Good Boy Roy on CNN online

Zack Hix, 18, is the creator of the Good Boy Roy cartoon characters. Zack was diagnosed with a range of mental disorders, and his family believes his drawings provide an important outlet. Zack Hix, 18, is the creator of the Good Boy Roy cartoon characters. Zack was diagnosed with a range of mental disorders, and his family believes his drawings provide an important outlet.

Zack's family hopes his cartoons might provide a way for him to make a living down the road. Although his family lives in Simpsonville, South Carolina, Zack and his father are avid Georgia Bulldog fans.

Zack’s family hopes his cartoons might provide a way for him to make a living down the road. Although his family lives in Simpsonville, South Carolina, Zack and his father are avid Georgia Bulldog fans.

The Good Boy Roy characters are based on Zack's experiences and the people in his life. Zack's younger sister Kelsie, shown above, inspired the Volleyball Girl character. The Good Boy Roy characters are based on Zack’s experiences and the people in his life. Zack’s younger sister Kelsie, shown above, inspired the Volleyball Girl character.
Zack's psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Richards, says the Good Boy Roy characters could represent Zack's belief that everyone should be nice to one another. Zack’s psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Richards, says the Good Boy Roy characters could represent Zack’s belief that everyone should be nice to one another.
The Hix family together for a family photo. From the left: Kim, Kelsie, Zack and Doug. Zack is the creator of Good Boy Roy, and Kim is the president. The Hix family together for a family photo. From the left: Kim, Kelsie, Zack and Doug. Zack is the creator of Good Boy Roy, and Kim is the president.
Zack will soon begin working on a children's book about bullying, something he experienced during middle school. Zack will soon begin working on a children’s book about bullying, something he experienced during middle school.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Zack Hix is the creator of the cartoon characters in Good Boy Roy
  • He is diagnosed with a laundry list of mental health disorders
  • Art has always been his avenue for self-expression
  • His family wants to turn his artwork into a career so he can support himself

Editor’s note: This story is part of CNN’s American Journey series, showing how people are turning passions into jobs. Share your story with CNN iReport, and you could be featured in a CNN story.

(CNN) — On the surface, Zack Hix is like many 18-year-olds.

The Simpsonville, South Carolina, teen’s favorite foods are cheeseburgers and pizza. He listens to rock and punk music. He loves to race mountain bikes, play video games, watch Georgia Bulldogs football with his dad and — perhaps most importantly — draw.

But Zack also suffers from a laundry list of mental health issues, including both intermittent explosive- and obsessive-compulsive disorders, which make him different from other kids his age and threaten to inhibit his ability to function as an independent adult.

Zack is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, in addition to the IED and OCD. He also has Tourette syndrome and tics that are the result of a Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infection in the fifth grade.

Artistic self-expression through drawing helps to balance Zack’s struggles. Together, the Hix family is on a journey to turn a series of Zack’s characters into a career as a cartoonist.

“If we can make a go of this and he can work for himself doing what he loves to do — chances are he is not going to be able to work in a traditional setting; they’re so up and down with how they function — maybe he can support himself after high school and not have to sit back and collect disability as a person who cannot hold a job,” his mother, Kim Hix, said.

The Good Boy Roy crew — including Roy, Zman and Rocker Rick — are charismatic, athletic and musically talented. They are likenesses of Zack and those close to him. Life’s joys and tribulations also inspire Zack’s art, whether it’s expressing his faith in God, standing up to bullies or maintaining a positive outlook on life.

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“The images come to my head,” he says. “I just capture them and put them on paper.”

‘I know that it is the illness’

Kim Hix, 46, is the president of Good Boy Roy, in addition to her roles as part-time personal trainer, an advocate for children in court proceedings and, of course, full-time mother.

“When Zack does awful things, I know that is the illness,” she says. “He is so loving and sweet and thinks of others.”

She knew early on that Zack was different, she says. He wouldn’t sleep alone, screamed to the point where she thought he was going to hurt himself and had trouble processing the reasons he was disciplined.

The family had no history of mental disorders, so Kim Hix started taking Zack to doctors.

