Exclusive interview to Michael Bacarella, author of “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York Infantry, the Garibaldi Guard”

 Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

lincolnYour book “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York Infantry, the Garibaldi Guard” is now available on Kindle. What brought you to investigate this type of topic?
From my earliest memories to quite recently is that to be an Italian American can mean being commended with honor in one extreme or face deplorable rejection at the other extreme.  I learned that the source of that public perception of Italian Americans was and continues to be fomented through the eyes of the media, by motion pictures, television and the news. Italian Americans have been experiencing macro and micro aggression for at least 120 years. The result is every Italian American experiences at some time in their private or public life an ephemeral bias directed toward them that has caused them to be overlooked, ignored, discounted, or singled out to be maltreated and even aggressively punished.
Many years ago my grandmother’s brother gave me a book by the Italian American writer and researcher  Giovanni Schiavo entitled “Four Centuries of Italian American History. “  This one book gave me a whole new look at how greatly Italians contributed to American history. This book is what prompted me to get to the truth, and then if the truth could be brought out that there would be change in public perception and attitudes toward Italian Americans.

CAPTAIN ENRICO ALBERTO D'ALBERTIS

CAPTAIN ENRICO ALBERTO D’ALBERTIS

I believed I could prompt this change through writing and the cinema.   Schiavo did some of his research at the Newberry Library of Chicago, so I began my search there.  Using Schiavo’s book as a reference I began to look up all of the men and women he had written about.  At the Newberry I discovered a treasure trove of information about them, the migration of Italians to America prior to the Civil War, where they settled, lived and how they participated in the events of American history, and in particular a regiment that participated in the Civil War, the “Garibaldi Guard.”  Theirs was a story based in historic fact that was an exciting topic, a great deal of information on them was there ready to be looked at. Of course this information was not written in a series of book, or even one book, that it had to researched, assembled, and written, and I was the one who was going to write it.  The result was the book “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion.”  I always hoped this would influence the public to see Italian Americans in a new way. If it were adapted to a script, then produced as an epic motion picture it surely would have an impact and lead other creative people to create many more projects.

Garibaldi Guard recruitment poster

Garibaldi Guard recruitment poster

Were you more interested in the subject as a New Yorker or as an Italian American?
As an Italian American.  I am not a New Yorker.
Could you give us a brief explanation of what the Garibaldi Guard was and why it was called that way?
At the outbreak of the Civil War this regiment was a regiment of infantry assembled in New York City from the many immigrants living in their ethnic neighborhoods.  There were ten companies of soldiers with 110 soldiers and officers in each company.  There was an Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Swiss, 2 companies of Slavs and Hungarians, and 4 companies of Germans.  They saw action for all four years of the Civil War and fought from Bull Run 1861 to Appomattox 1865, in 50 battles, engagements and skirmishes which devastated the ranks and reduced their numbers.
During its period of service, 5 officers and 62 enlisted men were killed in action; 3 officers and 49 enlisted men died of wounds received in action; 1 officer and 158 enlisted men died of disease and 1 officer and 99 enlisted men died while captured by the Confederate forces.
There is a history behind each and every man in the regiment.  Their lives in Italy, the reasons they left Italy for a new life in America, their lives and the lives of their families,  their presences on the battlefields of the Civil War, and if they survived, their lives and the lives of their children afterward.

Drawing of the officers, soldiers and a vivandiere

Drawing of the officers, soldiers and a vivandiere

 

Antonio Arrighi, Iowa Troops

Antonio Arrighi, Iowa Troops

What interesting facts have you unearthed in your research that made you decide to write the book?
The predominant details I want your readers to know and use in their studies, research and writing. There were many thousands of Italians and Italian Americans who served in the Union and Confederate armies and predominantly in Louisiana.

The information used about Italians in America are now completely outdated and obsolete. With the advantage of using the internet there is much more information about Italians recorded in American history than was previously known or presented to the public; one need only to search on the internet.

We all owe a great deal of thanks to the Mormons’ Church of Latter-day Saints, which offers over 16 billion records online that we can search.  Their sites are Ancestry.com, RootsWeb, Fold3, Find-a-Grave, the United States Federal Census records from 1790 through 1930, Genealogy.com, and newspapers.com.   Other search sites include  Chronicling America at the Library of Congress website, and  The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS)  a database at the National Park Service website. For example just type in the name GIOVANNI and you will be amazed to see all of the  men with that name in the database.

