NASHVILLE, TN -- Even as print newspaper readership dwindles, comics remain as popular as ever in the digital age via websites such as GoComics.com.
Guy Gilchrist, has been drawing the iconic comic Nancy for the past 20 years. The artist/musician says that Americans like seeing things they were familiar with and that nostalgia allows people to relive happier times and younger days.
"Doing a comic is an exercise in honesty," said Gilchrist in a phone interview with TAPinto.net. "You can't do it without being honest. All these characters running around panels are pieces of my heart. Their world is a composite of all the experiences I've ever had."
The Nancy comic strip was created by Ernie Bushmiller in the 1930s. Nancy and her pal, Sluggo, are eight-year-old orphans. She is a fun-loving little girl. At its peak in the 1970s, Nancy ran in nearly 900 newspapers. Following Bushmiller's death in 1983, several different writers and artists drew the strip. In 1995, Guy Gilchrist took over.
When first offered the job by United Features, which distributes comic strips, he turned it down.
"I didn't feel I could draw like Ernie Bushmiller," the artist explained. "Then, for 6-7 days, I traced Ernie's artwork. I sent some drawings to my agent and got the contract."
"Online, all the strips are in color," Gilchrist explains. "They pop up on your phone via a GoComics app or you can view them on the GoComics.com where you can read Nancy, Calvin & Hobbes, and Peanuts, all free. We cross pollinate each other on the site. Making the comics accessible via the Internet means new generations are finding Nancy where they didn't know she existed previously."
Gilchrist says he gets as topical as his heart needs to. He talks about faith because it's a big part of his life. His comic strips often reflect pop culture.
"Any way I can get a gag, I use it. I need 365 usable ones each year," said the artist, who admits to jotting down ideas on napkins, ATM receipts, and marble covered composition books.
Gilchrist says his characters live in "cartoon land" and rarely change. Nancy has been wearing plaid since 1933 and remains a devoted friend to her pal Sluggo. Only recently have the patches come off Sluggo's jacket. Nancy is famed for her gentle humor and childlike innocence.
One of Gilchrist's favorite strips is called, Nancy, Her Hero and Her Best Friend, in which Nancy's hero, a returning military veteran, seems sad. The little girl tries to cheer up the veteran by sending a card and explaining that sometimes she gets afraid.
A devout Christian, Gilchrist donates 10% of his earnings to faith-based initiatives, including Boys Town because Nancy and Sluggo are orphans. Recently, Gilchrist traveled to Haiti with Cross International, a worldwide relief and development organization that serves the poorest of the poor.
"We ought to be lights through laughter and music. This is my job. It's the reason I'm around. I visited mission schools, hospital, orphanages and was able to sing and draw for the kids. I drew pictures on the walls that they painted for the kids. Everyone speaks the international language of cartoons," Gilchrist explained.
"The children cry when school ends. They get food there and may not get more than a plantain or a mango until Monday."
"They have seen so much death and destruction. Yet they are singing I'll Fly Away about what they will do when this earthly life is over," Gilchrist said. "I left a guitar, and the orphanage uses that one guitar and started a music program. I can affect people. I'm changed forever."
"I don't look back for the good old days and wish for it. What matters is what we do every day. That becomes out legacy," Gilchrist said. "Back in 1981, I remember the doomsday-sayers way back then predicting the demise of comics in newspapers. Things have changed. We are content providers for advertisers and subscribers."
The delivery method doesn't change the job, however.
"I love it that something I can say something about touches somebody else. It's awesome to make someone feel good."
Looking back at his long career, what makes the cartoonist the most proud?
"I am proudest of whatever I'm working on today," Gilchrist explained. "I wrote a song, Let Me Be The Light. I took it and turned it into a Nancy Sunday page. It was simple, but it summed up my life -- God came to this earth to teach us how to love each other. Shine that light, the light of love. Instead of fighting and finding dividing lines, we need to learn to love each other."