Danny Phantom: The True Motion Comic


The hit Nickelodeon show Danny Phantom ran from 2004 to 2007, making up three season and 53 episodes. The series depicted the adventures and exploits of Danny Fenton and his alter-ego Danny Phantom, a half-human half-ghost who made it his job to protect the citizens of Amity Park. The series didn’t win any awards or gain any accolades, but it holds a very dear fan base, and is uniquely the only real Motion Comic ever produced. A Motion Comic is a comic book brought to life through animation and voice acting, but still remains very comic book-like using panels and visible sound effects and visual gags.

Danny Phantom is very much a teenage superhero show. Butch Hartman, the creator and executive producer, could have easily made Danny more monstrous, making a tormented soul/horror show, or even gone straight with Danny Fenton being a motorcycle riding ghost hunter like he originally intended. Instead, he chose the superhero route. Within the genre he created a very superheroic tale through Danny and his exploits as the Halfa, building the character of Danny Phantom from ground up as an inexperienced and naïve teenager with limited control over his powers to a hero that even ghosts eventually, grudgingly respect.

titleDanny Phantom utilized title cards to reveal the name of the episode and gave you a hint of what was to come. This is very similar to what actual comic books do with their covers. It has the name of the series, possibly the name of the arc, who wrote it and penciled it (in the show’s case it was the directors, writers, and executive producers), and an image depicting what was inside. Very rarely do the covers depict an actual scene so much as a glimpse of the book itself. Danny Phantom did this, with Danny and that episode’s enemy either duking it out or the enemy exacting some torment on Danny. The only time a title card wasn’t used was on the series finale “Phantom Planet.”

stillDanny Phantom also used still images during fight scenes as a great advantage. Though this might have stemmed from lack of funding for animation, they made the stills into something that would tone down the brutality of the violence, yet remain humorous, as they usually depicted the moment when Danny Phantom was finally able to get the upper hand on his opponents. This use of stills is reminiscent of actual comic book panels where the superhero fights the super villains.

The overall arc of Danny Phantom is very comic book-like, drawing particularly from Spider-Man. Danny Fenton was your average 14-year-old teenager with ghost-hunting parents and a neurotic older sister. On a dare, he steps into the inactive ghost portal, turns it on by accident, and it zaps ghost DNA over his own, giving him the ability to become Danny Phantom. From then on he decides to become a superhero and protect Amity Park, his hometown, from any ghost menace that happens to pop up that week. Each season had a rough arc, but mostly the episodes stood alone quite well.

enemiesDanny Phantom had archenemies and recurring villains. The first half of the first season introduced ten unique villains that would all go on to play larger roles as nemeses of Danny Phantom, with new ghosts popping up to give Danny a hard time and spice up the story. Danny also had an archenemy in Vlad Masters, and his ghost alter ego Vlad Plasmius. As the seasons went on, Vlad would play a larger and larger role until the third season where Vlad become a mainstay of the series. However, all Danny’s villains were specifically unique, ranging from Skulker, the greatest hunter in the Ghost Zone, to the dimwitted Box Ghost, who every fan loves simply for when he
yelled, “I am the Box Ghost. Beware!” However, ghosts were not always the enemies as Valerie Grey was introduced as the Ghost Hunter, sporting a Boba Fett-like look and gear and who really just wanted to kill Danny Phantom.

alliesDanny also had a large team of allies at his disposal. At the beginning of the series, the only people that knew his secret identity were his best friends Tucker Foley and Samantha “Sam” Manson. Like any good superhero story, there was also friction between Tucker and Sam, and Danny was the odd glue that kept them together. As the series progressed, Danny’s older sister Jaz was added into the mix, even though she learned of her brother’s secret identity early on in the first season. Danny’s rough army would later include escaped ghost prisoner Wulf, leader of the Ice Ghosts, Frostbite, the time traveling ghost Clockwork, and Danny’s female clone Dani Phantom.

Danny Phantom also supported an odd assortment of side characters such as Danny’s parents, Maddie and Jack Fenton, the local ghost hunters who were totally oblivious to Danny’s identity as Danny Phantom. That is a classic comic book foil as it drove Danny to become a better hero, even though his parents were always trying to catch and dissect him, and added to the humor. Mr. Lancer would become a kind of mentor to Danny, giving out sage advice at odd moments and guiding Danny towards a brighter future. When everything was going wrong, Mr. Lancer would randomly yell the title of a piece of literature, like, “Paradise Lost,” in the pilot episode when all the meat at the faculty buffet disappeared.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a tormented teen superhero drama without the obnoxious football player and his gang of “popular” people. Dash and Paulina made up most of the human tormentors of Danny Fenton, though Danny had a steady crush on Paulina for most of the series that would occasionally fluxuate to Valerie Grey and Sam Manson. Danny was not rich or athletic, and his parents were the local loons, so popularity never reached Danny easily.

All of this would wound up bottled into a unique story about a half-ghost half-human character that also happened to be a superhero. All the classic elements of comics are there, and the use of cover photos, stills, and visual gags make it a motion comic. Danny Phantom is fun and thoroughly entertaining and the fact that is actually a motion comic makes it all that more unique.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I think about this series a lot more often than I probably should. Fantastic to see that someone else does, too! It’s one of the shows that defines my childhood when I look back. 🙂 Great article!

  2. Aaron Hatch

    This show brings a lot of nostalgic memories. The show still holds up because of its fun and inventive story lines, as well as a fun comic book style. Nice article.

  3. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    I miss this show!! Nice work!

  4. Watching this show as a kid was a blast, and you could tell the show was constructed differently than other cartoons on at the time. I never noticed that it had a comic book style until reading this article. Good work!