 

Captain Schwarz, Swiss Company Garibaldi Guards

Captain Schwarz, Swiss Company Garibaldi Guards

Do you feel that there is a lot more presence of Italians in American history that has really been shown in the past?
No, because there has not been support to investigate, research, and write about the lives of Italians throughout American history.  I have learned a good deal about the media through my many attempts to publish the book, or to produce it as a motion picture.  There is no interest in the Hollywood status quo to change their perception of Italians, so the same images they have always used to portray Italians will continue.   Italians and Europeans are history minded and have made the film epics that have presented history. This is why I know that  it will have to be the Italian motion picture industry that will produce the historic epics to  re-write Italian American history.     It will be the Italian and perhaps other European studios who will be producing history events,  while American studios are cranking out films about zombies, monsters, crime, space aliens, dinosaurs, and comic book super heroes. Which is why Italians and Italian Americans must begin the task, using the tools I mentioned to write The Comprehensive Book on Italian American History.

Colonel Enrico Fardella

Colonel Enrico Fardella

Are you planning to publish this book in a non-digital fashion in the near future? Did you publish other books prior to this one?  
I do not plan to publish the book in hard copy. I have another book that is published on Kindle about Italians in motion pictures entitled “Italactors: From Don Ameche to Louis Zamperini: Italians in Motion Pictures and Television from 1895 to 1996”

Are there any other topics that have popped up in your research that you feel deserve more attention, and eventually another book?
There is so much information can be used that writers, historians and genealogists will be very busy looking into all the periods of time in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Before the American Revolution, Italians were coming to French Canada, the Spanish South West and Florida, along the Mississippi River, throughout America’s Southern states, and of course in the cities of the North. There are the alliances between America and Sardinia, Genoa, Venice.  And the most notable  of all the alliance of America with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies against the Barbary pirates. This is something we can do, it is all there if you take the time to look for it and write about it.

Here follows the review of the book by B. Keith Toney:

Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York Infantry, The Garibaldi Guard, by Michael Bacarella, Amazon Kindle The Irish and Germans are the two nationalities that spring to mind whenever the subject of immigrants or foreigners serving during the Civil War arises. Most buffs are familiar with the Irish Brigade and the heavily Germanic Union XI Corps, both of which served in the Army of the Potomac. Others can name units and individuals of Irish and German heritage who served on both sides during the conflict. One of the most famous regiments in the North in the early months of the war, however, had its origins elsewhere–in fact, its roots ran back to at least 52 different places–and when its members marched down Broadway in New York City in answer to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops, they proudly bore the name of a famous Italian patriot. That regiment was the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry, known familiarly as the Garibaldi Guard. When war broke out in 1861, General Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of the best-known military men on the European continent. As a result, it was Garibaldi’s name that a foreign language tutor to New York’s rich and famous used to recruit a regiment of men from 14 different states and 52 European principalities. The tutor, Frederick George D’Utassy, would be elected colonel of the regiment despite his somewhat shadowy past. It would not take long for the men of the Garibaldi Guard to realize that they were being commanded by one of the most outrageous, thieving rogues ever to wear the uniform of the Federal armies. Michael Bacarella, author of Lincoln’s Foreign Legion, does a creditable job of detailing the outlandish activities of D’Utassy. The roster of the regiment is also very well-done, giving insight into the many different countries and walks of life from which men came to answer the call to arms during the Civil War. For someone interested in learning more about the role of foreigners during the war, Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York Infantry, The Garibaldi Guard is certainly worth a read.

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Marco Malvaldi’s “Game For Five”

 

Marco Malvaldi’s “Game for five”

Review by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

To read a book that was originally written in Italian and that uses idiomatic expressions with validity and proper impact in the English translation is a special treat that is not quite common to be offered to readers in USA.  If we add that the story is a thriller, actually a work of crime fiction, we can safely say that Marco Malvaldi’s “Game for five” is a flawless and successful novel in its genre.

game forfive2

For the people who have travelled to Italy and gave themselves the opportunity to eavesdrop into the small talk of shopkeepers, hotel staff and passersby, they will recognize the marvelous balance between crass vulgarity and playfulness that is so common amongst friends in Italy, at every level and class. To those who did not have the opportunity, be aware that the apparent vulgarity of some expressions is not considered so, when used in a friendly fashion, and the protagonists of this story are not unusual people in that aspect.

