39: In honor of Half-Way to Halloween, Ariel, Stefanie, and their guest, Dan Connor, dive into the enchanting world of the comic series The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Battle for Pumpkin King. They explore the beginnings of iconic characters Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie, shedding light on their transition from friends to rivals. Join them as they discuss how the graphic novel captivates die-hard fans and new readers, perfectly capturing the spirit of the beloved franchise.


Summary of HPOE39

  1. 00:00 Introduction to the conversation
  2. 05:24 Creating new characters in the ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ universe
  3. 09:05 The struggle of sustaining a friendship in competition
  4. 13:09 The challenges of group dynamics and competition
  5. 22:26 The challenges of writing a concise story in limited pages
  6. 30:31 The importance of concise language in comics and its impact on readers
  7. 34:03 Balancing words and art in comics
  8. 37:26 The Importance of Intentionality in Comic Book Creation
  9. 40:58 Appealing to Longtime Fans and New Readers
  10. 45:25 The Accessibility and Appeal of Nightmare Before Christmas
  11. 56:17 Is Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas Movie?

Ariel Landrum (00:00)
Hello everyone, welcome to the Happiest Pod on Earth. I’m Ariel, a licensed therapist who uses clients’ passions and fandoms to help them grow and heal from trauma and mental unwellness.

Stefanie (00:09)
And I’m Stef I’m an educator who uses passions and fandoms to help my students grow and learn about themselves and the world around them.

Dan Conner (00:15)
And I’m Dan, I’m a cartoonist. I wrote the Nightmare Before Christmas, The Battle for Pumpkin King, and I work on a lot of comics.

Ariel Landrum (00:24)
Beautiful, beautiful. And here at Happiest Pod we dissect mediums with a critical lens. Why? Because we are more than fans and we expect more from the mediums we consume.

Stefanie (00:33)
That’s right. And everybody, as we have a special guest here on our podcast, what are we discussing today?

Ariel Landrum (00:39)
Exactly that Nightmare Before Christmas, which this is the opportune time simply because we are halfway to Halloween. So Dan, can you tell us a bit about your comic?

Stefanie (00:46)
That’s right.

Dan Conner (00:50)
Yes, it’s a prequel to the Nightmare Before Christmas movie. And the premise is that it starts off when Jack and Oogie Boogie are friends. And there it’s not really much of a spoiler. There was a former Pumpkin King named Edgar who is coming to the end of his tenure. And so Jack and Oogie have to compete against each other to see who will be the new Pumpkin King. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, it’s not a spoiler that you might not.

You might know who that is, but this gives the background information to how that happens and how the rivalry between Jack and Oogie begins.

Ariel Landrum (01:24)
And did you write and do the artwork for this comic or graphic novel?

Dan Conner (01:29)
No, I just wrote it. It was originally five comics that were collected in one graphic novel.

Ariel Landrum (01:37)
Hey, beautiful, beautiful.

Stefanie (01:38)
Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean, I remember Ariel emailed it to me and then I saw the PDF. I was at work. And then I realized that I did not go back to my task for like 30 minutes because I just kept reading it. And I’m like, this is so fantastic. I love, I love me a good prequel story. And I love seeing characters when they’re younger because I think it’s so fascinating. I’m surrounded by kids all day and.

Dan Conner (01:53)
I’m sorry.


Stefanie (02:05)
when you have a character as beloved as Jack and as Oogie Boogie, seeing them in their child form, I think is so playful and fun and it just gives another dimension to the character. So I was immediately hooked.

Dan Conner (02:17)
Very cool, yeah, that’s really fun about it. I love the different character designs that you see, Sally with the pigtails, Jack with kind of like the schoolboy uniform, so yeah, that’s really fun.

Ariel Landrum (02:30)
and even Lock, Shock, and Barrel as babies. That was adorable.

Dan Conner (02:34)
Yeah, yeah, I’m glad you think so.

Stefanie (02:35)
So cute. Yeah, everybody loves a baby version of a character. I think that kind of ties to like when we saw Grogu and seeing him as a baby first, that’s why everybody went baby Yoda at first, just because we were like, oh, obviously that’s just a child version of Yoda. And then we started doing like that calculation meme. We were like, wait, is that really him? But yeah, I think seeing kids or seeing characters in like…

Dan Conner (02:56)

Stefanie (03:00)
all stages of their life is so interesting, especially with a character development so rich as what we were given in the Nightmare Before Christmas. It was so interesting to me to see how playful he was even when he was younger and even how playful Oogie Boogie was, even though it was a different type of playfulness that we saw when he was singing and when he was doing his vile things. This was a different type of playfulness and I think…

that that was really interesting to see how they interacted with each other because all we knew was just the struggle between the two during the movie. So how did it feel for you to create a story with a new story with such beloved characters? Was it difficult? Was it hard? I mean, was it something that you’ve already thought about?

Dan Conner (03:49)
That’s a good question. Yeah, it felt really good. I mean, Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite Disney movie for sure. And getting to be involved with the series is amazing. Getting to write one of the comic series graphic novels was just unbelievable. So when I was able to work on it, the outline was already done. And so…

That was of course by DJ Milky and Sean McLaughlin and they weren’t able to write out the whole thing and script it out. And there were some changes made to that one as well. So it was brought to me and then my task was to write the book. That went really well. I was able to try a few different things, try a lot of different things that ultimately just about everything worked out.

Ariel Landrum (04:44)
I’m curious, were you ever attempted to create new characters in the Nightmare Before Christmas sort of like world or universe? Was that even on the table for discussion?

