Leg­end: Tony DiTer­l­izzi

The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles artist on his work­ing life so far.

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When Tony DiTer­l­izzi was 12 years old, like so many fan­tasy art fa­nat­ics, he was deeply into Dun­geons & Dragons. And, grow­ing up in South Florida, he loved na­ture too and loved ex­plor­ing in the nearby woods look­ing for wildlife de­tailed in il­lus­trated guide­books. One day, his imag­i­na­tion took over and he started drawing a field guide of his own, but in­stead of snakes, birds and pos­sums, his book de­picted the mon­sters rou­tinely ob­served dur­ing games of D&D.

“I started putting them into a field guide. And it filled up like a note­book,” Tony says. “Over the course of the sum­mer I’d do a drawing of a dragon and give it a Latin name which I’d make up com­pletely – like Big­gus Bad­dus Fire­breathus. Then I would write this whole en­try from a nat­u­ral­ist’s point of view, ob­ser­va­tions of this an­i­mal.”

The project lay dor­mant in Tony’s mind, but resur­faced af­ter he’d be­come a chil­dren’s book illustrator living in New York. He’d just won the Calde­cott Honor award for his il­lus­trated ver­sion of Mary Howitt’s poem The Spi­der and the Fly, and his pub­lisher at Simon & Schus­ter had an of­fer for him. “They asked me a ques­tion you don’t get asked of­ten: ‘If you could do any kind of book, what would you do?’” he says.

build­ing a story

His mind im­me­di­ately went back to the field guide he worked on that sum­mer back in Florida. What if he could recre­ate it prop­erly, build a story around it and have it pub­lished for a fan­tasy-lov­ing au­di­ence.

“I brought ev­ery­thing in and I told my edi­tor about it and he thought it was a great idea. He was like, ‘ Tell me about the guy who cre­ated this.’ And so I started telling him the sto­ries about Arthur Spi­der­wick and how, in his mind, he was go­ing to be­come fa­mous. He was go­ing to be the next Charles Dar­win and blow open the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity with his dis­cov­ery of the fairy world.”

The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles was born, and it be­came a global sen­sa­tion. Tony co-wrote the se­ries with Holly Black and solely cre­ated over 350 amaz­ing il­lus­tra­tions for it, which com­prises eight sto­ry­books, plus Arthur Spi­der­wick’s Field Guide to the Fan­tas­ti­cal World All Around You, The Care and Feed­ing of Sprites,

and Spi­der­wick’s Note­book for Fan­tas­ti­cal Ob­ser­va­tions. His earthy, teas­t­ained, Rack­ham-in­spired im­agery has been in­grained on a gen­er­a­tion of new, young fan­tasy nat­u­ral­ists.

“I learned a lot from work­ing with Holly, most im­por­tantly to sub­vert the an­tic­i­pated,” he ex­plains. “For in­stance, the first sketches I did of the Grace kids were very Amer­i­can, Nor­man Rock­well. Kids with freck­les and big ears. Holly was like, ‘ We’ve seen you do that in your other books. Why not make them look dif­fer­ent? I’ve got a rule for you: no freck­les!’

A dif­fer­ent kind of hero

So our he­roes had dark hair and pale skin in­stead, and the se­ries got a hint of shadow and mys­ti­cism. When it came to a scene in one of the books, Tony ini­tially thought along the lines of a won­der­ful rev­e­la­tion. But Holly’s think­ing was… well… blacker.

“Holly had the uni­corn come and share its night­mare-ish vi­sions of the uni­corn hunt with one of the kids. It was so pow­er­ful. It was go­ing to be, ‘Oh, pretty, beau­ti­ful uni­corn,’ but then what it’s hold­ing within its soul is just not what I would have ex­pected. I don’t think it’s what the reader would ex­pect, and that was the ge­nius of how Holly wrote.”

The cre­ative part­ner­ship con­tin­ued when The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles was turned into a film in 2008. Tony and Holly were both ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers on the project. Work­ing on it ex­posed Tony to all the cre­ativ­ity that goes into mo­tion pic­tures. The vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of the story’s crea­tures was split be­tween ILM and an­i­ma­tion guru Phil Tip­pett.

“Phil and I got along ter­rif­i­cally, to my de­light, be­cause I’d grown up see­ing his work in The Em­pire Strikes Back, Dragon­slayer and Robocop,” says Tony. “ILM kind of re­designed a lot of the stuff that they were tasked with do­ing. They did Thim­ble­tack, the fairies and Mul­garath.

Thim­ble­tack and Mul­garath kind of went through the Hol­ly­wood fil­ter – they were changed for the screen. When I got to see Phil and what he was do­ing – the goblin and the troll crea­tures – he re­ally didn’t change them. I said, ‘Is this the fi­nal?’ and he said, ‘ Yeah, the de­signs were great, why would we mess with them?’ I just thought that was such an amaz­ing com­pli­ment be­cause I ex­pected the de­signs to change. That’s what al­ways hap­pens when a book gets adapted to film.”

