As someone who grew up on Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, I almost find it difficult to imagine Tim Burton as anything other than the world-famous director he is today. But every success story has to start somewhere, and once upon a time, Burton was just an ordinary teenager hoping to make something of his art. As a high schooler in 1976, he sent his completed children’s book, The Giant Zlig, to Walt Disney Productions along with a cover letter asking them to consider publishing it. He got a very gentle rejection in response. Read the letters and see images from The Giant Zlig after the jump.

Letters of Note has posted images of both Burton’s cover letter to Disney and Disney’s reply on their website. Although Disney turned down Burton’s book, the encouraging tone of editor T. Jeanette Kroger‘s reply indicates that she recognized talent in Burton’s early work. Her words are about as polite and helpful as anyone could possibly hope for from a rejection letter. Three years later, of course, Burton would go on to work for Disney after all. Upon graduating from CalArts in 1979, he quickly snagged a job at their animation studio, where he remained for several years.

Though we only have a small sample from The Giant Zlig, you can see hints of Burton’s recognizably unique style in the artwork. His signature dark comedic sensibility, however, is absent from these pages.

Both the letters and the book were featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2009 retrospective on Burton, which showcased his art from his adolescence through the present day. Although the show has ended, the website is still up, and you can click through more images from the exhibition here.

[Photos are courtesy of Letters of Note and the Museum of Modern Art.]

Full text of Burton’s letter:

Dear Sirs,

I am submitting this book in hopes that you might consider publishing it. The book has been layed out in rough form, and I would be glad to make any changes that you feel would be nessecary. I would hope to hear from you either way. Thankyou.

Sincerely

Tim Burton

Full text of Kroger’s letter:

February 19, 1976

Dear Tim:

Here are some brief impressions of your book, The Giant Zlig.

STORY: The story is simple enough for a young audience (age 4-6), cute, and shows a grasp of the language much better than I would expect from one of today’s high school students, despite occasional lapses in grammar and spelling. It may, however, be too derivative of the Seuss works to be marketable–I just don’t know. But I definitely enjoyed reading it.

ART: Considering that you suffer from a lack of the proper tools and materials, the art is very good. The characters are charming and imaginative, and have sufficient variety to sustain interest. Your layout is also good–it shows good variety in point-of-view. Consequently, I not only enjoyed reading about the Giant Zlig, but I got a chuckle watching him, too.

I hope my comments please you. Thanks for the opportunity to read The Giant Zlig; keep up the good work, and good luck.

Very truly yours,

(Signed, ‘Jeanette’)

T. Jeanette Kroger
Editor
Walt Disney Productions

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