Dan Conner (04:54)
So the former Pumpkin King Edgar, he was a character that we created. So there was already, we already knew that he was going to be a character and I was able to flesh him out. I was able to name him and kind of work on, you know, who he was, his character motivations, things like that. So that is essentially the only new character in the Battle for Pumpkin.

King. I’m kind of like racking my brain right now and I don’t think yeah, there’s no other new characters in that one.

Ariel Landrum (05:24)

Well, I think it’s really important that you mention that because he is a very vital character. It’s how essentially the story gets to be told. And I had so much empathy for the character of Edgar because I definitely have family members who are getting older now and getting into retirement age, and they don’t want to. They have made so much identity and sense of self around whatever titles they’ve created in their careers.

Dan Conner (05:38)
Mm -hmm.

Ariel Landrum (05:56)
that transitioning to a different part of your life can be very scary. Was that ever a thought for you around Edgar?

Dan Conner (06:03)
You know, I didn’t really think about it in terms of relatives, but I definitely thought about, and again, no spoilers, but kind of how the story ends. I thought a lot about what he was facing, why he was facing this, having a new protege, having a replacement, how he kind of wants to support.

his vision for that, even though that isn’t necessarily the vision that comes to be. And so I think that those are themes that we face throughout transitions in our lives. That could be from one job to another. That could be a promotion at a job. That could be becoming a parent, anything like that, as well as like retirement, but probably retirement is…

Ariel Landrum (06:50)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (06:55)
more so that way because you in retirement, you might be going from primarily being a vocational person to being retired. And there’s probably a lot of lot that’s existential around that as well.

Ariel Landrum (07:10)
Yes, yes.

Stefanie (07:11)
Yeah, I love that you mentioned those different stages. A lot of people, especially kids who, or people in general who read graphic novels are not necessarily thinking about retirement. But when someone retires, someone else gets promoted. And I think the two in tandem was very interesting to see in your graphic novel as, you know, essentially one of them needs to get promoted, but, you know, who is it going to be? May the best, you know, character win, right?

And that’s when the story just jumps off so well because there needs to be a position that’s highly coveted that needs to be replaced. But what is the future of their world? What does the citizens have to say about all of it? I think it was really important for both Jack and Oogie Boogie to kind of be introspective in that way and look at themselves and see how do I want to do this? But I also want to beat my friend.

Ariel Landrum (08:09)
Spoilers now, if you haven’t read their graphic novel, Stef, you were really struck by their friendship because there was childlike play that was introduced. And I know for me as a therapist that works with children and uses play, I saw the dynamics that I do see sort of in my therapy room with at least with siblings. For you, you had mentioned like the competitiveness, you had mentioned like…

the struggle of trying to sustain a friendship when one person isn’t going to win and how you’ve seen that in the classroom and now in after school programming. And I was wondering if you could touch on that a little bit.

Stefanie (08:45)
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, as a teacher, we love group projects, right? But also the kids kind of load them because, you know, you have, you play with power dynamics. Somebody is going to automatically be the leader. Somebody is going to step back all the way. But then, you know, you have your supporters here and there. And I think that was kind of the same thing where, you know, Oogie Boogie and Jack, all of these people, they all live in the same collective community. They’re all working together to make sure that, you know, the community is well and thriving. However,

Ariel Landrum (09:02)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (09:15)
there is gonna be some point where they compete against each other. And I see that in the classroom sometimes, that’s when you really truly see the values of who these people grew up to be and how they deal with struggles. That’s when you really see kids raw selves, when they take themselves from a group setting and then they all of a sudden think, oh, I have to be graded now on my individual performance? Now what do I do? And I think that…

Ariel Landrum (09:15)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (09:43)
that is beautifully mirrored in the graphic novel because you see these two very strongly, you know, they have very strong personalities and they want what’s best for them and they want what’s best for everyone else. However, they have different viewpoints of how they would take each other. I’m really trying not to spoil anything, but, you know, I think it was just, it was a beautiful struggle. And I think all friendships go through that.

Dan Conner (10:07)
Very cool. I’m glad you found that.

Ariel Landrum (10:10)
I’m curious for you, Dan, had you considered those differences in their personality or their childlike play and how it was going to branch out into how they perceive things like leadership or task orientation or taking on a project? Because there was a series of competitions that they were engaging in and it seemed like they had very different motivations and mindsets.

Dan Conner (10:34)
Oh definitely, they do especially with one specific group challenge that they had and I think that definitely plays into group dynamics, the element of leadership, as well as even like what you might see between siblings. I have two kids, a son and a daughter myself and I actually used to be a school teacher.

so, you can, you can observe how those different things happen. And I remember even in school, I was always the person in group projects that would do a lot of the work. I always was like, Hey, I want to get a really good grade on this. And there were, there were typically students who were, less concerned about working on it and just happy to, to get it in and kind of ride in on the,

Ariel Landrum (11:12)
Uh huh. Uh huh.

Dan Conner (11:26)
work that others of us did. And so, you know, you can kind of see that, I think, in the book, not in a bad way, but in a teamwork fashion. I think that everybody can, I think everyone plays their part. I guess I didn’t really think about someone.

who is essentially just kind of coasting in and letting the others do most of the work. But again, it’s kind of idealized. Comics are idealized, so maybe in that world everybody works together, or at least the ones that were on the teams.

Ariel Landrum (11:53)

Stefanie (11:55)
Mm -hmm.

