Seated at the Nickelodeon booth, just a little past the doors that hundreds of thousands of people will walk through to enter San Diego Comic-Con, Butch Harman is doodling in a sketchbook.
The creator of Nickelodeon series like Danny Phantom, Bunsen is a Beast and The Fairly OddParents doesn’t have a care in the world as he signs autographs from adorning fans: twentysomethings who have grown up on his shows. An entire generation of cartoon-engrossed people who found their bit of television comedy through the aforementioned series.
There’s nothing more powerful than nostalgia, an aspect of the industry that Hartman knows quite a bit about. As we sit down to talk, casually glancing at a passerby who stopped to take an excited snap of Hartman, nostalgia is clearly the one thing we both have in mind. With Nickelodeon set to bring back some of its most popular cartoons, like Hey Arnold!, Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim, in the form of made-to-TV movies, Hartman has to be thinking about doing the same for his most popular Nickelodeon series, Fairly Odd Parents — which is still on the air — and Danny Phantom.
“I don’t know when it’s coming, but I hope it’s coming soon,” Hartman said of a possible revival of his older shows. “I’ll tell you this though: They’re spinning off all the shows that are older, the ’90s shows. Those are first in line to get the spinoffs. Maybe there’s a Fairly Odd Parents spinoff coming out in the future, maybe there’s a Danny Phantom one. You never know.
“I can’t say anything officially yet, but let’s leave it at ‘you’ll see.’”
Right now, Hartman has a couple of other projects that he’s focusing on. He is working on an exclusive series for his YouTube channel, has just finished a comic book and will soon begin working with popular anime streaming service Crunchyroll on videos that he claimed were “top secret.”
Still, Hartman told Polygon that he would love nothing more than to bring back his popular characters for one last hurrah. When asked which character he most wanted to return to — essentially choosing which one of his fictional, hand-drawn children he loved the most — Hartman paused for a second.
“I gotta say that I really love Cosmo [from Fairly OddParents], and I really love Danny,” Hartman said. “Danny was me in high school, just a really awkward guy. I love Timmy [Turner, also from Fairly Odd Parents] too, but the difference between Timmy and Danny is Timmy’s 10, so he’s worried about ice cream. Danny’s 14. He’s worried about girls and dances. That still resonates with me more than anything else.”
Knowing Hartman for less than 10 minutes, that makes sense. He has an air of confidence about him — one that comes with an impressive career like the one he’s had — but that sense of humility and awkward moments is still present. It’s easy to see that Danny Phantom, his part-human, part-ghost teenager who tries his best to fit in and not get into trouble all while trying to maintain a cool guy persona among his friends, may have been based on Hartman himself.
With that in mind, why, Polygon asked, was Hartman drawn to Cosmo, the charming goof with radiant green hair?
“I just love Cosmo because you can do anything with him and he’s still funny,” Hartman said. “I don’t need to create magic with him; he can be funny by himself. One of the mandates that I put down for Fairly OddParents was these characters have to be funny whether they have magic or not.
“If they’re in a white room with nothing going on, you should be able to laugh at them for 30 minutes. Cosmo can do that.”
It’s evident in just the short amount of time spent with him that Hartman loves his characters — who are in themselves little pieces of him. Danny Phantom, Timmy Turner and, yes, even Cosmo mean more to him than he’ll ever be able to express with words. He has floated the idea by press and Nickelodeon about bringing his classic characters back for one last hurrah in the form of a made-for-TV movie.
If there’s one thing that we can take away from our interview, it’s that although Hartman has about a hundred different projects on the go, Timmy Turner and the Fairly Odd Parents are never far from his mind.