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Behind The ‘Monstrous Manual’: PART 10

July 5, 2024

After The Monstrous Manual: The Calm Before The Storm

Using the money I had earned from Dragon Mountain and the Monstrous Manual, in the summer of 1993 I rented a two-bedroom apartment, dedicating one bedroom as my “art studio”. Well…really I drew and painted all over the place, as you can see in the photo below. For normals this would be a dining area, but for this artist it was a place to work on personal paintings, like “Johnny Depp with Tiger Beetles”.

On the smaller easel, just below my faux fine art, is a sample piece I’d completed for Larry W. Smith (Art Director of Dragon magazine at that time) titled, “Conversation with a Brass Dragon”.

…but I am getting ahead of myself. Note the date that the photo was taken: August 22nd. This was the day after I’d returned from a visit to the TSR offices and the Gen Con gaming convention.

You see, once the Monstrous Manual was released in June, Project Coordinator and Career Catapult Man, Tim Beach, invited me to come meet the team up at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin–home of TSR’s corporate headquarters and birthplace of D&D. He also encouraged me to attend Gen Con (the first of many for me).

So, in August, I flew up to meet Tim, Peggy Cooper, and everyone I’d been working with. The unassuming, functional building, nestled in a business park, was home to a labyrinth of D&D-decorated cubicles and offices. To give you an idea, here’s fellow designer, Dale “Slade” Henson‘s cubicle. (Apparently, he was not a fan of Gen Con back then).

It was totally awesome for this nerd! I met staff artists like Jeff Easley, Dave “Diesel” LaForce and others. I hit it off with Tim’s roommate, fellow game designer Colin McComb, who I would become close with in years to come.

One person, in particular, that I met was renowned game designer, David “Zeb” Cook (shown above at Gen Con ’96). I’d illustrated several creatures in the Monstrous Manual that Zeb had created: the Tasloi, Yaun-Ti and Aboleth. Zeb purchased those original pieces from me, along with my Brownie illustration. He later told me he liked my take on the monsters, particularly the “little folk”, saying, “They were more than just ‘here’s a monster’ but [you] tried to add a sense of place and culture to them. The stuff really stood out. What they wore and carried didn’t seem like afterthoughts.”

That’s some mighty high praise coming from a legend.

Little did I know that Zeb and Peggy were in deep discussions on inviting me to fully illustrate a new campaign setting he’d been developing for the D&D line. But, this meant that I couldn’t be tied up on another big illustration job when the art order for Zeb’s new secret project was ready to go.

For the remainder of 1993, freelance work was lean. I illustrated a couple modules for the Dark Sun setting, some odds and ends for White Wolf Games, and a few Dragon and Dungeon Adventures magazine articles. In fact, one of my rejected Monstrous Manual sketches, of a giant scorpion, was finished as my first printed piece in Dragon magazine, accompanying the aptly named article ,”The Ecology of the Giant Scorpion”.

* Note that the art is accomplished in the same media (alcohol markers, ballpoint pens, bond paper) as the Monstrous Manual, except for the addition of an airbrush, which I’d use consistently over the next few years.

Do You Want to Get Paid to Draw Monsters? With Benefits and Health Care?

Late in 1993, Peggy asked if I could fly up to TSR and meet the team I’d be working with for Zeb’s new secret project. I returned to (a now freezing cold) Lake Geneva where Zeb presented his weird, wonderful setting for Dungeons & Dragons: Planescape.

In an effort to retain an established look to the game (not unlike what Larry Elmore had down for Dragonlance or Gerald Brom had done for Dark Sun), I would be the sole illustrator for the line…except for Robh Ruppel‘s painterly covers. As if that weren’t enough, I was offered a staff position in TSR’s art department. HOLY CRAP.

Thankfully I did not have to give an answer right away on the job offer and my participation in Planescape wasn’t dependent on me taking it. Regardless, there was A LOT of work to do. I honestly had no idea how crazy my life was about to get…

…but that is another story altogether.

