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October 2nd, 2014


Tony DiTerlizzi’s 7-year-old daughter Sophia already is a huge Star Wars nerd, and he’s getting ready to spread the love to a whole new generation of fans.

The children’s picture book The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight (out Tuesday) kicks off a new series of Star Wars books from Disney Publishing for the younger set. Older sci-fi geeks will love it, too, because it retells George Lucas’ original Star Wars movie trilogy using the artwork of conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie.

McQuarrie, an Oscar-winning illustrator who also worked on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the original Battlestar Galactica, was one of the first artists tapped by Lucas in the mid-1970s to begin visualizing what his Star Wars universe would look like.

“It’s such a great experience to look into that process of visualizing this world that we all know and love so much as it was being formed,” says DiTerlizzi, 45, the author, artist and co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles series with Holly Black. He will appear at New York City’s Books of Wonder on Oct. 11 for the third annual Star Wars Reads Day, and DiTerlizzi also is on a Star Wars/Star Trek panel at New York Comic Con Oct. 12.

The writer talks with USA TODAY about working on the new book, McQuarrie’s influence and how today’s generation connects with Star Wars differently than his did.

Q. While working on the new book, I hear you hung out in the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch.

A. I got to go where all good little nerds go when they die. I’m thinking they’re going to take me to an art room — but there’s R2-D2, the Ark of the Covenant (from Raiders of the Lost Ark), Indiana Jones’ entire costume, Stormtroopers, all the ships. I didn’t even want to look at the art, I just wanted to look at all the props!

Q. Did they let you take any selfies?

A. No, but I touched everything. I’m like, “I’m going to touch stuff until they tell me to stop touching stuff.” I mean, the Ark of the Covenant is not in the crate or anything. It’s just sitting there. I’m like, “That’s the Ark! Don’t open the lid!”

Q. How early were you exposed to Star Wars and McQuarrie’s involvement?

A. If I rewind back to that period, I was 8 in 1977 when Star Wars was in theaters. I saved up money or my parents got me the Art of Star Wars book. Prior to that, I don’t recall there being a lot of books that focused on the visual production that went into a fillm, especially an imaginative one.

I also had The Star Wars Sketchbook, and as a kid I endlessly copied out of those books. Ralph’s paintings were right in there, the developmental sketches for Darth Vader and Chewbacca and the droids. That sense of world-building and trying to find the right design and feel of all these interlocking pieces from the character, that would prove incredibly formative for me as a storyteller and world-builder now.

Q. Was there anything tricky in crafting the classic story alongside McQuarrie’s designs?

A. Interestingly though, in some of the paintings because they were probably done early on when the script was bring written, I found certain discrepancies. For instance, Luke’s hand is never cut off in the big battle scene in Empire Strikes Back. In the two paintings I saw from Empire, he has both hands.

You don’t want to say something different from the films. I would assume that many of the readers also love the films and have seen them 9 million times like me. So I said something along the lines of Luke was wounded by Darth Vader’s lightsaber, but more so by the truth. You’re saying it in a more poetic way but it’s also not going against what’s in the film.

Q. How did you go about tackling Star Wars for a young age level? I would imagine certain themes would hit a 4-year-old different than, say, a teenager or an adult.

A. The economy of words and pictures and page count dictated that right off the bat that we would have to focus on Luke, which is great. All our beloved picture books for the most part do the same — Where the Wild Things Are focuses on Max’s journey and not other characters.

Then it’s a matter of reflecting back on what excited me about these films when I was young. What have I carried on over the years when I think on these movies and smile or they’re on TV and I watch them or now watching them with my daughter?

There are so many great themes, you have to pluck the one you think is going to feel relatable to a 4- or 5-year-old. And for me, it was about family. I really homed in and focused on the fact that Luke longed for adventure, he longed to go out and explore and do these things, but in the end what he finds is a sister he never knew he had, a father who he saves and redeems and a close-knit group of friends like Han Solo.

 Q. Does Star Wars have a certain demographic that is its sweet spot?

A. It’s tough, I feel like it’s changed so much in the time that I was in grade school to now. There’s so much more Star Wars stuff. The good vs. evil thing and the learning of the Force, children now are much more versed in it and accustomed to it. They’ve grown up playing LEGOs, they’ve grown up watching television shows, they’ve grown up with the toys. I feel they’re much more savvy.

Q, Does your daughter connect with the overall Star Wars saga in a different way than you did?

A. Being a girl, right off the bat she’s asked why there were not more female characters in the original trilogy and even in the prequels. There’s a strong female character for sure (in Leia), but she wanted to know where the others were — something that wouldn’t have occurred to me at all.

