. I was able to attend the January 18 launch event for the book at Beach Ball Comics, a local shop in Anaheim complete with a bundle of talent in attendance. But first, for those who aren’t familiar, what is “Seekers of the Weird?” From the Marvel website….

“Marvel & Disney are proud to present your first look at DISNEY KINGDOMS: SEEKERS OF THE WEIRD #1, the first comic series published under the all-new Disney Kingdoms banner! Created in close partnership with designers, producers, and creative directors from Walt Disney Imagineering, the Disney Kingdoms line promises new and exciting adventures expanding upon already beloved lands, attractions, characters, and worlds of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

This January, experience the first all-new adventure inspired by Disney’s legendary – but never constructed – Museum of the Weird! Dreamed up by famous Imagineer Rolly Crump in 1965, the Museum of the Weird was home to a collection of mystical curiosities said to have been unearthed from all corners of the globe. Originally conceived as a spooky walk-through attraction connected to the Haunted Mansion, Crump’s innovative designs were left on the drawing board following the passing of Walt Disney….until now!”

It makes sense that Disney would want to leverage one of their newest acquisitions to help promote and build up one of their highest profile divisions. And although it’s happened throughout the history of comic books with such high profile properties like “Star Wars,” it is becoming more and more popular for television and film to turn to comic books to tell stories that compliment or continue stories told in other mediums. When the early cancelled, cult classic television show “Firefly” was greenlit for a major feature film, a three issue comic book series was released to bridge the gaps in story between the show and film. The completed television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has found new life with a canon, “Season 8” chapter of the story via a very successful ongoing comic book series. (So successful, we’ve also seen a “Season 9” series and “Season 10” has been announced.) Cult classic hits that may not find the commercial success they’re looking for in other mediums, or have simply run their course, can turn to comics and, at a much reduced cost of production, serve a fan base that is willing to pay the owners and creators directly to keep producing more content. Because of the comic book culture embracing these cult classics time and time again, it makes sense that Disney would, on their first time out under the “Disney Kingdoms” banner, test a “cult classic” of Disney Parks history.

To make sure that the Disney Parks fans understand why they should buy “Seekers of the Weird,” Marvel is very smartly making sure that Rolly Crump’s name is all over the press and marketing. My understanding is that Rolly was involved in the project only that his concepts and ideas for the “Museum of the Weird” attraction are the basis of the book concept and that one of the three variant covers of issue one is his concept art for the Grandfather Coffin Clock. Regardless of the lack of indirect influence on the project, Disney Parks fans have a soft spot for Rolly, like with other influential imagineers, and his name association and endorsement for “Seekers of the Weird” will go a long way to turn Disney Parks fans into comic book readers.

And if the line outside of Beach Ball Comics on the day of the launch event was any indication of the marketing’s success, then Marvel could very well have hit the right nerve.

IMG_15972

Though the line was long, the pros at Beach Ball Comics made sure to keep the line moving at a brisk pace.

Three different versions of issue one were made available to fans.

The traditional cover featuring art by Michael del Mundo, selling for cover price at $3.99.
The traditional cover featuring art by Michael del Mundo, selling for cover price at $3.99.

 

IMG_1585
One of the variant covers featuring art by Imagineer Brian Crosby, selling at Beach Ball Comics for $8.

 

IMG_1588
The most popular cover at the event, featuring art by Rolly Crump, was selling at Beach Ball for $15. Beach Ball Comics stated that this cover was provided to retailers in the ratio of 1 to every 100 of the traditional cover.
Fourth Variant
There is one other variant cover available featuring more art by Michael del Mundo, though it was not available at Beach Ball Comics the day of the event. This is the same image that was on the teaser poster passed out at the 2013 D23 expo.

I don’t know exactly how Beach Ball Comics obtained so many copies of the Rolly Crump variant cover. But there were MANY people walking out happy with a signed copy of it in their hand.

Once you reached the front of the line, you were greeted by a wall of creatives that worked on the book.

IMG_1599
From left to right: Writer, Brian Seifert; consulting Imagineers Brian Crosby, Josh Shipley, Jim Clark and Tom Morris
IMG_1602
Writer, Brian Seifert

And to the left, the man of the hour, Disney Legend Rolly Crump.

IMG_15962

IMG_1600
Disney Legend Rolly Crump

 

Also in attendance was Senior Vice President of Print, Sales & Marketing at Marvel Comics, David Gabriel.

It was an impressive collection of talent and I, as I’m sure the rest of the attendees, are appreciative to Beach Ball Comics for putting together an amazing launch for this milestone event for Marvel and Disney.

But I know what you all are wondering. Is the book any good?

There are two things you need to know before you pick up this book. One, it’s an all ages series under the Disney name. And two, this is NOT Rolly Crump’s attraction turned into a comic book. The designs, the aesthetic, it’s all inspired by his work. But this is not going to be a super creepy horror comic nor could the script be mistaken for the narration of Rolly’s walkthrough.

Fair warning, spoilers ahead.

