A self-taught illustrator, Dave Christensen grew up in Wisconsin where he studied graphic arts. After completing his education, Dave landed a job at Bally, where he wrote and illustrated parts manuals for their slot machines. In his free time, he also tinkered with pinball designs; when his supervisors saw them, Christensen was asked to produce new graphics (as well as service manuals) for their games instead. He gladly complied, and the quality of his work quickly led to him working exclusively on art and design.
Christensen is believed to be the first artist to include his signature on pinball playfields, often signing his nickname Mad Dog. Dave's art is provocative in its unapologetic use of risqué motifs and sexy women — his work is brash, playful, energetic, and outrageously titillating, with a design motif taken from Comic Book art, old Republic serials, and pulp Science Fiction. Dave also indulges in his mischievous side, and often snuck in ribald references both subtle and gross in his highly-detailed backgrounds. He is also a skilled caricaturist and portrait artist, with a deft handling of celebrities that made him highly suitable for licensed games.
In addition to his illustrations for slot machines and pinballs, Dave Christensen also works with line illustration, logo design, and novelty art. His interests include belt buckles and slot machines, and in 1972 he self-published Slot Machines: A Pictorial Review, a collection of his hand-illustrated slot machine art.
Dave Christensen was inducted into the Pinball Hall of Fame in 1996. In summer 2009, Christensen's art appeared in the exhibition Broads, Boobs and Buckles: The Pinball Art of Dave Christensen. His work is also featured in the book Mad Dog and His Art by Gene Cunningham. He is also commemorated with the annual Dave Christensen Pinball Tournament in Thalwil, Switzerland, where players compete exclusively on machines he illustrated.
Dave Christensen's artwork can be seen in the following games:
- Air Aces
- Bobby Orr's Power Play
- Bon Voyage
- Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
- Dolly Parton
- Future Spa
- Mata Hari
- Monte Carlo
- Nitro Ground Shaker
- Odds & Evens
- Old Chicago
- The Six Million Dollar Man
- Twin Win
- Voltan Escapes Cosmic Doom
Tropes appearing in Dave Christensen's work and career include:
- Author Appeal: Large-breasted women, ribald humor, and belt buckles frequently appear in Dave's work.
- Big Breast Pride/Vapor Wear: Christensen's women are infamous for their large breasts and shameless lack of underwear. Avtered with Dolly Parton, where Dave had to keep her family-friendly at the singer's insistence.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Frequently and unapologetically. For example, Captain Fantastic includes a woman fondling a man behind her, various Double Entendres, a man Flipping the Bird, and Adolf Hitler hiding in the crowd. Bally ended up using adhesive stars to cover up (some of) the more offensive bits.
- Insult of Endearment: "Mad Dog".
- The Prankster: Christensen is famous for his eagerness to prank people, particularly the stuffy and dull. During the development of Twin Win, designer Jim Patla and Dave Christensen were told that a boorish manager wanted to review the game. Jim wanted to tweak the backglass art to make the central girl appear topless, but Christensen went one step further and redrew the entire glass art before calling the manager to visit. When the manager arrived, he boggled at their work, screamed "That's it! This time you guys have gone too far!", then stormed out. Jim and Dave restored the original backglass, and by the time the manager returned with a Bally vice-president, the two played innocent while the VP wondered what was the problem. Eventually a few copies of the topless variant (NSFW link) were given to Bally executives as office art.