Due to his deadline with Nancy, we were unable to complete
the interview in one day. However, Guy was gracious
enough to call me back to finish our interview (read
part 1 here). We
continued our discussions on the comic strip world,
self-syndication, and on web comic strips. Also, there
is a GREAT story of Guy's meeting with one of the most
famous children's authors in the world! "EXCELLENT!"
AstroNerdBoy: What steps did you take in
self-syndicating Mudpie? How difficult was
Guy Gilchrist: It
is a very difficult process. I get a lot of letters
from people all the time saying, "I've been turned down by
everybody and I believe in my feature. I want to
self-syndicate and I know you are in 100 papers and are
experienced with it. Could you tell me how to do it?"
I'll only tell people how to do it if they are really,
sincerely interested and are really, really committed.
It is extremely difficult and extremely expensive to do it
yourself and to try to run with the big boys.
self-syndicated has a stigma to it. A lot of
newspapers, especially big newspapers won't even look at
your work because they figure that the syndicates weed out
all of the stuff that isn't strong enough. So they put
you at the bottom of the pile. Even if you are fairly
well known, there is still a bit of that stigma.
The easiest way to do it
if you want to get started is to find a paper or two or
three in your area were you've got a leg up because you are
a resident. See if they will start publishing your
work, say for $5 a week or whatever it is and start building
a list and work out from there. Find a list of as many
newspapers as you can, first in your city, then in your
county, then in adjacent counties, and them move around your
state. Try to create a base of 15-20 papers that are
running your feature. The nice thing that will happen
while you are doing that is you'll start to get a feel for
the job. You'll start to realize that there is art and
there is the business of art. You have to sell your
feature and you can't be thin-skinned. You'll have to
be the sales person, the promotions person, and you are
going to have to talk to the editors about your feature like
what it is -- a product. Little by little, you'll gain
some confidence as a promotions person and as a sales
If you want to
get real ambitious, then what I suggest is that you buy
yourself a computer program where you can keep addresses of
everybody that you contact and a history of everybody you
contact. This way, you will be able to shoot out
mailings to people on a monthly basis showing them what
they've got and you can make them special offers and that
sort of thing. We have an old, old program called
"ACT! 2". It is a very old program for the MAC that we
have here but it is a fantastic program! You can get
that. There are probably 5000 people that we've
contacted over the years -- different clients between
weekly, alternative, religious, college, and daily papers in
America and Canada. All we have to do with the
software is type in a few key words and "boom", it shows when
you last contacted them, what they had to say, and their
Editor's Note: The current version is ACT!
6.0 which has just been released for Windows. You can
regular version here or the
upgrade version here.
The other thing that's a major investment but very important
Editor and Publisher magazine. You can go
online or call them. They sell (either CD-ROM or the
cheaper version in book form) a "phone book" of every
newspaper with all of their info in every state (for daily
and weekly newspapers). It costs between $400 and $500
for the books and I don't know how much for the CD-ROM.
You can get that and then really do some research on the
newspapers that you want to get into before you call them up
self-syndication is a very difficult thing. If you are
not being a cartoonist full time, you are working a full
time job. You are going to have to find ways to
promote, call, and market your feature during the business
day while drawing your feature at night. So you are
looking at taking on a lot. I will say that the reward
for all of your hard work is tremendous in that you are
putting out a feature that's from your heart, that's
something you want to say, and you are making it happen.
Then you can do what I did. After I sold Mudpie
to 100 papers, I went and signed with Copley News Service
and they sell it around the world. And I know that
Mark Parisi, who does Off the Mark, just signed with
United. Mark was self-syndicated with Off the Mark
and he was in over 100 papers; he was in more papers than
me. He'd been doing it for 15 years but now he's built
it up enough that a syndicate is interested.
ANB: You do three comic strips, right?
ANB: How are you able to handle three comic strips?
There are cartoonists who struggle just doing one.
Guy: Well you know, there is
that saying that God doesn't put anything into your life
that you can't handle. That certainly is true.
Many years ago when I did Muppets with my brother
Brad, I also did a strip for a year called The Rock
Channel for the old Des Moines Register Syndicate with
my brother Brad and Greg Walker (son of Mort Walker).
