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1987 – I am playing records of U2’s Joshua Tree, and The Cure’s Standing on the Beach, wearing acid-washed knee-torn jeans, thrift shop sports jackets, and graduating high school down in South Florida.

Tony D - Freshman ladykiller

High school was a strange time for me. Middle school was horrible, and the first couple of years at South Fork high weren’t much better. I was all of 120 pounds, with large aviator glasses, had a sometimes-running-rust-and-primer Toyota, and secretly was still a little boy who liked playing Star Wars with my younger brother, and spending time copying pictures out of Brian Froud & Alan Lee’s Faeries – line it up ladies, there’s plenty of TD to go around.

Being an avid rock-n-roll lover, I was also in band for my first two years. I played the saxophone in middle school, and enjoyed it (all songs in the 80’s had a sax solo – just ask Huey Lewis). High school; however, was all about marching band and football games…not really my cup of tea, so I finally quit my junior year and filled my band slots with all things art.

Tony D - Senior Art Geek

By that time, people around school knew me for my drawing skills, and I came out of my shell a bit. I tried to be funny and goof off hoping the laughs in class would earn me some acceptance around school: it did. I dated here and there, and even had a couple of girlfriends, but most girls were happy “just being friends”. Drawing pictures just doesn’t compare to surfing or kicking total butt at some sport. Or having chest hair. Or muscles. Or shaving. Or a cool hairstyle. Or hairy legs. Or hair anywhere.

I do remember my art teachers very well. Mr. (Tom) Wetzl taught all my high school art classes. By the time I was a senior, I had pretty much taken everything the school had to offer. But Tom liked me, saw my talent, and made an offer, “I have a planning period where you could come in and work on a solitary project for an entire semester. It could be a centerpiece in your portfolio as you apply to art schools. If you did this, what sort of project would you do?”

“Views from Wonderland” spread

I thought about it for some time. We started reading Beowulf in Lit. class. I did a drawing of Grendel and wondered how many hit points he had. Then I went home and started going through the old kid’s classics that I had enjoyed. House at Pooh Corner, The Great Brain, Lang’s Rainbow Fairy books, and then I found it: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I went back to Mr.Wetzl and told him I would like to re-illustrate Lewis Carroll’s classic. He agreed. My assignment was to have the entire story illustrated by the end of the semester. We started with character design sketches and moved onto scenes from the text. I pulled inspiration from all sorts of things – anime, Muppets, and even Elton John as the Mad Hatter.

“Views from Wonderland”

I worked on the project all the time. Not just in class – in other classes, at home, on weekends. I was obsessed. Needless to say, I completed it on time and passed the class with an “A”. On top of that, many of my friends really liked the book. My bound copy made the rounds often at lunch or during class. I was validated for just being me, and doing what I loved amidst the social pressure and anxiety of the microcosm known as high school. It still didn’t get me any dates, or grow me any chest hair. Or muscles. Or fix the rusty acne on my ’72 Toyota Celica.

“Views from Wonderland” spread

But I realized what I wanted to be when I grew up (if you can even call it that): I wanted to make imaginative books for children and kids at heart. I was 17 years old, and I knew then what I had to do. Whoa.

I just attended my 20-year high school reunion. 20 years. Gone in a snap, with a million memories jammed in-between. Things like that make you pause for reflection.

Tony D & Tom Wetzl

I still listen to U2, The Cure, and Elton John. I still wear beat-up jeans (no acid wash) and funky glasses and weird jackets.

I have a wonderful house, 2 nice cars, a personal trainer, and the best art studio a geek could hope for. And I got all of this from drawing the same stuff I was drawing over 20 years ago. I just draw it a little better now.

But the best is I have an awesome wife who likes “to be more than just friends”. And she’s given us a beautiful daughter. Oh, and I have lots of hair. Although now it is starting to fall out…


Evolution of a GOBLIN (epilogue)

Goblin DiTerlizzi

My brother, Adam, has pointed out one very important element in this discussion of all things goblin. I would be remiss to not talk about a certain four-legged muse of mine aptly named “Goblin”.

