Take two all-time favorites of little boys—trucks and dinosaurs—and put them together, and what do you get? Why, Dinotrux, of course. That's the title and concept of author/illustrator Chris Gall's newest picture book. Gall's previous books include There's Nothing to Do on Mars, Dear Fish, and America the Beautiful, all three of which garnered publishing awards. In addition, Gall's artwork has appeared in many nationally known publications, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. We talked with Gall about his inspiration, his process, and which dinosaurs and trucks he loves best.
Parent & Child: Where did you draw the inspiration for Dinotrux from?
Chris Gall: As I was passing through an area of road construction on the highway outside of town, I watched a great line of heavy earth-movers lumbering around and making groaning sounds as they carved out a new road in the dirt. They seemed eerily reminiscent of dinosaurs—and my imagination took over. What if these same earth-moving trucks had ancestors? What if all trucks had primitive ancestors that existed millions of years ago and then somehow evolved into the kind, helpful trucks we have today? What would they have looked like? What would their personalities have been like? And what in the world happened to them?
P&C: Which do you like better—trucks or dinosaurs? What is your favorite within each of those categories? Gall: Well, trucks can really come in handy if you need to haul your G.I. Joe collection around. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, are great if you need a pet who can protect you from land-sharks. Hmmm. Let me think. I've always been a fan of stegosaurus. But triceratops is a guy you can really count on. As far as my favorite truck goes, I'm a little hesitant to answer that because you never know which trucks might read this and be irritated for not being named. I'm specifically concerned about the Ford 3/4-ton long bed 4x4 (with off-road package) parked in my driveway. I need him to get me places safely.
P&C: When did you first become interested in writing and drawing? Which did you prefer as a child?
Gall: I began drawing at a very young age and never really stopped. I started writing creatively in 5th grade when we were given the assignment of writing one creative story per week. At the end of each week, the teacher would pick the funniest story and read it aloud. I discovered a) I really liked making people laugh and b) I really liked winning contests. Even though I continued to win writing awards in high school, I found that a) it was getting harder to get my friends to read my stories and b) it was getting easier to get my friends to look at the cool drawings I was doing of hot rods. So I spent more time drawing.
P&C: What made you decide to write and illustrate children's books? What about your job is awesome?
Gall: I realized that after years of illustrating other people's ideas, I had a lot of my own and a desire to explore aspects of my childhood in a creative and lasting way. I also knew I wanted to write again and integrate it with my art. The most awesome thing about my job is that I get to inspire children wherever I go, and every one of them has their own unique perspective. Also, I get to work in my jammies if I want.
P&C: What would you say your biggest accomplishment is?
Gall: As a young boy I used to dream of making movies someday. So, without a doubt, it was the recent acquisition of the movie rights to Dinotrux by DreamWorks Animation. The book is currently in development as an animated 3D feature film, and I get to be a consultant on screenplay and character development. I can't think of anything more exciting and rewarding than sharing that with my nieces and nephews. Also, it was pretty cool when I got my driver's license.
P&C: What is an average day like as an author/illustrator? What is your process like—do you write and then illustrate or is it the other way around?
Gall: The creative process always begins with an idea. I will make lists and lists of simple ideas and try to "feel" for the ideas that have the most story potential. I try to take myself back to my childhood and ask myself, "What would I want to read?" Then often I will create the artwork and design for a mock cover to the book (which hasn't been written yet, of course). I will sit and look at that "pretend" book jacket for days, sometimes weeks or months, and try to imagine what kind of story might be inside if I turned the page. Then the story starts to come along with a rough draft. The final illustrations are only created after everything in the story is the way I like it and the whole book has been planned out.
P&C: You've done a lot of illustration for adults; how is your work for children's books different?
Gall: First of all, it's a lot more fun to create for children. They tend to be less stressed-out and grumpy. My commercial illustration artwork usually ended up on something that was going to be thrown away. Like magazines, newspapers, brochures, or soup cans. Creating books that last a lifetime, inspire young minds, and entertain along the way is far more gratifying.
P&C: You were a stand-up comedian for four years; how do you think that influenced your artwork or the stories you tell?
Gall: It was good to get back to funny writing after years of not writing at all. Stand-up comedy is all about observation—noticing things around you that others may have missed, pointing them out, and leaving people wondering—wow! Why didn't I think of that? (Like the Dinotrux). Comedy writing is also very simple. You are always trying to condense your language into the shortest possible bundle for the best communication and the best laugh. These skills are invaluable for writing creatively—especially for the length of a picture book. Also, comedy gave me extensive experience with hecklers. Like 5th graders.
P&C: What kind of advice would you give to kids who want to be artists?
Gall: Draw the things you want to draw. Write about the things you like. Have as much fun as you can. Eat your vegetables. Don't be afraid to erase. Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Make your skies a color other than blue.
P&C: What about parents whose kids want to be artists?
Gall: Don't be alarmed if the drawings have explosions in them. That's normal.