Taken aside the particularity of the language, which undoubtedly enriches the story with the apparently improper verbal clashes between Massimo, a barkeeper and owner of the Bar Lume, and his steady customers, a quartet of older gentlemen who love to play cards, the story is well-flowing and mesmerizing in its fast-paced presentation of the crime details as they are observed and discovered by Massimo and shared with the friends and the local police Inspector.

Trilogia-del-BarLume-di-Marco-Malvaldi

Interspersed among the revelations, talks of the proper way and time to drink an espresso or a cappuccino bring a wind of hilarity that manages to make the book even more enjoyable.

This book, which is the first of the Bar Lume series of crime novels, is highly recommended to anyone who loves crime novels, the Italian landscape, its customs and its people.

gameforfive_Malvaldi

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“Dogfella” will touch your heart…

dogfellaA book review by

Tiziano Thomas Dossena.

“Dogfella” is a book that will appeal to a lot of readers because it has the perfect ingredients for success: an interesting subject, emotional rollercoaster effects and a flawless writing style.

On the other hand, for some readers the language used by the protagonist of the story may be a bit offensive, so be aware that it was purposely kept as “real’ as possible by the co-writer so as to fully reflect the true persona of the author and the environment in which he thrived.

James Guiliani is an ex-drug addict and alcoholic with previous ties to the Gotti family and to another Queens’ gang in his youth, who changes his lifestyle thanks to a down-to-earth ‘angel’ who teaches him compassion toward animals and how to find a meaning for his existence. Because of her influence, he opens a pet store and subsequently rescues animals all over Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

It sounds as a fairy tale or a teenager’s novel? Well, it’s a true story and it’s well told by the protagonist with the help of the valiant Charlie Stella, whose impeccable style is molded to fit Guiliani’s personality to a ‘T’.

James Guiliani, his 'angel' Madelena and some of their dogs.

James Guiliani, his ‘angel’ Madelena and some of their dogs.

dogfella2The book presents all the emotional stress points that brought this ‘gangster’ to have an epiphany that changed his life and that of many others. It does it with a blunt approach, since Guiliani chooses to say things as they are and not as he would have wanted them to be. With time, his self-deprecating method of explaining events grows on the reader and one can’t help to like this man, who confesses to the embarrassing low points of his life with the spontaneity of someone who is well aware of the ugliness of his own past but has been redeemed by some sort of miracle.

He declares: “I’d been warned more than once, and by more than one person, that former addicts often replace one addiction with another. Well, if my new addiction was saving animals and opening a rescue shelter, so be it. At least it would be doing something constructive.”

dogfella3

James & Madelena Sharing Some Love With The Rescue Cats

James & Madelena
Sharing Some Love With The Rescue Cats

Although the story of his addiction tends to permeate the texture of the book, what really makes the book invaluable are the many stories of rescues, some of which occurred during the Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, which will deeply touch the reader with their immediateness and the extreme passion that Guiliani is imbued with in carrying them out. As an example, here’s part of the description of his first rescue, the one that started it all: “At first I thought it was a rug, but then I could see it was a dog, a sick dog. When I bent down for a closer look, I could see the dog’s hair was tangled, flat, and knotted. His eyes looked dead, and his jaw seemed crooked. As a junkie and alcoholic, I’d left myself in similar situations more than a few times. The difference, of course, was I’d put myself into those situations. Nobody had abandoned me the way somebody had obviously left this dog to die on its own. It pissed me off. There were other choices they could have made, whoever left him like that. At the least they could have treated him with some dignity. People make choices, animals can’t. Animals are voiceless…

Then we were at the vet’s office to pick up the seven-pound shih tzu who’d been close to death just a few hours earlier. One of the technicians carried the dog out and handed him to e. He’d been cleaned and shaved. He was the spotted-color shih tzu he was meant to be. And more than anything else, I could see that his eyes were alive. He began licking my face and I reflexively kissed his head. I don’t think I ever kissed a dog before in my life, but there wasn’t a second thought.”

Besides the many tales, there are numerous geographical references that may, if not add to the drama, render the flow of the narration even more interesting, especially for a New York reader. This is definitely a book that merits to be read, in particular by people who love animals.

kenos

Mr. Guiliani is the owner of the Diamond Collar pet store in Brooklyn. You can visit its website at http://thediamondcollar.com or its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheDiamondCollar.

