31 May 2017

Tell a Good Story - Issue #1: Seekers of the Weird

Spoiler Free Synopsis: Maxwell and Melody Keep are your ordinary teen siblings. Maxwell is smart, but lacks any sort of athletic inclination. Meanwhile, his older sister, Melody, has all the brawn she could ask for, but her academic endeavors are lacking. The live above their parents’ shop, Keep it Weird, and maintain relatively quiet lives until their parents are kidnapped by supernatural figures right before their eyes. Enter their cavalier Uncle Roland and a host of paranormal baddies, operating under the name of the Shadow Society, and the siblings think that they may have pretty much seen it all. Yet, one unlocked door and a few steps into their true home, the Museum of the Weird, and the Keeps’ quickly realize that their tale is just beginning.

It is up to Maxwell and Melody to hurry through the Museum to assemble the Living Room and summon the Coffin Clock before time, and the Candleman, run out. From the relatively innocuous mushroom people to the Librarian formed entirely out of books, from Husks to astral Wardens, the residents of the Museum and the outside forces thrust the siblings into newfound skills and confidences as they learn who they can and can’t trust to help them save their parents. As questions swirl around their recently returned Uncle Roland, the real question is what role does he play in the mystery and does he have their parents’ best interests at heart?

Disney Source Material: One could be forgiven if they’d never heard of the Museum of the Weird. That road starts with legendary Imagineer and artist, Rolly Crump, and his presence on the Haunted Mansion project. It was his belief that the mansion should be filled with all sorts of otherworldly inhabitants, from individuals to furnishings, pants, and even the house itself. Walt Disney so loved the ideas that Rolly had been creating, that he gave it the name it has come to be known by, the Museum of the Weird. Walt was so enamored with the concept that the Museum of the Weird models, along with Rolly himself, would be featured during the 10th Anniversary of Disneyland episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

Many of Rolly’s ideas, however, would come to an end with the passing of Walt himself, as the Haunted Mansion itself would become a riding attraction and not a walking tour. The concepts were, as with many great ideas at Walt Disney Imagineering, shelved to find life again when the right avenue presented itself.

Marvel Storytelling: That avenue would present itself 45 years later in the form of the Seekers of the Weird. This was the inaugural outing for the Marvel and Disney partnership known as Disney Kingdoms and, wishing to have a strong entry they went for one of the great untold tells in Disney canon. To quote writer Brandon Seifert, when trying to explain the project to friends and family, “It’s a Disney book… for Marvel… about a Disney park attraction… that was never actually built… but isn’t like, something made up! It totally got designed! You know. Partially.” That sounds about right.

Seifert and his artist counterparts, Karl Moline (penciler), Rick Magyar (inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist),  Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Filipe Andrade (penciler and inker for issue #3), set out to cram in as many of Rolly’s original concepts into their story, which meant making use of every nook and cranny the Museum of the Weird had to offer. The central pieces and characters that they’ve chosen to utilize from Rolly’s original work on the Museum create a smooth narrative while building a world that is at once unsettlingly macabre and soothingly familiar in the same panel.

The Keep siblings are not breaking in molds in character design, but in a story featuring so many fantastic characters and settings, the need to keep Maxwell and Melody mundane is a smart choice. In fact, it could be argued that they are shadows of the readers themselves discovering this unknown warehouse of the weird. Uncle Roland, the Shadow Society, and Wardens all feel like they’ve been lifted out of contemporary Disney narratives of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, and create a sense of mystery and adventure without every putting too many twists out of reach of the readers. The jump between some of the scenes as they pertain to the end and beginning of some of the issues can be a bit jarring to the uninitiated readers, but with such a world to explore any hitch in thought is quickly erased by the next mystical encounter.

The artwork created by Moline is spot on and easily accessible to new and veteran comic readers alike, and the color palate crafted by Beaulieu feels like it came straight out of the schemes for both the Haunted Mansion’s attraction and merchandising efforts. This may not be a world we are familiar with, but the art we are given makes it clear that the Museum of the Weird resides in a world that many Disney enthusiasts already know. Right down to the mystical lime green fire that always depicts something no good is happening in the world of Disney.

Bonus Time: Seekers of the Weird includes a two page introduction from Rolly Crump himself, which I’m hesitant to call anything except a splash page considering the insight it gives you into his personal journey as well as that of the Museum of the Weird, in addition to photographs from the aforementioned Disneyland’s 10th Anniversary Special. There are also letters from writer Brandon Seifert, Marvel’s Bill Rosemann, and Walt Disney Imagineering’s Josh Shipley. Cover and variant covers are included, as one would expect, but the other surprise a twelve page treatment of design work. While the character concepts from Brian Crosby and Karl Moline were wonderful, I spent an ungodly amount of time drooling over the six pages that featured Rolly’s original designs for the Museum of the Weird.

Conclusion: I didn’t open Seekers of the Weird expecting to see the next seminal piece of dark fantasy comic creation, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found within the story’s pages. Seifert does an excellent job walking the razor’s edge between what could be commonplace and bland storytelling by twisting our expectations of a Disney magical mystery could be, but maintaining a safe space for readers across age ranges. Moline creates some truly wonderful visuals without getting us lost in the insane amount of otherworldly artifacts, all while giving us a floorplan of the Museum that seemingly makes sense to the logical side of our brains. The story requires that you pay attention and keep up, but the reader is rewarded with an adventure worthy of the Disney name.

Further Reading:
Tell a Good Story - Issue #0: Prelude
Tell a Good Story - Issue #1: Seekers of the Weird
Tell a Good Story - Issue #2: The Haunted Mansion

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