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.”

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In case you missed it… Boy Wonder

By Heidi Coryell Williams
SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

Hillcrest High School junior Zack Hix, creator of Good Boy Roy, draws on real-life inspiration

In his Simpsonville art studio, also known as the kitchen table, 16-year-old Zack Hix sits among stacks of well-worn sketch diaries, which his mother buys from Walmart. He seems subdued and focused, even though he is running a little late today—the baseball coach had a meeting after school. He is trying out for the team.

This is Zack’s life of late—juggling school and home life and a dynamic graphic design business, which includes stocking a Web store full of merchandise bearing his catchy gang of cartoon characters and their animated, adolescent expressions—from “Rock on Dude” to “Must Have Ice Cream.”

Web sales aren’t great, says Kim, his mother and Chief “Everything” Officer of Zack’s design company, Good Boy Roy. The good news is, his work has recently taken him in a new direction: creating custom designs. In the past few months, he’s drawn logos for a Zumba teacher in Oklahoma, a marching band in Chicago, and a beauty salon (Salon Beverly)  in Greer. (Check out the Custom Design Page)

Custom design for Salon Beverly

If Zack’s accomplishments seem to belie his age, the adversity he has endured downright defies it. “Nobody can have it worse than anybody else. It’s just a matter of how you look at it,” Zack says, slightly monotone, eyes diverted—as they often are—his hand firmly tapping the seat of his wooden chair.

In a few years, folks will likely chalk up his mannerisms to artistic eccentricities. But the tapping, knocking, and pacing actually stem from various impulse control disorders, including Tourette’s Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity.

The truth is, the happy, vibrant characters that Zack creates are more like alter egos. He is content for now, but with little warning he could fly into a screaming rage or an anxious, tearful fit that might last for hours.

Zack’s differences have made him a target for bullying. But drawing has always offered an opportunity for escape and reconciliation, especially following some of his more violent outbursts. He often told his family, “I really am a good boy,” after an episode had ended, and the name Good Boy Roy was born.

About two years ago, Kim surprised Zack by putting one of the characters, Good Boy Roy, on a T-shirt. The gratification he got—not only seeing one of his sketches brought to life, but also from folks who saw and admired his work—turned out to be the beginning of the most healing season in his adolescence. At times, perfecting his drawings becomes something to obsess over, but mostly it’s an outlet for his anxiety. “It’s just helped me to cope sometimes,” Zack offers simply.

NAMI Walk 2012

This years NAMI walk (National Alliance on Mental Illness) had huge turnout !! The weather was perfect and it was a perfect day. More than 1 thousand people turned out to support Mental Illness awareness and to help Stomp out Stigma. The Good Boy Roy Team had about 10 walkers this year, all walking in the new NAMI design by Zack…Mental Illness does NOT Discriminate . 

We entered the design into the National T-shirt contest for NAMI in hopes his will win, if so Zack will win $250 and have his design hanging in the National Headuarters. We will  keep our fingers crossed.

It was great seeing so many people come out and support this great cause.

Here are some pictures of our team and some great friends that came out to help and support us and others that live with and struggle with Mental Illness.

Good Boy Roy walk team 2012

Me, my husband and Zack

                      

                                                                           Zack and friend/supporter Ronnie

                We have some of these left, anyone interested in buying one you can order online.

Mental Illness is not a choice.

My soap Box:

     Patience, understanding, love, acceptance are gifts we all need from each other but they are specially important for children with disabilities, of any kind. It is difficult to ignore rude, hurtful comments, to be left out and laughed at. Unfortunately this is a common childhood occurrence, however on a more frequent and constant basis for children who are different. Children who are already fragile due to any kind of illness, disability or impairment are easy targets for those who are stronger and more confidant. Self esteem is something we all have whether it be high or low, and how we perceive ourselves, abilities and worth are all too often dependant on others.

     My hope is that we teach our children and ourselves to accept differences and embrace the individuality that we all have, to see beyond any physical, mental or emotional challenges. If you are a parent of a “high-spirited, intense child” as I am, academically, socially and emotionally challenged; you have most likely heard some of the same accusations I have from parents of “perfect ” children who do no wrong, who respond to their parents every command on queue, perfectly behaved and well-mannered, who excel in sports and academics.  My hope and prayer is that the people in general open their minds and come to realize that children like mine, and millions more ,who suffer with these illnesses, are not bad kids, not evil or purposefully oppositional, but are lovable, kind, funny, smart and full of promise as is every other child. Yes,they may do things differently, loudly, extremely,and outrageously, which may be difficult for others to understand or accept. This was the basis of my book that I wrote a few years ago for Zack, No one is Perfect and You are a great kid (Amazon) No one is Perfect and YOU are a Great Kid

     They need to be given understanding, reassurance, patience, acceptance and compassion. My wish is that other children who feel different for any reason find hope, promise, acceptance and the gift that is within them and realize they are not alone.

Mental illness is not a choice, it is not contagious, it does not make you “less than”

      I hope our story will open the lines of communication for parents and children, friends and neighbors to discuss and explore behavior they may not understand. My biggest hope is that children who are seeking acceptance,understanding and answers be able to find that from parents, peers, teachers and siblings and to know they are not alone in their challenges. This has been a life long struggle for us as a family and for my son Zack, now 16.

