Originally posted on Tony's blog September 23, 2007

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…

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.