So I was used to doing more than one strip as I'd done two
strips for a while. One thing is that I've been
drawing Nancy for quite some time. My brother Brad now
writes it. I write very little of it. I do fill
in material and make suggestions but mostly I'm the editor.
So drawing Nancy and editing the material and working
with Brad on it makes it a little bit easier because I'm not
writing for three strips. I'm only writing for two.
Time-wise, it is hard
to find the time. The Mudpie strip is daily and
Sunday and so is Nancy. Now I'm also doing
Your Angels Speak which is a lot more illustrative.
It is a full color painting each week with a thought for
meditation. I do one a week and it takes me a day and
a half to do that feature. I really have to be pretty
productive and stay on a schedule. My week goes
something like this: Monday and Tuesday, I do a week's
worth of Nancy. Hopefully I get the Sunday
strip done as well. Wednesday and Thursday, I try to
do all of my Mudpie dailies. They take me a
little longer to do. On Friday, I do the Mudpie
Sunday, which is always a poem, a Mudpie strip, and
some interactive stuff for the kids. So there's quite
a bit involved in the Sunday strip. That really only
leaves the weekend for writing and doing Angels.
If I take speaking
engagements (which I do a lot of, and I talk to a lot of
kids at schools which I've been doing for many years), then
it throws everything into a spin. I've then got to
pick up time here or there or I get behind. So it is a
little tough to do all of the stuff that I do, but I guess
I'm a decent juggler. The hardest part of it all is
maintaining the correct thought process, the art style, and
the gag style of each of the three features.
There is a fourth feature
I do called Screams for DBR Media. That used to
be a online feature for quite a few years, so they've just
picked up all of the stuff that was running online. So
I haven't had to deal with that one. It's just a
one-panel a week anyway. I'm constantly going, "Gee,
do I love this this much?"
(Laughter) It sounds like you don't get time off for a
vacation or anything.
I do. I just took a week off with the family to a lake
in New Hampshire. The whole family climbed Mt. Washington
which was pretty intense. So I was able to take the
time off. I have an assistant, Scott Lincoln, who
assists me with background on Nancy. I had him
in every day instead of just a couple of days and we just
plowed through the stuff. Honestly, if I didn't have
the time off to spend with my family, then what am I doing
I've always wondered how cartoonist manage to get time off.
I see that you've basically just got to work way ahead to
buy yourself that time off.
ANB: Which cartoonist
inspired you when you were first starting out?
Guy: Well, as a kid, my
influences were varied. I loved Walt Kelley (Pogo).
His stuff just popped out to me as a kid and I copied him
over and over and over again. The animator Walter
Lantz (Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy) was a
huge deal to me as a kid. I came from a not so well
off family; we didn't have a lot. But, one of the
things I remember when I was over at my grandmother's house,
sometimes after school at around four o'clock, they used to
have a half-hour Woody Woodpecker show -- The Walter
Lantz Show. Just like Walt Disney did on The
Wonderful World of Disney, Walter Lantz would come out
and introduce the cartoons and he'd show you how the
animated cartoon was done. I used to think he was just
talking to me and explaining it. So I learned that it
took like a million people in Hollywood, California to make
one of these cartoons. You did get to see people
drawing it and coloring it in. I dreamed that
someday I could do that.
We lived in a really old house from
the Revolutionary War times and there was this old barn
which we used as a garage. Up in the rafters, there
were piles and piles and piles of old newspapers dating back
to the turn of the century. In there were tons of
comic sections. Even though they were so old and moldy
(they'd all melded together so that the colors had run
together), the entire history of comics was there. I
looked at everything and I found out that Doctor Seuss had
done a comic strip for a year or two for King Features back
in the 30's. (Editor's
strip was called HEJJI and was done in 1935.)
He was a big hero to me. Another one of my dreams was,
"Gee, could I ever be an author of books and do comic strips
like Doctor Seuss did?" Well, all of it wound up
When I was eight years old, I went on a field trip with my
school to a college somewhere around Hartford (CT).
They had a celebration of children's literature and there
were all of these famous authors and illustrators there.
I knew none of them because my parents couldn'y buy me many books.