The other things that I feel has changed in the generations — the ’70s kids vs. the kids today — is when Star Wars came out in ’77, the toys came out the next year. But Star Wars did not come out on VHS until after Return of the Jedi (in 1983). In that entire time, I played with my Star Wars toys and I had no major reference — I was just recalling the film from the couple of times I had seen it in the theater. There was a lot of imagination going on.

It certainly wasn’t like it is today where you just click a button and you just keep watching it over and over again. That had an incredible impact on my relationship with this film that’s different than perhaps kids may have today.

Kids enjoy it — my daughter included, because she knows I really like it and it means a lot to me. And then I have to ask myself, why does it mean so much to me and the generation that grew up on it?

Q. What’s your answer to that?

A. That scene (in Star Wars) where Luke looks at the two suns setting, even as a kid that sense of leaving home and wanting to see the world, I remember really relating to that. I don’t know if I was manipulated by the music and the cinematography but it worked.

You had spaceships that I loved, aliens and monsters I also loved, and these amazing swashbuckling heroes I also loved. There was nothing like that at the time. It was like all your favorite things in one film.

Q. Is Star Wars your daughter’s favorite thing?

A. (Laughs) We’re going as Star Wars (characters) this year for Halloween. I have pushed for it many years and gotten denied many years. But she wants to be Princess Leia on a Tauntaun. She kept asking, “Why doesn’t Leia ride a Tauntaun (in Empire Strikes Back)?” “I don’t know, but if you want to ride a Tauntaun, you’ll ride a Tauntaun.”

Q. Today’s generation will be raised on a new trilogy beginning with next year’s Episode VII. As a superfan, what do you most want to see in that?

A. There’s such a hope against insurmountable odds in the original trilogy that you knew wasn’t going to be accomplished in the prequels. You knew as an adult how that was going to end. I would hope that that kind of optimistic, hopeful sense is in these newer films. That Luke Skywalker moment where he looks out at the suns, there’s a hope there.

Over all those films, as dark as they got in places, there was still a lightness to them. They were balanced very well — bad things happened, then good things happened. And at the end there’s a crazy barbecue at the Ewok village. It could be cheesy, but you needed that.


Yahoo! Movies

October 10, 2014

by KEVIN POLOWY, Senior Editor

Like millions of others in this galaxy, Tony DiTerlizzi grew up enamored with the Star Wars universe. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t inspired by Star Wars,” the bestselling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles tells Yahoo Movies. “Since I first watched A New Hope back in 1977, the original Star Wars trilogy imprinted on my creative mind.”

DiTerlizzi’s creative mind melds with the beloved brainchild of George Lucas in the new picture book, Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. The book features the legendarily gorgeous paintings of the trilogy’s original concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie, accompanied by prose by DiTerlizzi that re-tells the first three movies over 60 pages. Consider it a nice introduction to the world of Jedi, droids, and lightsabers for adventurous young readers. And DiTerlizzi, who describes his fandom as “mid-level Padawan,” was long in training the job. “The mythic story structure and world building that went into the production of those films has had a tremendous impact on how I approach creating books for children.”

Then there are the artistic contributions of McQuarrie, the late Oscar-winning conceptual designer and illustrator credited with shaping the visual aesthetics of Lucas’s world. “When it comes to the look of Star Wars, George had the imagination but Ralph had the vision,” DiTerlizzi says. “Ralph’s talent was immense. He was combining the designs of several other artists into one concise image. He would compose elements of costume, architecture, artifact and spaceship design into a widescreen-ratio scaled image, painted in a controlled color palette to create mood. And, he did all of this with acrylic and gouache paint — no computers.” The artwork shows the franchise’s seminal scenes and characters, but often in dramatically different form from their final screen versions.

DiTerlizzi cites the prototypical images of C-3PO and R2-D2 in Tatooine and Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber as some of his favorite McQuarrie paintings. “The characters are clearly early incarnations,” he explains. The images convey the creative dialogue happening between “George and Ralph — not unlike L Frank Baum creating Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, and W.W. Denslow illustrations bringing them to life The Wizard of Oz. This is pure risk-taking creative process and it is amazing to see it in these paintings.”

The Caldecott Medal-winning author says this book marks the first time he’s gotten to professionally explore Star Wars, but when talking with students he’ll often use the saga as an example “for introducing story archetypes and themes, since so many of us are familiar with it.” When it came to writing the book, “I reflected on what aspects of the story meant most to me as a kid and as a parent. There are many themes present in the three films, but the one I felt worked best for a picture book was the theme of family. Luke Skywalker starts out as an orphan, raised by his aunt and uncle — just like Cinderella or Harry Potter. In the end, Luke discovers his sister and redeems his father. To me, that is a theme that strikes an emotional chord deeper than farm boy-turned-Jedi knight.”

