FROM NICKELODEON CARTOONIST TO REDEMPTION IN JESUS:
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS SAVINO
By Josh Peck
For a person outside of the faith, stories of redemption might seem like they are a dime a dozen. That is, until it happens in that person’s own life. As Christians, we all have our own redemption stories that are deeply personal and inspirational. When we share our testimonies, we do so in the hopes they will inspire others in a similar way. I recently had the honor of talking with my new friend and brother in the Lord, Chris Savino, about his personal journey to Jesus. It is my pleasure to welcome Chris to the family and introduce him to the rest of you. Here is his story:
1. For those not familiar, can you list your past accomplishments that people would probably recognize you from?
I think the most recent accomplishment would be as the creator of the animated cartoon series The Loud House for Nickelodeon. It has been on the air since 2015 and often shares the top rated spot next to Spongebob Squarepants. Earlier this year the show won two Emmy awards. It is the achievement I am most proud of in my life. I am proud of the show and I am proud of the talented people who make it. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention all of the amazing shows that I was fortunate to be a part of throughout my career that culminated in having a successful series of my own. I got my big break in 1991, at the age of 19, on the show Ren and Stimpy. From there, I was lucky enough to work on hit shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Test, and Kick Buttowski, just to name a few. I suppose for those who are more interested, they can look up my IMDB page for my complete career credits.
2. How would you best describe yourself during your time as a cartoonist?
If I had to boil my career down to one word, I would have to say that I have always thought of myself as being lucky. Sure, talent and hard work play into it, but I seem to have always been in the right places at the right times and had the good fortune to work on some amazing shows with talented people who were generous enough to share their knowledge of cartoon-making with me.
3. In order to set the stage and provide some context before we discuss your journey to faith, back in 2017 you ran into some controversy; can you tell us in your own words what happened?
Yes, but it goes back further than that. During the 26 years of working my way up the ladder in the animation industry, I was also working on addiction. 3 to be exact. I was addicted to alcohol, work, and attention.
Although my job was 40 and even 50 to 60 hours a week, I still took on freelance work that filled much of my remaining hours. Although one drink should have been enough, one become two, which became three and four, and soon I found myself drinking alone at night. And, although I was happily married, I continued to seek attention from other women. I found myself having, what I believed to be mutual, conversations of an inappropriate nature through text and messaging which eventually to an affair that lasted nearly two years. In the fall of 2017, at the height of my career and at an emotionally heated but understandable time in our society, those selfish choices led to me losing my job, my show, my career, my wife, my kids, my home, most of my friends, and all of my career-long colleagues.
But my addictions were not the cause of my downfall. I had choices and, as a married man, I chose poorly. I take full responsibility for those choices and my personal role in the outcome.
4. What do you believe the lowest point was for you during that part of your life?
Addiction can play tricks on the brain. Although, I consciously made these choices, my addictions convinced me that I could keep doing what I was doing because it wasn’t hurting anyone. But it was. This whole situation has absolutely disappointed so many people and I would like to repeat how truly sorry I am for that. I hope that one day I’ll be able to earn their forgiveness. I am honestly and earnestly working toward that. Regardless, I do pray that in their own way and in their own time, that they are able to move forward with their lives.
But out of everything, my lowest point was seeing how much I had hurt my family.
My wife, through no fault of her own, had to find out that the man she married was not the man she thought he was. Not only did learning of my infidelity come as a total surprise to her, but she had to learn it the way the rest of the world did: on the internet. Hurt and devastated, she still held her head up high and continued to be a mom to our kids, enduring the fact that she and I were now the topic of school yard gossip.
My oldest son, who was 16 at the time, had to face ridicule from his classmates at school who all saw that his dad was being talked about on the news.
My middle son, who was 14 at the time, had gone online and read all of the terrible things that were being said about his dad, and instead of us hanging out and chatting about movies or video games, I had to talk to my son about what he was reading online and what was true and also what was not true.
And my youngest son, who was only 10 at the time, was so proud of his dad. When the kids in his class would mention The Loud House, he would excitedly point out that that’s his dad's show! But now, whenever the show was mentioned, he had to pretend to not care.