While cre­at­ing The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles, Tony used a skill he’d de­vel­oped years be­fore­hand: that of world build­ing. With a de­gree in graphic de­sign and a job in a stu­dio in the early 90s, his friends nev­er­the­less con­vinced him to send a port­fo­lio to TSR, the then-pub­lisher of Dun­geons & Dragons. Even­tu­ally, he won a se­ries of com­mis­sions from the com­pany, in­clud­ing work on the Mon­strous Man­ual – the first full colour edi­tion of the Mon­ster Man­ual. In 1994, his il­lus­tra­tion skills went up a level when he be­came sole artist for Planescape, a new D&D cam­paign set­ting that en­abled play­ers to visit realms and di­men­sions in­hab­ited by the game’s gods, demigods, deities and ele­men­tals.

plane speak­ing

“I was asked to fly up to TSR and I met with Zeb Cook, who was one of the orig­i­nal game de­sign­ers for Dun­geons & Dragons,” Tony ex­plains. “By work­ing with Zeb, I re­ally started to un­der­stand how to build a world from soup to nuts, and that was re­ally im­por­tant for projects. I ended up do­ing the same down the line, in par­tic­u­lar with The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles.”

A weird merge of Ja­panese and Bri­tish il­lus­tra­tion sen­si­bil­i­ties comes to­gether with my pen and ink style

Zeb Cook also in­tro­duced Tony to Yoshi­taka Amano’s vi­brant art­work, while his own in­spi­ra­tion came from Golden Age il­lus­tra­tors such as Arthur Rack­ham and Ed­mund Dulac, and more re­cent work by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. The chal­lenge for Tony was to come up with a co­he­sive cre­ative style that could be used across cov­ers and in­ter­nal pieces, de­pict­ing ev­ery­thing from gods to player char­ac­ters, re­li­gious arte­facts to ar­chi­tec­ture – not to men­tion the cam­paign’s cross-di­men­sional ethe­real set­tings.

“So you’ve got this kind of weird merge of Ja­panese and Bri­tish il­lus­tra­tion sen­si­bil­i­ties and it all kind of comes

to­gether with my pen and ink style,” ex­plains Tony. “Be­cause the dead­lines were so tight and I was the only one do­ing them, the art­work was looser, faster, a lit­tle more spon­ta­neous and I would say live­lier. Less ac­cu­rate, and more ges­tu­ral.”

a story far, far away

The artist’s cel­e­brated, fan­tas­ti­cal ca­reer de­vel­oped fur­ther via dozens of Magic: The Gath­er­ing cards, and he’s done nu­mer­ous other chil­dren’s books be­sides, in­clud­ing his cre­ative opus, the WondLa se­ries (see page 45). How­ever, last year he took on an­other project of which his 12-year-old self would surely have been proud. Lu­cas­film ap­proached him and asked him to put to­gether a 64-page pic­ture book us­ing the con­cept art of the late Ralph McQuar­rie, and to write the story.

As Tony worked on it, he could see how McQuar­rie’s art worked and com­pare it to his own. “Ralph worked much smaller than I do, he worked in­cred­i­bly tiny. Many of his thumb­nails were not much big­ger than a postage stamp,” he says. “He’s in­cred­i­bly good at spa­tial, the illusion of space, and I don’t mean like stars but I mean big spa­tial land­scapes and ar­chi­tec­ture and build­ings that I strug­gle with. And also his ever- chang­ing colour pal­ette. He could do very cool colours for a scene that in­volved the Death Star and he could do very warm colours for Jabba’s palace or an Ewok vil­lage. I will play with my colour pal­ette, but I have a favourite pal­ette that has lot of brown and dirt, and green. It’s na­ture-driven, and ev­ery­thing is an­ti­quated and a bit dingy.”

Af­ter years as an illustrator who found the writ­ing a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing, be­ing of­fered the project recog­nised Tony’s all­round tal­ent. “It’s amaz­ing, it’s very val­i­dat­ing, be­cause I wasn’t do­ing the art. I was just be­ing asked to de­sign and as­sem­ble this book for them and write the story.”

I have a favourite pal­ette that I will kind of sit in – brown and dirt, and green. It’s very na­ture-driven

Here’s the vil­lain of the piece in The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles – an ogre, not to be trusted!


For World of WondLa, Tony wanted a fe­male lead and a fu­tur­is­tic set­ting.


Fol­low­ing his suc­cess with Dun­geons & Dragons, Tony was re­cruited by the art di­rec­tors on Magic: The Gath­er­ing. A spot im­age from Tony’s new book,

Realms. Be­ware the deadly Fungi!



Tony gave the gods, demons and player char­ac­ters in the Planescape D&D cam­paign a unique

look and feel.


The award-win­ning il­lus­tra­tions for The Spi­der and the Fly put Tony on the chil­dren’s book pub­lish­ing map. Co-au­thor Holly Black helped Tony make his uni­corn more en­gag­ing than he could pos­si­bly have imag­ined.



The Be­holder is a clas­sic Dun­geons & Dragons mon­ster.


The full wrap­around jacket art­work for A Hero for WondLa, the sec­ond book in the se­ries.


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