Just don’t call The Adventures of Luke Skywalker “fan fiction.” Says DiTerlizzi: “Where, as I understand it, fan fiction takes known characters and creates new stories with them, I am simply retelling George’s story for a younger reader. True, it is in my voice and I do keep the focus on Luke and the theme on family, but otherwise I tried to remain faithful to the films. I believe it is more of an adaptation. “But am I a fan? YES.”


The Telegraph

September 28, 2011

When his daughter was afflicted by seizures, children’s writer Tony DiTerlizzi devised a fairy tale to comfort her – and came up with a bestseller .

When you hear the words “magic” and “story”, they will probably evoke thoughts of your favourite fairy tales from childhood. Storybook pages abound with all manner of magic: fantastical fairies, wish-granting genies, or even a certain boy wizard.

But here I am not speaking of fairy tales. I am talking about the actual magic that can be conjured in the telling of a story.

In 2008, my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sophia, suffered a grand mal seizure. It came from nowhere, for no apparent reason, and took hold of my little fairy-girl. She dropped to the floor convulsing with her eyes rolled up in her head. My wife Angela and I tried to comfort her, but an overwhelming sense of helplessness took over me. This was not a cold that would run its course. It wasn’t a scrape or scratch that could be covered with a bandage and soothed with a kiss. It wasn’t even a broken bone that could be set and healed with a cast.

After the first episode, our paediatrician asked us to keep an eye on Sophia and notify him immediately should it happen again.

It did.

Our doctor in Amherst, New England, where we live, requested a series of medical tests in hopes of finding an answer. Young childhood is a delicate stage in development and growth. As the brain develops, there are many variables.

We were told answers may come, but it would take some time. We waited. The seizures subsided for a couple of months then began again, worse than ever.

There were several foreboding ambulance rides that autumn to the hospital. One October afternoon, another grand mal seizure overtook her. It was the worst yet.

I cannot begin to describe the terrifying feeling of desolation as I saw my little girl strapped down to a gurney and injected with a sedative while a team of doctors and nurses poked, prodded and pricked her. As I held my wife tightly in my shaky arms, I tried to remain calm and strong.

My brain kept telling me that the hospital staff were doing the best job they could do to ease my daughter’s pain, but with each of her cries for Mommy and Daddy, my heart wept more and more.

Her seizure passed for the moment, and we were transferred to a nearby paediatric hospital. Our little family sat huddled and scared on a gurney in the hall of a crowded emergency room. All around us, people were in pain. The ceiling-mounted television mutely played a rerun of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

It was late at night. Sophia was tired and squirmy. None of us had eaten, for we had no appetite, but I didn’t care. I was happy to have my little fairy-girl back with us. Angela could tell I was nervous, though. She stroked Sophia’s hair and said, “Why don’t you tell her a bedtime story?”

I nodded in agreement. It was a good idea, especially since there was absolutely nothing in the ER to entertain a toddler. So, I started, “Once upon a time there was a girl named Alice who followed a white rabbit down his rabbit hole…”

“No,” Angela said. “One of your stories.”

I must confess that although I am quite passionate about the books I create for children, I am not the best oral storyteller. In fact, I stink at it. I just can’t come up with a little story off the top of my head. I have to ponder my plots, mull my character’s motivation and steep myself in the subtext. Regardless of all that, I began.

“Once upon a time, there was a boy who could see fairies. Real ones, not the sort you’d see in a cartoon…” As I conjured up The Spiderwick Chronicles, a comforting sense of calm wrapped around my family like a warm blanket. I told the story for the three hours we waited for a room. I told her the story while a nurse took her vitals. I told her the story until she fell asleep in the hospital crib.

This was our new world. There was more poking and probing in the quest for answers. We passed the time by walking the hallways, reading books and telling more stories. It kept me calm, which came through in my voice. This helped when the phlebotomist was getting blood from my daughter. It helped when Sophia was strapped down for her MRI. It even helped when she had to remain calm for 24 hours with an array of electrodes glued to her head to record her brainwave activity.

As long as I was telling stories, Sophia, Angela, and I were no longer in the cold confines of the hospital. We were catching fairies with Arthur Spiderwick. Buzzing around like little flies in Mr Spider’s parlour. We were riding to the moon with Jimmy Zangwow. We were magical beings.

The tests finally ended. After many long days, our stay was over. The paediatric neurologist said that Sophia suffered from an extreme case of febrile seizures caused by a quick rise in her body temperature. Eventually she would outgrow them.

And she did.

Our late-night ambulance rides to the ER ceased. Sophia is four now: a vibrant, precocious light of inspiration. She loves being outside, playing make-believe, drawing and, of course, listening to stories from Mom and Dad. She seems to have healed, with no real memory of hospital.

