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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

REVIEW: "Never think out loud !"

Sorry for “thinking out loud”, but I “think” you should
open this picture in a new folder to appreciate all its
glorious details.

So, there we are. Now I can't elude all your questions about the Hatbox Ghost anymore. "Who on Earth or in the Netherworld is he?", have you been crying out loud.


The Hatbox Ghost figure was, actually, installed in the Haunted Mansion… for a few days. He was an cloaked, short, elderly and skeletal figure, wearing an oversized top hat and holding an equally oversized hatbox. In those days, as you'll remember from my analysis of "Brides of the Mansion", the local Bride was Emily the Ambiguous Bride, in her skeletal, scary form. Emily's glowing heart's heartbeat sound effect filled the attic, thump-thump, thump-thump, and the Hatbox Ghost's gimmick was that his head would disappear from his shoulders and reappear in his now glowing hatbox, all in synchronization with the heartbeats. As argued elsewhere, the implication was likely that Skeletor Emily had murdered the Hatbox Ghost, or that he was murdered because of her; but whatever the case, the two of them were linked, in an interesting unsolved mystery that the guests were led to ponder about. But then, real life stepped in, with one of those trivial but also terribly crippling problems meeting the poor spook: the lights on the track of the Omnimovers that the guests traveled on were located much too close to the Hatbox Ghost, and they reduced his trick (which would have been executed with special light-sensitive paint) to nothingness. 

Thus, without a gimmick, Hattie had to go… And in spite of the Imagineers's futile efforts to fix him, he did, with no coming back for another sixty years. However, since he was removed after the attraction's opening, 1° there were numerous eye witnesses and 2° more significantly, he was prominently featured in pre-opening merchandise that continued to be sold after his removal; people who'd buy the souvenir book, or the souvenir record, or would get their hands on a flyer for the attraction, would recognize 998 spooks on the photos… except for this one striking elderly skeleton guy with the hatbox. Thus they would search and snoop around, without much success until the Internet came in. And at this point, the Hatbox Ghost's popularity exploded, thanks to all these witnesses who thought they were mistaken coming together and sharing fond memories of "Hattie". Information surfaced, so did a few decent photographs, and soon the only ghost that wasn't in the Mansion had become one of its icons, right up there with the Hitchhiking Ghosts and Madame Leota, to the point that he was often featured in official Disney merchandise. 

Yet all this time, the Hatbox Ghost wasn't coming back to his attic, which was no longer "his", as the set had been entirely changed to make room for the new bride, Constance Hatchaway, and her new specific, Hatbox-Ghost-less backstory. (Now the Hatbox Ghost finally came back, though outside of the attic, but that's irrelevant; this strip was published before that.) 

Now, Kelly's idea with her Hatbox Ghost is that he too wants to go back to the attic… desperately so ! But Constance just won't let him, and neither will the Ghost Host and Master Gracey — he's banished, dammit ! He can't go in !

Thus, with the history out of the way, let's cut to the story. 

Sorry for giving you such a large chunk of image at once, but it was to point to an excellent effect. The animation. I already spoke about it in a previous review, but it's really most obvious here. Each panel flows into each other, and since they have the same proportions and framing, it would be easy to think of them as animation cells from a finished, flowing, masterly-animated cartoon. 

Also, Constance Hatchaway's and the Hatbox Ghost's poses and faces are really excellent. And I do mean excellent. Not "average-excellent" as is often the case with Kelly (i.e. just her uncanny ability to draw the faces right at once), but an excellence where it's obvious that she put even more effort in it than usual. Just look at the Hatbox Ghost's smirks in panels 3 to 4, or Constance's increasingly annoyed expression. This is not just good art. It's master art. It's comical genius.

There is also a comparatively minor detail that I find funny here: this is our first color Hatbox Ghost strip, and thus we can discover that in Kelly's world, he is… black and white. Which all makes sense, actually. For one, he's supposed to be an "old-school" ghost from 1969, not one of 'em modern effects like Constance. Also, the only photograph we have of him depicts him as black and white. Finally, it emphasizes how little Hattie fits in the new attic, which is all blue: he looks like a fish out of water in those panels, like something someone cut from one photograph and pasted on another without minding the lighting.

This strip is one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of this series. Bravo.

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