The book centers around two siblings, a brother and a sister, who appear to be high school aged, whose parents own a curio shop called Keep It Weird. The parents are abducted by strange creatures who want the Grandfather Coffin Clock and refuse to give the parents back to the siblings without receiving it. Uncle Roland, dressed a bit steampunkish, an Indiana Jones type, shows up out of the blue to escort the children out of the house, which is crumbling around them due to the creatures destruction, and through a door in the parents off-limits study into the Museum of the Weird. The siblings are clearly surprised that these items sold in the shop and displays in the Museum are real with real abilities and powers. Without revealing too much, by the end of the first issue, it is clear that it is up to the siblings to find the Grandfather Coffin Clock and save their parents.

The construction of the central conflict reads very Disney to me. Two siblings, who don’t quite see eye to eye, are set on a magical journey to save their family. No doubt they will become closer and learn to appreciate each other more through this adventure. However, I don’t find it feeling cliché. If I was to take a guess, I’d say maybe it’s because the book reads older to me? Older characters, older source material?

The pace of storytelling is quick and frenetic at times. I find this to be incredibly appropriate for the story. Just like the central characters are thrown into this world they never knew existed, the reader is thrown into the plot just the same, never really getting the full story behind every encounter and interaction.

And the writer, Brandon Seifert, has right off the bat made two of Rolly’s creations, the Candleman and the Grandfather Coffin Clock, perhaps his most famous Museum of the Weird concept art, important plot devices.

Candleman
On the left, Rolly Crump with various models constructed in regards to the Museum of the Weird and Haunted Mansion project including Rolly’s Candleman. On the right, art from the comic book, “Seekers of the Weird” #1.

 

The interior art looks very traditional for a comic book. The penciller, Karl Moline, does a wonderful job fitting in little tributes in the background to Rolly’s concepts including a mirror backed devil chair, a lizard creature with bells hanging off his tail and a candle on his head, an aquarium with ghost fish and a magic gypsy-style cart..

Candlehead Lizard
On the left, Rolly Crump’s concept art for the Museum of the Weird. On the right, art from the comic book, “Seekers of the Weird” #1.

I will say though, the big two page spread in the middle of the book, when the siblings enter the museum for the first time, the big reveal, seems remarkably plain. Although the museum looks large and vast, there are only three artifacts on display in our field of vision. This two page spread should have been the piece of art that blows us out of the water. We should have been overwhelmed with details and tributes. In fact, some of the following panels have more artifacts in them than the two page spread. This was a missed opportunity to be sure.

Overall, if you are a fan of adventure stories and a fan of Rolly’s, you will most certainly want to pick up the first issue. It’s an entertaining read and I find myself going back to the book over and over to look at the art, comparing it to the concept art I am so familiar with.

Magic Cart
On the left, Rolly Crump’s concept art for the Museum of the Weird. On the right, art from the comic book, “Seekers of the Weird” #1.

It’s hard to tell after one issue whether the concept will play itself out. Basing an adventure comic’s aesthetic on concept art for a never realized Disney attraction is a great idea. But the plot and characters will have to take over the book at some point to give its audience a reason to keep reading. The question is whether the plot and characters will be interesting enough on their own accord to make that transition at the appropriate time. It’s definitely possible. And I think the writer and art team have done a fine job so far. I think we’ll have a better answer to that question after the second issue.

Other Rolly Designs
Art from the comic book, “Seekers of the Weird” #1 reflecting more of Rolly Crump’s concept art for the Museum of the Weird.

And if it sells well? The Disney Kingdoms banner could be utilized by Disney Parks and Resorts for a variety of purposes. All of those attraction movies we’ve been hearing about for years but have never materialized? A comic book would be a much less expensive way of testing the narrative with fans. It could be treated like a “pilot” of sorts for a movie. What about attractions that have gone off to Yesterland? Could you imagine an Adventures Through Inner Space comic book? Or what about a comic book based on the original Submarine Voyage? Properties that are no longer making the company money, or never were in the case of Museum of the Weird, could be making money with very little upfront expense. And what about current attractions? Pirates of the Carribean saw a huge boost in attendance after the movies were released. Would an Enchanted Tiki Room comic book have a similar effect?

Disney announced back in the fall of 2013 that a Space Mountain graphic novel will be released on May 6, 2014 written by seasoned comic and television writer Bryan Q. Miller.  However, Space Mountain (yes, that’s the title) will NOT be under the Marvel or Disney Kingdoms book, but under a “Disney Comics” banner.  I’d love to know the reasoning behind that.  You can check out the retailer solicitation and the newly released cover image at Comic Book Resources.

As exciting as all of these possibilities are, for now, Marvel’s “Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird” Issue 1 is on sale now at your local comic book shop and digitally via Marvel.com and Comixology. The following four issues will be released monthly.

Oh. By the way, “Seekers of the Weird #1” has already sold out at the distributor level as of January 21. Marvel announced that the book would go back to the printer for a second printing with the below cover.

Second Printing

All right! That should do it. Have you read “Seekers of the Weird?” What do you think? Are you excited for the Disney Kingdoms line of comics? What park experiences would you like to see make it to print? Until next time, EXCELSIOR!