Iconic cartoonist details life as influential artist

by: NICOLE TRUGILLO/Editor-in-Chief 

From being part of “The Muppets” to creating his own comic strip, Guy Gilchrist is living every cartoonist’s dream.

Gilchrist, who created the iconic comic strip, “Nancy,” began his career in the 1970s with Superkernal Comics, a monthly comic book published by Weekly Reader Books in Middletown, Connecticut.

“I was doing a comic book for Weekly Reader, and it was a funny animal comic that Mort Walker created,” Gilchrist recalls. “He saw my artwork while he was playing golf with Bill Yates, which was the comics’ editor at King Features, the biggest syndicate in the world. Bill told Mort about “The Muppets,” and he says, ‘that’s a pig and frog right?’ and Bill says, ‘Yes.’”

During the time when Gilchrist first started drawing “The Muppets,” he says “The Muppets” were under development for almost a year because Jim Henson and his people didn’t like any of the people who they brought to them. They tried out around 200 writers and artists, and they still didn’t like their work.

“Mort told Bill, ‘Well, there is this hippie kid that hangs around the museum of cartoon arts,” Gilchrist recalls. “Mort had his museum on the Connecticut, New York border, and I used to hang out there because I wanted to meet famous cartoonists, because this is what I was going to do for a living. Anyway, Mort told Bill ‘[Guy] draws funny animals, so why don’t you call him?’”

According to Gilchrist, Yates called him for an audition and he tried out. Gilchrist drew the first six scripts, and Yates ended up liking him. He sent his drawings over to Henson, a creator of “The Muppets.”

muppets

“Henson thought they were OK, and then Bill asked me to do more samples, and I did sample after sample after sample,” Gilchrist explains. “As it turned out, I would be working for, and end up drawing ‘The Muppets’ samples for a year without getting paid. Eventually, after a year, I have already met with Michael Frith, head of created things with Henson. He liked me pretty well, but they weren’t committed to me.”

Gilchrist continues, “I just kept on working and figuring, ‘Gosh, it would be an opportunity of a lifetime, and until somebody told me to stop and I didn’t have the job, I was just going to keep on trying. And after a year, I got a phone call, and it was Jerry Juhl, head writer of “The Muppets” show, and he told me and congratulated me on getting the strip, and that’s how we started.”

Gilchrist expresses how much he enjoys being a cartoonist and he loves his job. Ever since he was a little boy, he loved telling stories, and he loved drawing.

“Well, why wouldn’t you want to be a cartoonist?” Gilchrist says. “I mean it’s the most fun job in the world! You get to tell jokes, you get to draw and write at the same time, and you get to be all of the actors, the director, the writer, the scenery guy. You’re creating your own little movies in these panels; it’s wonderful.”

Gilchrist explains he was “a comic book guy.” He liked reading them, but he enjoyed reading comic strips more.

“I really liked the comics in the newspaper, and that’s what I wanted to be,” Gilchrist explains. “I wanted to be a cartoonist with a comic strip in a newspaper, and I also wanted to write children’s books. I loved Dr. Seuss. He was my hero, and I wanted to be like him. Both of those things came true. I’ve written 60 books over the years, and I’ve had a great life.”

According to Gilchrist, it takes him about 2,000 jokes and storylines every year to find the 365 that will make it into the strip.

“The writing is the most important part,” he explains, “because if you don’t have good writing, then it doesn’t matter how great the art is. No one is going to want to read it. So the writing is always critical. I pencil everything out, and I work in weeks. Once I get all of it done in pencil, and when I like how it looks, then I move on into doing the lettering and the inks.”

“The Muppets” television show is continuing broadcasting today, with the newest show opening to mixed reviews and ratings. Many people complain about the characters and their popularity. But Gilchrist believes “The Muppets” are very successful.

“I think Jim Henson would be very proud,” Gilchrist says. “I think the television show is going over very well. I don’t see “The Muppets” popularity waning at all. To me, it seems like they’re more popular than ever. I’m getting phone call after phone call from people who want to interview me because of the work that I did with Jim. If “The Muppets” weren’t popular, I don’t think that would be happening.”

Gilchrist describes what a blessing it was to work closely with Henson and how God blessed him with the career path he has made through the years.

“Jim was an incredible man,” Gilchrist recalls. “We were very close. God put this incredible person in my life, and I was able to work on the material that really affects a lot of people. Of course, I do a comic strip every single day. It’s called ‘Nancy,’ and my job is to always to take that white piece of paper every day and put something new and fresh on it that’s going to touch somebody. It’s going to make somebody laugh. I love talking about Jim, because he was a wonderful guy. Certainly, he was a huge creative influence in my life.”

Gilchrist expresses to his fans how grateful he is for the people who continue to keep up with his work and continue to read his material as well.

“All of the characters I worked on over the years, it’s been a great blessing for me,” Gilchrist says. “I try every single day to be worthy of the charge that I have. I’m always trying my best every single day to be the best I possibly can, and I always like to make sure the folks out there realize how much they mean to me. I appreciate having the opportunity to come into their homes after all these years, whether it’s been TV, newspaper, books or whatever it happens to be.”

Author: Plainsman Press Staff

The student newspaper of South Plains College.

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