Visually, as an artist, I get my inspiration from so many places. I remember one art school instructor telling me that all characters we render will have physical aspects of ourselves within them, because that is the face and body that we see multiple times every day – and I do think it is true.

The same could be said of our environment: our homes, yards, children, spouses and even our pets. And to say that our dog Goblin inspired and influenced my art would be an understatement.

Her pug proportions, mashed-up face, and lovable demeanor, creeped into characters like Ted, Hogsqueal and yes, the Spiderwick goblins (especially the “Bull Goblin”). And there are 2 gargoyles in the Arthur’s Field Guide that are inspired by pets – one is Goblin, the other Chamberlain, Holly’s greyhound.

We lost Goblin last fall to cancer. Because it had spread, I had to put her down, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Angela and I were devastated. All I wanted was for my daughter to get meet this little dog who inspired me, and been our faithful companion for 13 years. She moved with us from Florida to New York City with stars in our eyes, and on to Massachusetts where we could all settle down and be a family. She is but a memory, but by being this artist’s muse, her influence will live on in the images inspired by her.

I guess there really are little goblins out there in the world after all.

We miss you Gob, and we’ll never forget you.


Evolution of a GOBLIN (conclusion)

Part 4 – Goblins in a Natural World
In Katharine Briggs’ “Faeries 101” book, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, she describes goblins as:

“A general name for evil and malicious spirits, usually small and grotesque in appearance…”

Using what few visual descriptions I could find, I began thinking and designing. From the start, I made them less human and more animal-like. As I’ve said before, there were plenty of great examples of humanoid goblins, and my designs would break no new ground down that path. Besides, I wanted my designs to speak to readers who may not be fans of fantasy. So I attempted to create for a broader audience and I tapped into more primal and instinctive imagery based on general ideas about goblins.

Goblin with tongue extended

General Goblin Belief #1:
“Goblins are usually active at night”

Okay, so what animals do we know of are active at night? I could give them large ominous eyes like a bush-baby, or I could give them pale, pupil-less eyes like those found on deep-sea fish. That’s much spookier. In fact, anglerfish in general are creepy looking. Their fleshy skin tags and patterning are ideal for camouflage- something a goblin would need to use to avoid detection. I bet they can change this pattern like a flounder to blend in seamlessly with their background so they can’t be spotted easily even with a seeing stone.

Sketch of a Bull Goblin

General Goblin Belief #2:
“Goblins are ugly creatures”

Hmmmm. As are toads and frogs (at least by most human standards – think of the cursed Frog Prince), so that was a good starting point. Bat’s faces are usually grotesque and conjure up images of nocturnal activity, plus they’ve plenty of extra-sensory whiskers which may prove handy – especially if these guys are blind. How about extra simple eyes for motion detection like those found on insects and spiders? That would be creepy.

Redcap & Goblins

General Goblin Belief #3:
” Goblins are mischief makers”

To indicate that they weren’t just ignorant bipedal frogs, I showed that they knew how to fashion tools and weapons and even understood artifacts gathered from humankind’s wake of refuse – hence the discarded scarf which I thought added a somewhat humorous contrast to such a gnarly critter.

Common Ground Goblin

Lastly, I wanted to add something interesting to the folklore. Nowhere did I read that goblins are born without teeth. In fact, it would probably make more sense if they were born with teeth, perhaps even shedding them like a shark. But, I wanted to create an unusual and memorable natural feature to them…Besides, glass, bone, and metal shards were much more gruesome than just plain old teeth.

Goblin Teeth

Part 5 – I Finally Add Something to Goblindom

Bull Goblin

Some day the Spiderwick goblins may be remembered in the annals of faerie lore, perhaps not from my book illustrations, but from the film adaptation – I suppose only time will tell.

