‘It’s Pooch!’: Amherst native creates cartoon character that’s building steam

  • Kevin Joy, left, and Stephen Nagy display a T-shirt from their “It’s Pooch!” clothing line, last Wednesday in front of Hot Topic at Holyoke Mall. Hot Topic is selling their T-shirts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Joy holds a stuffed animal from his “It’s Pooch!” clothing line last Wednesday at the Holyoke Mall. Hot Topic, located at the mall, is selling the T-shirts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Joy, left, and Stephen Nagy display a T-shirt from their “It’s Pooch!” clothing line last Wednesday at Holyoke Mall. Hot Topic, lower right, is selling the T-shirts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Stephen Nagy displays a T-shirt from the "It's Pooch!" clothing line. Hot Topic is selling the T-shirts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Joy, left, and Stephen Nagy display a poster publicizing their “It’s Pooch!” clothing line last Wednesday in front of Hot Topic at Holyoke Mall. Hot Topic is selling their T-shirts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Joy holds a cap from his “It’s Pooch!” line at Holyoke Mall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2019 12:01:30 AM

AMHERST — If you asked a young Kevin Joy what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was probably dismissed by adults as an innocent fantasy.

“When I was young, I kind of had two dreams,” Joy said. “One was to work for the FBI and the other was to be a successful cartoonist.”

As it turns out, the Amherst native was successful in achieving one of his goals — he spent over a decade working for the national security division of the FBI in counter-espionage and counter-terrorism — and he’s on his way to completing the second.

Joy, 55, has created “It’s Pooch!” a trademarked cartoon drawing of a dog geared toward children. “It’s Pooch” has been sold on clothing retailer Hot Topic’s website since late this summer in the form of T-Shirts, which feature the canine skateboarding, eating ice cream or riding a bike. Joy’s friend of 20 years and business partner, Stephen Nagy, 60, of Leverett, helps with the business end of the venture.

An artist at heart, Joy created the cartoon character for Brigid, one of his four daughters, after she asked him to draw a logo of a dog in 2011.

“I put it down on paper and she said, ‘Dad, that’s like, really good. You should do something with that,’” he said. “I thought about it and looked at it a couple more times and I said, ‘Yeah, I think there might be something here.’”

What resulted was what he described as a successful initial run of T-shirts, selling his merchandise in the iconic A.J. Hastings office supply store in the center of Amherst. Joy envisions Pooch to eventually evolve as a central character in a larger merchandising universe, where he hopes to branch out the brand to toys, books and visual media.

“I think it’s probably the simplicity coupled with the interesting aspect of it,” he said. “Although it’s very simple, people make really deep connections with it.”

About five or six years ago, Joy and Nagy began to aggressively pitch “It’s Pooch!” to large animation companies like Nickelodeon and Dreamworks, where they say they have seen some substantial interest in an animated television series. They even started going to conventions like the New York Toy Fair to publicize “It’s Pooch!” to industry insiders.

In modern-day fashion, Joy said he made over 1,800 connections with industry figures on LinkedIn, where he’s managed to leverage those relationships to meet, as he called them, “big people in high places.”

“There are people who we still have to meet with, and there are people who haven’t responded yet to the original pitch we put together,” Nagy said. “Everything takes time.”

The retail deal with Hot Topic, they said, stemmed out of Joy’s online hustle. It only took one meeting with executives at the company before the two had a contract in their hands. Although the contract is only for online retail sales, Nagy and Joy said there was a potential for in-store sales as well. The two don’t know how well their merchandise has sold since it hasn’t been online for long enough.

Nagy said there was a strategy for marketing and selling their brand before it has the household name recognition like many other famous children’s cartoons have.

“In the old days, you would have to convince the manufacturer and then the manufacturer had to convince the retailer to put it on their shelves,” he said. “Whereas now, what you’re really trying to do is convince the customer that they want it, and then they drive the demand for how you get it to the stores.”

Ultimately, the two see “It’s Pooch!” as a character loved by both adults and children alike. Even Joy, who was recently diagnosed with a tumor in his right femur, said working on the character gives him something to look forward to.

“Working on Pooch always brings a smile to my face, illuminates my anxiety, and gives me optimism,” he said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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