“We didn’t know what to think,” she says. “We were kind of bewildered.”

Zack’s father, Doug Hix, says it sometimes feels like they are isolated and on an island, but points out that many people have it worse.

Kim Hix says Zack’s struggles continue to affect the family, especially Kelsie, 14.

“None of this is in your control really,” says Kim. “You can’t fix these things. If it’s a bad day, if it’s chaotic, you pray a lot and when you wake up you hope the next day is better.”

No broad brush on his symptoms

Zack has seen psychiatrist Dr. Robert Richards since elementary school.

Richards doesn’t use a broad brush to describe Zack’s symptoms, he says, because the disorders manifest themselves differently according to the individual, the responsiveness to treatment and the resources available. But Richards did classify Zack’s problems as severe.

Still, the teen has a “high-level of sensitivity and intuitiveness,” Richards said. His drawings could be a way for him to express his view that people should be treated with kindness.

“If you look at other aspects of personality growth and development, he has a strong capacity for empathy,” says Richards.

Dr. Ken Duckworth, a psychiatrist and the medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says the two most important variables in treating mental disorders and illness are family support and the patient’s willingness to accept help from loved ones.

Kim says Zack is family-oriented, always wanting to be near and spend time with his parents.

“I can’t tell them how much I love them in words,” says Zack.

Doug Hix, who has been married to Kim for 21 years, works for an engineering company. At times, his work puts him on the road for two or three weeks a month. When he is home, Doug says he makes spending time with his children a priority. He and Zack race mountain bikes, follow the Atlanta Braves and never miss a University of Georgia football game.

“When he’s at a calm state, when he’s the Zack that we know and love, he’s a great kid,” Doug Hix says. “If his med levels are where they need to be, he can focus. Interaction with faculty and student body, it’s spot on. You’d never expect anything.”

It’s those other times — when he can’t remain calm — that trouble his parents.

Zack’s OCD can cause him to grasp onto single thoughts. He’ll want to do things perfectly and not being able to can sometimes propel him into a rage that can last for hours, his mother says. The episodes have occurred since Zack was a child.

Enter Good Boy Roy

Zack has drawn pictures since he was old enough to hold a pen. He has always gravitated toward cartoons, Japanimation characters and superheroes, his parents say. Drawing seems to provide Zack the context his compulsions won’t allow, and his mother says he’s always used artistic expression to apologize after acting out.

The characters are based on Zack and those close to him. Volleyball Girl was inspired by his younger sister, Kelsie, and Handsome Hen takes after the man who introduced Zack to “The Simpsons,” his uncle Henry.

In 2009, Zack took a stack of Good Boy Roy drawings to his mother and asked what she thought. She liked them enough to have one printed on a red T-shirt, his favorite color.

Zack wore the shirt everywhere. Kim Hix had already considered making Good Boy Roy a business, but when she saw how proud the T-shirt made Zack, she wondered if it might be a way for Zack to support himself after high school if his mental health issues prove to be barriers to employment.

“I have always been a fixer,” she said. “That has been my job since Zack was born, trying to get him help and get him the resources that can help him progress.”

Since 2010, Zack’s mother says he has made about $12,000 from merchandise and custom design sales, so the business is very much part-time. He has also illustrated a children’s book, “A World Without Circles.” The book’s publisher has asked Zack to work on a children’s book about bullying, something he experienced during middle school related to his Tourette’s syndrome, his mother says.

Zack plans to graduate from high school in 2014 and hopes to continue spreading Good Boy Roy’s message. He wants Roy, Zman and Rocker Rick to be known worldwide so they can inspire others with disabilities to find work.

Meanwhile, Kim Hix is learning how to juggle building a business with her own career and being a mother and wife. It’s still very much a work in progress, but she hopes Good Boy Roy will reach other families dealing with mental health disorders and let them know they’re not alone.

“Good Boy Roy, the business and brand, was launched to share with the world this story of hope, determination and overcoming challenges; [to] reach parents of children like Zack, to let them know they are not alone in their heartache and uncertainty; [to] let the kids know that anything is possible, and being different is OK.”