To look into their eyes and see the hurt, sadness, and confusion that I had caused them was too much to bear. I am, and always will be, truly sorry for that, and will never stop working to make things right between us.
It’s been almost two years now, and not a single day has gone by that I do not think about the turmoil, embarrassment, and shame that I have brought to my family. I know I cannot change the past, but I can change myself.
Although I do not live with my family anymore, I have worked and continue to work hard to rebuild our relationships, earn back the trust and love that I selfishly threw away, and continue my unending quest to become a better father…a better man.
In that time, not only have I been able to forge a deeper relationship with my boys, but my priorities have shifted in a way that has allowed me to lead my life with a clarity and a purpose that otherwise would not have existed. I have made new friendships (and strengthened a few old ones) that have helped me to live with integrity, self control, and virtues, and to make positive changes mentally, physically, and spiritually. As of this interview, I am two years sober.
5. Despite being at that low point, God had other plans for you. Can you explain your journey to finding faith?
He did indeed.
In early 2018, I was sitting alone in my apartment, contemplating the circumstances of my life. What would I do? How does one start over? How would I provide for my family? But at the same time, I also asked myself, why had I made the kinds of choices I did? Why did I choose the short term fixes of addiction? Why, when I had it all, did I still feel empty? What was I missing? I don’t recall the series of thoughts that led me to think this, but looking back it seems to have just come out of the blue. I suddenly asked myself a question that I never thought I would ask. Was GOD missing from my life? I wasn’t raised in the church, nor had I sought religion of any sort my entire life, so to suddenly think this came as quite a surprise. The question nagged at me for days and I did a little research online. I didn’t know where to begin. Finally, I took a risk, and reached out to a few friends whom I knew where Christians and asked for help.
I asked a lot of questions and graciously got a lot of answers. The concept of grace and forgiveness was lost on me, though. I certainly did not believe that they were for me. I thought God’s love and grace was for those who have had bad things happen TO them, not for a person who caused them to happen.
Fortunately, the people I had reached out to had patience for my unbelief and one finally said, just come to my church this Sunday and see for yourself, God will speak to you. So I did. And He did.
It was a small, non-denominational church called Radius, in North Hollywood, California. The service started and what happened next was like something out of a movie. Everything the pastor said was as if he knew I was there and knew what I was going through. I felt like the entire congregation had disappeared and a spotlight had shone down on me alone as the pastor spoke directly to me. It was quite an experience. I continued to go to that church, started reading the Bible, and deep-diving online into Christianity. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the love, forgiveness, and peace that I desperately sought in my life was not from people, but from God, and that it was there for me…as a gift.
I began to realize that—to use someone else’s analogy—there was a ‘God-shaped hole in my heart,’ and I wanted to fill it. After a few months of attending church and immersing myself in The Word, I decided it was time to give my life over to Jesus Christ, and on May 6th, 2018, I was baptized.
*** If anyone is interested, the audio from Chris’ testimony can be found under the ADDRESS THE MESS series, in the sermon titled BEST MESS EVER given by Pastor Will Sawkins at Community Christian Church, Campbell, California, on July 28th, 2019.
6. What is your life like now and how do you feel today as opposed to before you found God?
Although my parents were Catholic, church was not a part of my life growing up. As child number nine out of ten, you can understand that getting the entire brood out the door on a Sunday morning would have been difficult. I wasn’t baptized as a child and did not seek religion of any sort most of my adult life. And why should I? My life was going very well and I was in control. I could take care of myself. Well, look where that got me. Life, from an external perspective, is how you might imagine. I have not been able to work in the industry that I love so much and making ends meet is a struggle. Yet, even though I have lost a lot, with God in my life, I am happier; more at peace. My priorities have shifted from what can the world do for me to what can I do for the world.
I appreciate so much more the smaller things of life and have learned to get more out of less. It’s like when I am editing a story. There are scenes that, when written, I know I cannot live without, but when it comes time to having to edit the story down and cut those same scenes, I realize I didn’t really need those scenes after all.