Ariel Landrum (11:58)
Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (11:58)
I knew you had some educator in you. When I was seeing the dynamics between the kids, I was like, this guy knows, he’s seen it in and around. It’s either he’s a parent or he used to be a teacher. It’s both. I love that. You only see these interactions presented in different mediums if you’ve seen it yourself. I think kids give you the most authentic versions of themselves when they’re playing. Because their world is basically,

Ariel Landrum (12:01)

Dan Conner (12:09)
That’s great, wow.

Stefanie (12:26)
Halloween town where you play all the time. I mean, it doesn’t really seem like work to them. To me, the interactions between both Jack, Oogie Boogie, Sally, these are playground interactions. And, you know, they all just know that they’re working towards a goal. And I think that’s really great because it’s still so playful, but at the same time, it kind of teaches kids who are reading this that you can take something seriously, but make it fun. They know that it’s a big promotion. It’s a, you know, big shoes to fill, but at the same time,

you take a little bit of yourself and you take a little bit of that playfulness and you still try to reach that same goal. So that’s what I, you know, I think it was really great that not only, you know, the graphics help out with, you know, the visualization of the play, but, you know, their characters just kind of shine so brightly with, you know, the words and the different, you know, idioms that they use. It was really easy to just get immersed, which is probably why I didn’t do work for a really long time while I was reading it.

Ariel Landrum (13:20)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm. Absolutely.

Dan Conner (13:23)
That’s amazing. I’m really glad to hear that. And I’m glad you saw those elements that I didn’t necessarily think would be, I don’t want to say they wouldn’t be obvious, but there’s some meta cognition in that. So that’s very cool.

Ariel Landrum (13:38)
And for me, I kept noticing the theme of like friendship and rivalry going back and forth. And for my tweens, it’s like this idea of a frenemy or I guess what they say now is like, are we frenemies? Are you my op, my opposition? Right. And I was seeing that play out. And it seemed like the beginning we were seeing Jack and Oogie Boogie at a younger or earlier stage of development.

Dan Conner (13:50)

Ariel Landrum (14:04)
And now when we were getting into their rivalry, it seemed like they were at a little slightly older. I felt like very tween or teen age where there’s this conflict that now our friendship has a new identity or is it still a friendship? I’m curious for you how you came up with that concept

Stefanie (14:11)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (14:21)
timing and age progression in the Nightmare Before Christmas world isn’t really defined. So we kind of, and I don’t want to misspeak for anything about Disney, but in the movie we kind of see that, or it seems that the characters are kind of fixed ages.

Ariel Landrum (14:39)
Mm -hmm.

Yes, yes.

Dan Conner (14:47)
You know, I imagine that Lock, Shock and Barrel are kids kind of all, you know, that’s what they are. Or there could be a very slow age progression. And that’s kind of how I imagine Jack and Oogie Boogie and Sally is that we don’t know how long they’ve been around. And we don’t know necessarily how long they will be around.

Ariel Landrum (14:52)

Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (15:14)
But I imagine that, I mean, Jack does say that he’s dead in the movie. And so there were questions about, and people have asked in fandom, who he was and or what he was like when he was alive. Because if you’re dead,

Ariel Landrum (15:23)
Yes, yes.

Dan Conner (15:38)
that implies that you died and that you were alive. I also imagine, and I’m not speaking for Disney, I also imagine that Jack could be a unique skeleton who is dead, but that’s his race. That he, and this is my imagination,

Ariel Landrum (16:02)
Oh, OK, OK.


Dan Conner (16:07)
that perhaps he had not previously been alive in a human form. There was one definition of the early Casper the Friendly Ghost comics, not the Steven Spielberg movie where Casper was a dead human, but the old comics and cartoons from Harvey. They had said that,

Stefanie (16:14)

Dan Conner (16:32)
because it’s kind of morbid to have like a dead kid. They had said that Casper was not a dead kid, but that he was from a race of ghosts and he was born as a ghost. So he’s still a ghost, but he’s not, he never died. And so I’m not saying that’s what Jack is and I’m not speaking for Disney.

Ariel Landrum (16:36)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Oh. Oh.

Stefanie (16:47)

Dan Conner (17:00)
this has not been explored in produced or written media or film. Right, exactly. And we have Jack in Battle for Pumpkin King as a younger skeleton.

Ariel Landrum (17:03)
Mm -hmm.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not canon canon.

Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (17:26)
So that could imply any manner of things as to what led to him at that state. But we know that he was at a schoolboy state as a skeleton. We know that. Whatever he had been before. And I think that as as maturity happens, they are at like a younger stage of development and

Ariel Landrum (17:40)

Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (17:54)
He and Oogie kind of quickly advanced into more of a tween level. That’s actually around where my daughter was at the time. She just turned 13. So this was written a couple years ago and came out last year.

Ariel Landrum (18:05)

Stefanie (18:07)
Mm -hmm.

Ariel Landrum (18:10)
And 13 year old girls know about frenemies.

Dan Conner (18:12)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, there you go. But she’s, yeah, she’s great. But yeah, there’s a lot, a lot of friend dynamics. And so they were, we never gave it an exactly a fixed age of where they were. But, you know, they were kind of exhibiting a younger phase and then the growing up kind of occurs a little quickly.

Stefanie (18:15)

Dan Conner (18:39)
And then I imagine that, as we know who’s Pumpkin King, not much of a spoiler, that Jack becomes Pumpkin King. And this is the story of how that happened. So we kind of know the end goal and that’s okay. And I imagine that he begins shortly thereafter. And so, I mean, essentially, right away. And…

Ariel Landrum (18:42)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.


Dan Conner (19:05)
And so you’ve got the progression into adulthood that happens kind of quickly. And if not firm adulthood, you know, cause you can be a king or queen as a child, especially throughout history, you know, the king might pass away or there could be wars, especially when kings were the leaders in battle. They could, they could, or,

Ariel Landrum (19:18)
Yes, yes.

