(The Story of) The Story of Diva & Flea

(The Story of) The Story of Diva & Flea
Originally posted on Tony's blog on May 26, 2015

I could tell you its been a crazy time in DiTerlizziland, but I think I’ve finally realized its always crazy time here.

I’ve come to lean on the convenience of social media for sharing Post-it notes and Polaroids of my news and information. I assume that is how most of us keep track of the things and people we like, myself included. That said, I will continue to maintain this blog, though in a sporadic meter. I have to seek out the small openings in my schedule where I can pause, take a breather and share what I’m up to.

I think I am actually busier now than during the peak-Spiderwick years. Many projects are percolating, which has me incredibly excited: Movies are slowly developing in the background, I’m creating a pop-up shop’s worth of merchandise for my upcoming return to Gen Con, and there is a constant stream of books being created (by Ang and me).


After finishing the WondLa trilogy (all of which are now in paperback), I needed a break from books that required both writing and illustrating. Fortune shined upon me: I was asked to write the picture book version of the original Star Wars films, curate my old gaming art for a published collection by Dark Horse Comics, and Mo Willems asked me to illustrate a chapter book he’d written during his year-long stay in Paris.

As an aside, just to keep it real, as I am listing the books in the previous sentence, I feel like I am writing a news report for another author/illustrator who is not me. I still see myself as a kid living in Florida who likes to draw and write bad poetry. You know, this guy:

Fifth grade

Mo was inspired by the building manager’s dog (Diva) and an alley cat (Flea) who frequented the apartment where his family lived. When we spoke, he told me that he envisioned my artwork paired with his words for The Story of Diva & Flea. I was beyond flattered and began sketching right away.

Early Sketch

After Mo returned to the states, we discussed books that felt similar to the book we were going to create. I shared my beloved copies Frog & Toad are Friends, Grasshopper on the Road and Little Bear–all of which are beautifully designed and use a limited three-color palette in the art. Of course the only way I could find the colors for the palette I needed was to pack up the family, hop on a plane, and visit the City of Lights.


As first-time visitors, we visited many landmarks in Paris (including the gargoyles of Notre Dame cathedral, seen above) but there are some moments that I’ll cherish. One was visiting Mo’s Parisian apartment and meeting the real Diva (seen here with her owner) and locating Flea.


At Mo’s suggestion we visited Sennelier art supply, opened in 1887 and renowned for their custom paints. It is said that Gaugin, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso frequented this shop. Gazing at the containers of old powdered pigments, I found the colors of France.


I returned from my trip invigorated and inspired. To see a glimpse of what an impact it had on me, I share with you the jacket art for Diva & Flea, done last fall primarily for the sales department and promotion of the book. This was created before I visited Paris:


…and this is the final cover, revised after my return:


Not only did I gain an understanding of the palette of the city, I gained understanding of the inspirations behind the characters as well. Though I changed Diva’s breed from Yorkshire Terrier to a West Highland Terrier–in order to create visual contrast between her and Flea–her personality, her essence, was in my art.


My usual shared advice for young artists is to find reference for whatever they are trying to create. For this book, the reference came in all sorts of ways: colors, architecture, character design, landmarks, etc. For me, this immersion helped me craft a genuine cohesive look to the book. I am grateful to Mo for inviting me along for this experience.

POSTER final art

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.