Mudpie, by Guy Gilchrist

Guy Gilchrist is an American children's book writer, country musician, songwriter, animator and comic artist/writer. He is best-known as the first artist to write and draw comics based on Jim Henson's 'The Muppets' (1981-1986) and, between 1995 and 2018, the fourth artist to continue Ernie Bushmiller's gag comic 'Nancy'. He is also the creator of the inspirational cartoon series 'Your Angels Speak' (2002) and lends his name to his own publishing company, drawing studio and art school. Most of his early comic strips were made in cooperation with his brother Brad Gilchrist.

The Muppets by Brad and Guy Gilchrist (12 May 1982)
'The Muppets' by Brad and Guy Gilchrist (12 May 1982).

Early life
Guy Gilchrist was born in 1957 in Connecticut as the son of an owner of an upholstery shop. He was raised by a single mother who worked at a diner. She often took her young son with her and kept him quiet by instructing him to draw the entire comics section in the newspapers. This awoke his interest in drawing, though he never studied at any art school since his family was too poor to afford it. Gilchrist often felt depressed about his life until he became a born-again Christian. To a lesser degree, he also found solace in the music of country musicians like Roy Rogers and Johnny Cash. At age 10, the teenager hung his drawings on a piece of rope with clothes pins outside his father's shop, while offering people to draw one for them too. Among his graphic influences were Walt Disney, Walt Kelly, Walter Lantz, Ernie Bushmiller, Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Mort Walker, Dik Browne, Charles M. Schulz, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Milton Caniff, Dave Coverly, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Stan Drake and Dr. Seuss. Later in life, Gilchrist also expressed admiration for Greg Walker, Chance Browne, Scott Adams, Brian Basset, Mark Tatulli, Joe Staton, Mick Mastroianni, Pat Brady, John Cullen Murphy, Glenn and Gary McCoy, Darby Conley and Rick Stromoski.

During a school field trip in Hartford, Dr. Seuss inspired him with a motivational speech to take action if he wanted to accomplish his personal dreams. Another strong inspiration were Walter Lantz' drawing lessons in 'The Woody Woodpecker Show'. After finding out Lantz' address, Gilchrist wrote him a letter, adding some of his personal artwork. Three months later, the spiritual father of 'Woody Woodpecker' sent him a letter back and acknowledged that he was very talented for his age. He encouraged him to practice very hard, which would help him become a famous cartoonist. Years later, when Gilchrist already achieved his goal, he wrote Lantz to ask him whether he still remembered their previous written exchange. Lantz didn't, but said he rarely encouraged anyone who send in personal artwork, "so I must have really felt that you had something." The aspiring cartoonist also wrote letters to Dr. Seuss, Dik Browne, Milton Caniff, John Cullen Murphy, Charles M. Schulz and Jim Aparo, who all sent him encouraging replies. As a teen, he often hung around in Mort Walker's Museum of Cartoon Art in Greenwich. Later he met Walker in person, who occasionally let him entertain children in the museum on Sunday mornings when other cartoonists were unavailable. He even set up a little lobby for Gilchrist in the museum, where he could exhibit his own comics.

Superkernel ComicsSuperkernel Comics
'Superkernel Comics'. 

Early career
In 1970, Gilchrist was only 13, when he did his first pencil work for a 'Teen Titans' story of about eight pages long for DC Comics. The job required him to be at least three years older, but he lied about his real age. He moved up the ladder as an inbetweener and clean-up artist for an animator and drew educational visual aids for his high school: the West Hartford Board of Education. The pay was low - only a dollar a day - but he received bonus supplies, such as magic markers and metal rulers, all things he couldn't afford in those days. He also drew funny animal comics for the Weekly Reader Book Club in Middletown, Connecticut, and its magazine Supermag. In the late 1970s, he debuted with Superkernel Comics (1978-1982), a monthly comic book series starring the book club's mascot.

Brad and Guy Gilchrist in 1981 (Hartford Courant, 1 August 1981). Photo © Dan Haar
Brad and Guy Gilchrist in 1981 (Hartford Courant, 1 August 1981). Photo © Dan Haar.

