Toonarific Interview – Chris Turner

Originally posted: 8-29-2003

The hidden talent behind the character Tat on the inspiring series, Jot.

Many Christians back in the late 1960s have fond memories of a series called Jot, which taught morals and ethics to the viewing audience, something that is lacking in most of today’s programming. Not too long ago we got a surprise email from one of the main characters from this series, and of course we jumped at the opportunity to interview this person to see what it was like working on such a classic. Since his animated career, he has really made a name for himself in his community, and strives every day to better the up and coming generations. Here is our interview, with the one and only, Chris Turner.

So, what do you remember from your work on the show?
I have a lot of fond memories from my Jot experiences. I got to record in a real live studio! which made all my friends envious. Even though I was the only kid there (most of the episodes I did featured only Jot and Tat), I had a blast. I got to see how a cartoon storyboard is done as well as other behind-the-scenes workings of the studio. All the adults were really cool. We also made a 45 rpm record that I still have. I was paid for each episode I was in (about 5, I think), as well as commissions from the sales of the records. I have been in love with animation ever since.
Have you done anything in animation since then? How did you get the gig?
Actually, I never did become an animator or cartoonist like I wanted (I even had the nerve to write to Charles M. Schulz in 1969 to ask him if I could use his Peanuts characters in a Mad magazine-like project I was doing–he sent a very polite “rejection letter” that I have framed on my wall), but I always loved the medium. Instead, I became a band director (go figure), but I still get to teach Art on the side. I attended classes at the Dallas Theater Center for about 10 years when I was growing up, and at some point Ruth Byers asked if I would be interested in auditioning for a children’s cartoon she was producing.
So how did you meet Ruth? What fond memories do you have from working on the show?
Ruth was the Managing Director of the Teen Children’s Theater Dept. of the Dallas Theater Center, where my brothers and I used to take classes. My brother David also did some voice-overs until his voice started to change, so they got me, until MY voice started to change, then they got someone else, I presume. We even made a recording on CHM records, a double 45 rpm record set that included a game inside. I was paid for each episode I did, and received a few royalty checks from the sales of the record. I didn’t exactly become rich, but I was able to buy my very own tv, which was great for a 10-year-old. One of the best compliments I had was when they asked me to sing harmony with Ms. Kelly, and to their surprise, I could (“Share With One Another”). I thought the studios were the coolest things I had ever been in. There were 2: Keitz & Herndon Studios in Dallas, and the Southern Baptist Radio and TV Commission building in Ft. Worth.
Very cool. I currently live in Houston, myself. So, what did all the kids at your school think, knowing that you were working on a TV show? What have you been up to since your “fame” doing the JOT series?
I actually got to miss some school to go to the studio and record (but only my closest friends knew that), so of course they were envious, but they thought it was cool. I was in a couple of commercials after that for Lee Optical, but that was about it as far as tv and me were concerned. Instead, I did a lot of stage acting, and even tried to make theater my major in college, until I realized that music was what I wanted to do. My wife Patricia and I are both music teachers living in Arlington. Do they still show “Jot” in the Houston area?
No, Jot isnt on tv anymore around here. So do you still act? If not, what keeps you busy now?
The last time I was on stage was in 1986 at Mt. View College (Dallas) in a production of Evita. I got married and became a band director, so I’m usually busy with contests & concerts, and I also have a part-time business. The last time I saw Jot, we were living in the Denton area, and a station from Sherman had Christian programming that would show a couple of episodes every week. I was able to record a few.
So what kind of band do you direct; orchestra, school? What was your favorite cartoon while growing up? Are there any that you like from today’s lineup?
I am currently teaching Band for grades 5-12, as well as high school Art, in Brock ISD. I have also taught Choir and Orchestra. This is my 15th year to teach. I have to admit being spoiled to the great Warner Bros. cartoons of the 50’s and 60’s when I was growing up, so the animation on tv now does not impress me at all. However, I am fascinated with the computer-animated movies, particularly that Pixar has put out. I thought Finding Nemo had some of the best animation I have ever seen. In addition to Warner Bros., I always watched Johnny Quest and Top Cat.
I still have not seen Finding Nemo. Just haven’t had the time recently. So, do you have children of your own? If so, do they know there dad did a cartoon when he was a kid?
We do not have any children.
Ok, final question for the interview. Being that you are a teacher and work with kids all the time, do you feel that the evolution of animation that kids grow up watching has been a good influence, or a cause for the disruption the current generation seems to be causing?
I suppose I can look at it two different ways: On one hand, I can see that animation, like the video age in general, is much more ubiquitous today than ever before, which can take away from the everyday life that kids should be experiencing. It is much more violent and disrespectful towards authority figures. And most of the time I notice that the artwork itself looks rushed or hurried (I have NEVER liked Japanese anime). On the other hand, contemporary technology has provided interest as well as jobs for people that otherwise may never have gotten into animation. Disney wanted a “retro” style of doing it all by hand again when they made The Lion King, so that old school animators were still assured employment. I love the fact that claymation is making a comeback. I think that these days there are a lot more animation venues that people can explore than in the past, which allows for greater interest in the field by young people. You gotta have faith–I believe that kids, and people in general, are still basically good. Well, Aaron, I hope I helped, and didn’t get too “preachy”, but I am still a great admirer of cartoons & comic strips!
Not preachy at all. I believe in many of the similar things that you spoke of as well; like the morals and ethics that people were raised on right up into the 70s, then more or less started to fade away. My wife and many of our associates speak in terms of faith and belief as well. Its refreshing to know there are more people out there that do to.

Thank you so much for your time with the interview, and I hope to hear from you again. I’ll drop a line every now and then to see how you are. Take care and be of good health.

What a great guy to be able to converse with. For one of our first interviews in awhile, it was worth the wait. We greatly appreciate the time Chris took to answer our questions, and of course we wish him all the best in his career. I hope he touches many peoples lives, and leaves a lasting impression that will impact them for years to come. God speed!