New Christians often speak of a veil being lifted off of their eyes. I didn’t experience that sudden moment of clarity, but I really do see life differently now. Yes, I struggle, and yes, I doubt, but God is good and I know that He loves me, giving me the hope and strength to accept life as it comes, and a certainty that there is far more waiting for me after.
Now, I am left with only one question: How could I have gone so long without Him?
7. Every testimony of redemption has something people can learn from; what would you like people reading to learn from what God has done in your life?
I could write volumes about this (perhaps, one day I will), but for the sake of brevity and the sake of the readers, I will be to the point. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God loves you. And even though there are moments, days, and months when the enemy is telling you otherwise, there is forgiveness and there is hope, for now and for eternity.
I want everyone to know that God is there all of the time. He answers prayers and always protects. For example, just two months before the bottom fell out of my life, I decided to just up and quit drinking. I’m not sure why or where the idea came from, but I did. Had I not quit, circumstances as they would become, I am certain that I would have been dead at the bottom of a bottle. When, in the last two years, I was faced with a financial crisis or an unexpected bill, God was there too with a solution. This happening once, I could see that as luck, but when it happens time and time again, well, I have to start believing it is something more. Even this interview is something more than just an interview that I just happened to get. There are so many more instances that I could speak of, but suffice it to say, there are no coincidences, there is only God.
All of this caused me to look back on my life; to look back at all of the moments that I originally chalked up to luck, or fortunate timing, and found that they were not that at all, but most certainly God in my life. I realize now that long before I was seeking God, He was seeking me.
I may very well only be half way through this particular season of my life, but I pray that people will continue to follow my story to see the good places it leads and believe that God really is in control. I will be there on the other side as living proof.
8. I imagine the world has not seen the last of Chris Savino, but possibly a new beginning. Do you have any future projects the audience can expect to see in the future?
I pray that you are right.
When the bottom fell out on my life back in 2017, I felt like I had hit a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour. Days that used to go by in the blink of an eye, now with no work, seemed to go on forever. I was lost, devastated, and uncertain of what to do, but instead of letting my creativity die—which was newly empowered by the Lord—I did the only thing that I knew how to do: I created.
So, I got down to work, and in the last two years I have written books, a few cartoon pitches, and several pilot scripts. Although I miss so much working with others and collaborating, I was (and still am) unsure of what my future in the animation industry would be, so I focused on the projects that I could do by myself.
I am really excited to say that I am publishing my first middle-grade novel: “COAL A Cautionary Christmas Tale,” a story about a naughty boy who is taken to work in Santa’s coal mines. Interestingly, it is a story of redemption, a story of righting one's wrongs and living a better life. It didn’t start out that way, but given the season of my life in which it was written, it is not surprising that it went in that direction. The book will be on sale at Amazon at the end of October and is, as of this interview, available for pre-order. One can get information about this and my other books at my new author website. I really do pray that anyone who is a fan of, or interested in, my past work will check it out.
I am drawing as well. Again, as a matter of circumstance, I took the pilot script for a cartoon pitch that I had developed and decided to draw it up as a series of Sunday Funnies-style comic strips. “For Brothers” is about the unbreakable bond of brotherhood. The strip examines (somewhat autobiographically) the idea that in the best of times and in the worst of times, a brother is always there for you. I am experimenting with the format in telling longer stories or single, one-off strips. Anyone who knows me knows that comic strips are my first love, so I feel quite at home (literally, haha) drawing these. God willing, I will have the website up and running sometime in mid-October and will post a new strip, appropriately, every Sunday.
I am not sure what the future holds, but I know that putting God first in everything I do, every decision I make, and just giving over control to Him, that no matter what, I can have the confidence that it will be more than I could ever hope for.
Chris Savino’s Website: www.chrissavinoauthor.com
Chris Savino’s IMDB Page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0767748/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1
Chris Savino’s Testimony: https://community-christian.us/celebrate/sermons/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=38&enmse_mid=351&enmse_av=1
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