SYRACUSE, Utah — Once upon a time, Val Chadwick Bagley was sitting around, drawing cheese and hot dog labels.
He had to face a goblin, a roomful of old yellow desks and a man with springs attached to his feet before becoming one of the most recognizable LDS cartoonists.
Bagley is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of his business, The Cartoonist Guy, and is already looking forward to the two new children's books he has coming out, both geared around the New Testament.
"It all feels like two or three different lifetimes ago," Bagley said, reflecting on his humble start and his current success. It is a life he fittingly describes as "colorful."
Bagley, 53, has published about 50 LDS children's books overall (coloring, board, lift-the-flap, etc.) with Covenant Communications as well as games, calendars, postcards and puzzles.
You might know his cartoons from the Friend magazine, or his humor from "The Extra Smile" page in the New Era.
You might have used his illustrated guides on table manners and how to learn languages in the MTC.
You might have mistaken him for cartoonist Pat Bagley, of whom he insists there is "no relation."
At the tender age of 7, Bagley submitted his first cartoon to the Friend.
"Most kids draw the prophet or the temple or something," he said. "But I drew this cartoon, sent it in, and waited six months before it was published."
Bagley said he opened up the magazine, saw his drawing and was disappointed. "I thought, 'I can draw so much better than this!' and I threw it away."
But before taking on the challenge of drawing Nephites or Mormon missionaries for a living, Bagley became known as the author of the 1986-87 syndicated comic strip "Goblin."
When "Goblin" went to press, he thought he had discovered his calling, his big break from label-making.
"Something like 5,000 people try every year to get nationally syndicated in comics," Bagley said. "Out of 5,000, they pick, like, four. It's ridiculous."
Bagley's strip about a little green goblin, his hideously ugly wife and their family had been rejected a few times, but then, by chance, "Two guys started their own syndicate in Canada and started taking on nobodies like me," he said.
Suddenly "Goblin" was picked up in numerous newspapers, including the Deseret News.
"It was in papers in Texas, Florida … it was a dream come true," he said.
The dream quickly became a nightmare when a survey was taken in Long Beach, Calif., asking newspaper readers to name their favorite comic.
"Two thousand seven hundred people said 'Garfield' was their favorite; 2,100 said 'Family Circus,'" Bagley said, "and 48 said 'Goblin.'"
In response to the follow-up question, "What comic do you most want dropped?" 6,439 people said "Goblin."
"The second least-liked comic was 'Spider-man,'" Bagley said. "And it was half that, with around 3,000 voting to drop it. 'Goblin' was across-the-board, universally, overwhelmingly hated."
There was a newspaper headline that read "'Goblin' is out!'"
"When it was cancelled, I laid out on my front lawn and bawled and cried and wished I was a plumber," Bagley said. "It was my life's dream. I thought I'd be doing that forever."
He didn't know where to go next. "You don't open up the want ads and find cartoonist jobs."
While reading the Book of Mormon, he read Helaman 12:2:
"Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and … in all manner of precious things of every kind and art …"
When Bagley read "art," he decided to take a leap of faith.
He went and bought 30 desks and painted them bright yellow. He took out a loan and started "The Cartoonist Guy" in Bountiful, Utah, thinking he would teach cartooning classes.
"I had all these students," he said. "I'm standing up there one day, and I think, 'I don't like teaching at all. This is such a drag!'"
One of the people he had designed cheese labels with had since gotten a job at Covenant Communications and asked if Bagley would draw a cartoon of a man with springs attached to his feet for a mailer they were doing that read "Spring into spring!"
"I did this illustration and the editor of Covenant liked it and asked if I would do a coloring book," Bagley said.
It was a match: Bagley has been with Covenant since 1992, illustrating his many books, games, etc. He also submits three to six cartoons to the New Era every other month.
But Bagley still faces some rejection since drawing cartoons is harder than it looks.
"They'll say, 'Just draw something funny!'" Bagley said. "But what is that? An elephant wearing a top hat? It's not that simple. I go through my head like a viewfinder, looking for humor in the church: 'Relief Society, no, Primary, no, the bishopric, no …'"
His favorite thing is when he gets to draw scenes from the Book of Mormon, specifically anything involving villains.
"You can't draw Nephi with some big, goofy nose," Bagley said. "But I can make Kishkumen and Gadianton as ugly as I want."
He is grateful that his grandchildren can enjoy his books and for the unwavering support of his wife, Ruth.
"This is my dream come true," Bagley said, sharing that he feels "very, very, very" blessed for where he ended up … even if his "Goblin" was defeated.
Bagley laughs: "It was just ahead of its time."
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