But I remember; and I changed. In those haunting days, I found the true power of words. The magic of story.

Now, as Global Ambassador for Starlight Children’s Foundation, which brightens the lives of poorly children, I visit hospitals and tell stories to the young patients. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I draw.

Often, the children and I create stories together – our own fairy tales – with words and pictures. For a few minutes we leave the hospital behind and travel to a fantastical place for a grand adventure. You should come with us sometime. It is true magic.

Communication Arts
Annual 2011

in Print, Broadcast, Film, Interactive Media and Beyond
by Lisa L. Cyr

Inside us all there is a story just waiting to be told. It begins at childhood and develops gradually over time. With every encounter, observation and experience, the tale becomes richer with a more expansive intellect from which to draw. In the heart, an amazing adventure lays dormant, waiting for the right time, when all the pieces are in place, for the dream to come to fruition. As a child, illustrator and author James Gurney was enamored by the classic tales of Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne and loved building model ships and flying machines. After high school, he went on to major in archaeology, studying the remains of past civilizations. Mostly self-taught, the artist worked as a freelance illustrator for National Geographic where he spent time on location with archaeologists, paleontologists and other scientists. “At the end of the day, I’d sit around the campfire with these experts and talk about the dream of finding lost worlds,” recalls Gurney. Such encounters inspired the artist to create a series of seven limited-edition prints of brilliantly detailed, fantastical cities. “I wanted to make the impossible look almost inevitable,” he says. “The realistically painted scenes each had something impossible in them, like people riding on dinosaurs or a city right in the middle of a waterfall.” With the assistance of Ian Ballantine, the prints led to a 160-page picture book targeted to adults. Taking two years to realize, Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time sold in 32 countries worldwide and was published in 18 languages. The success spun three sequel works, each divulging more about this amazing world where dinosaurs work in a symbiotic relationship with humans.

For author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, a childhood obsession transformed into a series for young readers known as The Spiderwick Chronicles. “I grew up in South Florida and always loved the flora and fauna. Everything is big. There are these giant man-eating flowers and the insects are three to four feet long,” he jokes. “When I was twelve years old, I spent the summer creating this field guide.” Growing up, DiTerlizzi was drawn to other worlds like George Lucas’s Star Wars and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. He was also an active player of Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game that he later illustrated. “Looking back, it was a huge influence, as the games were all about world-building–soup to nuts,” shares DiTerlizzi. “It was a great training ground.” The artist went on to illustrate three books for Simon & Schuster, one of which won a Caldecott honor. “There was a lot of buzz and the publisher was really excited, asking me what my dream project would be,” reflects the artist. “I said that I’d really love to work on the field guide that I’d made as a kid.” The publisher embraced DiTerlizzi’s vision and together with co-writer Holly Black, the collaborative project took flight. Initially conceived as a 500-page book, the project shifted gears. To create a built-in audience, the publisher decided to break up the story, releasing five-chapter books over the course of two years prior to the launch of the lavish field guide. The series was an amazing success, selling in the millions.

The development of an intellectual property that can span across media begins with an engaging story that is compelling enough to captivate an audience on an emotional and intellectual level. To introduce a level of believability to an imagined world, the creator must have a deep understanding of the landscape, architecture, creatures and vehicles, drawing from both research and personal experience. For Dinotopia, Gurney began by creating a detailed map. “I started with an outline of an island, making sure to include mountains, jungles, canyons and coastlines,” he explains. “I also put in names of places that I knew would go beyond the book so that I could revisit them later, giving the readers a feeling that there was more.” To help envision complex scenes, Gurney created maquettes of distinctive locales and characters out of Styrofoam, cardboard and clay, playing with the arrangement and photographing it from different angles and lighting situations. In addition, the artist listened to nature CDs as a way to completely immerse himself into the imagined scenarios. “It’s important to live inside your paintings, throwing yourself into the picture frame,” adds Gurney. To further enhance the ideation of the storyline and fantastic imagery, the artist keeps abreast of new archeological discoveries, consults experts in myriad fields and frequents natural history museums, going behind the scenes to sketch.

For DiTerlizzi, creature development was the biggest challenge, trying to make his creations fresh and exciting to an already visually savvy audience. “I wanted to be able to bring something new to a conversation that has been going on for centuries about what a fairy, goblin or dragon looks like,” he says. “I did a lot of exploration, looking at nature and avoiding the obvious connections.” The artist also sought inspiration from illustrated books that he loved as a kid, including works by Arthur Rackham, John James Audubon and HJ Ford. The Encyclopedia of Fairies by Katharine Briggs also served as a resource. Although world-building incurs intensive planning, there is still much left to the reader’s imagination. “Picture books are one of the most powerful art forms,” Gurney adds. “From picture to picture, there are these gaps in time and it’s up to the reader to conjure what happens in between.”