Keno’s Animal Rescue

Private Rooms For The Rescue Cats Of Keno's Rescue

Private Rooms For
The Rescue Cats Of
Keno’s Rescue

Keno’s Animal Rescue started with a dream of opening a Sanctuary. The rescue’s opening aired on The Diamond Collar TV Show/Dogfellas on The Oprah Winfrey Network. Keno’s Animal Rescue is a no kill, non-profit organization in Brooklyn that provides animal rescue and adoption services as well as long term housing and care for special needs animals who could not otherwise be placed ina forever home. We are currently raising funds to open an animal sanctuary. Keno’s Animal Rescue is named in loving memory of my first rescue, Keno. My little man was found abused and neglected. Paralyzed from the hips down he’d suffered many health issues throughout his life. He was taken to many veterinarians, but they were unable to make him walk again and suggested he be put down. I never gave up on Keno and helped him live a beautiful life until his 19th year. In his memory we continue to help animals escape their abusive or abandoned existence. Currently Keno’s Animal Rescue is a small but growing organization. Our goal is to expand our facilities, and open a sanctuary so we can give a home to abused or unwanted animals.

Keno’s Animal Rescue accepts contributions through its Facebook page: http://www. Facebook.com/kenoanimalrescue/app_117708921611213

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Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family.

smaldoneSmaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family

Paperback

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Clouds for Breakfast: Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Medal Recipient. A book that will stimulate children’s fantasy.

cloudst

clouds1With a delightful language, directed at the younger children, Laura Eisen presents a simple but endearing story, which will certainly be appreciated both by children and their parents.

The initial concept presented by the author was for a child to have the opportunity to eat clouds for breakfast. In reality, to have clouds for breakfast reflects human fantasy at its most essential. Who among us has not observed clouds and thought they could recognize characters from fairytales or objects from our everyday life? Or maybe even an insect or a giant ship? Who did not get lost in these reveries? Drawing on this notion, Ms. Eisen presents us with a poetic and inviting view of a day in the life of a child.

clouds2 Reading the story to a child, he (or she) will identify himself with the story, as if it was written exclusively for him. The magnificent illustrations, delicate and imaginative, by Kent Cissna not only help, but strengthen the author’s idea, making this book both pleasant and useful to the parent or teacher who want to use it as a tool to stimulate their children’s fantasy.

This book offers also the opportunity to read the book in Japanese or in Italian (other languages are on the way) besides the original in English, something quite unusual for children’s books…

clouds_Japanese

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GUY GILCHRIST: FROM THE MUPPETS TO NANCY, A SUCCESS STORY.

Guy Gilchrist

Guy Gilchrist

Guy Gilchrist is a renowned writer and illustrator of children’s books (42 titles to his name, of which the acclaimedNight Lights & Pillow Fights also appears in comics and games versions) and a celebrated, syndicated cartoonist, with strips such as “Mudpie,” “Screams,” “The Poetry Guy,” “The Rock Channel,” “Today’s Dogg,” and, since 1995, the classic “Nancy.”
Guy won the prestigious Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in the Best Book Illustrator category in both 1998 and 1999, and 3 Children’s Choice Awards by the International Reading Council for best books of the year. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the globe and is permanently preserved at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
In 1981 he created the daily comic strip The Muppets with his brother Brad Gilchrist, which was printed worldwide in over 660 newspapers from 1981 to 1986.
In 1997, Guy founded his own international publishing company, Gilchrist Publishing.

Attitude of Gratitude

NANCY, Attitude of Gratitude

L’IDEA: Guy, you have been drawing “Nancy” for 19 years now; it has probably become part of you, almost as if you created it, although the strip appeared for the first time in 1938 and the Nancy as a character was first drawn in 1933. How different is the experience of creating a strip from scratch, creating a strip based on someone else’s characters, as you did for “The Muppets,” and drawing a strip that has been around already so many years, as “Nancy” is?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy really has become a part of my life and a part of my heart; you know, writing and drawing something for 19 years, every single day of your life, has that effect. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I began or anywhere in the middle. And I look back now at 19 years and can see the effects of the different things that were going on in my life at the time.
When I was writing and drawing for Jim Henson and the Muppets I was trying to please Jim. Also, I was very scared; I was just a kid starting out and I was given a worldwide stage to either succeed on or fail. No pressure, you know. The Muppets definitely all had incredibly wonderful personalities, which were already very well evolved. Basically, my job was to take these wonderful, crazy characters with all of this life and color and music and warmth and try to find a way to translate that into a daily comic strip. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to get a 100 piece orchestra into a phone booth! When you’re doing your own comic strip, characters that you’ve created all by yourself, then it really is a totally different thing. You truly are like an eagle flying endless skies with no barriers to your creativity but your own mind and talents.