I had a few Golden Books, a couple of Doctor Seuss books,
and some comic books. I didn't know any of them, but I
was thrilled to death looking at all of the paintings and
everything. At the end of the day, a guy came out who
I did know. He wasn't supposed to be there but his
parents lived in Springfield, so he was visiting his
parents. It was Doctor Seuss -- Ted Geisel!
He talked for five
minutes. What he said that day, I've told to probably
100,000 children over the 20-something years I've talked to
kids. He came out and he said something along the lines of,
"Has anybody ever told you that if you have a dream, and you
dream that dream hard enough and long enough that that dream
can come true?" I nodded my head along with all of the
other kids there. Then he says, "That's baloney!
That's total baloney. If you dream the dream and you
lie in bed and just dream about it, nothing is ever going to
happen. But if you get up off your rump and go do
something, then you can be anything you want. So, what
do you want to be?" That was about all he said as he
only talked for about five minutes. I went home and
was thinking, "I want to be you!" So I just kept
drawing and drawing and drawing and I would make up stories.
I realized that Doctor Seuss wrote in rhyme, so I would try
to write in a song -- the Chuck Berry stuff and The Beatles
stuff that I heard on the radio; I would try to write
that way. I think Ted was a huge influence on me!
Obviously as I've written 42 children's books and I have all
of these strips that I do.
So eventually I got around to doing
a lot of the things that Ted did. As a matter of fact,
before my very first book ever came out (which was a
Mudpie book -- a non-comic strip children's book) done, I was with Jim Henson
doing the Muppets and I had been through every
publisher in New York City. I mean every publisher
over five years trying to get my book published and no one
would take it. I was shocked because there I was in
People magazine and Time magazine and US
magazine, having suddenly become famous for doing somebody
else's feature -- somebody else's characters that were so
popular at the time, but with my own characters I couldn't get
got Ted's address and then I mailed my Mudpie books
to him. I was told by somebody who knew Ted, "Don't do
that. Ted doesn't want to look at that stuff.
He's a really busy guy and isn't going to want to look at
your stuff." I wrote to Ted and said, "Everybody tells
me I stink. Everybody tells me my work is to cartoony.
Everybody tells me it will never sell. If you tell me
it won't sell, I'll quit because you are the best there is.
I know you had a hard time too at first. So, what
should I do? And please, don't be kind! I'm a
grown-up and I've got a good gig anyway."
A week or so later, he sent me back
a drawing that he did of the Cat in the Hat. The Cat
in the Hat had a big word balloon coming out of his mouth
saying, "All cats love Mudpie." He also
sent me an autographed picture that said, "Keep on going."
Funny, after three or four months, a promotional publisher
(as we used to call them in those days) contacted me.
They are those publishers that you used to see the books for
a dollar on the floor at Woolworth's or K-Mart or something.
They'd have $3.99 on the book cover, then $1.50 over that.
I signed with a publisher like that. My first four
books (all Mudpie books) after a few years sold five
million copies. Then all of the sudden, Warner Books,
Random House, Golden, and everybody that had told me my work
was to cartoony and would never sell liked it. It was
amazing how much better I got after five million copies!
One of the
persons that was most influential to me was Mort
Walker. Besides being one of my heroes, I got to know
Mort and he is a close friend of mine now. As a kid
around 18 or 19 years old, I used to go to the Museum of
Cartoon Art that was first in Greenwhich (CT),
then in Port Chester, NY. My very first job, I worked
for Weekly Reader as they were right here in
Connecticut. They gave me a job drawing comic books.
I drew comic books of funny animal characters. Every
once in a while, the people at the museum would book me to
come down and talk to kids and give kids drawing lessons on
Sundays. They always wanted to have a resident
cartoonist there on Sundays to get families to come.
Sometimes, the famous cartoonist would not be able to make
it and so they would call people who lived in the state to
come and fill in. I filled in quite a few times and
Mort knew my work that way. So one day when he was
playing golf with Bill Yates (Professor Phumble, the
small society, Redeye) who was the comics editor
at King at the time. Bill was telling Mort that they'd
tried out 200 cartoonist to do the new Muppets strip
but Jim Henson had turned down every one. So Mort
said, "There is this kid who draws funny animals for
Weekly Reader. Muppets are animals, right?
