|Tony DiTerlizzi||Interview, August 2006|
G Is for One Gzonk! An Alpha-number-bet Book
Welcome to my silly dilly
For there are no "leaping lizards" here
So turn the page and cast a gaze
"'Will you walk into my parlor,'
is easily one of the most recognized and quoted first lines in all of English verse. But do you have any idea how the age-old tale of the Spider and the Fly ends? Join celebrated artist Tony DiTerlizzi as he -- drawing inspiration from one of his loves, the classic Hollywood horror movies of the 1920s and 1930s -- shines a cinematic spotlight on Mary Howitt's warning, written to her own children about those who use sweet words to hide their not-so-sweet intentions.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide (Book 1)
ETC: G Is for One Gzonk! is an alphabet book with lots of tongue twisting rhymes, plenty of crazy characters and more than one number thrown in to the mix. What inspired you to write this rather unusual picture book about the ABC's?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I really like clever, well thought-out, alphabet books - I've quite a collection of them myself.
But I wanted to create a chaotic, disorderly alphabet book, where I could really mess with the format and have a lot of fun. There are so many ABC books out there, and I thought, "What if I did one that didn't really teach the reader anything, but mocked something they've seen before?" It's almost like an old Muppet Show skit where everything goes horribly awry.
Of course, this isn't the first time there have been silly ABC books. Edward Lear did this very thing almost 100 years ago. Dr. Seuss did his classic version, and even Edward Gorey did a funny, twisted one as well. So I wanted to add something in the tradition of those books…where the reader can be silly and have a lot of fun reading a book that is normally intended to "trick" the kid into learning. My trick is on the adult who thinks they are buying an imaginative alphabet book that will teach the ABCs.
ETC: Gzonk features many unusual creatures -- which one is your favorite?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Some (like the Dinkalicious Dinky) are clearly Seuss-inspired, others (like the Angry Ack) are real Muppet-like. I would say I like the Gzonk most, that's why I named the book after him.
Also, you'll see Ted from my second picture book under the letter H. You see, I pitched Gzonk to my editor extraordinaire, Kevin Lewis, right after my first book Jimmy Zangwow. He liked the idea a lot, but said it was too early in my career to do an alphabet book (there are so many that come out each year). But, he really liked this fat, pink rabbit-thing for the letter H, and wanted to know his story…
ETC: You are also the co-creator of the wildly popular fantasy series the Spiderwick Chronicles series. Spiderwick is written for a slightly older audience than Gzonk and it's also darker and written in a chapter book format. Was it difficult to switch gears between these two vastly different formats and stories?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Not really, Holly Black (the other co-creator of Spiderwick) writes young adult novels, whereas I've mostly done picture books. Meeting halfway in the format of middle-reader chapter books seemed like a good place.
I think you create a story and it tells you what format book it should be. Obviously an alphabet book is intended for a much younger audience than a dark, Grimm-inspired, fairy tale.
Of course, there have been times that it's been confusing what format does work best. Ted, for instance, was originally intended as a young chapter book. But we realized the hero of the book had an imaginary friend, and was about 5-6 years old - much younger than the protagonist in a chapter book. So we ultimately made it a picture book (with short 3-page chapters) so that it reached its proper audience.
ETC: Speaking of Spiderwick, can you update us about what we should expect next in the series?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Holly and I just returned from Florida where we were doing research on the sequel to the series. There will be three new chapter books and we are VERY excited about the story. There will be a whole cast of new characters, and I hope our readers like where we take it.
Of course, the other exciting news is that Paramount Pictures is working on the film. They are shooting up in Montreal this fall and are aiming to release the film late next year. It will be live action with computer animation for the creatures. Mark Waters, the director (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday), has been great about keeping us up to date on how it's developing and is working hard to make the film in the spirit of the books. Everything I've seen so far looks AMAZING!
ETC: Your website www.diterlizzi.com is chocked full of information-- even features fun video clips. What are some other things fans can see on your site?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Thanks! We worked really hard at making the site as interesting and as interactive as possible. Almost like an online representation of my studio and mind.
I've had a website since 1994, as a way to directly communicate with my fans. Obviously, it showcases my artwork and books, but also allows me to reveal some of my process like book dummies and sketches for paintings.
Some of my favorite things to see on the site include a set of holiday ornaments from my picture books that I created specifically for the site (found in the "Books" section). For my older, long-term fans, there are Dungeons & Dragons characters you can download for free if you click the 20-sided dice in the skyline.
ETC: Many of the characters in your books are "make believe" creatures. Do you use any real life inspiration to model your characters after or does their look and form all come from your imagination?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Many are a composite of both. Visually, I will sort of "free imagine" shapes and forms while I doodle and then add features to make them recognizable. The personality they have is either drawn from myself, people that I know, or a mix of both.
Ted was certainly based on everybody's "Crazy Uncle Ted" that would make your parents nervous if he was allowed to baby-sit for the night. Many of the creatures in Gzonk are based on personalities. We all know pack-rats like the Bloobytack, hypochondriacs like the Ick, and people with bad breath like the Eeog.
ETC: If you had to give advice to a child who wanted to become an illustrator or author, what would that piece of advice be?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I was fortunate in that I had parents, teachers, and friends that encouraged me when I was a kid. So that's really who I'd give advice to.
If there is a youngster who always has their head in the clouds coming up with fantastical stories or does drawings of impossible things, then support that imagination - you never know where that encouragement may take them.
ETC: Lastly, will you be touring the country at all this Fall? If so, what cities are you visiting?
Tony DiTerlizzi: We are touring through the east and the Midwest throughout September and October.
We'll be starting in Florida, then moving up to Atlanta and Raleigh, North Carolina. Next, we'll be in Washington D.C. for the National Book Festival and then move onto Michigan and finishing up in Minnesota. I have dates and information on my site (under the "About" section) and I am sure Simon & Schuster will also have the dates available as well. I hope we see you there!