Stefanie (19:20)
Right. Yes.

Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (19:34)
assassinations that take place where someone purposely takes out the royalty so that they can become royalty. But in history, you see that. And so there were younger…

Ariel Landrum (19:39)

Dan Conner (19:45)
royalty, especially in centuries past. And so I think that Jack could still be Pumpkin King when he’s not fully an adult. He may start his tenure and grow for a while until we see him in the movie. But

Ariel Landrum (20:04)

Dan Conner (20:06)
But ultimately it’s fantasy. I think the book’s classified as manga fantasy. So it’s got scary elements, but I don’t really know if the word horror should be used, but it’s definitely monsters and skeletons and things like that and the boogeyman. And so, there could be any amount of time that passes

I think that, yeah, we do see some quickness in that in, in the book. even Sally. And there was a question about, when she was made and was she made by Dr. Finkelstein as, as in a fully formed adult rag doll. And we see her younger,

Ariel Landrum (20:37)

Stefanie (20:38)


Dan Conner (20:49)
And so there she has progression too. there’s a story for her as well. even Lock, Chalk and Barrel as babies and then they’re, you know, kind of older kids are old enough to trick or treat by themselves in the movie, but they’re not teenagers. I kind of think of them as maybe older elementary, middle.

Ariel Landrum (20:52)
Yes, yes.

Dan Conner (21:09)
mid to older elementary But in this they’re definitely toddlers. And so, you know, it’s just how much do they experience throughout their lives between this book and the film. And I think that anyone can have an interpretation for that because it’s not set in canon.

Ariel Landrum (21:09)

Stefanie (21:30)
Yeah, absolutely. I think even now that you’re going through the history of monarchies and things like that, it could even be historical horror fiction, manga, sci -fi, all of it. Because now, if you’re bringing an element of monarchies into it, because they have the title of king, does that come with the other elements of monarchy, like queen or squire or are there knights who defend the kingdom? All of those things are possible.

Dan Conner (21:41)


Stefanie (21:59)
for the future, so I think that it’s such a, there’s so many layers to Nightmare Before Christmas that obviously you were able to create a whole backstory off of it. I’m curious to know, was it difficult to, not to branch out too far into those different layers? Because I know, you know, you’re trying to tell one story, but I’m sure all of these other creative elements were popping in your head. Was there another alternate way that you wanted, you know, maybe there was like a,

a B side to how you would want to take the story or was this really just it?

Dan Conner (22:33)
No, this is really it. And a lot of the reason is because the way that we did the comics, they’re 20 pages each and there’s five issues. So that gets us 120 pages. So, I mean, there’s a lot you can do in 120 pages, but there really isn’t all that much. So it’s and it’s all laid out, you know, kind of by scene and by by page because this page needs to have five panels.

Ariel Landrum (22:44)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (23:02)
because I’ve got to get this much occurring within three pages. Because if I don’t get that in three pages, well, I’m not going to have three pages for the end. And I want this full page spread because that’s going to communicate this. Or I want this double page spread. So if I do that double page spread, well, I’ve got to catch up to the number of panels on this other page. I’ve got to balance it. But I don’t want to have too many panels on the page because they get too small. And especially with manga.

Stefanie (23:12)

Ariel Landrum (23:14)
Okay, okay.

Dan Conner (23:32)
manga isn’t like Watchmen that has nine panels on each page. A lot of manga might even have two panels. and usually not more than like five. And so, you know, those are all elements that are balanced there. So there wasn’t really a, a much else to factor in. Now, I mean, I’d love to see a whole issue dedicated to Under Sea Gal, just like seeing what goes on with her.

Stefanie (23:37)

Ariel Landrum (23:42)
Mm -hmm.

Oh, yeah.

Dan Conner (23:59)
What’s her life like? What’s it like when she gets up in the morning? You know, I would love to see that. I was able to get her in the book in a number of scenes and I definitely wanted to pull in characters that you don’t see as much in the movie and that we didn’t really see in Zero’s Journey. So I wanted to feature characters like that. And yeah, I would love to have done side stories of…

Stefanie (23:59)


Dan Conner (24:26)
what else was going on with other characters at certain times, but with 120 pages, you really have to streamline it and focus on what’s essential. It’s almost like writing an email, I may start off writing a really long email because I have a lot of thoughts, but nobody wants to read that. So then,

Ariel Landrum (24:47)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (24:47)
Like the way I write emails is I’ll write out, like my draft will be long and then I’ll be like, okay, I restated this. I’m going to take that out when I restated it. Okay, this doesn’t add to it so that I can have something more concise So it’s very similar, I would say, writing comics when you have a lot to say. Now,

I know that sometimes in college someone gets an assignment for a paper and they’re like, oh, wow, I’ve got to fill 20 pages. And I remember feeling like that, like at my first papers I was writing in college. But by the time I was doing it, I was like, how can I get this down to 20 pages? So I think doing comics is the same way. And I know other writers too, like I’ve got a friend named Patricia Krumpertich and we write on other projects together. She actually did.

Ariel Landrum (25:16)
Yeah, yeah.

Stefanie (25:21)

Dan Conner (25:38)
the flat colors for Zero’s Journey. So she did a lot of the basic colors and then I would go in and add the details, make sure it was the right exact color that we wanted. And there’s a lot of different things about coloring comics that can be explored. But anyway, I’ll work with her on projects and I’ll be like, hey, we wanna keep this short. We want this to be a short story. So get all you can in the pages.

Stefanie (25:41)
Oh nice.