Why don't you call him?" So Bill called me and
eventually I got that job doing the Muppets and that
was my huge break.
So I owe Mort Walker everything.
He's been a tremendous friend, not just to me, but there are
literally dozens of people in this business that have
similar stories and Mort Walker is the punch line. He
is the accelerator in all of it. He's been not only
one of the greatest cartoonists ever and one of the most
published cartoonists ever, but also I don't think that
cartooning has ever had a greater friend than Mort.
ANB: Do you have a favorite, current, syndicated
comic strip that you like to read?
Guy: The thing I look forward
to every Sunday is Prince Valiant. I love
Prince Valiant. John Cullen Murphy is a close
friend and he's just an incredible talent. Once
Jack is done
with that strip, I don't think that the likes of Prince
Valiant will ever come again. Pat Brady (Rose
Is Rose) is great. He's a friend of mine and we're
big fans of each other. We constantly compliment each
other -- it's disgusting!
I just think that Pat is the best AND he's one of the nicest
guys in comics as well.
You know, it's funny. I have
a lot of favorite people so I think that certainly colors
the strips that I like. I like Soup to Nutz,
Rick Stromoski's strip. Rick and I play golf together
all the time and I think he's hysterical. Of course
most of his jokes are way to blue too ever get in
syndication. He's got to clean it up all the time for
daily consumption. (laughter)
What do you mean by "way to blue"?
Guy: (more laughter)
He's just out there! He gets "R" rated but he's so
funny. I think one of the greatest cartoonist working
today is Dave Coverly. Dave does Speed Bump.
Look at Speed Bump sometime. It is meticulously
drawn; it's beautifully drawn every single day. He
does great detail. It's
detail that he wants to do to enhance it. He's a
super, super artist. And again, he's a great, great
I don't really
read the paper every day. Most of us don't believe it
or not. The major thing is that you look at other
people's strips, you know the punch line already. We
write gags for a living. I enjoy looking at the art.
When I'm on vacation, I'll look at all of the strips.
One of the great things is when you work for United, they
mail books out of proof sheets of every strip that they
carry. You get them every week. So when I have a
spare minute, I will go flipping through all of the United
stuff and check it out. Boy, there are so many good
guys. Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy) is good.
The thing that bums
me out the most is that the adventure strips are going away.
In the Mudpie daily, I do an old fashioned, Disney-esque
adventure strip, like the ones where Mickey would always get into
trouble. That's sort of what happens with Mudpie, his
guardian angel mouse, and his girlfriend. Right now,
they are in the underground and they just met a mole who
looks exactly like Bob Dylan. I think there is a war a
brewing but I'm not sure as I only write this stuff a couple
of weeks ahead.
So it is kind of a bummer that most
of the adventure strips are going away. Me being an
illustrator first and foremost, the people I've always
admired are the people that could draw so much better than
me. So many of those guys, if they were around today,
wouldn't be in comics. That's what's so sad.
Milton Caniff...how's he going to do Terry and the
Pirates or Steve Canyon now? People are
always saying, "Prince Valiant is not what it used
to be." Guess what? If you gave Jack a full page
like Hal Foster had, you'd see something! It is a
shame. Didn't Will Eisner say something like, "Doing a
daily comic strip is like trying to put a full-piece
orchestra in a sardine can." And he's so correct.
It is really difficult when you are trying to tell stories
and trying to create an ambiance. Any of the guys that
can do it, I'm so enamored of.
That brings me from the syndicated world to the web world.
Have you ever heard of a web comic strip called Sluggy
yeah. My Mudpie books are with Plan 9
(Publishing) and they carry Sluggy. I think it
is their best seller.
I mention Sluggy because Pete Abrams does the adventure
strips. One of his recent adventures went on for nine
months! You mentioned Mickey Mouse earlier and in
The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, there is
a long Mickey Mouse adventure from 1935 and it was great!
Guy: Well, the Pogo
stories used to go on forever. And then, when you get
into the real action/adventure like Steve Canyon and
Dick Tracy, those stories just go on and on.