When a story is successful in the marketplace, it opens the door to other opportunities that would not have existed otherwise, attracting film, TV, game, audio adaptation, collectibles and other merchandise. “The movie business is hungry for ideas and it’s always looking for people with vision,” says Gurney. “Everyone is very aware of all the illustrated books, graphic novels and comic books that are coming out.” DiTerlizzi agrees, “Studio executives have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in publishing. We’ve seen an amazing explosion of studios adapting children’s literature to film.” The first stage of the film or TV adaptation process begins with an option being made by a studio interested in developing a project. If it moves forward, a purchase is made. Projects can also be placed in turnaround. “Dinotopia was originally optioned to Columbia Pictures, which did a lot of initial development. When a new administration took over, it went into turnaround,” shares Gurney. “Hallmark Entertainment later bought the property out of turnaround for a three-part mini-series and a thirteen-episode weekly show for television.” With large complex environments to build and challenging special effects creatures to animate, the ambitious project made groundbreaking strides in cinematography, winning an Emmy.

In the case of The Spiderwick Chronicles, the project was a package deal, for which the books, movie, game and audio adaptations were all contracted up front. At the time, Simon & Schuster was under the same parent company as Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon. This aggressive schedule had the artist working at a breakneck pace, where the development of each adaptation happened concurrently. “As we were finishing the text and art, we would send out files to the studios that were feeding potential screenwriters and directors,” says DiTerlizzi, who served as executive producer on the film. “I was also flying back and forth to meet writers and the director.” Having a property transition into other media does require the creator to give up a certain amount of control in order for the project to grow and expand. “When you’re condensing a 500-page story into a 90-page screenplay, edits need to be made,” explains DiTerlizzi. “Our position was to work with the studio to make the changes that would ultimately produce a better film.” Gurney adds, “When bringing a world into other media, you have to let go of it in different amounts. In the end, it’s an amazing process where you have the privilege of working with other creative people who bring to the world something of their own.” Both Dinotopia and The Spiderwick Chroncles continue to be prosperous, multimedia properties. The Search for Wondla (Simon & Schuster) is the recent brainchild of DiTerlizzi who envisions the story to cross media platforms.

When developing adaptations to a property, it’s important to make sure the source material is copyrighted and the name and logotype of the property are trademarked. Having an understanding of your audience, knowledge of the industry you’re pitching and a clear and comprehensive business plan are also key.

“The business plan needs to have a progressive, connective nature, speaking to all the different outlets,” says Philip Straub, art director at Warner Bros. Entertainment and creator of Utherworlds, a multimedia property currently in film development. “The book, film, game, Web site, iPhone application and merchandise need to be interrelated. It’s all about building a premium brand.” Because of the complexities of contractual agreements, it’s also highly recommended that an artist obtain an entertainment attorney to assist in negotiations. “When you go out there, be focused, relentless and believe in yourself,” adds Straub. “Stay true to the core of your story, trusting your gut to make the right decisions.”

Technological innovation has opened up a plethora of new opportunities for illustrators to take a more active, entrepreneurial role as creators of their own intellectual property. Spanning from print to broadcast, film, interactive media and beyond, imaginative, thought-provoking work is finding its way into the culture, leaving an everlasting mark for generations to come. CA


TIME for Kids

October 1, 2010

TFK catches up with the fantasy author at Books of Wonder in New York City
By TFK Kid Reporter Sahil Abbi

Tony DiTerlizzi, author of the popular series The Spiderwick Chronicles, is bringing readers a new fantasy novel called The Search for WondLa. The book hit stores on September 21. In the story, 12-year-old Eva Nine lives in an underground world where she is raised by a robot named Muthr. She has never seen another living person. When an intruder destroys her underground home, she escapes to a strange new world above ground. There she begins a search to find someone like her. A single clue gives her hope—a crumbling picture of a girl, a robot, an adult and the word WondLa. TFK Kid Reporter Sahil Abbi spoke to DiTerlizzi about WondLa and the power of imagination.

TFK: Where did you get the idea for The Search for WondLa?

DiTerlizzi: WondLa was inspired by some of my favorite childhood heroines. I think back to stories that I loved as a kid and that I still love to this day, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I loved Wendy Darling, the character who goes with Peter Pan to Neverland. I also love Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In all these stories, a lone person enters a magical place and gains knowledge before she returns home. In the end, these characters learn to cherish the power of home. I’m glad that kids still love these stories, but I make them a little more modern with lots of cool technology.