   Some days I  honestly never thought we would make it this far. Maybe I just thought some big hole would eventually swallow us up at some point when we felt we could not move forward one more day. Yet here we are, we have made it, not day by day, but minute by minute. And amazingly, presently, doing pretty good. We started this business for Zack,  Good Boy Roy, based on his fun characters that he draws. The start of this has brought him so much pride and hope, something we never thought he would have. So, I urge parents out there, who may love a child who struggles, to please encourage them in whatever there dream or hope may be, you never know when it may turn into THE thing that begins to transform their life and how they feel about themselves. Never give up.    

This year Zacks new design for the Good Boy Roy NAMI (National Alliance on Metnal Illness)  walk team won the National t-shirt design contest. This honor will allow his design to be displayed at the NAMI headqarters and he will get a monetary prize, which he LOVES !! Here we are at this years walk wearin the winning shirt. You can of course find and buy this shirt on the Good Boy Roy website. A percentage of sales are donated to NAMI to help Stomp out Stigma of Mental illness.

        

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Bullies….

What a dreary, rainy day here is SC. A good day to clean and get things back in order here at the Hix household. I was thinking about what to bore you all with today as I rearrange the Good Boy Roy shirts we still have living in the house. Zack’s Angry Allen design prompted me to write today about Bullies. You see, Angry Allen (www.goodboyroy.com)  does not like Bullies, but then who does, except other bullies, write?

Zack created this shirt to wear to speak out against bullies, with Angry Allen saying “Bullies Make me angry. Being a bully is not cool”.  Bullying is so much in the media these days and reminds me of how much Zack has endured his share of nasty, hurtful bullies. This began in the 6th grade when he first began having his Tics and they were very, very distracting and obvious, so of course the mean kids began to pick, tease, name call harass him. This went on daily, despite my calls to the school, the principal and more. What happened to the Zero Tolerance policy our school district proclaims they have??? I dunno, but they did nothing. All the while my kid coming home from school crying every day, sitting in school crying, and this daily attack on his self-esteem quickly eating away at what was left of his ego and pride. I watched this sweet, confused child of mine spiral down until there was nothing left of him, he was pretty much non-functioning so that by the end of 6th grade I did not even make him finish the last 6 weeks of school as he was so depressed, anxious and afraid to go. Yet, despite it all he continued to have faith in school and a desire to return the next year, to another school, since I refused to send him  back into this hostile, terrible environment. We quickly learned the bullies are everywhere…you cant hide from them and they sniff out the weak, timid, awkward and shy in no time flat. The teasing continued, though not as bad since his tics had thankfully become less noticeable and not as distracting. I know, as a parent of a child that it on the receiving end of the bullying, how hurtful and damaging this is to kids. Sadly, through talking to many parents it seems most kids endure some bullying to some degree. As I have watched many cases in the news in the past months it brings me to tears to see that some kids were literally bullied to death, how hurt, sad, depressed, and totally hopeless they had to feel to take their own life. My heart breaks for them, those that continue to live daily in fear, and the parents who have to watch this happen. So, it seems I have managed to ramble, I got high on my soap box a bit. I just get so angry, for my child and all the kids who have been “tortured” mentally and physically by cruel, relentless bullies.We, as parents must take this issue very serious, support, love, comfort our kids, raise them up every day, fill them with self-assurance, knowledge and confidence so they can resist this kind of attack on their soul. Building strong, resilient children is hard, but something each parent can do. Gone are the days when you can simply say, “ignore them”, “brush it off”, “sticks and stones….” in the age when a picture, a character attack or rumor can be spread world-wide in seconds, ignoring is not so easy as it use to be. Hug your kids tonight, today, every day, say you love them, speak the words, don’t assume they know it. We all need to HEAR and know we are loved.

Good News

 

In the past two weeks I have had some interesting, exciting, hopeful news on the Good Boy Roy front. We expect some good PR here in the next several days in our local area, and if lucky maybe some beyond our area. Our local Greenville Journal is doing a story on Zack, his life, his challenges and the start of Good Boy Roy. Then the Fox News broadcast should be out soon. And finally, another local distribution Skirt Greenville chose me 🙂 as a profile for their January issue for Women that Wow Us. Now that is a hoot. Me, little ole’ homebody, run around in gym shorts and ball cap, me. But I am of course thankful and honored. Then, we did a Holiday Fair this past Saturday and by happenstance someone saw Zack’s shirts, loved them, took pictures and sent to the Pres., of the company she works for which happens to be a large retail distributer !!!! She, and I, hope they will like his line so much they will want to invest in the Good Boy Roy line. Now, that would be the BOMB !!! A big thank you as well to Bearman Cartoons, http://beartoons.com/ for adding us to your blog spot. We have been in come across some amazing, kind, helpful people along this journey. I am praying this thing will all work out for Zack, that he will see his dreams come true and have this business he is so proud of, flourish and allow opportunities for him, and for him to help others. This has been so much fun for me, as a mom, to see this kid, who has struggled so much, just like millions more, come out of his shell a bit, have some self-esteem and positive interactions with others.Although, last night was not a good one for him, as lack of sleep always triggers the “Other Zack” to come out, things get pretty chaotic when this happens, and not good for any of us. Usually ends up with a lot of yelling, he and his sister fighting, and him crying, which is just what happened. For kids with severe mood disorders like Zack,(IED/OCD/Tourettes) sleep is a huge factor in how they function. From all the parents I have talked to with kids like Zack, that is the norm. So, he was in bed by 7:30, crying of course, and slept 12 full hrs., woke up this morning the “Real Zman”. Thank goodness. We take the good with the bad, give thanks for his recent overall stability and look to the next day.