guyThese days, of course, I have the little panel, Today’s Dogg, which is very fun and free, but also, after 19 years really and truly Nancy and Aunt Fritzi and the entire group are really and truly mine. Now, the characters will always be the creations of the great Ernie Bushmiller, and he is always my inspiration, it’s really important for me to be honest and funny in my own way in the comic strip each day. The best way to honor Ernie Bushmiller and his wonderful characters is to keep them alive and romping through the newspapers and the Internet for as long as it is my blessing to do so!

L’IDEA: Do you believe that the continuing success of classic strips, such as “Blondie,” Gasoline Alley” and “Nancy,” which seem to live well beyond their expected natural life, is tied to the “nostalgia” factor, with its simpler times and situations?
GUY GILCHRIST: I believe it is a combination of two things. I believe that nostalgia of course is extremely important in our continuing success. Many of our readers have been Nancy Fans their entire lives, since this trip is been around for over 80 years! They may remember it from when they were children, and now as parents they are reading it to their children! There has always been the Stasia, that longing to touch something from my past that has touched our hearts. My job as the Cartoonist is really twofold. I want to present our readers with a product that will please them and remind them of the characters that they so loved when they were children, but also breathe life into these characters and make them viable and entertaining and engaging to today’s generation!

NANCY, Keeper of The Keys

NANCY, Keeper of The Keys

L’IDEA: Do you feel that the messages and the humor in “Nancy” are as valid today as they were in 1938? Has she been modernized, both in thinking and/or communicating, or is she still the same mischievous 8 year old?
GUY GILCHRIST: That’s really my job, isn’t it?! I certainly hope I’m doing that! While the cars and machines and electronics around Nancy and her gang have changed, she really hasn’t! She may live in a slightly smaller town then perhaps she did early on in the 1930s, since her author these days lives in a slightly smaller town… but that is probably about it. I think the small-town feeling of Nancy is one of the things that make her so successful around the world. You know, little children still pretty much act and react the same way that little children acted in the decades before. They are both angels and brats. One moment you want to scold them, the next moment you want to hug them and hold on for dear life! These are the fundamentals of human emotions. They will never change.

arturoezoe

The Italian version of “Nancy,” “Arturo e Zoe”

L’IDEA: I used to read “Nancy” when I was a little kid (I read it in Italian as “Arturo e Zoe,” which appeared as full stories in the comics magazines “Il Monello” and L’Intrepido”), and I am sure most of our readers have been exposed to it one way or the other. What do you feel are the most appealing characteristics of this strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy is still very popular not only in America but all around the world. Our COM X are read in over 80 different countries and by 57 million people. That’s a pretty scary thought. It makes me want to check my spelling a hundred times before I send things out. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake in front of that many people in that many languages! Honestly, what I have always tried to do is keep Nancy’s wants and desires and her daily life simple. By that I mean that if you read the comic strip for a little while you will realize that the characters never do anything that would be expensive. They do things that really don’t cost any money. They go for walks they play in the park they climb trees they ride bicycles and skateboards. The most expensive things they ever buy are ice cream cones and comic books. They spend a lot of time outside, playing. They have television sets and computers, but I don’t have the children sitting in front of them all that much. I keep them also away from too many video games. I do this because no matter what generation you are from, and where you are in this world, these are common things that we all can enjoy and can remember. I was poor growing up and the comics were something that were a thrill for me. When I would see those two or three pages each day of the funnies, they were really a treasure to me! I want the same feeling for children who cannot afford much around the world, that if they see the funnies in the paper with Nancy and Sluggo in them, they will be able to identify with them and to smile.

L’IDEA: If you had any suggestions for Nancy, the little girl who is main character of that strip, what would it be?
GUY GILCHRIST: She wouldn’t listen to be! I’m a grown-up! Believe me, I’ve had daughters and a granddaughter and I know! That’s what’s so much fun about Nancy! We see our own children in her and her friends!