TFK: What do you like about fantasy?

DiTerlizzi: I love books with imagination. Imagination is why Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean to find America and it is why we went to the moon. I think that imagination is so important and it should be instilled in kids as early as possible.

TFK: Did the books you read as a child influence The Search for WondLa?

DiTerlizzi: A book that I kept thinking about while I worked on The Search for WondLa was Charlotte’s Web. It highlights these unlikely friendships. There’s the friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider. Then there’s the friendship between Wilbur and a rat. That’s not unlike my character Eva who is being taken care of by a robot, but is also friends with Rovender, an angry alien.

TFK: How do you feel about The Search for WondLa being made into a movie?

DiTerlizzi: I’m really excited. Paramount Pictures read an early version of WondLa. They totally loved the story and decided to make it into a movie. I’ll probably act as an adviser, which was what my role was for The Spiderwick Chronicles. I helped with the stories and with the visuals. I’m kind of the go-to guy for the world of the story.

TFK: Your character Kenny, from the book Kenny and the Dragon, reminded me of myself. Did you base any of your characters on you or someone close to you?

DiTerlizzi: That’s awesome! Kenny is kind of like me, too. I was very much a kid who was living in my own world. If I wasn’t reading, I was drawing or outside catching bugs. I think that all the characters I’ve created have little fragments or pieces of me. It’s like you take your personality and throw it at the ground and it breaks into pieces. Then you have to put the pieces together to create different characters, so they’ve always got a little piece of you in them. My characters also have elements of friends and people I know. I’m a lot like Eva [from WondLa]. Yes, she’s a 12-year-old girl, but she’s not really girly. She’s just a kid who is trying to find her place in the world.

TFK: Are any parts of your books based on your experiences?

DiTerlizzi: When I make my books, I tap into a younger version of myself. I go back and think, “What would the 10-year-old version of Tony want to read that the 40-year-old version of Tony can create?” So I think back to the things that I liked. Even though my generation and your generation are different, there are some things that we have in common. For example, I loved videogames when I was your age.

TFK: Is there a message that you want to send young readers through your books?

DiTerlizzi: Yes, never abandon imagination. It’s all about imagination.

TFK: What did you read when you were younger?

DiTerlizzi: I read all kinds of stuff as a kid. I loved books on astronomy, paleontology and insects. I love nature. I am kind of an armchair naturalist. I have field guides on birds and I enjoy copying the drawings.

TFK: What advice do you have for aspiring young authors?

DiTerlizzi: Keep writing, keep imagining and keep drawing. I am a product of two parents who saw that I was an imaginative kid. They encouraged me and so did my teachers. My advice for adults? If you see a youngster who is really good at making up stories, encourage him or her. We need more of that in the world.


The Miami Herald

September 9, 2006

It’s all in alphabetical disorder

The path to success for artist Tony DiTerlizzi, a 1992 graduate of Fort Lauderdale’s Art Institute, wasn’t straight — which is just the way he likes it.

”I’ve always wanted to zig when people expected me to zag,” he says.

Take for example, DiTerlizzi’s idea for a lavishly illustrated guide to mystical creatures. He pitched the idea to his publisher, who told him to write a novel based on the idea instead.

The result: The Spiderwick Chronicles, a series of five chapter books, co-written by Holly Black, with more than 3.5 million copies sold, and a feature film in the works.

Or how about DiTerlizzi’s unwillingness to sugarcoat the ending of the gothic illustrations he created for the classic poem, The Spider and the Fly? People warned him that allowing the beguiling heroine of a kids’ picture book to get eaten might not go over big with critics.

Not to worry: The book won a Caldecott Honor from the American Library Association.

And then there’s his latest book, G is for One Gzonk! (Simon & Schuster, ages 4 to 7, $16.95) which DiTerlizzi will introduce to South Florida audiences next week. It was supposed to be an alphabet book, but that turned out to be far too orderly a concept for DiTerlizzi’s style, a sort of demented exuberance that gives kids giggle fits.

”It’s kind of anti-establishmentarian,” DiTerlizzi, 37, admits. “I wanted to mess with the conventions of alphabet book.”

Gzonk is an homage to his influences — Edward Lear, master of nonsense — and the good doctor, Seuss. You don’t need a DNA test to see that the ”Snoopy Bloobytack” in Gzonk, a blue-skinned, long-limbed ”creachling,” descends directly from the Grinch.

Picture books were important to DiTerlizzi as a kid growing up in Jupiter. What stayed with him most about the stories his mother, Carole, read to Tony and his younger sister and brother, was that they made her laugh, too.

‘If you’re really, really lucky, and the kid says, `read it again,’ there’s got to be something in there for the parents,” he said.