Taking care of business— Mental illness is not a deterrent

Taking care of business—despite mental health challenges

Interview By Andrea Ciccocioppo: Central Penn Magazine

Zack Hix isn’t your ordinary 16-year-old. He’s a cartoonist and entrepreneur, with a successful line of T-shirts—and he struggles with OCD, depression, ADHD, anxiety, Tourette’s and Pediatric Autoimmune Disorder Associated with Strep.

“I knew almost from birth that something wasn’t right,” recalled Kim Hix, Zack’s mother.infant1

Troubles begin

“He was very sick as an infant. Lots of ear infections. Chronic. As a toddler he began to have daily rages,” Hix said.

“Fortunately, my background is in psychology. That was a blessing. I was able to talk to doctors, nurses, psychologists, but it still didn’t prepare me. Nothing I did helped him,” Hix said. “I kept saying, ‘It’s not a temper tantrum. It’s something else.’”

Zack started with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tendencies at age 2. Doctors said they believe a strep infection induced the OCD.

PTDC0091

With the ongoing support of his parents and doctors, Zack started school. “He didn’t have any difficulties in elementary school,” Hix recalled.

And then came middle school—and another strep infection.

Enter PANDAS (pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep)

As if middle school isn’t enough of a challenge socially for most kids, in fifth grade, Zack got another strep infection, which doctors believe caused him to develop tics and Tourette Syndrome. He had head, neck and mouth tics and made guttural and gulping sounds. “At the time, they were very distinct, noticeable and disruptive,” Hix recalled.

School quickly became “a disaster.” “He was picked on, teased and bullied a lot,” Hix said. “That was the onset of a downward spiral for him.”

Zack became homebound for the last six weeks of school that year. He was diagnosed with Pediatric Autoimmune Disorder Associated with Strep.

For the next three years, Zack shuffled in and out of schools and homeschooling, trying to find a good educational and social fit. “I really did have to start learning a lot about what schools legally have to provide for a child with diagnosed disabilities and learning disorders” Hix said.HPIM0425

The challenge for Hix and the schools was to distinguish between behavior issues and medical/neurological difficulties. “I knew what was going on was due to lack of impulse control, mood swings, depression and anxiety, but the staff did not see it this way”

Fortunately, in the eighth grade, Zack was teamed up in a regular class with an “Inclusion Specialist” aide. “She finally recognized [a problem],” Hix said. “She got the ball rolling and pushed for testing. They determined his problems are medically based and he was placed in a class with learning-disabled neuroscience students, many of whom had head traumas or Asperger’s or Autism. “Once that happened, it has been much better,” Hix said.

Meanwhile, the tics subsided and are manageable. The tantrums are fewer. This year is going great for Zack. “Every day is different. You learn to never try to predict because you can’t,” Hix said.

Welcome Good Boy RoyGBR Back logo

Now, a high school student in Simpsonville, South Carolina, Zack is a pretty typical kid. He has raced BMX bikes, played baseball and has always loved to draw and do silly impersonations. His creative outlet for dealing with his issues has been drawing.

Two years ago, he brought home a stack of drawings of characters he had done. “I thought they were really cute,” Hix said. She had a T-shirt made up of one of the characters, Good Boy Roy.

“He names all his characters. He picked Good Boy Roy as his alter ego because after his rages, he is always very remorseful. ‘I really am a good boy, I don’t know why I do this,’ he says,” Hix explained.

As Zack wore the shirt, it got attention. Other kids wanted shirts. Some friends asked him to create characters just for them. Thus began GoodBoyRoy.com, a website that sells items featuring Zack’s characters.

“The T-shirt was nothing we had planned on, but my thought was mental illness does not go away. He’s gonna have to get a job and work when he’s able to work, he is never stable for long, and being able to work for someone else we feel is probably not going to be possible” Hix said. “This is a great way to start. The hope is we can grow this and it will provide him with a source of income after high school and allow him to be financially self-sufficient. Not depend on government support or handouts”

Zack is gifted at art. “Whenever I had an idea in my head, I see the picture,” he said. “I try to think of names. Most of them start with the same letter [such as Hippie Heather]—that’s what makes them catchy.”hippie heather-incolor

Zack attends trade shows to sell his work. “It’s a good opportunity for him to work on interacting with people,” Hix said. “It’s really been great for his self-esteem.”

