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Showing posts with label Terry John Barto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terry John Barto. Show all posts


A Conversation with Terry John Barto

Before writing children's books, Terry John Barto directed and choreographed more than 200 regional theater productions. In addition, he was the creative mind behind numerous television and cruise ship shows throughout the world.

He currently lives in Los Angeles and was good enough to talk about two books he wrote which I reviewed recently:
Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon and Gollywood, Here I Come!

What themes connect these two books?

Following your dreams, perseverance, and being true to yourself.
What was your own journey like? Was working in theater something you wanted to do as a child?
I'd always put together little shows in the living room when I was young, making tickets and charging admission for my family to come. The productions became more elaborate and I forced my little brother to perform on the pool's diving board.

In High School, I was in a singing group that got me interested in performing. I trained as a dancer and performed in theater productions and various roles at Disneyland, then choreographed a group called The Great American Entertainment Company founded by Bob Jani, who had created the Main Street Electrical Parade! I continued choreographing several musical theater shows and a few years later was directing as well.

So having worked in theater, why did you decide to pursue picture books?

While I was directing a show, an actress had asked me to be part of her new production company. She thought I had good story-telling abilities - as a director - and wanted me to help hone her ideas. We developed scripts for animation and out of one story, we created dolls. The company only lasted a couple of years, but I gained so much experience that I could then add to my resume.

I sent it out to about a hundred animation affiliated companies and got a response from the VP of Walt Disney Television Animation. He encouraged me to start developing my own ideas. One thing led to another and along the way, I met an editor who encouraged me and worked with me to develop these picture books.

Do you work with comedians in your theater work? Did any of them influence the character of Nickerbacher?

I performed with someone that had become a comedian, and consulted with her on Nickerbacher. I passed on a bunch of jokes…. some were tossed aside and others were tweaked. The comedy was the hardest part!

I contacted another comedian friend with regards to the overall story. She had a suggestion for the approach that a comedian would take... when Nickerbacher is practicing in his room, I had originally written - He auditioned and auditioned. After awhile, he finally got his big break. My friend told me that comedians practice on audiences and prepare, so that line became - After many hours of practicing and preparation, he finally got his big break. 

On a side note; In Nickerbacher's room, the pictures on the wall are supposed to be his idols, and they are my comedian friends that helped!

How much back and forth did you have with the artist with regard to character design and the overall look of the books?

For Gollywood, Here I Come!, I tried to get an artist who was extremely busy so I worked out all the scenes in advance. Ultimately, she couldn't do it and I ended up with a great artist from Italy, Mattia Cerato. I e-mailed him the scenes that I had already developed and for reference, sent him a book about Southern California in the 1950's. I had specific ideas for each of the characters, even the smaller parts.

With Nickerbacher The Funniest Dragon, Kim Sponaugle and I created the scenarios over the phone. We went page by page, then she set out to draw preliminary sketches. Before she did the coloring, I offered suggestions and insight.

Is writing children's book been just a part time hobby for you, or has it become the new focus of your career?

I continue to focus on my writing career and have other projects I'm working on.

For example, Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon has evolved to a newly released chapter book called (just) Nickerbacher. This time I've taken a step further of what comedians do. They speak from personal experience and truth., so Nickerbacher learns that being a comedian is more the puns and jokes. It's about telling a compelling story. All 3 books can be found on my author page at Amazon. amazon.com/author/terryjohnbarto

 Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.


Gollywood, Here I Come! (2014)

Written by Terry John Barto

Illustrated by Mattia Cerato

The book opens with an impressive and expansive panorama of the town of Gobbleville, filled with buildings of all shapes and sizes, swimming pools, taco huts, trucks and buses. In the far off distance, beneath the setting sun and a passing zeppelin, loom the large, white letters, “Gollywood!”

The artist, Mattia Cerato, specializes in maps when he's not illustrating stories, and this definitely seems right up his alley. 

From here, the scene zooms in on a parade marching down the main street. Anamazie Marie LeBelle is leading the Wattle View School Marching Band, tossing the baton high into the sky and imagining all the great things to come in her life! And no sooner is the parade over, than Anamazie has time only for a quick change of clothes before arriving at the theater for her next passionate calling, a patriotic tap dance on Gobbleville’s Got Talent!

 Thunderous applause roared from the audience as Anamazie landed in the splits and belted out the last note!


Gobbleville's Got Talent!
From there, the author charts Anamazie’s meteoric rise to fame, as she at lasts finds her way to Gollywood, securing the starring role in The Turkey and I, directed by the famous J.B. Tuttlebaum... with only a few bumps along the way.

“I can’t work with this!” her co-star, Jake Quigglemap shouts as he storms off the set, after Anamazie has messed up a scene.

"You will star in my next motion picture!"

"I can't work with this!"

But all is well that ends well, and end well it does. Anamazie gives an inspirational final adieu to her former classmates, “My mom says you can do anything if you work hard and never give up!” and then it’s back to her limo, away from the blinding flash of the paparazzi, and she’s back on her way to Gollywood!

As he did also with Nickerbacher, the Funniest Dragon, which I reviewed last time, the author Terry John Barto writes a story about a character finding their calling and following their dreams. 


Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon (2015)

Written by Terry John Barto

Illustrated by Kim Sponaugle


Nickerbacher is a dragon with bushy eyebrows who spends his days and nights lazing before a tall tower, guarding the fair maiden entrapped within, the set-up for many a standard fairy-tale. But Nickerbacher doesn’t want to be part of a standard fairy tale, he’d rather be out preforming stand-up comedy at a nightclub.

“Why did it take me forever to cross the road? Because I’m always a-draggin!”

But dragons don’t perform comedy. Dragons fight knights. Dragons breathe fire. Dragons do dragon-things.

“Every dragon has a duty to guard princesses!” growls his frowning father, a much larger dragon whose eyebrows aren’t even a tad bushy.

“But I want to tell jokes!” Nickerbacher pleads.

His father isn’t having it.
"You're not supposed to make people laugh, you're supposed to scare them!"

Nickerbacher seems resigned to this life when finally that other standard storybook trope, the brave knight, makes his appearance. His name is Prince Happenstance, and he has come to rescue the princess and to do battle!

Nickerbacher, however, has only one weapon in his arsenal. “I’m a comedian. I’ll slay you with laughter, Prince Fancypants!”

"Don't you think I'm funny?"

The art by Kim Sponaugle is fun and expressive. I liked the design of all of the characters. She creates a convincing-looking dragon that works as well in a medieval setting as he does even after he’s donned a loud bow tie and jacket, standing onstage before an audience of anachronistic theater-goers.

“You know what happened to the dragon whose dream came true?” he asks his adoring crowds. “He lived happily ever after.”

Hm… seems I recall hearing that line in a movie somewhere…  But perhaps this is a fairy tale after all!

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Comedy Castle presents...."

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