A life in comics: Guy Gilchrist reflects at Grand Rapids Comic Con

From drawing a flying popcorn kernel to creating “The Muppet Show” cartoon strip, cartoonist, animator, writer, and musician Guy Gilchrist has had a fascinating career. This weekend at Grand Rapids Comic Con he reflected on his experiences in front of an audience ranging from young children to retirees — some even holding puppets of their own favorite Muppets.

Gilchrist’s passion for cartoon art began when he was a young child growing up in rural Connecticut. His mother took him with her to her job at a hotel and would distract him by asking him to re-draw all the “funnies” in the newspaper. In the afternoons, Gilchrist was allowed to go down to the local appliance store where he would watch cartoons on the televisions. He said that he was awestruck by the behind the scenes clips that followed the cartoons and depicted rooms full of artists painting and inking frames for scenes to be animated.

Gilchrist recalled a trip to Harford in his later years of school to hear Dr. Seuss speak. It was here that he realized the importance of good writing and storytelling skills in addition to being a skilled artist. He said that the presentation had bored him until he realized that Dr. Seuss and the other speakers were doing exactly what he wanted to do — write stories and create art.

In the 1970s, Gilchrist began his first job as a cartoonist for Weekly Reader Publishing in Middletown, Connecticut. There he was tasked with creating a new edition of “Superkernel”, a flying popcorn kernel, each month. This introduction to strict timelines and schedules was new to him, and gave him the skills he’d later need to succeed.

While working on “Superkernel”, Gilchrist would travel to the comic museum of Mort Walker, the creator of the popular comic strip “Beetle Bailey”, every chance he had. He would often fill in for guest speakers and eventually attracted the attention of Walker, who recommended him to Bill Yates, comics editor at King Features Syndicate. Yates offered him an opportunity to draw comics for Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show”.

After about a year of sending in drawings and comic strips, Gilchrist was hired to draw “The Muppet Show” comic strip. He also worked on various other projects for The Jim Henson Company throughout his time there and received much recognition for his work, including presidential recognition. Gilchrist was invited to the Easter celebration at the White House, where Nancy Reagan informed him that the Muppets strip was President Reagan’s favorite comic strip. The work Gilchrist displayed at the White House was archived for display as a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian.

Gilchrist stated that his career has been full of successes, but it’s had even more failures. “The people who succeed are the people who fail the most,” he stated during the discussion. He recalled submitting over thirty comic concepts before he was finally offered his job working on “Superkernel” and hundreds more failed ideas over the span of his career.

Throughout the rest of his career, Gilchrist would write, draw, and animate for major projects like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “Looney Tunes”, and “Muppet Babies”. The discussion ended with time for audience questions in which Gilchrist spoke about topics from his experience working for Jim Henson to his long-lasting work on the popular comic strip “Nancy”, which he drew his final strip for in 2018.