The Muppets
Gilchrist's big break happened in 1981, when he was chosen to make the very first newspaper comic based on Jim Henson's popular variety show 'The Muppet Show' (1976-1981). The TV show had just come to a close after five succesful years and one equally popular feature film, 'The Muppet Movie' (1979). Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends would live on various media projects, among them a comic strip. Many artists applied for the job, but Henson rejected them all. Eventually Mort Walker recommended Gilchrist. Henson liked Gilchrist's work because it reminded it him of his favorite cartoonist, Walt Kelly. As such, he became the official artist, while he wrote the gags with his brother Brad. 'The Muppets' comic strip was unusual in the sense that the feature was launched simultaneously in more than 660 newspapers in more than 80 countries on the same day: 21 September 1981. No comic strip and no cartoonist either had ever received such an honor: previously an obscure artist, Gilchrist's work could now be read all across the planet within 24 hours time! The only downside was that Gilchrist and his brother had to work many months earlier in advance than normal newspaper cartoonists.

The Muppets (7 May 1984)
'The Muppets' (7 May 1984).

In those days, all episodes had to be shipped by airmail. To keep the global audience in mind, puns and other verbal wordplay were strongly discouraged. The comic was distributed by King Features Syndicate. Originally Gilchrist drew the Muppets quite realistically, influenced by the designs of official Muppet designer and illustrator Michael K. Frith. Editor and cartoonist Bill Yates also functioned as a mentor. Gradually, Gilchrist found his own voice. He simplified his drawing style and the brothers came up with jokes without needing Henson's approval all the time. Gill Fox became the feature's inker in 1983, while Johnny Sajem also contributed some gags. Since the Muppets were such a global hit, the comic strip received a lot of attention. One future celebrity fan of the 'Muppets' comic strip was Puertorican cartoonist David Alvarez. At Easter 1983, Gilchrist was one of the honorary guests at the White House where he met vice President George Bush Sr. and his artwork was exhibited for many prestigious guests. By 1984, his comics became part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute. An exhibition named 'Art of the Muppets' toured worldwide and naturally included the 'Muppets' comic strip as well. In 1986, Gilchrist designed an official stamp featuring Rowlf from the Muppets. Still, a considerable number of papers dropped the comic strip again after a few years. The final episode was published in 1986.

Gilchrist also created comics starring the Muppets for Muppet Magazine, colour books, board games, lunch boxes, puzzles and other merchandise. He worked on other Henson-related artwork, such as licensed merchandise based on 'Muppet Babies' (a show for which he designed the animated characters too) and 'Fraggle Rock'.

The Rock Channel by Guy Gilchrist
'The Rock Channel' (1 October 1984). The rock star getting his hair done is a caricature of Rod Stewart.

The Rock Channel
In 1984, the Gilchrist brothers teamed up with Greg Walker, son of cartoon legend Mort Walker, to create another daily gag comic: 'The Rock Channel' (1984-1985). This short-lived newspaper comic appeared through the Register and Tribune Syndicate and attempted to ride along on the popularity of the new music video channel MTV. It revolved around the employees of a competing and low-rent music video television station. Gilchrist provided the artwork, but even though his brother Brad and Greg Walker were the main gag writers, he too contributed ideas. Towards the end of its run, ghost artists like Klaus Nordling and Gill Fox took over most of the art chores.

Mudpie by Guy Gilchrist
'Mudpie' (24 April 2002).

Throughout the 1980s, the productive artist wrote and drew children's books based on other pre-existing film and TV characters like Walt Disney's 'Minnie Mouse', Tex Avery's 'Bugs Bunny', Friz Freleng's 'The Pink Panther', Hanna-Barbera's 'Tom and Jerry' and Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's 'Teenage Mutant Turtles'. Around this time, one of his own characters, the mischievous kitten 'Mudpie', finally got greenlighted for publication. Eight children's books starring 'Mudpie' appeared on the market. One of his most popular books is 'Night Lights & Pillow Fights: A Trip To Storyland' (1988), a collection of illustrated poems for children, inspired by Dr. Seuss, Arthur Rackham and Walt Kelly. In 1998, Gilchrist also created a comic strip version of 'Night Lights & Pillow Fights' (1998-6 September 2009). It was a children's comic and activity feature which appeared in the newspapers on Sundays. An alternate title was 'Night Lights and Fairy Flights'. The comics/children's activity feature debuted in 1998, and also featured a comic strip with 'Mudpie', Gilchrist's previous children's book character. He gave the cat a guardian angel, Angel Mouse, and a girlfriend. In order to get the series launched he self-syndicated it to 100 papers for over a period of five years. Even though adventure comics went out of fashion decades before, the cartoonist still tried to snuck in a continuous narrative.

