An­i­mal in­spi­ra­tion Dirk Wales


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Paul Wei­de­man

“We cre­ated A Lucky Dog. We took it to a pub­lisher, and they said, ‘No, no, no. This isn’t what we want. We’re look­ing for some­thing else.’ Well, what they wanted was to do a book ex­actly like the last one they pub­lished but with a dif­fer­ent ti­tle and jacket cover. Now they all wish they’d said yes when we’re at 40,000 copies of this book.”

If Dirk Wales’ long ex­pe­ri­ence in the sub­ject of anes­the­sia is dis­cernible in books like The Gi­raffe Who Walked to Paris and Jack Lon­don’s Dog, it is deeply hid­den. The au­thor of th­ese and sev­eral other chil­dren’s books, Wales made more than 70 films about anes­the­sia ear­lier in his ca­reer. “I’ve had a very eclec­tic life,” the Chicago-born writer said dur­ing an in­ter­view at his Canyon Road home. When he was nine­teen, he waited on Frankie Laine, Nat King Cole, and Ron­ald Rea­gan and Jane Wy­man while work­ing as a carhop at the Dolores Drive-In in Los An­ge­les. He went on to at­tend the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia. “The only col­lege I could af­ford was UCLA. Tu­ition was $18 a se­mes­ter. I owe my life to that education. It’s a dis­ci­pline, it’s a point of view, it’s an at­ti­tude, it’s ev­ery­thing.”

His he­roes in­clude au­thors James Thurber and David Ma­caulay, ex­plorer Meri­wether Lewis, and drama­tist Wil­liam Saroyan. “I’m a grad­u­ate of the UCLA the­ater school, and Saroyan was an enor­mous in­spi­ra­tion to me as a play­wright,” he said. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Wales worked at mo­tion-pic­ture and tele­vi­sion stu­dios and, in the mid-1950s, he was a pla­toon leader in south­ern Ger­many at­tached to a unit guard­ing the bor­der with Cze­choslo­vakia against five divi­sions of Rus­sian tanks. He started his film com­pany, Rain­bow Pro­duc­tions, in 1972 back in Chicago. The first films were made in the Mo­jave Desert and in Stafford­shire, Eng­land, for a New York ce­ram­ics mu­seum, but the bulk were in the sphere of medicine. He re­ceived the Me­dia Award from the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Ad­dic­tion Medicine for his se­ries Wear­ing Masks, which was de­signed to keep doc­tors from get­ting ad­dicted to their own drugs. For a year he was the hap­pi­ness con­sul­tant for the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Nurse Anes­thetists.

“I ran the film com­pany for 33 years and made all kinds of films,” he said in his liv­ing room, which is full of books and wall-hung ex­am­ples of box art, while other art­works sprawl on ta­bles or hang from the ceil­ing. “None of this is re­lated to chil­dren’s books ex­cept I’m an enor­mously vis­ual per­son. Ev­ery­thing you see here is art­work, mostly mine.”

One of his early works for kids was an an­i­mated chil­dren’s film. It was based on a New York car­toon­ist’s book about a duck that missed his flight south and spent the win­ter with pi­geons in New York City. An­other zag in the zigzag of Wales’ ca­reer came in 1985, when Illinois Gov. James Thomp­son de­cided that Revo­lu­tion­ary War sol­dier Casimir Pu­laski de­served a school hol­i­day in his name. Wales made a film about Pu­laski, work­ing with an ap­pren­tice from the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago who was Pol­ish. He re­vis­ited the topic 17 years later, when he au­thored Twice a Hero: The Sto­ries of Thad­deus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pu­laski, Pol­ish Amer­i­can He­roes of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.

That was the third book pub­lished by his own Great Plains Press. The first, A Lucky Dog: Owney, U.S. Rail Mail Mas­cot, had its in­cep­tion when Wales was mak­ing a film at the Ge­orge­town Lom­bardi Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., at t he be­gin­ning of this mil­len­nium. “We were put off for a day, and I knew that a postal mu­seum had just opened, and I’m ob­sessed with stamps. So I took my crew over to see it. We were in the gift shop, and in the dark­est cor­ner in the back was a badly done, mimeo­graphed sheet about this dog. I went to Albany, where the dog had lived in the post of­fice, and I met Vir­ginia Bow­ers, the city his­to­rian, and she showed me ev­ery­thing.

“There was a woman [Diane Kenna] work­ing for me as an an­i­ma­tor, and she al­ways wanted to il­lus­trate a chil­dren’s book. So she and I sat down and fig­ured out how to do it. We cre­ated A Lucky Dog. We took it to a pub­lisher, and they said, ‘ No, no, no. This isn’t what we want. We’re look­ing for some­thing else.’ Well, what they wanted was to do a book ex­actly like the last one they pub­lished but with a dif­fer­ent ti­tle and jacket cover. Now they all wish they’d said yes when we’re at 40,000 copies of this book.”

An­other dog in­spired Wales to do an il­lus­trated novel. This was Jack Lon­don’s four-footed friend for sev­eral months in the Yukon gold coun­try in 1897 be­fore the writer got sick and had to go back to Cal­i­for­nia. He was the in­spi­ra­tion for The Call of the Wild’s ca­nine hero, Buck. In Jack Lon­don’s Dog, the ca­nine en­dures some dif­fi­cult tri­als, be­sides miss­ing his kind for­mer mas­ter, but he ends up be­com­ing fa­mous for his abil­ity to find and free peo­ple who have just been buried in avalanches. The book has won­der­fully de­tailed re­lief en­grav­ings by Barry Moser. That vol­ume was quickly fol­lowed by The Fur­ther Ad­ven­ture sofa Lucky Dog: Owney, U.S. Rail Mail Mas­cot, this time il­lus­trated by Cather­ine DeJong Art­man and Townsend Art­man.

“All of the il­lus­tra­tors of th­ese books are peo­ple I knew or were in­tro­duced to by friends,” Wales said. “Be­cause I’m a vis­ual per­son, I’m pretty se­ri­ous about all of this. I’m very picky.” Brid­gette Comel­las drew the il­lus­tra­tions for Wales’ 2014 book The Gi­raffe Who Walked to Paris, in which Wales de­tails a true story

about a gi­raffe that trav­eled from Cen­tral Africa to Paris in the early 19th cen­tury.

The most re­cent two books avail­able from Great Plains Press, Shadow An­gel and Aban­doned Z, are grit­tier. Aimed at teens and adults, they are not il­lus­trated. Now Wales is try­ing to find a pub­lisher for his new­est, In­spi­ra­tion & Sto­ry­telling: Cre­at­ing Chil­dren’s Books. In this in­struc­tional vol­ume, he stresses the im­por­tance of story flow, liken­ing it to a river. “Ev­ery­thing has to flow,” he said. “I’ve been mak­ing film for years, and a film has to flow. Not only does ev­ery scene have to be good, but how do you con­nect the scenes?”

In In­spi­ra­tion & Sto­ry­telling, the au­thor em­ploys the sto­ries of his own books as ex­em­plars of good flow — for ex­am­ple, The Gi­raffe Who Walked to Paris. In the how-to book, he writes, “It has ‘move­ment’ of the gi­raffe down a river, both the Nile and ‘ our river’: it has the drama of the peo­ple of France see­ing ‘ their first gi­raffe.’ It is a colorful book by a gifted artist. What else could we ask for?”

Il­lus­tra­tions by Barry Moser; cour­tesy Great Plains Press

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