These Comic Books Bring the Disney Parks To Your Bookshelf

Since the Mickey Mouse comic strip first appeared in 1930 (only two years after Steamboat Willie was released), the Walt Disney Company has been enmeshed in the world of comic strips and comic books. With its characters appearing in books released by various publishers over the decades, Disney has never stopped publishing and/or signing off on comics that feature its intellectual property – and that’s even before Disney purchased Marvel Comics in 2009!

Courtesy: Disney Parks Blog

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With almost a century’s worth of comic books, both in the United States and internationally. a full history of Disney comics is beyond the scope of any article. But a somewhat rarer phenomenon has been Disney comics related to Disney Parks. Here, then, is a brief – and, even in this smaller subset of comics, necessarily incomplete – look at the history of Disney Park comic books, loosely divided into four distinct (and overlapping) phases.

Phase 1: Mickey and friends visit the Parks

For about 70 years, fans seeking out Disney Parks comic books would find the pickings quite scarce. All that was available were stories in the comic book lines starring Disney’s characters – especially Mickey, Donald, and Uncle Scrooge – that featured the characters visiting the Parks or telling stories inspired by the Parks’ lands and attractions.

Over time there were quite a few of these special issues and stories, but some of the key ones include:

  • Donald Duck in Disneyland (1955) – Possibly the first Disney Park comic book, released by long-time Disney comics publisher Dell, Donald Duck in Disneyland set the template for comic books about the Parks in the decades to come. We see Disney characters – in this case specifically Donald Duck and his nephews – visit the parks and have a series of adventures themed to or inspired by each land. Sometimes this occurs in the Park itself (where the attractions, without any explanation, come to life), and sometimes they’re just stories that the characters tell because they’re reminded of an adventure by something they see in the Park. Other Dell Publishing comics to follow in this style include 1957’s Uncle Scrooge Goes to Disneyland (1957) and 1958’s Donald and Mickey in Disneyland.
  • Vacation in Disneyland (1958) – Another one-shot from Dell, this issue has the Disney gang watching the “home movies” taken on a recent trip to Disneyland. However, this is just a framing sequence for a series of stories themed to the various lands of Disneyland, but not specifically set within them or referencing any of the attractions.
  • Disneyland Birthday Party (1958) – Yet another Dell one-shot, this celebration of Disneyland’s third birthday tells a series of unrelated stories (brought together by a framing story of Mickey leading a tour of the Park) that either feature characters from Disneyland rides or Disney characters in situations themed to the different lands.
  • Walt Disney Comics Digest #32 (1971) – This special issue of the ongoing Gold Key series featured a framing story of Mickey and friends visiting the newly opened Walt Disney World, leading to individual stories set within and/or inspired by the individual lands of the Magic Kingdom. Not only did the issue revisit the format of the Dell comics one-shots, it even repurposed some of the earlier stories (set now at WDW rather than Disneyland)!
Disney Parks Comic Books

Credit: My Comic Shop

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Phase 2: Attraction-based comics

As the Parks’ attractions became a greater part of the public consciousness, Disney saw the opportunity to publish comic books based specifically on some of the most popular (or in one case, the most synergistic) experiences.

Released rather scattershot over the years, from various publishers, these comics included:

  • Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy (1985) – This free comic given away at EPCOT’s Universe of Energy attraction featured Mickey and Goofy going on the ride in order to learn more about the history of energy . . . and about corporate sponsor Exxon’s place at the forefront of energy innovation, of course.
  • The Haunted Mansion (2005) – Slave Labor Graphics published this anthology series of stories based on the many ghosts in the infamous mansion, along with an ongoing story about the life (and death) of its owner, Master Gracey, which even tied into Pirates of the Caribbean!
  • Space Mountain (2014) – This original all-ages science fiction graphic novel published by Disney Press, was set on and around a space station called, of course, Space Mountain. Two planned sequels – Return to Space Mountain and Battle for Space Mountain – never actually materialized.
  • The Haunted Mansion: Frights of Fancy (2020) – Released from publisher IDW, this slim graphic novel was the third Haunted Mansion comic book, after the Slave Labor Graphics series (described above) and the Marvel Disney Kingdoms series (described below). The most family-friendly of the three series, it focused on the silliness of the Haunted Mansion rather than the frightening aspects, following a girl who is the newest resident to the mansion (the story wisely avoided focusing on her death) and looking to make some improvements to it.