Tiny Dinos by Guy Gilchrist
'Tiny Dinos'.

Tiny Dinos
In the late 1980s, Gilchrist created a series of children's books named the 'Tiny Dinos'. These baby dinosaurs were discovered by an English professor on a faraway island. As the eggs hatched, she became their official babysitter. Gilchrist always approached this book series as a metaphor for unconventional families which brought people of all nationalities together. The series ran for about 20 titles. The Tiny Dinos were also made into puppets by Jim Henson productions for Toy Fair appearances. The comic artist voiced two of the characters, Rex and Sir Waldo.

Gilchrist also adapted 'Tiny Dinos' into a spin-off comic, 'Rex'. Contrary to the books, the comic featured more black comedy. As Gilchrist noted in a interview published on Scott Nickel's blog on 4 October 2009: "(...) 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, Matt Groening's The Simpsons debuted."

Nancy (22 November 1997)
'Nancy' (22 November 1997).

The Gilchrist Brothers' biggest claim to fame occurred in 1995, when they became the new authors of Ernie Bushmiller's long-running comic series 'Nancy'. After Bushmiller's death in 1982, the daily 'Nancy' had been continued by Mark Lasky who sadly passed away the same year. Between 1983 and 1995, he was succeeded by Jerry Scott, but his more contemporary reboot wasn't popular with longtime fans. After a 12-year long run, a new artist was sought. At first, Ivan Brunetti was considered, but he felt he couldn't quite capture the mood and tone. Gilchrist had the same objection and initially refused too. Still, he couldn't quite put it out of his mind. For about a week, he doodled the characters and then phoned the syndication that he changed his mind. He know had the characters in his fingers and six episodes ready to print. However, they had already hired someone else for the job. Yet they were so keen on getting Gilchrist that they simply took him instead. Gilchrist never found out who his replacement would've been, but nevertheless he now was Nancy's new cartoonist.

Nancy (15 February 2010)
'Nancy' (15 February 2010).

Gilchrist continued 'Nancy' for more than 22 years. During the first eight years, most gags were written in cooperation with his brother, until he left to focus on other projects. Guy Gilchrist then became the sole gagwriter. Longtime fans were glad that the brothers brought the franchise back to its familiar non-pretentious roots. Gilchrist mimicked Bushmiller's art perfectly and the gags were as simple as they ought to be. Yet he still put his own personal stamp on the series. Gilchrist modernized the backgrounds, household appliances and other technical stuff. He gave the characters a more lively look than Bushmiller's rather stiff artwork. Particularly Nancy's aunt Fritzi Ritz lost the dead-eyed expression she had ever since the series' creation. The cartoonist also brought back characters who hadn't been seen in ages, such as Phil, Rollo, Irma and Spike. At the request of many readers, Phil became less goofy-looking and just as attractive as his steady girlfriend Fritzi. Gilchrist also created new cast members, like the Hispanic Maria and African-American Homer, and expanded the backstories of older characters. Readers now learned that Sluggo was an orphan, because his father died in military service and his mother in childbirth. While quite heavy stuff for a light-hearted children's comic, quite some readers with a similar past felt touched. This encouraged Gilchrist to move further beyond throwaway jokes...

Nancy (23 August 2016)
'Nancy' (23 August 2016), referencing 'Fight For Your Right' by the Beastie Boys. 

As a result, 'Nancy' became more heartwarming. Friendship, family dynamics and the power of love were recurring themes. In one memorable storyline,  Sluggo saves a starving alley cat despite the fact that he actually hates cats. Phil and Fritzi acted more like a real-life couple. Fritzi expressed more generosity towards her niece Nancy, while Nancy and Sluggo were much nicer towards one another. Bushmiller's original comic strip had never been this sentimental, but few purists seemed to complain. 'Nancy' also became more outspoken patriotic and religious. As a devout Christian, Gilchrist wanted to give his readers a positive outlook on life and inspire them to "let Jesus be their hero." He promoted his home state through an official campaign named 'Nancy and Sluggo Love Tennessee' and the state capital with a 'Nancy Loves Nashville' colouring book for elementary school students. Gilchrist also enjoyed sneaking in nods to his favorite musicians and bands. Some have appeared in celebrity cameos while other times characters wear T-shirts with artists' names written on them.