However, to see my designs brought to life in the hands of master animators who understands how muscle, fat, and bone should move in a convincing manner is a dream-come-true for me. And I think the fact that Phil Tippett used a literal translation of my goblin designs is the highest praise this movie FX Jedi could give me. I know the 12 year-old Tony would be very happy indeed.

Tony D. Goblin at 12 years old


Evolution of a GOBLIN (part 3)

Part 3 – Designing Between the Lines

Goblin Marshall

Living in New York City, and contributing regularly to Magic cards, I was working hard to expand myself on becoming a “more painterly” illustrator and not just be bound by pen & ink.

That in mind, I took a lot of life-drawing classes, and frequented the Museum of Natural History where I copied many of the mounted animal specimens. It was here that I began to seriously think about goblins and fairies viewed through the eye of a naturalist as my next big book.

Goblin Sketches 1

The idea was not new to me: As I’ve mentioned before, I created a field guide to fantastical creatures when I was 13. I returned to that idea in my Planscape heyday and thought of selling the idea to TSR (who published the games). I continued doodling on the idea and began the list of creatures I would like to attempt rendering with John James Audubon-like detail…but I still was not satisfied with my technical ability, and the project was re-shelved until my children’s book career began to take off and I was feeling more confident with my drawing and painting skills.

Goblin Sketches 2

But another aspect had been added to my problem solving which would prove to be integral to arriving at my final gobliny designs. During my years of illustrating for D&D, I had learned how to use the art descriptions that were assigned to me, yet re-invent them in a novel sort of way.

I started by isolating the exact points that were stated in the art descriptions. For instance: “this creature is large, blue skinned, and has yellow eyes”, and then exploit what was not said, what was between the lines of text – so its large, but is it obese large? Or muscular large? Okay its blue, but is it a subtle de-saturated blue like a faded flower? Or brilliant like a tropical fish? You get the idea…and I always attempted the unexpected.

This thinking worked great – it allowed me to exercise myself creatively while still satisfying the game designers who really had rules and technical aspects in mind more than neat designs. After all, these images were aspects for a game.

In prepping for Spiderwick, I took that same thinking and applied it to whatever folklore I could find. You see, I didn’t want the Spiderwick goblins (or any creatures for that matter) to be contrary to the rich stories and tales that had preceded them, but contribute to the long-running folklore.

The project slowly came into focus and I set a challenge for myself: Could I take a bunch of well-known, hackneyed, and trite fantasy creatures (many of which I had already illustrated) and redesign them to be fresh and exciting to the savvy CGI-movie-watching-video-game-playing 10 year-old of today?

Goblin Sketches 3


Evolution of a GOBLIN (part 2)

Part 2 – I Contribute to Goblindom

Well, not really. My early work for Dungeons & Dragons and even my work on the card game Magic the Gathering is just a regurgitation of goblins I had seen before. Simple, iconic images intended to be instantly recognized for what they were.

D&D Goblin

In the case of the illustration for 1994’s Monstrous Manual, I (very crudely) re-interpreted Trampier’s goblin, however mine fails by lacking any action or movement of its inspiration.

Goblins also made infrequent appearances in the Planescape role-playing game. Though they were pretty close in appearance to their D&D cousins. I think the only difference here is that my technical skill was clearly improving.

Planar Goblin

By the late 90’s, I started contributing regularly to the Magic the Gathering card game. There, goblins seemed to abound, and I was assigned to create them myself…

Goblin Warbuggy

…or use pre-existing designs from the team of conceptual artists. In all cases, I felt the design needed to be simple and immediate due to the function of the art: “This is a goblin and it can cause X to your opponent’s hand”.

Goblin Piker

At this time I was also seriously working on my first children’s books and my sketchbooks began to fill with doodles for kid’s book characters right alongside my fantastical Magic sketches.


Evolution of a GOBLIN (part 1)

Redcap & Goblins

It was the first image completed (and is one of the designs I am most proud of) in Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide – and it was brought to life by the magic team of movie FX wizards at Phil Tippett’s studio – the Spiderwick goblins. Or Diabolus vulgaris from the family Adentidae, as Arthur identified them in his Guide to the fantastical world.