Young Tony took on the mantle of ”author” in elementary school.

He wrote and illustrated a book about one of his favorite topics — bugs — ”and carried it around like he was a biologist,” Carole DiTerlizzi recalled. “He was about 9 years old and this book was 30 to 40 pages long.”

By his senior year at South Fork High in Stuart, DiTerlizzi had taken every art class the school offered, so his instructor, Tom Wetzl, created an independent study project for him — illustrating Alice in Wonderland.

”Tony was the type of student who spent his lunch hour in the art room and drew all weekend,” Wetzl remembers. “If I gave an assignment, he would far exceed what was required because he would explore every aspect of it.”

DiTerlizzi enrolled at the Florida School of the Arts in Palatka, but the academics nearly did him in. ”All I wanted to do was paint and draw.” Instead, he completed his academic requirements at Palm Beach Community College and finished his degree, in graphic design, at The Art Institute.

Launching a career as an illustrator from South Florida didn’t work, so he and his wife, Angela DeFrancis, moved to New York. He landed a job drawing ”fantasy art” for the game company that made Dungeons and Dragons. ”I got to do a lot of Minotaurs and Vikings,” he says, the glee still evident in his voice. “A lot of that stuff wound up fueling Spiderwick.”

Writing and illustrating his own books was his goal, but even being in New York, where he could show his portfolio to art directors in person, it was tough.


Then, DeFrancis, who was working at a MAC cosmetics store near the offices of Scholastic, found herself one day doing an editor’s makeup.

‘Angela told her, `Oh, my husband does kids’ books,’ which I’m sure this woman was thinking, ‘Just put on my eye shadow, lady,’ but what she said was, ‘Have him drop his stuff off.’ ”

DiTerlizzi brought in his portfolio early Monday morning. Impressed, the editor began calling around the office, trying to find an art director. Everyone was in a meeting except a colleague named Kevin Lewis, who had arrived after the meeting started and didn’t want to waltz in late. He looked through DiTerlizzi’s work and was taken by an illustrated version of a lesser-known poem by Edward Lear, The Quangle Wangle’s Hat.

”It wasn’t very salable, but you don’t often find artists who have that kind of deep knowledge of the classics,” Lewis said. He didn’t buy the manuscript, but when he moved to Simon & Schuster a year later, he published DiTerlizzi’s first picture book, Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-This-World Moon-Pie Adventure.

The next project DiTerlizzi offered was an early version of Gzonk! Lewis rejected it, knowing an alphabet book from an unknown artist would be a tough sell. But he zeroed in on one illustration of a huge, floppy-eared pink thing. ”Write me a story about him,” Lewis said. That became DiTerlizzi’s second book, Ted, about a boy and his imaginary friend.


Lewis had long wanted to commission a picture book version of Mary Howitt’s classic poem, The Spider and the Fly, and thought DiTerlizzi might be the right artist after seeing the bugs he drew for Alien and Possum by Tony Johnston. ”He had these nonsensical creatures in waist coats. They were just awesome,” Lewis said. He asked DiTerlizzi to read through Howitt’s darkly cautionary poem, first published in 1829.

‘By morning he had an absolute vision for how he wanted to do it. He called here, so excited. `It’ll be all black and white, like an old movie. It’ll be in an attic and the spider will live in a dollhouse,’ ” Lewis recalled. The finished illustrations are a perfect blend of creepy and goofy, but initially, Lewis’ bosses expressed concern.

”There were people who were absolutely freaked out by it. They wanted it in color,” DiTerlizzi recalls.

Some saw the ending as problematic, Lewis said. ‘They were asking, `Is there a way we can save the fly?’ and I said, ‘No, there really isn’t.’ This poem’s 175 years old. Everybody knows the fly dies. It’s a cautionary tale about someone trying to persuade with kind and flattering words.”

DiTerlizzi worried about career suicide. So did Lewis after a friend read it and said, “Ohmigosh. It’s Silence of the Lambs for kids.”

The book debuted, however, to stellar reviews. In 2003, it won a Caldecott Honor for outstanding artwork.


DiTerlizzi and Lewis had finished Spider (but not yet won the Caldecott) when DiTerlizzi pitched his biggest idea yet: a lavishly illustrated ”field guide” to the faerie world. DiTerlizzi envisioned a coffee-table quality book of 100 or more full-color paintings.

Lewis was skeptical.

”I knew from experience that, unless a person already has a huge audience, we would have a difficult time selling a book like that,” Lewis said. ‘But he had this elaborate backstory about three kids and how they had found this guide so I said, `Tell me more about the Grace kids,’ and I began to see a way we could get the story out in a more commercial form and create an audience for this big art book he wanted to do.”