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Phase 3: Disney Kingdoms

After Disney purchased Marvel Comics, the publisher became the primary home for Disney Parks comic books (though, interestingly, Disney continued to license out the rights for comics based on its characters to other publishers). These took the form of an imprint called “Disney Kingdoms,” focusing on five-issue miniseries based on or inspired by specific attractions.

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Here’s a brief list of all the Disney Kingdoms releases:

  • Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird (2014) – The first Disney Kingdoms release wasn’t based on an actual attraction, but rather one that was never actually built – the Museum of the Weird, a walkthrough intended to be a companion to the Haunted Mansion!
  • Disney Kingdoms: Figment (2014) & Disney Kingdoms: Figment 2 (2015) – The most popular Disney Kingdoms release (so popular it spawned a sequel!) told a reimagined, steampunk-driven origin story for Figment and the Dreamfinder, taking them from Edwardian London in the first series to the present day in the second.
  • Disney Kingdoms: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (2015) – A story starring the plucky teenage daughter of the Big Thunder Mining Company’s owner, building up to – of course – a runaway train ride.
  • Disney Kingdoms: The Haunted Mansion (2016) – Yet another comic book imagining of the Haunted Mansion’s story, this one focused on a young man drawn into the storied mansion, where he encountered all the abode’s most famous spooks and spirits.
  • Disney Kingdoms: Enchanted Tiki Room (2016) – More of an anthology than a focused storyline like the other Disney Kingdoms releases, this series placed the world-famous Tiki Room on an enchanted tropical island and explored the backstage antics of the four central macaws as well as their impact on a variety of guests to the island.

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Phase 4: Marvel and Star Wars Tie-Ins

In the years since Disney purchased both Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm/Star Wars, several attractions have popped up featuring characters and locations from these popular franchises. Naturally, Marvel has published tie-in comics to these attractions.

In order of their release, these Marvel and Star Wars tie-ins are:

  • Summer of Heroes (2017) – This one-shot comic was a free giveaway only available at Disney California Adventure, featuring Nick Fury working together with all the MCU heroes to face an alien threat.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout (2017) – A one-issue comic book adaptation of DCA’s Mission: Breakout, the first U.S. Disney attraction to star Marvel characters!
  • Iron Man: Hong Kong Heroes (2018) – A one-issue (loose) adaptation of Hong Kong Disneyland’s the Iron Man Experience, the first Disney attraction anywhere to star Marvel characters!
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (2019) – A five-issue series set in Black Spire Outpost and providing the backstory of the First Order’s arrival on Batuu.
  • W.E.B. of Spider-Man (2021) – This mini-series loosely adapts the story of WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, the first attraction at DCA’s Avengers Campus. With room to breathe over five issues, this series explored the story and relationships of the Worldwide Engineering Brigade (WEB) seen briefly in the attraction’s pre-show.
  • Star Wars: Halcyon Legacy (2022) – A five-issue miniseries set aboard the Halcyon, the titular ship from Galactic Starcruiser experience.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (2022) – This one-shot introduced the “big bad” featured on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, as well as exploring why Xandar would want to create a pavilion on Earth in the first place.

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What does the future hold for Disney Parks comic books? With the Disney Kingdoms line seemingly defunct, it appears that only time will tell. If this history serves as a precedent, though, in one form or another we’re certain to see many more comic book adventures either set in or based on our favorite Parks, lands, and attractions!

About Andrew Friedenthal