Ariel Landrum (25:42)
Oh, beautiful.

Dan Conner (26:06)
while also balancing the amount of panels. And it’s harder to write a shorter story than it is a longer one. So yeah, is there stuff in side stories to explore? Yes, but it wasn’t able to be done in 120 pages.

Ariel Landrum (26:21)
I think that’s really beautiful that you highlight the process of how you are creating the book. I know for some of my clients who are creatives, and then I also specialize in working with trauma survivors and I use a theory called narrative therapy where we talk about the trauma narrative. It can be very difficult to not put everything in there and make it without a feeling like it’s not clear or precise enough.

But when you can describe something in actually less or few words, it has more meaning and impact, even neurologically. And studies have shown that children who read graphic novels and comic books are actually more, they have a larger vocabulary range because you have to, you have such small space, you’re going to pick a very succinct word to describe what’s happening versus adding lots of thes or like all this extra language.

And so when I’m working with a client, being able to describe the process that you have just given where we can start off very long and then tailor it, and that isn’t changing the narrative, it’s enhancing it. it can help maybe potentially remove the fear of for my clients who are creatives, like because I edited it, does that mean it’s a failure? Right? I don’t know one person who’s like their final product.

was exactly the same as their first draft. And I’m curious for you Stef, like same with like children and writing, do you see them struggling with needing to make corrections and not internalizing it?

Stefanie (27:51)
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I taught fourth grade and that’s when we’re learning how to make essays. And you’re learning the, you know, the three paragraph thesis, supporting paragraphs. And they didn’t really, I mean, there were some struggles of them just writing something because they’re like, how am I possibly going to write, you know, a paragraph with five sentences and then make it, you know, make sense and all these things. And they would do it. But then when I gave them the challenge to, okay,

now make just one paragraph and tell me everything you need to tell me in one paragraph, one thesis, three supporting sentences, and one conclusion. That’s when their minds would just explode. They were like, how do I edit? How do I, you know? And I think that’s when I was in college too, it’s like, yeah, like you said, Dan, write a 20 page paper. That’s like a marathon, right? But then to be able to write a one pager,

Ariel Landrum (28:35)

Stefanie (28:47)
and try to get everything in there, that’s really the challenge because I think, you know, we could just word vomit if we really wanted to But then in order to, you know, capture the reader and also make everything succinct, like you said, I think that’s where the real challenge and the real skill is, you know, tested because now you have to be very mindful with your words. You have to be very mindful with your placement.

And you got to know, you know, what’s going to pack the punch, but also what’s going to support what I have to say. it’s great to hear like the manga writing process is it’s challenging, but in kind of a good way, because you do have to do so much with so little and how you broke it down. I think that’s really important for people, you know, who are listening, who are aspiring to become comic book artists or manga artists or manga writers to really look at their storytelling process.

and practice that so that they can convey what they need to in the right way or in the way they want to.

Dan Conner (29:44)
Oh, definitely. But I believe that, you know, each panel is kind of like a moment in time. you can have something said and something a response. But once you get back and forth between.

statement response, statement response, statement response. And you see that more in American comics and superhero comics because sometimes they’ll have a lot of back and forth in a panel. You don’t see that in manga as much. And I mean, even though I wrote this in America, it wasn’t written in Japan or illustrated in Japan, TOKYOPOP is still a manga company. And so…

Ariel Landrum (30:21)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (30:27)
It’s still going to be with AmeriManga or Western Manga, original English language manga. It’s still going to be with those characteristics. And so I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read a lot of manga. I’ve probably read more Western comics.

Stefanie (30:30)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (30:46)
which isn’t necessarily the same as manga, when we think of comic books in America, I mean, ultimately most of us are thinking of superheroes, but there’s so many other types of comics and a lot of like auto bio.

Ariel Landrum (30:55)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (30:56)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (31:00)
comics, you know, they’re not, they’re, they’re not necessarily going to have all this back and forth in one panel. And it’s not an old sci -fi pulp magazine where you’re paid by the word.

Stefanie (31:12)

Dan Conner (31:14)
I could imagine if you were one of those writers, Ray Bradbury, that he wrote a lot of early stories. And as I’ve learned, a lot of that’s paid by the word or was paid by the word.

Ariel Landrum (31:15)
Thank you.

Stefanie (31:19)
Mm -hmm. Oh, right. Mm -hmm.

Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (31:31)
And so, you know, then you might want to use all the adjectives you can. You might want to write longer sentences. I’ve never written like that. So I don’t, I don’t know, but I’m sure it would be a lot. It would be so easy to add a lot of synonyms and sentences and rephrase things and clauses because you can get extra five words in there. But comics are, I think they should be so different. Some are very wordy.

Ariel Landrum (31:39)
Okay, good point.

Stefanie (31:41)

Dan Conner (32:00)
You can look at amazing X -Men comics by Chris Claremont from the 80s and they are very word heavy. And there are some cartoonists in recent years who’ve still done that, but for the most part, that’s not the practice anymore. And you’re also balancing it with the art. I don’t prefer it when you’ve got really great art.

Stefanie (32:05)
Mm -mm.

Ariel Landrum (32:06)
Mm -hmm, mm -hmm, mm -hmm.


Dan Conner (32:22)
that artists do and then the letterer goes in and puts the word balloons when it wasn’t really planned for that. Whereas this is kind of crazy. Brian Lee O’Malley, I learned this from him, from Scott Pilgrim, he said, I think it’s in volume five that he gives his guide to making comics at just a few pages, that you do the word balloons first or you do the word balloons.