Drawing his characters has often been his best friend. Zack said he wants other kids to know that if you have a dream, go for it. Everyone has obstacles and challenges of some kind, but if you believe in yourself anything is possible.

Zack said he does all his artwork on paper, rather than a computer. It takes him about 10 minutes to create. “My friends think it’s pretty cool,” Zack said. “My goal is for Good Boy Roy to become a household name like The Simpsons.”   

boy-wonder-bannerThe most recent addition to the Good Boy Roy brand is the new coloring book. Full of the fun, whimsical characters he draws and fondly calls “the Good Boy Roy Gang“. These characters share inspirational and motivating, positive messages for the children to read.

coloringbookcovernami-for coloring bookHappy Harry Coloring BookThis has been a fun and rewarding journey for both Kim and Zack. Following a Dream.

What is it ?? Branding experts unite

I have been posed the question several times over the past few days

What IS Good Boy Roy

What is Good Boy Roy

Should be easy to answer, should be simple, should come spilling out.

But

It’s complicated.

Good Boy Roy Is my son, Zack. The creator of it all. Most of the characters he draws have some aspect of his personality in them.

It use to be easy for me to say exactly what the business, Good Boy Roy is.

It is a journey, a mission of hope, faith, determination and overcoming. That’s what it is !! This story we are telling via the characters my son draws. Because this is his story, his life, his passion and dream. It’s a story about a boy who has suffered lifelong with debilitating, crippling disorders, challenges, disabilities, mental illness.

Whatever you want to call it. Whatever you want to call this daily roller coaster, this uncertainty he lives with. What we live with as a family. Because challenges like his do not affect 1 person. They affect everyone.

It’s the story that this kid, my kid, can be charming, delightful, smiling one minute and the next be reduced to someone I don’t even recognize. To a raging wild animal, or a crying, sobbing, helpless shell of a person. And again, back to a cool kid, creating and drawing these wonderfully fun and cute characters he imagines in his mind.

It’s a story and message we want to share and send to say “Hey, I have all these things that I can’t help, that make me act and feel ways I don’t like and can’t control, but I can still be a great asset to the world, I have talent, I am cool, I make people laugh and smile. I am awesome and yes, I have Mental illness. So what” and that millions of other people in the world are the same, they are talented, brilliant, kind, AND have mental illness. Doesn’t make them less than, doesn’t make them unworthy, doesn’t make them unproductive or unsuccessful. It just is.

Rethink Mental Illness

So, we thought to bring the characters to life, on shirts as a way to share Zack’s story and his love of drawing, but people are missing the story. They are missing the years of tears, of chaos, of uncertainty, of feeling like this child may not grow up, or may have to live somewhere in a residential facility, of days on end of raging, throwing things, hurting himself, being bullied, teased and picked on, reactions to medications, blood drawn every 6 weeks, trips to the ER…all of it somehow brought us to creating this business of Good Boy Roy. For him, to share. And for us to give back, to make a difference in the world somehow, to do good and help others, to spread hope.

Without hope, what do we have?

Some people say, just tell the story, forget the characters and the shirts, just tell the story and the rest will follow, “your story if Powerful and what you have managed to survive, and intact as a family is inspiring. The level of accomplishment and progress your son has made is a miracle” and accomplishments he continues to make…may I brag..he just finished illustrating a children’s book he was hired for, designed shirts for The Greenville Road Warriors among many, won a National t-shirt design contest for NAMI, multiple TV and print media stories .  Forget the shirts, tell the story.

Ok. I like that

Then someone says….seperate the characters FROM your son. Make them their own entity. Like P-nuts and Charles Schultz. And that is what Zack has in mind, for his “Good Boy Roy Gang” to be a group of characters like P-Nuts, The Simpsons, South Park….and the shirts and merchandise to follow along.