L’IDEA: When you started drawing “Nancy,” the person in charge of the stories was your brother Brad, and that went on until last year. What made you take over completely the strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: When I started drawing Nancy, my brother Brad and I shared the writing duties; after about seven or eight years, my brother Brad began to work on another project. He’s always been very involved with the environment, recycling and ecology; that is his passion. It was then that Brad backed away from the Nancy comic and I began to work on it on my own. And so, I have actually been writing and drawing the strip on my own for quite a few years. I consider myself a writer first, And an illustrator second, so the transition was not a difficult one for me. Brad’s name had been left on the byline by the publishers! That was okay with me and still is! A terrific way to honor my brother!

nancy4L’IDEA: What is the illustration work you are the most proud of and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: That is a really difficult question. You know, I’ve had a very long and very blessed career. My favorite project is always the exact thing that I am working on at this moment. That is the way you must always be as a writer and artist. You don’t look toward the future and you do not look toward the past. You concentrate all you have on that scary blank white piece of paper in front of you and pray you have something to offer! In regard to highlights of my career, certainly the artwork that I did for Pres. Reagan and the White House back in 1984 that was preserved in the Smithsonian would be a blessing. I have been so blessed also to have met many people who have been touched by my story books as well as my comics. And when they share with me how much a certain book or a certain character meant to them, that becomes a very important work for me. I thank my Father in heaven every single day for the blessing that He has given me to be a writer and an artist and to be able to reach out to people in the ways that I am privileged to do so.

nancy3L’IDEA: You are also a popular children’s book’s author and illustrator. Are your books all independent of each other, as stories and characters go, or do they carry common themes, locations and characters? Which one is the character of your stories that you like the most and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: There have been common themes and common characters throughout many of my books. However, each book can be read independently and enjoyed on its own, apart from whatever series it may be a part of. The Tiny Dinos Series with Warner Books still seems to be very popular with many, many people. My Mudpie character Has been published by several different publishing houses and was also of course a comic strip.
Then there are the Night Lights and Pillow Fights and Just Imagine books . Those were full of poems and pictures and brand-new little fairytales that I concocted! I’ve written so many, and each one of them is a wonderful memory!

Batotom Lotshaw

Batotom Lotshaw

L’IDEA: Were you always interested to be an illustrator? How did you get to where you are now? If, hypothetically, you could be working in any job position in the world, what would you be?
nancy2GUY GILCHRIST: I don’t consider myself to be an illustrator. I consider myself first to be a writer. You see, whether it is a storybook, a comic book, a comic strip, or a song or a speech… the idea and the story always comes first. Even as a little child when I was drawing cartoons, while I was copying Superman and Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker and Popeye, I was making up stories for them! How did I get to be where I am now? First you have to tell me where that is! I hope I’m still right in the middle of a wonderful adventure! I hope I’m not near the end! I hope I’m right in the middle. I feel like I’m learning every single day. I certainly feel like the comic strip and the songs and the stories that I am writing now are the best of my career. Really, the success that I have had is not based on talent. I know that there have always been more talented artist and writers than me applying for the projects that I’ve had over the years. I believe that the secret to success is to stick to it. To never quit and always keep your promises. Be a person of your word who can be counted on to get the project finished. If you stay busy, you will eventually get better and better and better at everything that you do. Repetition helps to pull the genius out of you and put it down on paper! It also helps if you remember that you are a professional, and therefore it is your job. A mortgage and a lovely spouse and children are wonderful igniters for your muse!!! And never forget the power of prayer. Don’t ever forget to thank God every single day for all that you have.
Oh, and hypothetically, if I could have any job in the world, I’ve got it!

L’IDEA: You founded the Guy Gilchrist Studios, and opened also a branch in Tokyo. What is their function?
GUY GILCHRIST: Back in the early 1990s, I was exploring the market for my cartoons and writing in Tokyo. We opened a branch office at that time and were quite successful with it! We were able to produce some Japanese versions of some of my children’s books and also work with the Japanese baseball clubs and the national soccer league on some cartoon mascot projects! My agent over there, Maseo Maruyama, keeps a desk there for me, although I have not been back in quite a few years. This now Nashville cat is looking forward to getting back over to Tokyo sometime soon.

