Sunday, October 4, 2009

20 Questions with Guy Gilchrist

Guy Gilchrist is a syndicated cartoonist, children's book author and accomplished musician. I get tired just thinking about all the various projects Guy's juggling.

Check out NANCY in the newspaper or online and listen to his music at his website (Guy's on Facebook, too).

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

Yes. I wanted to be a The Most Famous, Greatest Cartoonist in the World, Roy Rogers' son, and left field and lefty cleanup hitter for the Boston Red Sox.

I drew constantly. First, characters I saw in comics in the newspaper, in Golden Books and on TV, and then my own, as most cartooning kids do. I made up my own worlds on paper.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

When I was 10, I hung up pictures I had drawn on shirt cardboard on a piece of rope with clothespins outside my stepfather's upholstery shop in Hartford and sat there on a box with my cardboard and pens also offering to draw anything to order.

When I was 12, I went to Phil Seuling's Comic Conventions in NYC at the Commodore Hotel. I stood in line with guys like Michael Whelan and George Perez.

My second year there I got a job pencilling an 8-page Teen Titans story...the old TT with Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash, and their cool little racing cars. I lied about my age because you had to be 16. I wanted to be a cartoonist and writer so bad I lied.

I also, between these times, got a job working as an inbetweener and clean-up artist for an animator, and as an illustrator for the West Hartford Board of Education, drawing educational visual aids for schools that I myself was attending.

I was paid one dollar a day for a half day's work after school, and given bonuses in the form of art supplies like magic markers and metal rulers and things like that I could not afford.

3. How did get the job doing the NANCY syndicated strip?

Gill Fox called me up and told me that he had heard through the grapevine that United was looking for a new cartoonist to write and draw NANCY because Jerry Scott was leaving because he was so busy with BABY BLUES and just had gotten a new comic strip, ZITS.

Initially, I didn't want the strip. I had done THE MUPPETS for Jim Henson and another feature called THE ROCK CHANNEL with my brother, Brad, and Greg Walker for the old Des Moines Register Syndicate.

I called David Hendin, who I had worked with at United Features on my Tiny Dinos book, toy, and TV Series, and had just recently left United to become a literary agent. He told me I should try drawing the strip. He thought it was a perfect fit. I didn't see it. But, David thought that, as a children's book writer, I was the guy that should write it.

After about a week, I tried drawing them, and found out I couldn't draw them. I could draw Fritzi, since I had always loved drawing pretty girls, but could not draw Nancy or Sluggo, and get a handle on the way Ernie Bushmiller drew and inked in his very unique style.

So, I turned it down. Told David to forget it, then, without telling anyone, started in drawing it night and day because I was determined to learn how Ernie had drawn it, and to try to do it for my own piece of mind, and I'm sure, ego. I don't like the idea of not being able to do something, and will be persistent until I accomplish that goal.

Finally, after a week or two of drawing basically nothing else, day after day, I had six dailies and surprised David with the news I would like to submit them. I was then told United had since done a development deal with someone else and was no longer in the market, but David took the samples to them anyway, since they were finished. Probably just to let them know I was open to working in syndication again, to start a dialogue about future projects, or something. Maybe just to let them know he had indeed gotten me to work on it. I know he really wanted me to work on the strip.

Anyway, a day later, I got a call from David saying they had seen my work, and wanted to give me the job. I then hired my brother Brad to come onboard and assist in writing material for the strips and to work on the color for the Sunday pages.

4. Tell us a little about your weekly syndicated comic, YOUR ANGELS SPEAK.

I had an idea that I, in a small way, wanted to make the world a better place. I am a spiritual man and have come to having a daily relationship with God and all He has blessed me with.

I wanted to draw and write something that made a difference. Something that, say, if you were having a bad day -- worse, lost any faith you had once -- that there would be this painting of an angel with a thought or meditation for the day that you might ponder. I wanted the feature to be in the standard newspapers, not any religious ones. It was written from a Christian perspective, since I myself am a Christian, but was written in my most earnest and honest way to be as inclusive of all ideas and ideologies as I could. I truly wished I could draw one every day, but the drawings were so detailed, that i could only manage one painting per week.

