A lifelong fan of comic books, science fiction, horror, and various other genres, Michael Siglain pursued this passion and built a career in the publishing industry that he’s had since the late 1990s. Of the many books that Siglain oversees, his work on Tales from the Haunted Mansion has uniquely captured the hearts and minds of the Haunted Mansion fans since the first volume of this series was published. Wanting to learn more about his career and Tales from the Haunted Mansion, I was able to interview Siglain for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Michael Siglain: Absolutely. I was a movie kid, first and foremost, so I lived on the Star Wars films, the Universal monster movies and Hammer films, and the Bond films. I was also a comics kid, so I was an avid reader of Batman, Superman, Flash, and JLI from DC, and Star Wars and Spider-Man from Marvel. I also found Edgar Allan Poe at what was probably too early an age, and was hooked from the start. The Black Cat was the very first Poe story I read, and to this day I read Poe about once a year. And in terms of revisiting favorites, in addition to Poe, I try to visit with Ian Fleming, Raymond Chandler, Bram Stoker, and Frank Miller about once a year. You can’t go wrong with the classics.
Yanes: You have had a really cool career working for DC Comics and now Disney Publishing. Given how competitive these industries are, what advice could you offer for others on how to prosper in these fields?
Siglain: Hard work and persistence are the first words that come to mind. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and work hard—really hard—for what you want. And while it’s not always easy, try not to get discouraged by hearing the word “no.” Also, knowing what you want to do goes a long way. It’s one thing to say that you want to work for Disney or Marvel or DC, it’s another to say that you want to be a book editor or a comics writer.
Yanes: Of your many responsibilities, you are over seeing Tales from the Haunted Mansion. Disney’s Haunted Mansion has been around since 1969 and is still extremely popular. Why do you this attraction has remained a fan favorite for so long?
Siglain: Yes—the Disneyland attraction just celebrated its 50tth anniversary, and it’s still going strong. I think the appeal is that it’s spooky without being overly scary. It’s fun and creepy and just brilliantly executed, from start to finish, and that’s a testament to Imagineers Ken Anderson, Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey, Marc Davis, X Atencio, Leota Toombs, and Claude Coats. We’re trying to live up to what they created. In fact, eagle-eyed readers may even see some nods to them throughout our series.
Yanes: Amicus Arcane is the Haunted Mansion’s ghost librarian and functions as a narrator of sorts for Tales from the Haunted Mansion. How did you and your team go about developing this character? Additionally, is it fair to assume that the Cryptkeeper from EC Comics was a partial inspiration?
Siglain: Imagineering very generously allowed us to add to the Mansion mythology by letting us create Amicus Arcane, the Mansion’s dearly departed librarian, and keeper of its 999 scary stories. From the start we knew that we wanted a Cryptkeeper-like narrator for this, and happily, Imagineering agreed. From there, author John Esposito and I took inspiration from EC’s great old horror comics, as well as from a bunch of 1960s and 70s horror films, particularly those starring the late, great Peter Cushing. In fact, Amicus owes his look partly to Cushing, and partly to his partner-in-crime, Christopher Lee.
Yanes: When selecting which stories will be in Tales from the Haunted Mansion what do you want these narratives to have?
Siglain: Ideally, the narratives have to be an extension of the attraction—as if you’re taking a piece of the Mansion, or even a ghost, home with you—so tonally, they need to be both spooky and fun. From there, in order to give them a more universal appeal, we looked to classic horror stories for inspiration, so we have a Poe-like tale, we’ve got one inspired by The Monkey’s Paw, we’ve got a mummy story, a vampire one, and in the latest volume, we even have a Frankenstein’s monster-like story. John did an excellent job of “transcribing” all of Amicus’s terrifying tales and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
Yanes: With 999 happy ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, are there any specific ones that you’d like to explore in a story?
Siglain: There are a ton I’d love to explore—the Hatbox Ghost being the main one—but in the case of our books, I love the fact that we’ve gotten to use many of the Mansion’s most popular ghosts as cameos and supporting characters. This has allowed us to create new stories and explore some of the “999 happy haunts” who inhabit the Mansion. Plus, I like keeping the main characters mysterious—it allows the fans to fill-in their own backstories, which is great fun.
Yanes: In Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Volume IV: Memento Mori it is revealed that Amicus Arcane is about to retire. How will Amicus spend his retirement? Additionally, will Tales from the Haunted Mansion continue?
Siglain: While Amicus is passing the torch, he’ll always be a part of the Mansion. As for whether or not the books will continue, that’s ultimately up the readers. There are a lot more tales to tell, so if fans demand it, there will be more. And who knows, maybe we’ll even visit some of the overseas Mansion locations in the future.
Yanes: Tales from the Haunted Mansion series are illustrated by the amazing Kelley Jones. What is this work dynamic like? Specifically, is Kelley Jones given free range or are there specific guidelines he has to follow?
Siglain: I was lucky enough to work with Kelley on two scary Batman stories while I was at DC, Batman: Unseen and Batman: Gotham after Midnight, so when this opportunity arose, he was at the top of my list. Kelley draws like no one else, particularly in black-and-white, and his art just overflows with emotion and atmosphere. And he shares the same sensibilities as myself and writer John Esposito. We’re all horror fans, and we all speak the same shorthand, which made the overall process an easy one. So, while art notes were given, Kelley was also given the freedom to create. But the missing piece of the puzzle, the person who put it all together, is Disney Design Director Scott Piehl. Scott really made the finished book look and feel as if it was taken right out of the Haunted Mansion. These books sing—or howl—because of him.
Yanes: When people finish reading any volume of Tales from the Haunted Mansion, what do you hope they take away from it?
Siglain: I hope reading these books will make people think fondly of the attraction, and want to go back. I hope it makes them want to read more scary stories. But most of all, I hope it gives them a sense of enjoyment and a welcome distraction. And if it also gives them the heebie jeebies, well, then we’ve done our job.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working that people can look forward to?
Siglain: Working on the Tales from the Haunted Mansion books is what I do in my spare time. My day job is overseeing Publishing for Lucasfilm, so I hope folks are looking forward to and are reading all of our various Star Wars books and comics. In particular, I hope folks will check out our upcoming “Journey to The Rise of Skywalker” program, which hits shelves beginning on October 4th. These stories tell some of the events that happened between Episodes VIII and IX, and feature Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and Kylo Ren. They’re exciting and dramatic and action-packed, so I hope people give ‘em a shot.