On Collaboration by Andy Griffith
Terry Denton and I have been working together for almost twenty years now. For the first few years I encouraged him not to illustrate the action of my stories but just to do a random commentary of his own in the margins and flick pictures in the corners of the pages. It gave the books a unique look (as if the narrator himself had been doodling in his notebook) and also gave the books an endless re-readability because there was always something else to find in Terry’s delightfully silly scribbles. It wasn’t long before I began trying to work out how to harness Terry’s surreal stream of consciousness to help me tell the stories.
We started meeting once a week and writing and drawing cartoons, rhymes and weird little pieces together. These early collaborations often began with me proposing an idea in a very raw form which Terry would then do a few illustrations for. These illustrations would then me a clue of how to develop the idea further which would then encourage him to do more drawings, each one even funnier than the last. In between gales of laughter and goading each other on to ever more improbable combinations of words and text we came up with our first genuine collaboration, ‘Killer Koalas from Outer Space.’ I say ‘genuine collaboration’ because it was a book that neither of us could have come up with on our own. Somehow we’d created a third mind that was bigger, badder and more brutally funny than either of us separately. My wife, editor and collaborator Jill was—and still is—a crucial member of the team as well, helping to keep the story on track and under control as well as adding plenty of jokes and making sure the rhymes actually rhyme.
Our readers were delighted with the new style of book and, apart from the endless and evergreen ‘where do you get your ideas come from,’ began asking us about whether Terry and I were friends and how did I feel about the drawings he did of me where he was dropping a piano on me, hitting my head with a hammer, or feeding me into an mashing and pulverizing machine.
I realized that we could play with this idea of the artist and writer at war with each other at the same time as trying to come up with ideas for their books. I figured the fictional Terry and me would live in the world’s coolest tree house (lots of potential writing distractions) and I asked Terry to draw me a picture of a tree house with a bowling alley, a tank full of man-eating sharks and any other crazy stuff he could think up. Two hours later he presented me with a picture of a tree house with 13 levels … and the tree house was born. And—just as in real life—the main characters are called Andy & Terry & Jill. Andy is always industriously trying to get their book written, Terry going off into entertaining but distracting tangents (which ironically help to provide the material for their book), and Jill helping to save them from themselves.
The book worked as a fully illustrated novel in which Terry’s picture help to tell at least 50% of the story and combined many different styles of humor which have helped to make the books accessible and able to be enjoyed by a wide range of readers. They are very simply told but contain quite complex narratives, flashbacks and diversions. We added 13 more storys the following year to make The 26-Story Treehouse and then 13 more to make The 39-Story Treehouse. So, what are you waiting for? Come on up!
Andy Griffiths is the New York Times bestselling author of The Day My Butt Went Psycho!, Zombie Butts from Uranus!, and Butt Wars! The Final Conflict, as well as The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow and The Cat on the Mat Is Flat. In 2007, he became the first Australian author to win six children’s choice awards in one year for Just Shocking! He is passionate about inspiring a love of books in his young readers, and works as an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Project, which provides books and literacy resources to remote indigenous communities around Australia. Andy is a big fan of Dr. Seuss and of cauliflower. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is Australia’s most popular children’s writer.