The sayings, thoughts, were mostly my own, things I had thought about after reading The Bible. United Feature Syndicate took it on in 2002 in April that year, and ran it for two or three years. After that, I distributed it through DBR Media, and my own publishing and features company Guy Gilchrist Publishing, and Guy Gilchrist Features, for the next 3 or 4 years, finally sending all our remaining clients disks of strips they could continue to reprint. Besides THE MUPPETS, THE ANGELS is still the feature I get the most comments on. It helped some people through some tough times, I think. I wish I could have continued it, but with so many projects, eventually, I stopped doing new ones. There were two comic book collections, still available through my publishing company, and there will be a hardcover book sometime.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

I once did a strip called REX, featuring a character that was a spin-off of my Rex character from my Tiny Dinos books. This Rex had a mom and dad, and moved from ancient times to a suburban town in the present day. It was very dark, and I thought, hysterical. I wrote it with Brad. We almost had deals with King and United, and even took it to TV. All the smart people that ran TV told me I couldn't write a dark, subversive cartoon that was animated in primetime. No network would buy it. A season or two later, The Simpsons debuted.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

I like art, writing, and stories that are good. Wherever they come from.

7. In addition to being a cartoonist, you’re also an accomplished musician. How did you get involved in music?

I've written songs all my life. I wrote a song that broke the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980 or '81 for about a second and a half. It was also about that same week that I got the call from Henson with the job of working on THE MUPPETS comic strip.

So, as anyone with half a brain would go work for the most brilliant, creative mind in the world and his worldwide company, and thank God everyday for giving you this shot, and put your guitar down for parties, and playing around between artwork and writing jobs. I continued to co-write stuff, along with writing things on my own, writing a song with Dion in 1980 something; working on songs with Jett Williams, Hank Williams daughter; as well as working on a project that took my poems and turned them into songs for a project to benefit St Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis. I co-wrote and worked with Billy Swan ("I Can Help"), Hobie Hubbard from Sawyer Brown, Eddie Kilgallon of then Ricochet, and now of the Montgomery Gentry band, Charlie Daniels, and Suzy Bogguss.

Last year, in May, I went to Nashville finally to cut some demos after the songs were heard and I received encouragement to do so from Charlie, Jett, Eddie, and Chris Hillman of The Byrds....along with Keith Bilbrey, Host of The Grand Ole Opry and DJ on WSM Nashville. I moved here to continue to draw and write, but to write and sell songs again, and to perform some more.

It's been a blast. I recently released my first animated cartoon music video, JIM BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY that I did with Mike Cope. The song, singing is mine, and the band are buddies of mine playing with me from Montgomery Gentry.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Mort Walker, Walt Kelly, Jack Davis, Dik Browne, Milton Caniff, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Howard Pyle, Stan Drake, Dave Coverly, Greg walker, Chance Browne, Walter Lantz, Ted Geisel -- oh, leave me alone. This cannot be done.

9. Who’s stronger, Superman or The Hulk?

Superman. He's Superman. That's all there is to it.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

Almost always, the story. I'll sometimes times see a picture...and then work the gag around that...but in gags, poems, songs, I'm very much a stream of consciousness writer. I write down all my stuff, draw all my doodles, in those black-and-white Composition Books like we all had in school. I keep them once they're filled, and sometimes look through them, real old ones, and will find an idea that didn't quite gel whenever....but then clicks in.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

Not any more. I used to. I really HAVE to write. Now that I've moved to Nashville, I have appointments with other songwriters to co-write songs...we hang out for two hours and try to come up with something good between us. It has come very natural to me. I guess because I've been writing "on demand" since around 1975.

I think that once you have a strip, or any continuing creative work schedule, you find a way.

12. You’ve written more than 40 children’s books. Tell us about Tiny Dinos and Mudpie.

Mudpie was my first book series that I ever sold. It took five years of peddling my first stories all over NYC in the 70s. Mudpie is a mischievous, messy little kitten who's stories originally centered around his Mom, Dad, and Sister. I eventually wrote 8 children's books with Mudpie. Then, I had him grow up a bit and created a comic strip around him. That ran from 1998 on. I just retired the NIGHT LIGHTS & FAIRY FLIGHTS feature that he was a part of.

