By Matt O’Keefe
In coordination with its parent company, Marvel is bringing a piece of Disney history to comics. Seekers of the Weird is a five-issue miniseries inspired by art created by Imagineer Rolly Crump for a Disneyland attraction that never came to fruition. I talked to the writer of Seekers, Brandon Seifert, about exploring the Museum of the Weird for Marvel Comics.
Did Marvel approach you for Seekers of the Weird?
Sort of. I’d emailed Bill Rosemann in November 2012 about potentially writing for Marvel. I didn’t follow up with him again until this summer — and it turned out he was already considering me for Seekers!
What stage was the project at when you came aboard?
It was pretty early on. Bill had written up a rough story synopsis that had a lot of the basics — the two kids, the uncle, the kidnapped parents. And he’d commissioned Mike del Mundo to do the first teaser image for it, the one that debuted at D23 last summer.
How detailed was the synopsis?
About three quarters of a page? Kids get their parents kidnapped, there’s a time limit to get them back, wacky uncle helps out. Plus there was a lot of concept art by Rolly Crump, the Imagineer who came up with the Museum of the Weird back in the ’60s. So I took the broad strokes, fleshed it out, and figured out how to work in as much of Rolly’s designs and ideas as possible.
Honestly, “broad strokes” is selling it short. Bill came up with the core of the plot. And since Bill’s a writer himself — and a good one! — that made my job a whole lot easier.
How familiar were you with the work of the Disney Imagineers?
Not at all, really. I’d loved Disneyland when we’d visited it as a kid, but I haven’t been there since I was eight years old or so. Other than that, no contact. It was quite a learning curve, going into the Imagineers’ world.
What kind of research did you do?
The focus of the book was 100% on the Museum of the Weird, so mostly I just read as much as I could about the Museum and Rolly’s intentions for it. I read the chapter from his memoir about it, listened to uncut interviews with Rolly, and read sites like DoomBuggies that discuss the history of the Haunted Mansion and related attractions. I also researched Disney movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion to get an idea of how exactly you turn an amusement park attraction into a story.
And I researched other stuff, like Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Doctor Who. Basically, stories that take the term “all ages” and use it accurately. Stories that really are for people of any age, rather than stories that are just for kids but get called “all ages”.
Like those series and Witch Doctor, Seekers includes a lot of worldbuilding. Do you gravitate towards stories that do?
Definitely. As long as I’ve been alive, most of my favorite stories have been ones with a lot of worldbuilding. It’s just something I naturally appreciate.
I’m someone who’s into fiction to get experiences I can’t get out of the real world. So the more “fiction” is in my fiction, the more stuff that’s novel and different from my life, the more into it I tend to be. Worldbuilding is one aspect of that.
Have you thought about stories beyond the initial miniseries?
Definitely. But I haven’t gone too far down that route… because Marvel hasn’t asked me to, you know? I definitely hope they continue with Seekers, though. I think there’s plenty of material for a sequel, or even for a whole ongoing series!
Is there any Seekers material you couldn’t fit into the series that you’re eager to write?
Rolly did something like two-dozen pieces of concept art for the Museum of the Weird. Of those, the goal was to include all of them in the current miniseries. I think I got almost all of it, except some of the chandeliers and stuff like that. So there wasn’t a huge amount of extra material produced. There was a subplot in Bill’s original pitch that we didn’t end up using, though. I was pretty partial to it, and I’d still like to see it happen at some point.
Did you speak with Rolly?
I met Rolly at the signing I did with him and several of the Imagineers at Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim in January. We didn’t really get a chance to talk. I got to shake his hand, and tell him what an honor it was to meet him, though!
He said some kind words about the series. That must have been encouraging.
Yeah, that was a pretty big deal. Not just for me, but for the rest of the creative team and all the other people involved.
It had to be pretty intimidating, writing a world that so few people have explored.