Stefanie (32:32)

Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (32:50)
as you sketch out the art. And that’s kind of an easier thing, because then you’re not losing 25 % of your drawings. Like, why draw it if it’s going to be covered up with balloons?

Stefanie (32:52)

Ariel Landrum (32:54)
Okay, okay.

Stefanie (33:00)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (33:04)
but I just think things should be intentional, whether it’s the word balloons or the art and even the color

Ariel Landrum (33:10)
Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (33:13)
that’s like group dynamics, right? You’re trying to figure out the balance with the artist, the writer, the editor. I mean, like I tell my students, everything’s gonna be a group project when you grow up, whether you’re working, whether you’re with your family. And I think that’s really important because, right, the art, especially in manga, is so beautiful and striking. I mean, in any publication, whether it’s comic books or anything.

Dan Conner (33:15)
Mm -hmm. Yeah.

Ariel Landrum (33:22)

Stefanie (33:37)
you want that balance, you want to make sure that right, you are intentional in what you’re doing because that conveys the best versions of the storytelling. And I think that’s really important to know that putting something like this together, all the way from the history of the characters to how you’re going to present it, to the editing, all of that is so important. And that’s why I love manga in comic books, just because it’s…

Dan Conner (33:45)

Stefanie (34:03)
It’s such a full way of telling a story, visually, emotionally, all of that.

Dan Conner (34:08)

Ariel Landrum (34:08)
And I’m hearing all this intentionality with the way that you are conceptualizing what you’re going to create. And given that Nightmare Before Christmas has essentially a huge following, a huge fan base that has just grown since the film came out. Cause I know when it first came out, it wasn’t received as well. And it’s more of, I don’t know the nostalgia, the retrospect, but also like.

you know, alternative and goth communities coming into Disney, like it has this big heavy meaning. What did you have to do to ensure that your graphic novel was not only appealing to those longtime fans, but really was bringing in newer fans again, because it is very accessible reading for even a younger audience. And it is telling their story as younger characters.

Dan Conner (34:59)
So when you’re going to do something with a popular property, you really want to consider the existing fans of that property. And I think that we’ve all seen a sequel to a movie that was not embraced and or especially an adaptation to another form of media.

Ariel Landrum (35:10)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Or like one that surprised people how embraced, like Five Night at Freddy’s. That movie went so big and, cause it had such a strong fandom already. And the creators really considered the age of the fandom even by like making sure it wasn’t an R rated film though easily could have been.

Dan Conner (35:37)
Mm -hmm. Yeah, my kids call it FNAF. So I think that’s one of the popular. Yeah, they just say it like that. And I was like, what is this? And they’re like Five Nights at Freddy’s. I was like, oh, OK. So with yeah, with things like that, with with any adaptation or addition to a popular franchise. Yeah, you don’t want to alienate the original fan base.

Stefanie (35:42)

Ariel Landrum (35:42)
Yes, yes, FNAF, that’s it.

Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (36:06)
and you really want something that will add to the fandom. I do a lot of comic conventions. I was at one yesterday. It was great. I’m in Florida, so it was the Melbourne Toy and Comic Con in Melbourne, Florida. So that was really great. And, you know, there’ll be people who come up and I’ll hear one of a few things like,

Ariel Landrum (36:20)

Dan Conner (36:28)
Now I’m hearing, oh, I just bought that, which is great. And I always say, well, I do a lot of appearances, so keep up with me, especially if they’re local and, you know, bring it next time and I’ll sign it. And, and sometimes I also just do like a sketch or something for them, like at least you can get this. And then I have people who will come up and especially with the Zeroe’s Journey issues, because I don’t have all 20 issues of that, which I call.

Ariel Landrum (36:32)


Dan Conner (36:55)
And so I have, because that came out a few years ago and I have some of the specific issues and the ones that I still have in stock, especially I don’t really have any of the earlier issues anymore. And so I’ll say, yeah, I’ve got some of them and I definitely want you to be able to find an issue that you like. I get that I might not have all of them, but you can always read it in the graphic novels and collect the issues as you as you like. And so those people will be.

Ariel Landrum (36:58)
Mm -hmm.

Yes. Yeah.

Dan Conner (37:24)
pretty serious fans and they might buy every issue that I have with me like someone did that yesterday. And at many conventions, that’s what will happen. And a lot of times those are the folks who say, I’ve never heard of this. before. And then I do have some people that will say, well, I haven’t seen the movie.

Ariel Landrum (37:32)
Wonderful. Yeah. Yeah.

Dan Conner (37:41)
and I’ll say, oh, well, this book’s perfect because it’s a prequel, so you can start there. So you never know, and especially with kids, they may stumble potentially on the book in their house as a toddler grabbing books off the shelves before they may see the movie and they may flip through a book as a toddler. So I imagine there could be people who find Nightmare Before Christmas.

Ariel Landrum (37:52)
Mm -hmm, mm -hmm, mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (38:09)
initially through comics and then see the movie. It could be based on if they have it on demand or on a disc versus when it’s on Freeform all of October through December.

Ariel Landrum (38:12)
Yes, yes.

Dan Conner (38:23)
And so it’s definitely a balance, but you want to do something that is going to be embraced. There’s such a fervor for Nightmare Before Christmas. People love Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t see as many Beauty and the Beast tattoos as I see Nightmare tattoos. There’s a lot of those, and people have full sleeves of Nightmare, and that’s a dedication. That’s a huge dedication. That’s expensive, and it’s painful.

Ariel Landrum (38:41)

Yes, yes, yes.

Dan Conner (38:52)
And that means everywhere you go forever, people will see this and know that you’re a fan. And that’s the good thing. And it’s what you’re communicating.

