Monday, May 14, 2012

Tony DiTerlizzi is super nice, and also rad

This photo does not show it, but Tony DiTerlizzi has great teeth, too
Tony DiTerlizzi is currently on a tour to promote the release of his latest book, A Hero for WondLa. As part of that tour, he did a presentation and signing at the Barnes & Noble just a few minutes from my apartment. How could I not go?

I arrived just as he did, about half an hour before the presentation was set to begin. The door had not even closed behind him when I slipped inside. I stood there staring at him and the lady he was with (his manager? agent?), so that I actually, inadvertently made things more confusing: the lady asked me if I was with the store. I made an inarticulate, panicked noise and pointed at someone I hoped was with the store.

Barnes & Noble should have been more on the ball as to what was going on. I had to go through three employees before someone could answer my question of whether I could bring outside books to get them signed (it turns out I could, so long as I bought one at the store.)
Tony DiTerlizzi's latest book
I was familiar with DiTerlizzi's work on Planescape, Magic: the Gathering, Changeling, and many other beloved nerd franchises, but his more recent work has been in children's publishing. This meant that the presentation and signing were in the kids' section of the store, and most of the audience were kids. There were a few adults, though, split evenly between parents of the kids in the audience and people like me who were there on our own.

Tony joked about being a nerdy kid in school who was always drawing while the teacher was talking. He described how he had a turning point when one of his teachers suggested that he could get extra credit for illustrating the books he was reading for his book reports. Suddenly, young Tony engaged with the books in a new way, as he paid attention to the scenes described in the books so that he could decide which one to draw.

DiTerlizzi mentioned several older books in his presentation as having inspired him while he was growing up, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. The thing that united all of these things was that they featured a female protagonist who realized that what she really wanted was to go home. This then went on to inspire the character of Eva Nine in The Search for WondLa, who is searching for a home that she does not understand but longs for all the more.

Incidentally, he pronounced Eva with a soft "e," making me realize that I had been saying it wrong in my head all through the first book. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series, where it wasn't until after the first book that I learned how to pronounce "Hermione."

After describing the books he read as a kid, he also talked about the summer he discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and specifically how he had fallen in love with the Monster Manual. Years later, he got his big break when TSR hired him to do work for them on AD&D.

One of the themes of his talk was how important boredom is for kids. Young Tony spent a Florida summer stuck at home because it was too hot to play outside, so he spent his time in his room drawing monsters in the style of his Audubon books. His childhood sketches later became the basis for the Spiderwick Chronicles, which he cowrote with Holly Black. Kids too often don't have an opportunity to be bored, Tony said. They are too busy going from karate to dance class to learning an instrument. He invited parents to give kids a chance to be bored, because then they have to use their imaginations to come up with something to do.

At the end of his presentation, he asked for questions from the audience. All of the kids were too shy to ask, but there were some good questions from their parents. I asked a question at the end: how long had it been since he played a roleplaying game? He said that it had been a few years, but his daughter was almost at the age now where he could play roleplaying games with her, and he was looking forward to it.

When his presentation was concluded, all the kids got their books signed and met with Tony individually. He was extremely nice to each of them and gave them his full attention and enthusiasm. I remember at least one little girl brought a sketchbook to show Tony, and he looked genuinely pleased and excited to see her work.

I was one of the last people he met. Just before me, he met with one of his friends from the Bay Area who had come out to see him. Tony told his friend how tired he was from the tour, which was even busier than the one for the first book. I was surprised to hear it, since he had been so full of energy and so genuinely happy to meet everyone in line. His friend worked in animation, and had brought a buddy of his who was also an artist, so I felt like I was a bit of a let-down when my turn came to meet him.

We chatted a bit about gaming. I told him about having seen roleplaying games specifically designed for kids by people who had grown up on AD&D. I know of these games through one of my friends who is a dad and eagerly awaiting an opportunity to play some RPGs with his son (though he still has quite a wait ahead of him).

I feel like I only babbled a little bit, but DiTerlizzi was extremely nice to his nervous, geeky fan and when he shook my hand at the end and told me he was glad to meet me, I felt a real warmth there. Tony DiTerlizzi has one of the kindest smiles I have ever seen.


Doomfinger said...

"One of the themes of his talk was how important boredom is for kids."

This is an excellent point.

Doomfinger said...


Baron von Chop said...

With such a tall top hat and that mustache, the Hive Tyrant ends up looking more like Fagin than a gentleman. :3

Doomfinger said...

Supposedly Knights of Badassdom may never be released. I was actually more excited about that than The Hobbit.

Baron von Chop said...

Dang, that's an unfortunate surprise. While it wasn't the most promising upcoming film, I was planning on checking out the DVD at least.

Doomfinger said...

Which ones are you waiting for? I saw Heartless the other day and really enjoyed it. It is quite a strange movie though.

Doomfinger said...

Son of Rambow was good too.