The latest volume in the insanely popular children’s Treehouse series by dynamic duo Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, The 65-Storey Treehouse, features a wheelie bin time machine, which isn’t that much bigger on the inside than the outside. Regardless of cramping issues, I would have loved to have one of those handy as my son and I watched our train to their session pull out of Ballarat station without us.
We arrived just after the first session ended, and gazed in wonder at the epic queue of school kids lined up with their favourite Griffiths and Denton novels, waiting for a signature from their idols. This team of creators certainly knows what makes young readers tick – my son devoured the 376 illustration-rich pages of the last treehouse book in a single day.
The 12.30 pm session kicked off with a lively introduction and ‘Welcome to Country’ by comic book virtuoso Bernard Caleo, whose hair seemed as excited as he was. He pitched his delivery squarely at a primary school level, keeping it short, sharp and entertaining.
When the stars of the show were introduced, Denton got a noticeably bigger round of applause, and gave Caleo a funny handshake and a bear hug. Then Denton wondered off stage in search of paper for his live drawing performance. Griffiths played the straight man, quipping that it was fine, there were only 400 people waiting for Denton to come back, and kept the room entertained by asking who thought Terry was a ‘stupid dumb dumb.’ Griffiths dealt deftly with the next technical difficulty, an upside down display for the drawing projection, by asking everyone to stand up and sit back down on their heads. Most of the kids were happy to oblige.
Once the technology was behaving, Griffiths threw to the crowd, asking if there were any questions.
‘Have you had any problems writing stories?’ was the first.
‘Well you’ve seen the trouble we’ve just had,’ replied Griffiths, and explained that it wasn’t so much the stories they had trouble with, but the things that happened when they were meant to be writing stories.
He asked the audience to suggest something for Denton to draw. ‘A dragon!’
Denton drew a picture of himself ‘draggin’ Griffiths. This led into a fabulous spiral of illustrated chaos involving: exploding eyeballs; Denton marrying a superhero potato chip and accidentally eating her during a kiss; the subsequent potato chip invasion of earth; an electrocorn (a cross between a unicorn and an electric eel); and Denton with his pants on fire.
Whenever the next unhinged development was due, Griffiths tapped into the imaginations of the audience, gently rejecting the tamer suggestions until something really juicy came out. Many scenarios involved torturing Denton, which the illustrator brought to life with relish, and accompanying sound effects.
And this is the secret of their success – Griffiths and Denton don’t just guess what primary school kids enjoy reading about – they ask them. The exploding eyeball room in 65-Storey Treehouse sprang directly from a suggestion from an audience member after the previous book in the series. As Griffiths revealed, it was just so crazy it had to go in.
We were also treated to a sneak peak of the next installment in the series. Griffiths revealed that it will be all about making a movie, and how that will go disastrously wrong.
Griffiths, Denton gave the audience an insight into their 20-year, creative partnership as writer and illustrator, telling how Denton’s illustrations had evolved from flick book sketches in the margins of the Just series to the integral narrative cartoons in the Treehouse books. Denton revealed that he and Griffiths bounce ideas back and forth like in a game of tennis, until they end up with some kind of demented world that neither of them could have come up with on their own.
‘The more demented the better,’ said Griffiths, ‘That’s what we’re aiming for.’