Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Oyster Boy

I first came across this on Horror Drive-In which led back to An Empire of One. It appears McDowell may have originally written Tim Burton's "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy" in the late 80s. "The Oyster Boy" was submitted to Steve Bissette for inclusion in Taboo #8. It was submitted as a story written by Michael McDowell and included illustrations by Tim Burton. It was not used, but did get a shout-out in the issue:

"There were so many, many more [stories that had been completed, but not published in Taboo]: Michael McDowell and Tim Burton’s sardonic “The Oyster Boy,” completed but lost in the shuffle of Burton’s post-Batman career."

Many years later when Burton released "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy," he was listed as the sole author and gave McDowell a mere mention in the acknowledgements.

From Steve Bissette's blog:
My deepest regret over TABOO-related material was the loss of a set of photocopies. 
Back in 1987, before Tim Burton's life and career was turned upside-down by BATMAN, I was contacted by author Michael McDowell (author of many excellent novels, including GILDED NEEDLES and the BLACKWATER trilogy, along with many teleplays and screenplays -- including BEETLEJUICE). Working with his friend, filmmaker and artist Tim Burton, Michael had cooked up a story to offer TABOO, a delicious little illustrated verse tale entitled "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy." We received it in photocopy form. It was a marvelous slice of the macabre written and drawn in the style of Edward Gorey. I particularly loved Burton's rough sketches illustrating Michael's tale, and I was excited at the prospect of publishing such a gem. I wanted to publish it as it was, but Michael told me that Burton didn't want his rough sketches used; we had to wait for Tim to complete more polished pen-and-ink renditions.
I eagerly agreed, and then waited -- and waited -- and -- 
Well, you can imagine how it went. Once the BATMAN movie consumed Burton's affairs, "The Oyster Boy" quietly sank into the waves. A couple of years later, Michael called back to say they still wanted the story to appear in TABOO, and that I could go ahead and print it with Tim's original sketches. I was jubilant. The problem was, Tim couldn't FIND the original art, nor could either of them locate photocopies -- could I print from the set they'd sent me years before? 
To make a long, bitter tale short, we couldn't FIND the photocopies. We searched for AGES. I'm STILL looking. I traced every single set we had circulated: John Totleben had moved and thrown out all TABOO-related material; magazines and comic shops we'd sent photocopies to had since tossed or lost them; and so it went. To this day, I have found EVERY scrap of paper even remotely related to TABOO, except, of course, "The Oyster Boy." 
I practically did a jig when I found this nifty little hardcover book at a local bookshop. Here, finally, is "The Oyster Boy," headlining the showcase he long deserved. It looks exactly as it had been submitted to TABOO, lovingly reproduced from Tim's sketches. Burton's art is beguiling, and the accompanying stories are also grim delights. 
My only problem with this collection is the solo credit on the cover and title page proferring Tim Burton as the lone author. This seems deceptive at best. Through the events I've just described to you, I can attest to the fact that Michael McDowell wrote the Oyster Boy story; if you're at all familiar with Michael's own work, his voice rings loud and clear. I'd sure like to know who really wrote the rest of this book. Buried on page 115 are the acknowledgements, with "Thanks to" a number of writers -- prominent among them Michael McDowell. It seems fair to assume the others listed had a hand in the rest of the stories and verse, too. Can anyone out there provide some credits and credentials here? 
Those misgivings aside, this is RECOMMENDED, and makes a great gift.


  1. I met Steve Bissette at a Baltimore comix convention back in '90 or '91 and he was super-friendly, just wandering around the display tables and such. Fortunately I'd bought--if I recall correctly--a calendar made from TABOO art, as well as a copy of GORE SHRIEK which included his history of horror in comic books, and he happily signed all of it. Never read OYSTER BOY, although I was working in a bookstore when it came out in '97. Not really surprising that Burton gets byline and McDowell doesn't, that's how it works in the big leagues, no?

    1. I never got around to reading Oyster Boy either. I might check it out soon. That's great you got to meet Bissette!