The World of Tim Burton

The World of Tim Burton



Today is the final day of the StyleZeitgeist Book Week, where we have brought you Fall titles that we liked. We hope you do, too. We wanted to end it on a light-hearted note. Light-hearted by our standards, of course:

The World Of Tim Burton

In 2009 the MoMa in New York held the first retrospective of Tim Burton’s work. The auteur, whose trademark is to go into the heart of darkness and make it light, has long acquired legions of followers with his quirky humor and his obvious distaste for the banalities of the world he never asked to be in.

Not liking this world, Burton created his own. In it, everything that was spurious about life – callousness, stupidity, moral ugliness – was garishly colorful, and everything worth nurturing – sensitivity, compassion, friendship, and love – was not. “Edward Scissorhands” was Burton’s goth masterpiece that cemented this idea, as well as Burton’s unique place in the history of cinema and animation.(The sterilized Disney has famously refused to work with Burton early one, deeming his work not family-friendly, only to make a 180 after he became famous.)

Since 2009, the MoMa exhibit has traveled the world, landing most recently at the Max Ernst Museum in Bruhl, Germany. With the show came a little book, “The World of Tim Burton” (Hatje Cantz, $30). It is 112-pages long and its hardbound cover glows in the dark, just like Burton’s work.

Inside are several essays, including a short one by Burton himself, where he is simply being Burton with passages like this, reflecting on his childhood, “I occupied my time watching monster movies and television, drawing whatever came into my head, or playing in the local cemetery.” He also muses on the similarities between museums and cemeteries, “Both have a quiet, introspective, yet electrifying atmosphere: excitement, mystery, discovery, life, and death – all in one place.” Indeed.

The essays are followed by an interview with the auteur, where one could sense his dissatisfaction with the world as the source of his creative energy. “Sometimes I feel like an alien who couldn’t relate to anyone or anything around me,” says he. Statements like these are the very thing that has made Burton the emblem of beautiful losers around the world.

And yet, the lightheartedness of Burton’s oeuvre (perhaps with the exception of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which is genuinely terrifying) is obvious and endearing. His playfulness is especially evident in his animated film “The Corpse Bride,” in which he made the Victorian England look gloomy and sad, and the underworld it bordered bright and cheerful. And so it is evident in Burton’s playful art that comprises most of the book. Most of these are sketches and drawings of the phantasmagoric characters that his rich imagination has given birth to.

The drawings that are particularly delicious are those where Burton plays not only with pictures but also with language, especially when he depicts metaphors and idioms in a literal sense, like a drawing of Bettlejuice, one of his most beloved characters, whose belly is an angry open mouth. The drawing is signed, “Beetlejuice with an upset stomach.”

All images are courtesy of Hatje Cantz. Copyright Tim Burton

About the author

Eugene Rabkin

Eugene Rabkin is the founder of He has contributed articles on fashion and culture to The Business of Fashion, Vogue Russia, Buro247, the Haaretz Daily Newspaper, and other publications. He has taught critical writing and fashion writing courses at Parsons the New School for Design.


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