What’s important here is what my extra effort to do my very best–as well as my willingness to follow Tim and Peggy’s direction–on the Monstrous Manual had earned me. Planescape was the treasure at the end of this adventure.

So Long, We Shall Meet Again

If you are fan my work, perhaps you know where this story goes: I illustrated as a freelance artist on Planescape non-stop until the late 1990s and only stopped because TSR was descending into bankruptcy. I did not take the staff position, but instead moved with my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Angela, to New York City in 1996, with hopes of breaking into children’s publishing (surprise: we did).

Tim remained at TSR until 1995, writing mostly for the Mystara game setting. We would reconnect at Gen Con, though I became more intertwined with the Planescape team as time went on. Regardless, I always let Tim know that I would never forget the amazing opportunity he’d given me.

With the launch of my first children’s book in 2000, I no longer had the time to work on D&D, though my love for the game never wavered. In fact, I convinced my publisher, Simon & Schuster, to launch The Spiderwick Chronicles at Gen Con in 2003, which we did with much fanfare. That was a full circle moment for sure.

With my kid’s lit career in full swing and a feature film in the works, I would not return to Gen Con until 2015, where I was Guest of Honor and celebrating the release of REALMS: The Roleplaying Game Art of Tony DiTerlizzi. For me, Gen Con ’15 was a long overdue reunion of old friends, including Tim:

By then, I’d sold off much of the original artwork from the Monstrous Manual to devoted fans and collectors, keeping only a handful for my archive. Those pieces were exhibited in my first retrospective at the Norman Rockwell Museum of Illustration in 2017.

Wow. If 1993-Tony could’ve seen this, I don’t think he would have believed it.

Revisiting Old Friends

As years went by, I’d occasionally dust off the old Monstrous Manual drawings and think about how much I’d grown technically as an artist. In 2003, the incredibly talented comic artist, Claire Wending, decided to fully re-illustrate a self-published sketchbook she’d released in 1996. The side-by-side comparison was astounding. You could see her evolution as an artist when you compared the gesture, line work and style of her past and present. I loved it.

This was the same year we were set to attend Gen Con (to launch Spiderwick) but it was also the 10-year anniversary as my debut of an illustrator for games. I printed up my own souvenir sketchbook, Ten Imaginary Years (1993-2003) and, on the last page spread, redrew the dryad from the Monstrous Manual:

This exercise led to other revisits over the years. Here’s that Kenku that was never printed, redrawn in 2006. He later became a miniature in the DiTerlizzi Masterworks line.

And here’s another cantor-wearing Mind Flayer from 2012. Is the skull the correct size now?

I’ve revisited my Brian Froud-inspired gnome illusionist a few times; this rendition from 2015 being a favorite:

Speaking of Froud, I also realized my Dark Crystal-Garthim-inspired Umber Hulk in 2015.

For my 2017 Norman Rockwell exhibition, I created a mobile of fairies, including an updated take of the D&D sprite:

During the 2020 pandemic, over daily live-stream sessions of “Drawn to Fantasy“, I returned to the old Monstrous Manual on several occasions, resketching the Locathah, Orc and Sylph.

As the decades have passed, my memory of this experience only glows brighter. The opportunity to reinterpret these beloved monsters with pencils, markers and paper–as my paid profession–was a dream-come-true for this kid. A kid whose overactive imagination was set ablaze when he first cracked opened that slim hardcover book back in 1982: The Monster Manual.

THE END (for now)

Oh, and…

Hey, Tim Beach still designs games! His latest, Start Here, is an introductory role-playing game system for young players. You can learn more about it here.

Many of those early ink drawings, along with some of these recent revisits, were self-published in THE PEN & INK DRAWINGS OF TONY DITERLIZZI: Collecting Three Decades of Fantasy Art from the Artist’s Sketchbooks, which is available from Noble Knight Games right here.

This year, I released a Mini-Monster Portfolio of some of my favorites. Although I had to adjust the poses to fit the vertical format, the color reproduction is spot on! It is also available at Noble Knight Games right here.

Thank you for your kind words, notes, emails and messages during these posts and over the years. It keeps me going. I hope to see you soon!

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Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.