Irene Gallo is one of our nation’s best and brightest art directors.
Irene might not agree with that, of course, and it wouldn’t be because she’s too humble or magnanimous. Irene wouldn’t agree because she’s thrilled she can work in one of the most exciting businesses in the world. She feels lucky to be surrounded by the bright minds of authors and artists who get up every day and put their brains to work creating.
It’s that kind of authenticity that allows her to ingratiate authors and artists alike, across the industry and within the close—knit community of science fiction and fantasy practitioners. Those folks, and perhaps many reading this, are fans first and professionals next. So’s Irene. The industry picks up on that.
She used to lay low at conventions, not wanting anyone to know who the person was that put that cover on their book, or why the best part of an artist’s painting got cropped off. But that didn’t really last very long. Once you start making award—winning covers and helping artists become well-known professionals, hiding is nearly impossible.
Irene hid because she didn’t want to take the light away from the creatives. And … she’s incredibly shy. So yeah, there’s that.
But she’s not shy when she knows what to do to get the best work from an artist. She’ll tell you the real work is in doing her utmost to put the right image with the right story, and that takes choosing the right artist for the job. If she can do that, she’ll tell you, then most of the hard work has already been done.
I’ve watched her struggle with that kind of decision making at length. She works much like any of us when generating ideas. I’ve joked at times that she’s as driven as each artist who’s about to work on a cover. But she knows that if they come through, then everyone shines. And she goes back to feeling lucky again.
Her secret? Let the artist do what they do. “Make it look cool,” is her general assignment order, and she expects you to follow that. Even though it might be hard. Even when she might hand you something she considers a thumbnail sketch on a cocktail napkin and says, “Paint that.” (I know trouble is coming when she asks if I have a pen on me.)
Turns out, she has one of the best eyes in the business for balance, technique, composition. She especially knows when an artist is ready. She knows when to ﬁnally take the chance on someone and give him or her an assignment.
Irene has given a unique publishing house an enduring face, but art directing covers for Tor Books isn’t all she does. She turned the concept of sharing the soul of Tor with a community of readers into a highly envied website. But her enthusiasm for books and ideas didn’t stop there. Irene became associate publisher of Tor.com Imprint. Now she’s a publisher, too.
So, after 23 years of commitment, it’s hard to say that it’s just luck anymore.
Irene is truly one of the most honest and sincere people I’ve ever worked with in this business or, in fact, have known in the world. She spreads that kind of authenticity into everything she does. You might say, in the current vernacular, she’s keepin’ it real. Working with all of those amazing illustrators, she’s helping to keep illustration alive . . . because she loves it.
Just ask her. But she’ll probably tell you she’s just lucky.
Stevan Dohanos Award and Hamilton King Award recipient