But for the most part, kids light up when they when they see the book covers on my on my

Ariel Landrum (39:07)
Yes, yes.

Dan Conner (39:09)
my table or the Tokyopop table booths at conventions. And so I want to be able to do something that honors everybody.

Stefanie (39:18)
I think the accessibility part is so important because Nightmare Before Christmas has gotten so big. I mean, whenever you go to Disneyland now, it’s not Haunted Mansion, it’s Nightmare Before Christmas. And that’s how my kids were introduced to it. I have a one and a three -year -old and they know Jack because they’ve seen them on the ride before they even saw the movie. So they already know how to hum, la, la, la, la, la, la. That’s what they know.

Ariel Landrum (39:29)
Uh -huh. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (39:33)
Oh good.

Ariel Landrum (39:43)
La la la la la.

Stefanie (39:44)
So, I mean, I think it’s great that, like, as you mentioned, the movie is originally PG. I mean, it came out when I was younger. I wasn’t necessarily, I was like, I know this is, it’s scary, but I know it could be for kids, but yet it’s PG and it has a lot of themes that, you know, aren’t necessarily meant for younger children, but still because of the styles of their characters.

Ariel Landrum (40:05)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (40:10)
It’s very cartoony and it’s very animated and the stop motion obviously is beautiful to see and it can be appreciated by infants because they latch onto those types of visuals. So I think with the franchise growing so large and Halloween being essentially branded almost by Nightmare Before Christmas all the way up until the holiday season, I think it’s very great that there’s your publication now that can kind of bridge that gap.

Ariel Landrum (40:15)
Yes, now.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Dan Conner (40:34)

Stefanie (40:38)
and can kind of be like, hey, you know, there is a story that you could read as, you know, an emerging reader and, you know, an emerging lover of comics to kind of, you know, give them that little step before they experience the movie. Then they can fully understand the way that the characters grow.

Ariel Landrum (40:38)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (40:58)
it is hard to have something that’s appealing to kids and parents and anyone in between or, or,

It’s like Lego say ages like eight to 100 or something. So it’s sad if you’re 101, but yeah. So yeah, exactly. So yeah, it’s hard to do that. And I think that’s another reason that the movie is so cherished because there’s a lot of introspection within the characters. And you don’t see that in a lot of PG films or children’s films.

Ariel Landrum (41:08)
Mm -hmm, mm -hmm, mm -hmm.


Stefanie (41:14)
They’ll enjoy the visuals, it’s fine.

Ariel Landrum (41:29)
Yep. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (41:34)
You don’t, yeah, I think there’s a lot of self -exploration there.

Ariel Landrum (41:38)
Yeah, I think last year was the 30th anniversary of the film. And I had seen them do it at the Hollywood Bowl. So the Hollywood Bowl is a lot outside theater, and there’s a live orchestra. The LA Philharmonic plays the music. And Danny Elfman was, of course, there singing.

Dan Conner (41:55)
Au revoir.


Ariel Landrum (42:03)
Peewee Herman, Paul Rubin’s voice, Locke in the movie. Yes, but he had passed away.

Dan Conner (42:06)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Stefanie (42:07)
Yeah, right, yes.

Ariel Landrum (42:11)
so Fred Armisen was on stage, he was singing Locke. And I didn’t know this, but I guess he is a singer. He has a punk rock band I didn’t know about. He’s a big musician, yeah. And so they had dedicated that segment, obviously, to Paul Rubin’s. And it was so lovely to see it at the Hollywood Bowl. And people were dressed up. They had a costume contest in the beginning. And even…

Stefanie (42:18)
Oh, he’s a big musician.

Dan Conner (42:20)

Ariel Landrum (42:36)
Before that, here in Los Angeles at the El Capitan Theater, they every year will play Nightmare Before Christmas and they will do it 4-D where it snows in the theater because the El Capitan is owned by Disney. So I’ve seen this film sort of like branch out into so many things. And then at the parks, you know, they have Oogie Boogie Bash and that celebrates like Oogie Boogie who’s supposed to be essentially like this bad guy, but we don’t really

Think of him as a bad guy. I think your comics added that to me. He’s a great host.

Stefanie (43:08)
We know he’s a good host. He’s a great host because he runs the whole thing. But yeah, I mean, essentially Oogie Boogie could be the villain, but yet they make him into not just that. And I think that is, you know, you can only do that with so many characters. And because he’s such a larger than life character and because, you know, we know he sings, I think that adds so many elements to where you can see him as a main character. And now knowing that…

Dan Conner (43:11)

Ariel Landrum (43:15)
It’s always the whole thing.

Dan Conner (43:16)

Stefanie (43:37)
him and Jack had a history to where they were pretty much equals. I think that kind of elevates his story even further, which is what’s great about your comic book is that it gives you that validation.

Ariel Landrum (43:39)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (43:41)

Thank you.

Mm -hmm. Well, he’s the boogeyman. He’s scary and you’re afraid of the boogeyman when you’re a kid. But… And there’s, you know, he’s got Santa in the movie and that’s, you know, you can contemplate the ethics of that.

Ariel Landrum (44:03)
Mm -hmm.

Stefanie (44:07)
what he does to Santa kind of throws him around like a rag doll.

Ariel Landrum (44:10)
Yeah, yeah.

Dan Conner (44:11)
Yeah, yeah, exactly. But he’s still, he’s spookier more than necessarily. I don’t want to say he’s not malicious. I don’t want to take away from his personhood as a villain. But, you know, he’s still fun. Like, like He’s he’s almost like a fun villain. And I guess you could look at all Disney movies and debate who was fun and who wasn’t as far as the villains and maybe they’re all fun to some degree.