DiTerlizzi drafted a journalist, Holly Black, who had interviewed him while he was working on Dungeons and Dragons, to help him craft The Spiderwick Chronicles, a series of illustrated chapter books for the elementary-school set, based on the adventures of three siblings, Mallory, Jared and Simon, who stumble upon a long-lost copy of their Uncle Arthur Spiderwick’s rare book.

”Holly was so well-read in fairy folklore, I knew she would rock it,” DiTerlizzi said. The two plotted the stories together, trading pages back and forth.

A new trilogy is planned for release next year, and last year Lewis did publish DiTerlizzi’s ”big art book,” Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You to rave reviews and healthy sales.

So now DiTerlizzi’s has zig-zagged back to his kooky alphabet book and this time, he’s a big enough star among booksellers and, most importantly, kids, to get it published. ‘What I do think about always is, `What can I do to make a kid crack up?’ or, even better, have him say, ‘This is really cool.’ ”



November 9, 2004

‘Spiderwick’ wraps the scary in a ‘cozy’ package
Jacqueline Blais

In the world of kid-lit, a certain kind of scary book is in demand: Gothic Lite.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black — “more cozy than chilling” — fills the bill, says Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book Magazine, which covers children’s books.

In the imagined Spiderwick world, twins Jared and Simon, 9, and sister Mallory, 13, move into a falling-down Victorian house with their divorced mom, a nice librarian who does not notice that the house and yard are teeming with faeries, ogres, brownies, griffins, trolls and goblins. The Grace kids, of course, do.

These chapter books are aimed at the pre-Harry Potter set, ages 7 and up. Writer Black describes the stories as “unnerving and frightening, not little horror stories . . .  more adventure than anything else.” Adds illustrator DiTerlizzi, who helped develop the story line: “But they have to have danger, just like any fairy tale. Kids don’t want it candy-coated. They want a little grit.”

The five Spiderwick books are a little more than 100 pages each, invitingly illustrated and small enough to hold easily. But, as DiTerlizzi told one fan: “Dude, when you’re done, you’ve read a 500- to 600-page book.” That fan would be Alexander Carr, 10, of Alexandria, Va., who once was what is called euphemistically a reluctant reader. Reading was “evil,” he says, his hand chopping downward. He started the first in the series, The Field Guide, one night, woke up in the morning, found the book at his side and started reading more. “These books are so fun, they’re easy, they’re what I like,” he says. The books are “adventurous, not scary.” Alexander concedes that the books might be a “little scary, but I know (the Grace kids) are going to be OK, because then they wouldn’t have published the books.”

The first two, The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, were published in May 2003. Lucinda’s Secret came out in October 2003, and The Ironwood Tree was published in April. The fifth and concluding The Wrath of Mulgarath  arrived in September. Mulgarath did best on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list, making the top 50 for three weeks this fall. The books are now in 30 languages, and about 2.5 million are in print, says Tracy van Straaten of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Black, 32, and DiTerlizzi, 35, say that in the real world, their styles mesh well. They knew from the start that they were kindred spirits. Black interviewed DiTerlizzi for the now-defunct d8 magazine about his work on Dungeons & Dragons’ Planescape. They discovered they owned and loved the same book growing up: Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, a favorite about otherworldly creatures.They introduced their spouses (DiTerlizzi’s wife, Angela DeFrancis, and Black’s husband, Theo) to each other so everyone could bond. As DiTerlizzi described the meeting of the couples: “Here were another set of nerds, as geeky as we were.” Black and DiTerlizzi work so well together that they moved to the same town, Amherst, Mass., and when they talk, they finish each other’s sentences. DiTerlizzi plotted out the book like a chess game, and Black worried about character development, especially Jared, who always is in trouble. A snippet from an interview demonstrates how they have developed a kind of shorthand with each other. DiTerlizzi: “I kept asking, ‘Where’s the innermost cave?’ ” Black: “Well, Jared’s very angry right now.” DiTerlizzi dedicates the series to Arthur Rackham, an early 20th century illustrator famed for his work on such classics as Peter Pan in Kensington
Gardens. Black, who says she grew up in a household where ghosts were everyday
companions, dedicates her work to her grandmother. Black also is the author of the teen fantasy Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale.

Black and DiTerlizzi say this is the end of the Grace children’s story: They don’t want to put Jared, Simon and Mallory through any more torture. But it is not the end of tales from Spiderwick. Coming next summer: The Spiderwick Chronicles: Notebook for Fantastical Observations, an illustrated journal for children to record their own spritely creatures — “strange occurrences in their yard, playground, so forth,” DiTerlizzi says. And next fall: Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, an illustrated replica of the field guide that the Grace kids discover in their haunted home.