  5. Amena Banu

    I didn’t watch this show much as a kid. But now I’m interested!
    Great article.

  6. Danny Phantom is a very good show,

  7. Johnsie Oh

    What frustrated me the most about this show is that it’s just another one of your typical teen angst show about basically nothing important. Okay so there’s Danny turning into a ghost kid and fighting ghosts and also faces teen problems. The whole teen angst part is not how teenage life really is. This is just another one of those shows that just make kids think that teen life will be all that when it is not. I used to think that teen life was like that.

  8. WendiWhitworth

    One of the top 5 best Nicktoons of all-time, without a doubt.

  9. i love how creatively the stories are in this cartoon. the character development, the villains, the “dark danny” (which i thought was a very clever super-hero story arc), it almost feels like stan lee came up with these ideas himself

  10. I forget that Danny’s only 14. To me, he seems a little older than that. I’m thirteen, so I know how guys my age are, and they seem a lot more immature than Danny…

  11. LaurenCarr

    Danny Phantom should be brought back!

  12. Jemarc Axinto

    The comic-esque artstyle is definitely what drew me to the show in the first place. Good job on the article!

  13. Samantha Brandbergh

    I miss this show so much, most of the animated stuff out now it kind of dumb, to be frank.

  14. I was a huge fan of this show when it aired! Thanks for the refresher! I had no idea it was considered a motion comic, very interesting!

  15. CriticalOtaku

    Nice article! When I watched it as a kid, I always just thought of it as another show on Nickelodeon (albeit one of my favorites); I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “motion comic”–it reminds me quite a bit of how manga is often adapted into anime.

  16. I like to say that the voice acting for this show is absolutely top notch, really goes the characters.

  17. Why does Nick always cancel the good shows.

  18. Danny Phantom may be a good plot, but the cutboard characters and the vague details will just make it what it is.

  19. I’ve been with this show from practically the beginning, as a five-year- old watching it back in 2004. Now a bit over 10 years later, I’m 16 and still watching the show. The characters amused me, the villains, especially Vlad and Dan/Dark Danny, were creative and interesting, and the show had me hooked from the start. I wish it hadn’t been cancelled back in 2007 (though I’ve heard rumors about a 4th season coming).

  20. Forever wishing it was back on the air.

  21. Jenette

    They should have collected a fresh new ideas for this show, but the action and a little good humor makes the show spark. They shouldn’t have canceled it.

  22. the show is terrible the animation is mediocre and the writing may be some of the worst I’ve ever seen/heard in my life, the only thing this show has going for it is some good acting

    • there’s no such thing as a perfect series, they all have something bad in them!

  23. quite enjoy the show.

  24. MelidaIsom

    Most American animation is badly done. That’s why Anime flippin’ rulez! But this one is not too bad.

  25. Still wishing it’d come back. What a nostalgia kick.

  26. I wish they had continued with the series. I thought it was such a great cartoon that taught really good values to children. He definitely served the same purpose as Spider-man did. To give children a hero they could relate to and be inspired by. The season finale was rushed a bit. I wish Nickelodeon had given Butch more time to really develop Danny’s character. Nevertheless, this cartoon remains a favorite of mine. 🙂

  27. PrennCooder

    I loved this show from start to finish and I wish it never ended. I will always love it and I still continue to make fanart and fanfics about my idea of the continuation of it. Go Danny!!

  28. Danny Phantom is by far my favorite show. As soon as I had ever seen it, I was hooked, not only because at that time I was still a third grader, but because I actually enjoyed watching it so much. It was like, whenever Danny phantom was on (And for some reason it only came on in the middle of the night) I would stay up and watch it. What frustrated me was the fact that it was never on. I was forced to watch spongebob when I knew that Danny phantom was so much better. The cartoons nowadays suck. They just keep making up stupider ideas with every passing year. Danny phantom really should come back. We need some decent cartoons on air.

    • princessbinas

      I agree with PrennCooder. I too loved it from start to finish! Just because it was more expensive, doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. In fact, it opens many new doors and windows to possibilities for exciting new things. Butch has one creative mind, but Nickelodeon sadly had to restrict it. I hope one day, someone will be willing to buy DP and allow Butch to continue it. I am sure Cartoon Network or the Hub would be willing to let him continue.

      • PrennCooder

        Hey I know you XD
        I think the expense is well worth the quality. The animation itself was so much better than others at the time.

        • princessbinas

          You thought right. 😀 I couldn’t help but get excited when Ii saw this article.

          Yes. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little to get a little. And honestly, if Nick knew that, DP would have more episodes. But oh well, they are morons.

  29. princessbinas

    I really hope DP comes back! I don’t care if another station buys it if it means Butch can continue it. After the way Nickelodeon has treated the show, Nickelodeon doesn’t deserve it!

  30. Michelle

    I agree. They should make a fourth season or at least a movie or something. I am 21 and still love this show so much. Phantom Planet left me in tears.

  31. I never thought about Danny Phantom like this before. It was a show I always enjoyed but that you pointed out the freeze frames as being reminiscent of a comic made me think about several 90’s cartoons like this. I remember always being disappointed as a child upon seeing these but with my new love for comics now I see this in a very different light

  32. I’m still devastating this one in my head. The obit true motion comic?

  33. Danny Phantom has always been one of my favorite shows, especially because of how nostalgic it is for me now. I’ve never really looked at the show from this perspective before, so that was definitely interesting. From an artistic perspective, I also always loved the use of color that the show employed, specifically with the ghost-world characters. It gave it a unique feeling, supported by the comic-book style of the art and plot.

  34. Emily Deibler

    Danny Phantom was an amazingly entertaining show. I miss it. Wonderful article.

  35. Blackcat130

    Even after all these years I can still remember the intro theme.

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