But how did I arrive at a new design for a creature that has been rendered countless times in books, movies, games and toys?

I’d like to share some of the thinking that went into it as it exemplifies the philosophy I used when designing many of the creatures in the world of The Spiderwick Chronicles. My hope is only to inspire others to think out-of-the-box in keeping fantasy alive, fresh, and evolving through exciting design.

Part 1 – Goblins of my childhood

I know I was introduced to goblins and fairies at a very young age through fairy tales read to me by my mom, like those of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. But one of the first images of a goblin that stuck in my mind was David Trampier’s pen & ink illustration for 1980’s Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (something I’ve already reminisced about in previous posts). In fact, I still have a drawing I copied from that book when I was 12 years old.

DAT’s Goblin

The D&D goblins were impish and combat attired. My guess is that they, like many of the D&D humanoids, were inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Yet, C.S. Lewis also mentions goblin-like creatures of the night in his Narnia books…though they may be more demon-like when one looks deeper into Lewis’ thinking behind those stories.

Froud’s Goblins

Even movies of that time, like Legend and Labyrinth, have goblins that are similar in nature – the latter, of course, were designed by the faerie mastermind Brian Froud. Brian’s goblins are more silly and humorous grotesques, possibly inspired by gargoyles that adorn many of the churches and ancient buildings in England. Or, perhaps, the British grand master of fey illustration, Arthur Rackham, inspired him.

Goblin Market

In most cases, even in images earlier than these examples, designs were built upon a small, ugly humanoid (usually green) creature whose motivations run from no-good mischief to malicious intent. Even the Green Goblin in the Spiderman comics pretty much falls into this category – and he was really just a maligned human.


BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 3)


Like I said before, both the original AD&D Monster Manual and the 1994’s Monstrous Manual had a tremendous impact on me both as an artist and a creator of books.

After binging out on D&D, at 13 I spent an entire summer making my own Monster Manual, which was more a field guide full of fantastical creatures from a strange island called “Gondwanaland” (after the ancient super-continent). But instead of giving statistics and game points, I wrote about natural habits, habitats, and even created scientific names for my menagerie.

I never forgot about that idea of a fantastical field guide from a naturalist’s point-of-view and that passion went into every image that I did for Spiderwick’s Field Guide – which was full of goblins, trolls, ogres and faeries – very much like the Monster Manuals.


I still love the Tolkien-inspired world of Dungeons & Dragons. And, even though I don’t do any illustrative work for the game anymore, I still doodle out some of my favorite monsters just like I did back in 1981.



BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 2)


The AD&D Monstrous Manual (MM) was my second monstrous assignment for TSR. I had just handed in the artwork for my first job, Dragon Mountain, and received a call from the MM editor Tim Beach.

It was 1992, I had just graduated from college, and was living with my parents. My younger brother, Adam, and my good friend Mike, had encouraged me to submit stuff to TSR and the Monstrous Manual was a dream-come-true project for me.


Adam and Mike had encouraged me because they had seen the drawings I had been doing in my sketchbook for the past year of Beholders, Shambling Mounds and Mind Flayers – some of which had been in my initial submission to TSR. So when Tim called me to see my interpretation on their classic creatures I simply just sent him my sketchbook.


At that point, he wanted me to illustrate the WHOLE book – over 300 illustrations! But the deadline was so tight there was no way I could do it, so we decided on half (which was still over 100 drawings!)

I had no money (I was still waiting for my payment from Dragon Mountain). So I used leftover school supplies consisting of pencils, Berol Prismacolor markers, and pastel pencils all rendered on laser paper. You read that right. Crappy, crummy, thin-n-flimsy laser bond paper. Of course, it works well for blending the alcohol ink for the markers, but it hardly will stand the test of time.

You can see some of my favorite finished images in the ART/GAMING section of the site. In the meantime, here are some snapshots of the sketchbook that I sent to Tim.