nancy1L’IDEA: What are your projects for the near future? And for the long run?
GUY GILCHRIST: We’ve got some fantastic projects going right now! By the way, everything that I’m working on and I can show you is over at www.NancyandSluggo.com. For instance the brand-new Nancy comic book that we just published! It’s the first brand-new Nancy book in 20 years! We plan on putting out an entire line of all of the cartoons that I have done I’ve Nancy over the last 19 years. Also there’s a figurine line called Bearly Angels. They are sweet little statuettes of angel bears that have sayings to motivate you and to fill you with God’s love. We are working on a set of children’s books featuring these characters. We also have a Nancy Broadway show and a project with Dreamworks in development. It’s a very exciting time! My incredible wife, Teresa, is my partner in Nancy Entertainment LLC.
I have a full engagement calendar as a touring Motivational speaker. Traveling all over this country and being able to connect with people of all ages is probably my favorite thing to do! It is such an incredible joy to be able to share stories of my life with the Muppets and Nancy and all the cartoon characters that I have worked on, as well as tell the personal side of my life and how I started out as a poor child without a college education and eventually wound up as a guest of honor at the White House and beyond. It is always a great honor and blessing to be able to speak in front of audiences and connect that way. I am so, so lucky; so, so blessed. I’m hoping for a very long run.

 

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The World Seen Through a Dog’s Point of View. An Exclusive Interview with Paul Gilligan, author of Pooch Café

 

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Paul Gilligan with Poncho, the main character of Pooch Cafe

According to his website, http://www.poochcafe.com, Paul Gilligan’s affair with art began in 1970, in kindergarten, when he figured out that he stunk at sports and that art was his only other option for impressing chicks. Weaned on Mad magazine, super-hero comics and “Bloom County,” Paul attended Toronto’s Sheridan College for animation and illustration and took comedy writing at the Film Institute in Ottawa.
He tested out other jobs over the years such as gas jockey, carnie, night watchman and florist, before joining the Ottawa Citizen newspaper as its on-staff illustrator, where he won awards in both illustration and design. He also found work in advertising, editorial cartooning, storyboarding, comic books and animation, and finally set up shop in downtown Toronto as a free-lancer, where his roster of illustration clients grew to include the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Disney, and Wired. During this time he created a number of strips, the culmination of which was Pooch Cafe.
Pooch was the first comic of the new millennium, debuting on Jan 1, 2000 with Copley News Syndicate. In 2003 it was picked up by Universal Press Syndicate, and since then it’s found its way into over 270 newspapers around the globe, including recent additions like London and Moscow.
Paul does not currently own a dog, but he skulks around dog parks doing research, and is an avid viewer of “Dogs With Jobs” and “Scooby-Doo” reruns.

L’IDEA: Paul, was being a cartoonist always your desire and aspiration?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m one of those lucky people who always knew what they wanted to do. I started copying Don Martin drawings out of MAD when I was in grade 3 and I was hooked. In grade 2 I said I wanted to be a baseball player or astronaut. In grade 3, artist.

poochcafe3ponchoL’IDEA: How did the comic strip Pooch Café came about and where does the name come from?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I tried a few other strips before Pooch, and the feedback I got was that the work was okay but the subject matter wasn’t sellable enough, the concepts were more outlandish and didn’t have a target demo. So I went: “Hmm, I don’t have a family, I don’t have a teenager, I’m not a senior, I’ve never worked in an office….” You sort of have to write what you know, so it was either a strip about dogs or a strip about a failed superhero-comic artist.
The premise of Pooch Café is that a dog’s happy relationship with his master is thrown into a tail spin when his master marries a “crazy cat lady” and they move into a house loaded with cats. The dog then finds solace at the local canine hangout where they discuss life among the humans and how to get rid of the “fuzzy virus”.
The name “Pooch Café” was a sort of pun on the obscure mixed brandy cocktail, the “pousse café.” The first person I ever mentioned the name to connected it immediately. And not a single other person since.

carmenL’IDEA: Do any of the human characters in Pooch Café carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Not intentionally, although friends have said they hear my voice when they read Poncho’s words. Probably because I’ve been known to spin off on rants.

chazzL’IDEA: Has any of the main characters in Pooch Café changed their physical appearance from the early years?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Nothing substantial. Chazz used to have a pony tail, because I first envisioned him having some kind of “rad” occupation that he would force Poncho to tag along on. But that morphed into a more standard job and home life. Boomer’s eye used to not have a pupil, but I found adding one gave him more soul. Poncho’s ears used to touch his body, now they sort of hover magically over his head.

popooL’IDEA: You have been publishing Pooch Café for over 14 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
PAUL GILLIGAN: The beauty of Poncho as a character is that he’s a dog when I need him to be, a buddy when I need him to be, a child when I need him to be. This helps facilitate a lot of material.