The Tiny Dinos were favorites. They were all different species of baby dinosaur that became a family, with the English Explorer/Professor that discovered the eggs on an uncharted island becoming the English Nanny. It was all about unconditional love, and unconventional families. I wanted to create a series of stories that brought people of all nationalities together. Kind of a prehistoric, cartoon "one world, one love" thing. I wrote 20 of those books in the late '80s.

The nice thing about children’s books is, that you get read and reread...and become a part of the family. Some of the books that are out of print...I get letters looking for them now, from those kids from the 70s and eighties who are now parents themselves, and looking for the titles for their kids....or I get old crayon-marked copies to sign. I love that. I have such fond memories of the books, TV shows, and cartoons of my's really neat to think I could be part of someone's childhood.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

I like my editor at United right now, Reed Jackson. He and I have a great give and take. We both enjoy talking character.

I've really been blessed. Amy Lago was great when I got started on NANCY at United...just an awesome editor and good friend, too. And on my MUPPETS job, when I was learning as I wrote and drew...just young and scared to death, I had the incredible Bill Yates. He was a great editor. Great writer and cartoonist. Great, great friend. Anyone that ever had Bill as a friend, editor, or golf partner...will never forget him and his gentle humor.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

I enjoy books about the martial arts and zen theory, books on the early years of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis, Sun Records, Hank Williams, and I study The Bible.

TV: I like 24, Red Sox games, Austin City Limits, and reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, The Honeymooners and Walker, Texas Ranger.. I watch lots of old Westerns and serials and Bandstand, Shindig, Sci-Fi when I can. Roy Rogers is the greatest.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I use Strathmore Bristol, plate finish on the NANCY strips. I use Hunt 102s and 107s...but I also use all kinds of old Esterbrooks, RadioPens, all kinds of pen points I find on ebay. The old pens are hard to find, but worth it.

I draw my Fairies and more detailed artwork for my Sundays and commissions with a black Bic pen on bond paper. I use Windsor Newton Series 7 Red Sable brushes for all my brush work. They are the only brushes I'll ever use.

I also use dyes, watercolors, gouache, and acrylics in various mixes for my color paintings.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

Having that dream you had come true...and find out it was tougher, and more wonderful than you could have ever dreamed.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

Almost all of them. Cartoonists are the greatest group of giving people...along with songwriters.

I became friends with Mort Walker when he had the museum in Portchester, NY. He's my friend, a golfing partner, the father of two of my best friends...but still...he is Mort Walker.

I corresponded with Ted Geisel. He was incredibly kind to me, and encouraging to me at a crucial time.

Walter Lantz wrote me back when I was ten years old and I had sent him a bunch of my artwork. He encouraged me, telling me I had a lot of talent for my age, and urged me to keep it up, practice very hard, do my homework, and someday I might become a famous cartoonist. When I went "big leagues" years later, I wrote him back and shared my story of what that meant to me. He drew me a Woody Woodpecker and signed a photo of himself "To The Kid Who Made Good."

Milton Caniff , Dik Browne, John Cullen Murphy, Jim Aparo...were all there encouraging me early on.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

I wrote a whole web book that is still on my old Cartoonist's Academy Website called Drawn To Success. I hope, if anyone wants any advice from me, they might take the time to read some of that. I had an art school for 6 years trying to encourage and educate.

I guess, in one sentence, to remember that there are no limits to the artist who doesn't acknowledge any.

19. How important are awards?

Awesome when you win. Awesome when one of your students win....a complete sham otherwise. I mean, come on. They're meaningless -- wait a minute. What have you heard? Did

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

If I'm really under the gun, and I really need to cruise and get any project done...and I'm really exhausted, I make a cup of tea with three tea bags, and put on The Drifters 1958 through 1966 40 Greatest Hits CD, and play it over and over until I'm done.

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