On the one hand it was intimidating, because it’s this lost bit of Disney park apocrypha, and the people who are into Disney parks are even more adamant about getting things “right” than comic fans! But, on the other hand, it’s liberating to not be playing in someone else’s sandbox and be one of the people making the sandbox yourself.
How has the response been so far?
Really good! Lots of people really loved our first issue. I’ve heard a lot of really great feedback online, from fans and reviewers. And last week at Wizard World New Orleans, I got so many compliments on the series! I had something like four different retailers stop by my table to tell me how well it was doing for them, and to thank me for actually doing an all-ages book.
Marvel doubling orders must have been a nice confidence boost, too.
Yeah. That was definitely flattering. It was really nice to see them get behind the book like that.
The art is beautiful. Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s colors really compliment Karl Moline’s work.
I’m personally super impressed with the art. I was a big Karl fan before this, and I thought I had a good bead on what his work was going to be like on it. But man, he just blew me away! I knew he was great, but I didn’t know how great. And Jean-Francois is one of the most brilliant colorists I’ve ever seen in comics.
Karl breaks panel boundaries to great effect throughout the issue. Was that in the script?
Nope! That’s 100% Karl.
How much art direction do you include in your scripts?
I include which order the characters should appear in — to make the lettering fit more gracefully with the art. And often I specify, like, which characters are in the foreground and which are in the background, or which characters the focus of the panel should be on if there are multiple people there. I’m also a big fan of using “fixed angle” sequences, where the “camera” doesn’t move. A few of those Karl cut, and “moved the camera” instead. But most of them he left in.
Sometimes I’ll suggest how a page should be laid out — but usually I do that to explain how a page could potentially work if, on the face of it, I think it’s going to seem difficult to pull off. Like a page with a bunch of panels, and one panel is supposed to be quite large — I’ll explain how small I think the others can be, based on the importance of the stuff going on in them, and say that they can all be in the same tier or stuff like that. Those are usually just optional suggestions on my part, though. I’m more concerned with storytelling than I am with style.
Suggesting the order for characters to appear is really smart. You have a background in lettering, right?
Yeah, I letter Witch Doctor. It’s left me really attuned to stuff like that. If characters don’t appear in a panel in the order they speak in, it makes it hard on the letterer and usually equals a panel where the balloons aren’t very graceful. Sometimes it really hurts the storytelling, too. So I try to make it easy to keep track of who should be where in a panel, based on who’s speaking. That way it’s easier on the artist, easier on the letterer, and makes for a nicer-looking comic that flows better.
Do you have any creator-owned work on the horizon?
I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the works — but if the “horizon” is me knowing when it’s going to come out, I’m afraid I don’t. No Witch Doctor news either — although people ask us for more every day or two!
As far as non creator-owned work, I did a big project last year that I’m hoping will be announced this year. 240 pages of script in the can. Can’t talk about what it was or who it was for, of course… but I’m hoping it’ll see the light of day soon!
Lastly, what’s inspiring you? Be it fiction, non-fiction, real life, whatever.
A bunch of random stuff! I just got back from a week in New Orleans, for one. That city always inspires me — which is part of why I keep setting comics like Seekers of the Weird there. I’ve also got an original project I pull out and develop some more each time I go there. This time it finally hit critical mass, and I don’t think I can put it back on the shelf.
I’ve also been getting into a bunch of novels recently. In my comics I like to draw from a variety of media — most of the comics I’ve done are more influenced by TV or movies than by other comics, which I think gives them a freshness. Now that I’m getting back into reading novels, I’d like to do some comics that are influenced by those. Until about ten or fifteen years ago, I think that was the norm, for comics to be written in a very novelistic, prose-heavy style. I’d like to try my hand at that, see how well it fits me.
Interesting. Fans are always clamoring for comics that aren’t such quick reads, but I don’t know if they actually want it in our short attention-span culture.
Shrug. I’ve got a really short attention span, even on ADHD medication. And I still love novels, “marathoning” TV shows, and comics like The Sandman and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing that are really dense and take a long time to read.
More than anything else, I think people want comics that are done well. In whatever form that comes in.