The Backstory

Rhyming verse? Seriously??

There’s a reason why TaleSpins™ evolved the way it did. Years ago, I worked as a copywriter for Disney’s merchandise division in California. One day a team visited from the Japanese office, saying they needed more art and more product design for Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (A Disney-owned property which is hugely popular in Japan). They had the idea of creating new stories in which Jack Skellington visits the other Holiday lands. We all knew that Burton would have to approve such a venture, so it did seem as futile as it did exciting.

I had the time and knew it wouldn’t change my salaried paycheck one way or another, so I wrote two sequel stories as long-form poems, like Burton’s original book. Mine were titled The Nightmare Before Easter (fascinatingly original, I know, but the point there was to tie it to the 10+ year old franchise…) and A Midwinter Nightmare Scream (a Valentine parody of Shakespeare.)

Everyone loved the stories but the consensus was: “What can we do with them?” Even Disney Publishing couldn’t get anything going.* I learned that Tim Burton still approved all Nightmare product and packaging from our offices, so I mocked up some covers using product style guide art, and sent the stories along with the next batch.

About a week later, Burton’s assistant called me (Yes, I put my number on the stories.) and said: “Tim loves the stories and wants to meet you.”

So checked my schedule and replied: “Well, … there’s this afternoon, and …. when I die – yeah, pretty much any time in between I can make work.”

CUT TO: I had a great meeting with Tim Burton. We talked about the sequel stories and the licensed merchandise business in general. He was worried that I (representing Disney in a sense) was thinking movie(s) and a bigger commitment from him. I wasn’t. I just wanted these books published with my name on the cover.

The project went on with fits and starts. (Mostly fits.*) I left the Disney staff and went freelance, created a Nightmare board game and while working on the first Nightmare video game, I met Deane Taylor, the Art Director on Burton’s film. Deane loved the sequels and sketched out the illustrations for the Easter book, a few of which I’ve posted here with his permission.

So while all that was happening, and not happening*, I began work on an original story about the 8th Dwarf named Creepy, who didn’t make it into the Snow White fairy tale. 8 was meant to be my follow-up to the Nightmare sequels and was (is) targeted to that same audience. That is also why TaleSpins books are written in rhyming verse. I was on a roll! (Sort of)

Years later, I acquired a contact at Dark Horse, and the project resurfaced, thanks to their keen interest. But it soon proved too late. Burton’s camp had moved on, and publishing the sequels was not something they wanted to embrace. I took 8 the self-publishing route and started work on the next story in the TaleSpins collection. I still hope the Nightmare sequels get published someday. I know fans would enjoy them.


*I actually don’t know why those books weren’t published when the project was approved, but I do know that it was no person’s or Disney department’s fault. The company is so huge, that one project or initiative, no matter how “obvious” it seems to some, can struggle to survive the seemingly endless processes in place there. There’s always a bigger priority that can stall or derail things. Again, nobody’s fault. Just the nature of the beast.

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