Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

[23 December 2005]

By Michael Arner

Once upon a time, when not every film was heavily merchandised, The Nightmare Before Christmas came, and what few tie-in goodies that were created were quickly consumed in a gothic black flash. Despite the movie’s modest box office earnings, it quickly became a cult favorite, and especially overseas merchandise moved quickly. It took a little while, but soon Disney (whose Touchstone division originally released the PG-rated film) realized they weren’t exploiting a potential cash cow here in America. In 1995, Nightmare product was scarce and pricey when discovered, sought after by hardcore collectors willing to pay nearly any price.

I was one of the gullible consumers. I have large storage crates full of Nightmare product from when it first was the trickle and not the stream of merchandise available today. I cut back a few years ago when space and money became major factors in reassessing these new “collectibles”. Despite my spending moratorium, a very cool new book intrigued me enough to pick it up in the heat of summer: a manga version of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.

My experience with manga, like that of many older comic book readers, has been fairly limited. Japanese-style comics have made substantial inroads in the U.S., but mostly among a younger audience. My first “right to left” reading experience was the manga based on the incredible Japanese cult film, Battle Royale. Storage and money factored into my decision to quit the Battle Royale manga. At $9.99 per book, a $130 story in 13 chapters (at about 200 pages each) wasn’t worth betting on. Manga is essentially decompressed storytelling, so popular among the big comic companies in America, taken to an extreme. Even brief action and dialogue take up pages and pages. Collections are around the 200- to 300-page length and cheaply printed in black and white. Already having too many accumulations, adding manga into my collecting circle isn’t viable. Nightmare, though, is a complete 1-book story. The artwork is remarkably similar to what Burton had created in original production drawings, but the lack of color is an essential missing component. Much of the charm contained in the film version is the exquisite 3-D animations in “living” color.

Presented in the original right to left reading style, the manga version is very newbie friendly with a warning that the typical beginning, on an English reader’s page one, is actually the last page in a Japanese comic. The book also instructs the reader on how to follow the word balloons, something quite welcome as I learned how to navigate these unfamiliar reading seas.

The story is introduced with cast pictures for those unfamiliar with this tale, although this probably won’t be your first experience. You truly get a black & white presentation with the manga. The colorful depth that is present in the film, including the delightful songs, doesn’t translate onto the page. Still, the artwork is well-done and the story of Jack and Sally is told without any digressions or additions. Maybe an expansion of scenes here and there would have made the book more interesting for fans. As is, the story follows the film exactly. Jack Skellington is the best at what he does—being scary. But, boredom has set in for Jack and a new focus has supplanted all else. A girl, the beautiful misfit Sally, loves Jack but he’s too focused on Looking for More. Christmas is thrown into the story stew along with the Easter Bunny and a tree-eating snake. With the manga, you get a static translation of film into pulp. Some things are gained, such as getting to fully digest the beauty of the artwork and to go back and forth within the story at your leisure.

Niche marketing is the current way of the world. While it may not shed any new light on the story, hardcore Burton fans will likely be happy to try the manga-flavored Nightmare (with no added Deadly Night Shade).

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/nightmare-before-christmas1/