Thursday, March 17, 2011

Even Tim Burton Got Rejected

I just came back from a little March Break excursion with the kids. We went to see the Tim Burton exhibit, curated by MoMA, and being shown at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. If any of you have a chance to see this should the exhibit travel to your city I highly recommend it. The drawings, paintings and models are so weirdly beautiful you can't help but wonder how this nice suburban California boy came up with such dark, twisted fantasies. There are also props from his movies - my favourite one was the Edward Scissorhands black, vinyl suit. Johnny Depp's skin touched that suit people. That alone is worth the price of admission.

But what really got me was some of the memorabilia from Tim Burton's younger days. In particular, there was a handwritten submission letter from the young, teenager Burton to Walt Disney books attaching an illustrated story (The Big Zlig ?? I think that was the title). Even then you could see the talent he had as an artist. As a writer who's had her fair share of rejection letters I was curious to see what the editor at Walt Disney books had said. It was what you call a 'good' rejection. Back when editors had more time than they do now, I think because it was a good two paragraph critique pointing out that he enjoyed reading the story (apart from some grammatical issues :)
but that it sounded a bit too much like Dr. Suess. What he did spend time praising was Burton's art, how he could see even with the 'rudimentary' material Burton had to work with his artwork showed talent. He thanked him for submitting and encouraged him to continue pursuing his artwork.

First of all, what I thought was sweet was the kindness this editor showed a young, naive artist. Back then, with no email, the man had to write out his thoughts in long-hand and get a secretary to type it out then mail it. I mean, it took effort. He could have just sent him a form reject but he didn't. Secondly, I was surprised that Tim Burton kept all these old pictures, doodles, artwork from his teen years but I wasn't surprised he kept that rejection letter. Even then he must have known how special it was and hopefully he recognized that the editor saw he had talent. That encouragement must have meant the world to him. Maybe it kept him going when he started to doubt himself a little. And thank God he did. Who knows what he might have done if he'd gotten a curt, dismissive letter that shattered his confidence? I like to think Mr. Burton is a very confident man - now. But when you're a 17 year old kid, probably feeling slightly freakish because, let's face it, what came out of that boys head was a bit freakish, that letter VALIDATED him. And when we're so hard on ourselves to hear someone offer some praise, some encouragement, that is a long, cold drink of water in a baking desert.

Here's hoping that many of you have or will receive an "encouraging" rejection. It can keep an artist going for a long, long time.


  1. I loved the exhibit, too. I want to go back when I'm not being pulled around my my 10 year old nephew with autism. (He did like it--especially the Killers video where the two skeletons run toward each other on the beach, then smash up--but he liked the green screen stuff upstairs better.)

    I loved the rejection letter. :) And also the story he wrote when about 12 or 14 or so. Already a macabre storyteller at such a young age. :)

  2. That's a great lesson in never giving up. :)

    I got some pretty good rejections before I found my agent, and again before my agent found my books a home. I'm grateful to the agents/editors who took the time to point out what they liked about my writing, and to encourage me to keep trying until I found a good match. Made hanging in there a lot easier.

  3. Hi Maureen: Ahh! I completely forgot to take my kids to the green screen. My son would have loved it. And it was very neat to see that not only was Tim Burtan and artist he was - and is - an amazing storyteller.

    Hi Linda: Those encouraging letters are definitely keep you going material. Sometimes it's hard to see that when you're dealing with the sting of "unfortunately not right for me" at the end of it.