What we envision is really a mix, kind of like The Simpsons meet Life is Good.

So, from a business, branding, marketing stand point, which angle is the best to make this grow and be successful for Zack. For his future?

I just keep waiting on a sign..waiting, waiting

Thank goodness I’m a patient person.

Zman is in the house

Good morning from a sunny South Carolina

Continuing on our introduction of the Good Boy Roy Gang members, next on the list is

Zman  Zman  Zman Zman

Yes, Zman, or Zack’s nickname. Obviously Zman is his own caricature for himself. Best described by Zack in his words here:

“he is the other stud, the sports dude, the sports fanatic and also gets the
girls. Zman is Good Boy Roy’s BEST friend. Zman is funny, smooth talker, and all around good guy. His specialty sport is baseball, he is a baseball STAR.”

Kind of cute wouldn’t you say??

Zack, my Zack, does enjoy his sports, watching and playing. That boy loves his Georgia Bulldogs. Gooooo DAWGS.

Decisions Decisions

This design he calls “Decisions, Decisions”, appropriate I think. Remember, ALL of these characters and designs are on various t-shirts you can find on the website. As well as a full line of inspirational Note Cards, each has an inspirational message on the back, you can see here.

Leaving you with a quick shout out from Zman himself and wishing you a blessed day. Here, here, click here :)

Remember, try to do

1 Random act of kindness today for a stranger.

It feels oh so good.

Roy is on the move

Such a Sassy Saturday here in South Carolina, the Upstate.

Today we follow Roy on his move to stardom and infamy. Yesterday you met Roy and saw some original designs.  Today Roy makes another appearance and then moves out of the picture so the next Good Boy Roy Gang member can be introduced tomorrow.

You should know by now that Roy, the original character, is sort of Zack’s alter ego, that said, most depictions of him are doing something that Zack himself likes to do.

If you like to fish, undoubetdly you have had the Big one that got away, well, so did Roy. But I think the fish got the best of Roy.

But he didnt escape Zack. Had a great time fishing in Florida last weekend.

The favorite Roy design I think is God Rocks, for many reasons. Faith, love, hope and to Believe makes our days endurable.

Inspiration comes from everywhere. To the horror of most parents the Ice Cream truck makes its way through neighborhoods on summer days, and to the delight of the kids. Upon hearing the sound of the redundant music one hot day that lets us all know he is near, Zack quickly drew this cute and favorite design.

                                                Must Have Ice Cream !!!

Leaving you today with this Video Montage of the Good Boy Roy characters (real and not) :)

Zack aka Good Boy Roy goes to the Prom

Furman University Library (James B. Duke Libra...

Furman University Library (James B. Duke Library) and fountains (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is certainly unimaginable to me that my boy is headed off to the Prom !! OMG. Where did the time go?

Zack is 17, and this is his first date. He is so totally unworldly, and very much the innocent and naive boy. He has been so very excited about this day, he was dressed and ready to go by 4:30….we were not leaving the house until 5:30 :)

We have tried prep Zack for this day since he has never taken a girl out to eat, on how to order, Wipe his mouth !! he often forgets, table manners and the like. The process of practicing how to leave a tip and how to figure out how much tip has been the topic of much discussion lately.

The plan is this: My husband will be the chauffeur, (since Zack is still very new at driving), I will follow in another car to pick up his “date” so that we can all take pictures. My husband will then drive them to the restaurant of their choice for reservations at 7pm, where he will drop them off and go elsewhere while they eat.

This went off without a hitch ! Thank goodness.

Next, onto the Prom, at Furman University. My husband dropped them off, then proceeded to find a good parking space, and SLEEP !! yep, sleep. He had just driven in from Georgia, was tired, so took this opportunity of peace and quiet, no dogs barking to interfere. I am so jealous of how easily he can sleep, anywhere, anytime.  The guy is lights out as soon as his head hits a pillow, while I toss, turn, think, re-think, plan and the like.

 

Prom was over at 11:00, time to get home. Zack reported it was all awesome. What a wonderful way to describe your very first date and Prom. Just one of many firsts for my little/big man.