The problem is when you go from web to syndicated, the
newspaper editors don't want anything that's going to go on
nine months. There are editors that when I first
started Mudpie, I used to jump between the gag-a-day
thing and domestic storylines until I created the Angel
Mouse character so they could go off on these adventures in
time and space and all sorts of things. The longer the
story, the more involved the story, the more new characters
they met, the more of a Wizard of Oz journey it was,
the more the fans liked it and the more I enjoyed writing
it. It is much easier to write a free-flowing, long
story where I know the beginning, I know some of the things
that happen in the middle, and I know the ending. Then
what's going to happen in between is anybody's guess.
But the syndicate people that buy the strips won't buy
ANB: Why is that?
Guy: I don't know. They
feel like it is a hard sell...maybe. It's this MTV
5-second attention span. You've got a sound byte
mentality. "Here, read this week of gags. This
strip appeal to single women between the ages of 14 and 21.
Here, this is only for people of Asian decent from 31 on.
Let's look at your demographics." Everybody is
cubbyholed into these things now whereas in the old days
(I'm 45 and I'm so old-guard, it is ridiculous 'cause I
started in 1980), here was your sales pitch:
"I've got a strip that's a riot. The art is great and
everybody is going to like it." Or, "Hey, I've got
this great thing. It's about a guy that travels all
around the world. He's got a real babe for a
girlfriend and everybody is going to love it. Check
this out." Comic strips used to be for general
audiences -- that most people would like this. You
look at the classic strips, right? Name a classic
strip. Who is it aimed at? Everyone! But
nowadays, syndicates buy features based on what they feel
they can sell to an editor who's demographics are X, Y, and
ANB: It sounds just like what
television is going through.
Guy: Exactly. Well, it's a mirror. It used
to be that comics were a couple of years behind TV.
Now they are probably neck-and-neck. The space that we
have is so limited now that it is harder to tell a story.
The thing with web comics...I love web comics!
Actually Night Lights and Pillow Fights, the Sunday
Mudpie, started out as a web comic. Most of the
newspapers that picked up the strip at the beginning went to
the website and read it, read the archives, and bought the
strip based on the archives. We had thousands of
people that were on our mailing list that we would ask to
e-mail or call features editors and say, "This is my
favorite strip. Why aren't you running it in your
paper?" Actually Your Angels Speak was a web
comic for five years before we ever sold it to United.
I love web comics.
One of the things I advise people who are working on a new
strip is to put it up on a website somewhere and see if you
can even do a daily. See if you can do it for six
months. Have a message board and get some feedback so
you can see if you are doing anything decent -- if people
are excited about what you are doing. This way,
you'll be able to work a lot of the kinks out of the strip
and the personalities of your characters. Maybe the
character you think of as the star of your strip isn't the
star. After six months of doing the strip on the web,
all of the sudden, you are burned out on this guy and
somebody who wasn't in the first three weeks turns out to be
the most interesting character or fan favorite. I
always suggest people work things out on the web. You
know, the web is wide open and you can do all kinds of
stuff. There's the worst garbage I've ever seen in my
entire life out there and there's tremendous stuff out
there. There are a lot of people out there doing
fantastic work that is being read by thousands of people
every day. That's the great thing about the web.
It's another thing to make money at it though. I know
the guys at Sluggy do.
he's one of the few.
He's one of the very few.
I know you are pressed for time, so I'll close with one
final question. This isn't on the comic strip world
but it's going back to Jim Henson. Do you ever get to
see any of the stuff his son puts out like Farscape?
Guy: Yeah. I'm always
interested in seeing what Brian (Henson) is doing. Jim
was a tremendous influence on me. Everybody that
worked for Jim Henson always tried to please him. We
all knew we were in the presence of...that we were hovering
around the orbit of one of the centuries great creative
geniuses, an incredibly humble and funny one and shy one.
Working with Jim was one of the greatest blessings God's
given me. I actually learned more from Jim after I
left doing Muppets. We had a lot of talks about
fame and creativity and working with people, heading up a
large studio -- all sorts of stuff. Down the line,
these were just incredible insights from an incredible guy.
I was interested in the technology before I knew Jim.
I was one of the Muppets biggest fans. Jim was
always so happy to show you the new technology that they
were working on for whatever new project they were working
on...like Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.
If I miss something, my son Garrett (who's a film major at USC) will tell me, "Hey Dad, Henson Creature Shop did this
or that." So I'll always check it out.