Stefanie (44:38)
I think Oogie Boogie’s like a puppet. I think that’s why kids gravitate towards him, because he’s essentially like, you know, you can see him on Sesame Street if you really wanted to, because they can make him like a puppet. And I think that’s why toddlers love Oogie Boogie so much, because he’s big, he’s green, he has a large personality, and he looks like a puppet. So, you know, I think…

Ariel Landrum (44:38)
Yes, yes. Yeah.

Dan Conner (44:42)

Ariel Landrum (44:48)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (45:00)

Stefanie (45:01)
As we’ve seen in Disney villains, I think the scariest villains are the ones who look just like us, like Gaston and his ego. villains that we’ve mentioned in a previous episode that it’s not the fantastical villains that are scary. It’s like the ones that look like Cruella who are just not fun to be around.

Ariel Landrum (45:09)
-hmm. Mm -hmm. Yes.

Dan Conner (45:17)

Ariel Landrum (45:17)
Yeah. Yeah.

Stefanie (45:20)
And I think there’s so many layers to it. I think that’s the beauty of this story can you let our listeners know where we can find the book and any other little things that, or maybe the next place that you’ll be in terms of comic book conventions if they want to come say hi to you.

Ariel Landrum (45:21)

Dan Conner (45:25)
I’m here.

Ariel Landrum (45:29)

or upcoming projects.

Dan Conner (45:38)
Yes, yes, yes. So let’s see, you can get the book from pretty much any major or independent bookseller. I know that I do some signings at Barnes and Noble as well as Books of Million, but Barnes and Noble I think is national. So you can definitely get it at Barnes and Noble.

You can get it at your local comic book shop. If they don’t have it on the shelf, they can order it for you. I love local comic shops. I do signings at those as well. Meanwhile, the Tokyopop website, tokyopop.com does have it available.

I will be at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, so that’s going to be really good. Yeah, I’ll be there with Tokyopop, so you don’t have to look in the guide to find where one, you know, of all the tables that are available, like where I would be. I’ll be with Tokyopop, so that makes it pretty simple. The next convention I’m doing…

Ariel Landrum (46:19)
Woo hoo hoo!

Dan Conner (46:35)
is Portsmouth MiniCon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And that’s gonna be, yeah, that’s pretty soon. So that’s on like the, I think the 27th or 28th of April. then I’m doing free Comic Book Day at a store in Florida. That’s on May 4th that I don’t believe has been announced yet.

Ariel Landrum (46:42)
Are you okay?

Dan Conner (47:00)
So, so yeah, so I have that coming up and I’m doing Denver Fan Expo

Stefanie (47:00)
Mm -hmm.

Dan Conner (47:06)
I’m @crazygoodconner. That’s where the E are at on pretty much every social media platform. So you can keep up there to find where I’ll be.

Ariel Landrum (47:16)
Beautiful, beautiful. And as always, we are @happiestpodGT on Instagram and on X and on Facebook. If you want to send us any questions, if you want to tell us your experiences with Nightmare Before Christmas, how maybe the stories have touched you or what your favorite characters are, please let us know.

And before we end, final question for you, Dan, is Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or Christmas movie?

Dan Conner (47:46)
Oh yeah, I think it’s both. You know, there was a panel that we did last summer at San Diego Comic-Con with Disney and that was pretty much the consensus from everybody. And yeah, I think it’s both. I mean, if you really had to get down to it, Christmas is in the title. So there is that as far as branding and it starts off with a Halloween song. So.

Ariel Landrum (47:48)



Stefanie (48:05)
Yep. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Ariel Landrum (48:13)

Dan Conner (48:14)
I think it’s both. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a Thanksgiving movie. It takes place over Thanksgiving in between. So.

Stefanie (48:16)
I’m in that camp, I think it’s both.

Ariel Landrum (48:18)
Same, same.

Stefanie (48:21)
It does. We just don’t see them eating together, do we? I know Oogie Boogie does. He eats a lot. So yeah, it is a Thanksgiving movie. He eats a lot of bugs.

Ariel Landrum (48:22)
yes yeah no no

Dan Conner (48:27)
I know, yeah.

Ariel Landrum (48:30)
He eats a lot. Yeah. Yeah.

Dan Conner (48:31)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s kind of throughout there. It’s a lot of it’s, well, I guess because I mean, it takes place in November and December, you know, leading up to Christmas. So, yeah.

Ariel Landrum (48:41)
Yeah. In therapy, we say yes and. Beautiful.

Stefanie (48:42)
This is true.

Dan Conner (48:46)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m always yes and. I’ve learned not to say but. And so yeah, it’s always, well, this is true and this is true.

Stefanie (48:58)
All right.

Ariel Landrum (48:57)
Well, thank you so much for coming on our podcast. We really appreciate it. This was a wonderful conversation.

Dan Conner (49:01)
Thank you.

Yeah, it’s been great.

Media/Characters Mentioned
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Jack Skellington
  • Oogie Boogie
  • Sally
  • Edgar (former Pumpkin King)
  • Lock, Shock, and Barrel
  • Tokyopop
  • Oogie Boogie Bash
  • LA Philharmonic
  • Hollywood Bowl
  • Danny Elfman
  • Paul Reubens
  • Fred Armisen
Topics/Themes Mentioned
  • Friendship and rivalry
  • Transitions in life
  • Storytelling in comics
  • American comics vs. manga
  • Visual styles in storytelling
  • The process of creating comics
  • Fan engagement and cultural impact
  • Accessibility and appeal to different age groups

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