March 28, 2012
For Guy Gilchrist, creativity is an ever-expanding circle. Artist, poet, author, songwriter, musician, storyteller, teacher, he is a one-man entertainment conglomerate. He is known first and foremost for his work as writer and artist for the classic newspaper cartoon Nancy, with its millions of followers in nearly 400 newspapers in 80 countries around the world, but that is just the tip of a growing iceberg.
His other strips have included Jim Henson’s Muppets, which helped launch his career age 24, Your Angels Speak, Screams, and the widely syndicated Night Lights & Pillow Fights and Today’s Dogg. He is the author of 48 children’s books and was co-creator of The Muppet Babies. Along the way, Guy did work for classic cartoons such as Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Looney Toons, and The Pink Panther, drew envelope artwork for the launch of the U.S. Postal Services iconic 1986 “Love” stamp, and designed four logos for minor league teams, among many other endeavors.
His personal appearances, individually crafted events that combine his many talents, have thrilled schoolchildren, college students, seniors, members of civic clubs and concertgoers alike, and have helped raise money for any number of worthwhile charities.
Since moving from his native Connecticut to Nashville in 2009, Guy has also established himself as one of the city’s most exciting performers, singers, and songwriters. He has played The Grand Ole Opry and many of the city’s finest clubs and night spots, written with some of its best songwriters, shared stages with Charlie Daniels, The Marshall Tucker Band, Little Jimmy Dickens and Tommy Cash, among many others, and released songs including the well-received holiday singles “Christmas Light” and “Merry Christmas, Sluggo,” which raised money to support Boys Town.
Guy is known by the public for the wit, charm, and broad down-to-earth appeal of his work, and by his peers for its quality—he has received the prestigious Reuben Award as Best Book Illustrator twice, and has won three Children’s Choice Best Book Awards from the National and International Reading Councils. He has also earned an esteemed spot in popular culture, as his work has been enshrined in the Smithsonian Institute, and he has been a guest of honor at the White House.
Whether he is drawing, singing, or speaking, he is first and foremost a humanitarian, someone who believes in and seeks to nurture the strength and goodness of his fellows.
“I believe my job is to be a positive influence, if I can,” he says, “and to write and draw from the heart.”
Guy is the product of a rough-edged working-class background.
“It wasn’t always the happiest of childhoods,” he says, “and, looking back, I believe my drive to create fun, humor, and positive energy all come from a place of wanting to thank God for seeing me through!”
He learned to draw from his mother and by copying pictures from Walt Disney Golden Books and Dr. Seuss stories; he was making money from his work before he was a teenager. During those formative years, music and art always flowed together for him.
“I saw absolutely no difference between Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Dr. Seuss,” he says. “They were all great poets telling stories.”
As a teenager, he experienced two transformative moments. The first came when a DJ in West Hartford gave him a copy of Johnny Cash’s Live at San Quentin. “That record went into my soul,” he says. The second was a rejection letter from Mad magazine telling him his cartoons were “too many steps away” from reality. “I was heartbroken over the rejection, but it was such a blessing to me. I started drawing real! And I’ve never stopped learning, seeing, getting my hand to draw what the eye sees or what my imagination sees.”
Within a few years, Guy was working for an animator and playing in a rockabilly band, and his life had found a direction—or, more accurately, several of them.
“I always tell kids that once upon a time I had this idea, this desire to express all of the feelings that I felt inside and to make people smile. I loved that as a little boy that I could tell jokes or funny stories and make people forget about their worries and I could forget about mine.”
He was in his early 20s when a song he wrote became a regional hit and broke into the Billboard Top 100. Soon, he began hearing from major Nashville publishers.
“I was wondering which path I would travel, whether I would write with music or with artwork,” he says. “Then, Jim Henson came along and hired me after I auditioned to work on the Muppets comic strip, and I went down a wonderful road to a wonderful life.”
Through all his successes as a cartoonist, he never stopped writing songs, and he brings both sides of his creative personality into play as a speaker, whether he is teaching drawing to grade-schoolers or talking the fine points of art and business to grad students, bringing a fairly-tale magic to toddlers with his acoustic guitar or rocking the house with his full band. Whether he’s working with an easel, a guitar, or both, he brings a message of uplift and achievement every time he speaks. At charity events, his drawings—treasured panels from one of his syndicated strips or lovingly rendered sketches made to order—have thrilled bidders and helped any number of good causes.
His civic-minded work also extends to professional societies.
He has served on the board of directors of the Newspaper Features Council and as a member of the National Cartoonists Society and Artists & Writers.
His move to Nashville came after years of including country singers in his strips and with the encouragement of Hall of Famer Bill Anderson and former WSM-AM air personality Keith Bilbrey that he pursue his songwriting.
His work has earned him the thanks and friendship of many of his idols, from his friendship with Charlie Daniels—who has a Nancy wall in his museum in downtown Nashville—to the thank-you call he received from Kris Kristofferson when he drew a strip in the wake of Johnny Cash’s death that featured Aunt Fritzi crying and listening to Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?”
“I cannot say how much that means to me,” he says. “I’ll never get over that one.”
If there is a key to his wide-ranging success, it may well lie in his organizational skills and his ability to “get centered, focusing completely on whatever’s in front of me. It’s so important to make each and every moment count, to be totally connected with the person, the project, the idea, the message, the cause.”
He credits two of his many idols with giving him the vision behind his work.
“Watching Dion on American Bandstand showed me that one person could make art and make the world a more beautiful place. Whether it was with my pen, my brush, or my guitar, that was what I wanted to do too—be a positive force in the world, create something beautiful, something fun, something that made you smile. Roy Rogers taught me how to be a good man, and Dion taught me to be an artist.”
That devotion to art well crafted and life well lived have given him great success and satisfaction at both.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that every dream I really had came true,” he says. The fact that his life and work are helping others fulfill their own dreams is simply an added blessing. –Rob Simbeck
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