L’IDEA MAGAZINE
: Which character from your own strip do you identify yourself the most with?
PAUL GILLIGAN: For some reason I really identify with Poo Poo’s plight of being a little dog trying to protect the fire hydrant on his front lawn from other dogs.

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L’IDEA MAGAZINE: There are four book on Pooch Café (Pooch Café: All Dogs Naturally Know How To Swim, Bark To Work Legislation, Poncho: Year One – A Puppy Life, and No Collar No Service.) Are they all collections of previously published strips? Will you in the future publish a graphic novel with Poncho as the main character?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Three of the books you mentioned are straight up collections, but “Year One” is a cross between a collection and a graphic novel. There was a 15-month-long stretch of strips where I took Poncho literally back to the womb and re-envisioning his formative puppy years, including the meeting of Boomer and Chazz, his first introduction to this magical thing called “meat”, and learning what it is that makes him hate cats so much. I then edited these strips and supplemented them with about 100 new panels to make the read flow as a graphic novel. I’d love to have time to do another one, but the right concept hasn’t struck me yet. I have to say, there were times when doing such a long storyline was difficult, but it was important to me to reinvigorate both the strip and my enthusiasm.

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L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Did you ever expect Pooch Café would have been so popular and in such a relative amount of time? What is your fan base like?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Like a lot of kids, I lay on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics and dreaming of having my own strip one day. So pulling this off is the main reward by itself. It’s overall popularity is subjective, but I’m happy to be making a living. I think I have more of a cult following, which is code for a fanbase that’s small but fervent.

L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In June of this year you debuted with another comic strip, Poptropica. Could you tell us how it came about and what is the storyline?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Poptropica is a popular website where players can create avatars and travel through a plethora of interesting islands. The website’s creator, Jeff Kinney (of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” fame) wanted a comic strip to go with it, and so he hired me to do the writing. There were pre-existing templates for the two main characters of Oliver and Jorge. I fleshed them out and gave them the motivation that they’re searching for a way out of Poptropica by traveling from island to island, kinda like that show “Quantum Leap”, like each time they hop to the next island it will be the one that leads them home.

A Poptropica strip

A Poptropica strip

L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In Poptropica you share the credits with Kory Merritt. How do you operate in the creation of the strip with him?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I do the writing, accompanied by thumbnails if necessary, and Kory pencils out the strips and runs them by me. I bring up any alterations that might be necessary for clarity, etc, and then he inks and colors the work. It’s been a fairly seamless collaboration thus far; Kory’s a great artist and super easy to work with.

L’IDEA: Some media projects a gloom future for newspapers in general and for newspapers’ comics in particular. Do you agree with their view?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m not really as up on this topic as perhaps I might be, considering my position in papers. But after the dip about 3-4 years back there seems to have been some stabilization. Perhaps this shows that papers will still be around in some form for a while yet.

L’IDEA: Are you at the moment working on any projects not involving Pooch Café or Poptropica?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I have an animated show in development, but I don’t want to say too much about it at this point, as it’s a years-long process.

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L’IDEA: You won several Studio Magazine and INMA Awards for illustration and a National Newspaper Award for design. Could you tell our readers something about that?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I worked as an on-staff illustrator at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper for many years. During that time I was encouraged by the paper to submit the work in various contests, and I came out with a few awards from that. This was quite some time ago and I used styles that were painted. I haven’t used paints in illustrations in about 15 years. When I struck out on my own as a freelancer my style became more cartoony, black brush lines and colored electronically.

L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What are the comic strips that you believe influenced you the most? Who are the comic strip artists you admire the most and why?
PAUL GILLIGAN: I was influenced by the obvious guys, Larson, Watterson, Breathed and Shultz, but also by a lot of alternative comic book cartoonists, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chester Brown, The Hernandez Brothers. Those guys really influenced my writing as well, and the marriage of the words and art on the page, which is really what it’s all about. I was also heavily influenced by superhero comics, which was a passion from about 12-17, and can probably be seen at times in Pooch.

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L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Is Pooch Café also becoming an animated cartoon, soon?
PAUL GILLIGAN: Well, I sure wouldn’t mind if my animated show made it into production, I’d say that would be about as good as I can imagine.

L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Paul, if you could choose to meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why?
PAUL GILLIGAN: My father, as a twenty year old, in lower Manhattan, so we could go on an all night drinking binge together.

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