Interview With D.J. Milky (Writer for Disney Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero's Journey)

Interviewed by Justin D Williams

I had the pleasure of talking with D.J. Milky the writer behind the graphic novel “Disney Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero's Journey” for TokyoPop. We talk about the process of writing the story, favorite characters and more.

Purchase Disney Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero's Journey on Amazon here

Visit the official website here

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Otakus & Geeks: Can you describe the creation process of bringing such an iconic story into Manga format?

D.J. Milky: The first step was re-watching the original film about 35 times!  The most important challenge is keeping every element of the characters and the world consistent with the original Tim Burton characters and world.  If Jack wouldn’t say it, I can’t write it.  If the Mayor or Sally or the three troublemakers wouldn’t say it, I can’t write it.  For the existing characters, it’s all about authenticity.  For new characters, my process always focused on “would Tim Burton imagine a character like this?”  Put another way, “Does this character do justice to Tim’s imagination?”  Of course, one can never know, except believing his approval is not only permission but implicit verification that these new characters are “Burtonesque” enough.   And, finally, the locations in Christmas Town are extensions of the glimpses we had in the movie – so visualizing those additional aspects meant trying to take a virtual tour of that world. The entire process requires a strange balance of thrill, fear, and confidence.

Otakus & Geeks:  What were some of the challenges you would say working on this project?

D.J. Milky: I would categorize the challenges into two areas:  creative and process.  Creatively, the biggest challenge was dealing with a protagonist who doesn’t speak.  It’s an exciting but difficult challenge for a writer – how do you create an active, engaging main character without words?  And how do you in essence create a “dialogue” between the main character and other characters when one doesn’t speak.  In a way, I could relate a bit to Guillermo Del Toro’s similar challenge in writing “Shape of Water” – and wow he really pulled it off incredibly!  If only my Zero is as compelling as the Elisa and Fish-Man characters were in that film.   Then, from a process point-of-view, the challenge is understanding what Disney and Tim Burton want without actually being able to sit down and have a long conversation.  Since Tim Burton was busy on set directing “Dumbo” during our project, I didn’t have direct access to him, so it was only through the official channels that we received feedback.  Interpreting those notes and revising the script based on them – that was a challenge kind of like driving at night while wearing sunglasses.

Otakus & Geeks:  From a story standpoint do you follow the already pre-establish arc or did you give your own original take on the characters?

D.J. Milky: For Zero’s Journey, I was the one who wrote the arc, so in that respect writing the story was straight-forwarded.  I first wrote a high-level outline for the story arc, which once approved, meant I needed to write a detailed outline.  After that approval, I wrote each scene as a full script and handed it off to the main artist (Kei Ishiyama) who then would draw storyboards which further expanded and enhanced the story.

Otakus & Geeks:  A Nightmare Before Christmas has so many memorable characters. Which ones did you have the most fun working on?

D.J. Milky: For the existing characters, I definitely enjoyed writing Jack.  He’s such an icon, and his personality is a unique combination of arrogance and humility, wisdom and naiveté, playfulness and impatience.  From the new characters, I’d say Mister Myzer was the most fun – he’s basically Scrooge combined with Detective Conan (if you know that manga/anime character).  Nailing that angry crust which covers a wistful, soft interior wasn’t easy but definitely rewarding.

Otakus & Geeks:    What can readers expect from the October 2nd Release?

D.J. Milky: The first graphic novel (out of an eventual four) sets up Zero’s adventure, and Jack’s desperation to find him.  I don’t want to give away spoilers but there’s the familiarity of Halloween Town and its characters from the original movie, combined with the exploration of new places and faces in Christmas Town – and of course lots of time with lovable Zero!

Otakus & Geeks:  Is there any other aspect or characters  from A Nightmare Before Christmas that you would like to explore but haven’t yet?

D.J. Milky: It would have been lots of fun to explore Oogey Boogie but he didn’t fit into this story, and I really didn’t want to bring him back to life or reinvent him in a way that doesn’t feel realistic.  But he’s a fascinating, enjoyable character I’m interested in.

Otakus & Geeks: Favorite character from A Nightmare Before Christmas?

D.J. Milky: It might be a bit boring or obvious but I’m definitely a Jack fan.  Of course I love Zero, which is why it’s great to spend an entire story with him, but I believe that Jack is such an appealing character to everyone that’s the main reason Nightmare was such a hit.  All the sub-characters are a blast, especially visually, but for me it’s all about Jack.