It all started as a joke amongst friends. In 1999, while working for a farming company, local restaurant owner Patrick Shelly, 42, designed a PG-rated comic about the adventures of a silly chicken and his canine companion called “Hillbilly Chicken,” planting the seed by drawing a cartoon chicken as a prank relative to a reoccurring joke that began during downtime on the job. In work-related conversation, a man nicknamed Booper by co-workers exclaimed that he “liked chickens.”
“‘I like chickens.’ It was hilarious. He just reminded me of a hillbilly talking like Larry the Cable Guy,” Shelly remembered. “So eventually, I drew something up, named it Booper, stuck it to his locker, and promised myself I’d do something with it someday.”
Life became busy for Shelly as he went on to purchase two Subway franchises and eventually open Shelly’s Family Restaurant in Hamlin. While taking a break from the chaotic life of a restaurant owner on a family trip to Disneyland, he saw a film that broke down Walt Disney’s road to success as a simple concept: “It all started with a mouse.” He was inspired.
Upon his return, Shelly decided to take advantage of the winter months, when business is slow for almost every restaurant owner, and began to pour himself incessantly into “Hillbilly Chicken” by creating a new character, a dog named Radar, as a companion for Booper. He composed over 30 comic strips, writing children’s books and spreading the word about Hillbilly Chicken using Facebook, where the amount of “likes” the cartoon received spiked from 300 to 4,500 in one year.
He reached out to large corporations such as King Features Syndicate and Cartoon Network in the hopes of publication; teamed up with Audition House, a graphic design company out of Los Angeles; auditioned for ABC’s “Shark Tank” in August of 2013; and is now using Indiegogo to crowdfund what he hopes to be the next phase of his career.
With a 15-year background in business under his belt, Shelly feels that life experience plays a major role in setting his designs apart from others in the highly competitive world of design. “People might ask, ‘What’s a 42-year-old guy doing in the comic business?’ but if you look at guys like Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” or Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” these guys have experienced tremendous success and they didn’t start until their mid-30s,” Shelly noted. “I’m sure there are people younger than me and more talented when it comes to design, but life experience is what gives you quality content, and I have 42 years worth.”
“Hillbilly Chicken” differs from cartoons like “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” by aiming to reach a much younger audience with age-appropriate content, avoiding profanity. According to Shelly, the market for children’s cartoons and programming is huge, not only in the United States, but all over the world. Although Shelly hopes for the commercial success of “Hillbilly Chicken,” he intends to always play an active role in the endeavor regardless of the final outcome, using his personal life experience to set an example and encourage children to dream, use their imagination, and have the will to succeed.
“I grew up on welfare with parents that weren’t so nice to me. I was bullied, dropped out of high school in 9th grade, got my GED when I was 18, worked hard, and have been very successful in business despite the cards I was dealt,” Shelly said of his past. “It’s very important to me that children who have it like I did understand that you can do anything if you’re willing to work hard and turn things around, and if that’s as far as this all goes, then I’ll be happy.”