Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Syracuse resident Val Bagley works as a professional cartoonist and has illustrated board books, coloring books, card games and clip art for Covenant Communications for more than 20 years. To date, his products have sold over 500,000.

While most people probably wouldn't consider drawing and coloring pictures to be a good way to make a living, it's an essential part of Val Chadwick Bagley's livelihood.

The Syracuse resident works as a professional cartoonist, illustrating board books, coloring books, card games and clip art for Covenant Communications. To date, his products have sold over 500,000. Coloring is an important aspect of his profession.

"Coloring is hard. You have to stay in the lines and have to know which colors to use," he said. "There's a lot to it ... (and) your hand goes to sleep."

Bagley doesn't know how many books he's illustrated in the years he has been working for Covenant, but it's a lot. A couple of his favorites are his "Remember When" and "Book of Mormon ABCs" books. The Book of Mormon ABCs was one of the first he completed, and he is in the process of redoing it as a lift-the-flap book.

The first cartoon Bagley ever did was while serving an LDS mission. Instead of simply writing about his experiences, he illustrated them.

"My drawing style has changed a lot since then," he said, noting this has been a springboard for some of the cartoons he does now.

His favorite thing to draw is bad guys, because they're easy to depict. Most of the ideas for characters in his books come straight from his head, Bagley said. Usually he will see a character in his mind and must bring him or her to life on paper.

"My brain has a stage and just sees (the character) up there," he said. "That doesn't mean I draw and that's it. I have to refine what it is. ... I get my ideas sometimes just looking at a blank piece of paper."

Bagley is constantly searching for new ideas. Deseret Book has a company policy to come up with 10 new ideas every week, and he tries to follow this ideal. Of the ideas he submits to Covenant, about 75 percent are rejected. However, Bagley says having even 25 percent accepted is a huge ratio, and he's grateful for his success rate.

"I'm lucky I get 25 percent accepted," he said. "If you put it in perspective with all the other authors and all the other books (you can see why). The publisher says there's only so much money people are going to spend on my books."

Bagley said his publisher is careful not to let him compete with himself.

"You become your own worst enemy if you have too many of your own products out there sitting on a shelf," he said. "(Covenant) is aware of that and spaces me out, so they don't let me saturate the market with my stuff."

It was a double whammy a few years ago when Wal-Mart started distributing Bagley's products. Although it helped the books reach a wider audience, it also lowered the price the publisher paid for them.

Timing has been a key factor in Bagley's success.

"(I came in) at the right time. Ten years ago board books were not really around. With the China connection, it's affordable for us to do," he said. "I feel fortunate to do this for a living, because I don't know anybody else in the LDS market who does what I do full time." In addition to the work he does for Covenant, Bagley is a contributing artist for both The New Era and The Friend, LDS magazines for teens and children, respectively. He also works for the Nightmare on 13th Haunted House in Salt Lake City and has a handful of clients for whom he regularly provides illustrations.

Hearing positive feedback from satisfied customers is one of Bagley's favorite things.

"I just love when so many people tell me what an influence my books have on their children," he said. One of Bagley's neighbors has an autistic son who loves his books. The family keeps them locked up in a cabinet. One day the son figured out how to open the cabinet, and when his parents came into the room, he had all the books open to his favorite pages.

Bagley said people often mistake him for Pat Bagley, the illustrator for the Salt Lake Tribune.

"I've had people bring me his books to autograph and stuff, but we're not related. We just have the same last name," he said. "It's frustrating, because I get compliments, and I don't know if they're for me or for him. I think it's usually half for me and half for him."

It isn't really possible to be diplomatic when correcting someone who brings Bagley one of Pat's books to autograph, so Bagley says he usually lets it slide, but it's frustrating all the same.

Bagley said his wife, Ruth, has always been supportive of his artistic pursuits, even when the going got tough.

"One day when I was worried about not making enough money and wondered if I should get a real job, she said, 'You can't quit — you're living the American dream'," Bagley said. "I'm doing what I love to do at home, and I get to do that. It's hard for her because she's the one who pays our bills every month."

Despite the hardships, Bagley says he loves his profession and plans to continue doing it for as long as he can.

"I don't draw for fun, but it's fun to draw. I like that it's my job," he said. "I'm so, so fortunate. It's amazing I get to do this for a living."

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