By Kate Maguire Jensen –
Tucson’s Chris Gall wrote and illustrated the wildly successfully Dinotrux, a fantastical tale about creatures – half dinosaur and half truck – that roamed the earth for millions of years. With 500,000 copies in print and translations in Japanese, Portuguese, Italian and Korean, Dinotrux is now going Hollywood. DreamWorks Animation and Netflix are turning Gall’s Dinotrux books into a 300-episode series to stream on Netflix for three years starting in the spring of 2015.
Award-winning illustrator and writer Chris Gall attributes some of his phenomenal global success to what he learned in Tucson in the mid-’80s.
He was working full time as an art director for Nordensson Lynn Advertising, then one of the biggest agencies in Tucson, when he was invited to illustrate a cover for the Tucson Weekly. He was one of the first artists to illustrate a cover for the publication and with that and the ones that followed, he was soon winning national awards. He was invited to the prestigious Society of Illustrators show in 1987 and received an award of excellence from Communication Arts Magazine in 1988.
But it wasn’t just the awards that launched his career. It was the discipline he learned at the advertising agency.
“Working in advertising made me a much more mature, creative person. It taught me to get up early in the morning – I had to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8 o’clock. It taught me to respect deadlines, to be organized, to listen to my clients – not just to my inner art child. And I got a chance to write – I wrote my fair share of headlines at Nordensson Lynn.”
In 1989 at age 28, he hired an agent in New York and left the ad agency business to work as a freelance illustrator, based in Tucson. Yes, it helped that he had already built a national reputation but still the transition was not easy.
And the hardest part? “Being alone all day. I felt like I’d been sent to my room and couldn’t come out. I was good friends with the FedEx guy.”
But since he married Ann Courtney Gall 19 ago, he’s lived and worked as part of a creative couple and has a built-in sounding board.
He admits that working from Tucson has been an “interesting roller coaster.”
“I probably should have moved to New York when I got out of college. If you are living in Manhattan or West Hollywood, you’ll have more opportunities than you have here. But you pay a price for that – I just didn’t want to do that.”
Technology made it so much easier. His first agent had to force him to get an answering machine, then a fax machine.
The next 10 years were good for Gall. He was hired to do illustrations, billboards, murals and logos, working for Time magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times, Washington Post and Nike. It was a great run but he saw that the market for illustration was changing. Like any successful entrepreneur, he had an eye on the future.
“If you don’t wake up at least once a week, thinking about how you’re going to reinvent yourself, time will sweep you away. I knew that if I didn’t morph my business, something was going to bite me. And I wanted to be in a place that still valued illustration.” So he decided to pursue book publishing.
Fortunately for Gall, he had a hook – that and crazy talent plus a bit of luck.
Gall is the great grandnephew of Katharine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful.” While he was growing up, a copy of her poem, written in her own hand, was hanging in the family living room. Gall wrote a book proposal illustrating the words. This was right after 9/11 and American pride and patriotism were running high. It is a stirring tribute to the country’s history and heroics. He shared the proposal with a friend who had a friend who was a major children’s literary agent – and had a book deal in 10 days.
Timing was critical. “If I had done this proposal in a different year, things could have turned out very differently.” “America the Beautiful,” his first book, was a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year.
Now Gall has completed nine children’s books – six are in print and three will be out by this summer. His books, like his illustrations, have all won awards.
Though he loves all his books and characters, Dinotrux is his favorite –and not just because it became a phenomenal success. It makes him laugh.
Soon fans will have the opportunity to see Gall’s characters come to life on TV through Netflix.
In 2008, before Dinotrux was even published, DreamWorks approached Gall’s agent about buying the film rights and eventually a deal was done.
Last summer, DreamWorks sold that option to Netflix, which is developing 300 hours of exclusive programming based on Gall’s Dinotrux characters. The shows will be released in bundles over three years – part of a major move by Netflix to develop original shows for kids. Gall is acting as a “congenial consultant” to Netflix, ensuring the characters look cool, not like Barney. And he said they do “look great.”
Overall, Gall is satisfied with what he’s accomplished but reminds us that even though he gets to spend his days writing and drawing, it is work.
“There’s suffering involved – and always a bit of self-doubt. But when I get to interact with children who are crazy about one of my books, I see what it was all for. Of course, it’s for them.”