Final Nancy strip (18 February 2018)
Gilchrist's final Nancy strip (18 February 2018), referencing 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' by the Beach Boys. 

On 18 February 2018, Gilchrist quit 'Nancy', as he wanted to move on to other projects. He ended his run on the series with Fritzi finally getting married to Phil. Although the syndicate remained somewhat vague whether 'Nancy' would continue, it still seemed like an end point. Gilchrist left the comic three months before what would've been its 80th anniversary in the newspapers. If one takes in account that 'Nancy' was originally a spin-off of 'Fritzi Ritz' (1925-1938), a comic strip originally created by Larry Whittington, the entire concept is even older: 93 years! 'Nancy', however, returned to the newspapers on 9 April 2018, this time drawn by a female cartoonist who works under the pseudonym Olivia Jaimes.

Gilchrist Studios
In 1997, Gilchrist and his wife Angie started their own publishing company. Gilchrist also has his own studio, Gilchrist Studios, where he promotes his work. The studio even has a second branch in Tokyo, Japan. In 2005, he also founded his own drawing school, Guy Gilchrist's Cartooning Academy. He moved to Nashville one year later where he still lives. Gilchrist also wrote a web book, 'Drawn To Success', with useful tips for aspiring cartoonists. 

Your Angels Speak (4 April 2005)
'Your Angels Speak' (4 April 2005).

Your Angels Speak
In 2002, Gilchrist wanted to create a comic strip with a little more substance. His idea was to offer readers an inspirational message, poem, song lyric or literary passage to think about. To make these texts a bit more eye-catching he illustrated the texts with fully painted drawings. Gilchrist naturally wrote from his own Christian perspective, but wanted the feature to be published in standard newspapers too, not just religious ones. He tried to keep his messages and philosophical thoughts as general as possible. The feature, 'Your Angels Speak' (2002-2006) debuted in April 2002 and was distributed by DBR Media and his own distribution company. To his delight, readers reacted very positively, but unfortunately he couldn't publish it on a daily basis since painting new episodes took up so much time. As a result, it always remained a weekly feature and after four years he cancelled it, because he couldn't combine it with his other projects.

Today's Dogg by Guy Gilchrist
'Today's Dogg', 2011.

Always trying to experiment with styles, Gilchrist created 'Screams!!', an online one-panel comic about monsters, inspired by the classic film monsters of Universal Studios. It was later picked up for newspaper distribution by DBR Media until 2008. Gilchrist was eventually succeeded by Ralph Hagen on this feature.

Today's Dogg
Gilchrist also drew a one-panel cartoon series named 'Today's Dogg', which features ordinary dogs in funny situations. A book collection called 'The Best of Today's Dogg' was published in 2011.

Brother Rock
Since 2016, Gilchrist also makes the webcomic 'Brother Rock' with Nashville musician Randy Gabbard, frontman of the band of the same name. Gabbard envisioned the main character as the personification of the band's music.

Brother Rock by Guy Gilchrist
'Brother Rock'. 

Other activities
Gilchrist is also active in animation and created the character 'Little Dolly' for a series of music videos featuring Dolly Parton songs. Gilchrist occasionally performs country songs on stage and has co-written songs with artists like Dion, Buzz Carson, Jett Williams (daughter of Hank Williams), Billy Swan (famous for the hit song 'I Can Help'), Hobie Hubbard (Sawyer Brown), Eddie Kilgallon (Rocochet, Montgomery Gentry Band), Charlie Daniels and Suzy Bogguss. One of the biggest thrills in his life was sharing the stage with singer Little Jimmy Dickens.

Gilchrist's work has often been awarded. In 1997 and 1998, he won the Reuben Award for respectively "Best Magazine and Book Illustrator". The International Reading Council of the United Nations awarded him the "Best Book of the Year" award three times for the 'Tiny Dinos' book series. The artist has made graphic and other contributions for military and veterans' causes, but also children's and medical charities.

Guy Gilchrist
Guy Gilchrist.
Nancy on
Brother Rock comic strip

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