Anthony Piper - the Self-Taught Illustrator & Designer, on Comics, Determination, & His Latest Project - Trill League.
May 9, 2015
I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. I have lived there most of my life. I just recently moved to southern California earlier this year.
My background in the Entertainment is industry is fairly new as I began working in the animation industry the summer of 2014.
I was a Character Layout Artist for the new FXX animated series Major Lazer and recently promoted to Lead Character Designer for Season 2 of Axe Cop.
First job in Entertainment
My very first paid job was Layout Artist for ‘Major Lazer’ produced by ADHD in Hollywood, CA.
I landed that job through social media.
Around that time, which was summer of 2014, I was redesigning a lot of popular DC superheroes and giving them an urban edge.
I combined this with some pretty funny situations that only geeks would really understand, which caused it to go viral online.
This caught the attention of ADHD’s Animation Director, Damil Bryant, who recommended me to the studio producers.
They liked my work and shortly after, they offered me the position.
You’re interested in work as a character designer, conceptual artist, illustrator and storyboard artist – for those that don’t know, how do these titles differ and what is your experience in each?
While they all require the ability to draw, its very different fundamentals applied to each and require an understanding of their purpose.
Character Design is used in many different fields such as animation, video games, comics, film, etc. This usually requires an artist to understand things such as emotion, color, anatomy, clothing, and weaponry to name a few.
Each of these elements allow the viewer to read the character and aid in understanding who they are.
An example would be a character with a lot of scars automatically reads as someone who has been in a lot of physical confrontations.
Concept art usually deals with other things related to building an imaginary world, such as vehicles, uniforms, weaponry, devices, etc..
It sounds easy, but it's very difficult depending on your background.
Illustration is the area I am strongest in. Illustration is less conceptual and more of the final product.
This is often what you’ll see used for movie posters, comic art, game cases, album cover artwork, etc..
Storyboarding requires the ability to tell a story though a sequence of images/drawings. This is very necessary for film, animation and even music videos as it helps the director see the script in visual form.
It's a very complex area since you have to understand the language of film and how camera positioning speaks just as loudly as dialogue.
When did you first discover your passion for illustration and design? Influences?
I’ve always been interested in the arts since I was a kid. Not even just drawing, but painting, music, dancing, and writing.
I think growing up as an only child until I was around 12 did wonders for my imagination and how I view the world.
Out of all the creative things I do though, I guess illustration and design were always my strongest.
I was heavily influenced by comic artists growing up, such as Joe Madureira and Chris Bachalo.
My influences are expanding to artists in other fields, such as Chase Conley, whose one of the slickest artist in animation and Jeff Dekal, whose album cover digital paintings are beyond amazing.
Trill League is the project where I was reimagining DC characters and adding my own spin to them. The concept came to me one late night, when I had nothing to do as I was waiting for a client’s project, which ended up being delayed. I just thought of some funny things a black kid would do if he were a crime-fighting superhero.
After the initial sketches went viral, I started reimagining more and more characters, and it kind of grew on its own to become what it is now.
A lot of people enjoyed it and found it hilarious, and being the goof that I am, I just kept going with it.
I recently ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to produce the comic. My initial goal was $7,500 but ended up raising close to $21,000.
The funds for the project are going toward production of the first 3 issues, redesigning characters and other artwork such as posters, wallpapers, etc... I’ll also be able to put more time into the artwork, since a lot of what I was producing wasn’t my best material, just due to time restrictions.
I want to give the people who have supported this project something of quality and let them see the story I have brewing up for Trill League.
Also, a lot of people have compared it to animated series such as The Boondocks and Black Dynamite, so after the comic is done, I do plan on working with other artists to pitch the concept to a network.
What makes Trill League unique?
We’re in an interesting time period, where things that were considered “nerdy” and “lame” are now “cool”, especially superheroes. They are everywhere!
Trill League combines those things, such as superhero mythology, with current trends in social media, hip-hop and pop culture and makes it a unique brand.
There are so many things I draw inspiration from when coming up with material. I combined playing card games with video vixens.
I took a popular action movie franchise and merged it women hair topics. I think doing this with superheroes just makes it even funnier.
What is your creative process?
When it comes to writing, I usually type ideas as they come to me in my phone and contemplate on if they are funny or not. I have quite a few saved in my notes.
I have to play them out in my head, almost as if they were animated, to see if I can make it as funny as possible. Some ideas don’t make it. Not because they aren’t funny, but the jokes are too complex to be illustrated in something that can be read quickly.
Those are usually for the “drops,” which are what I call my comic posts I make on social media.
For the actual comic/graphic novel, I am drawing inspiration from a lot of urban movies, television shows, and superhero comic story arcs and piecing together this really interesting story and characters.
As with any creative career, the difficulty is getting attention on what you do. As artists (comedians, actors, dancers, singers, etc.), we all start at the bottom and hope that what we do gets people talking, so even more people become interested in our talents.
I started off the same, but luckily with the wonders of social media, I was able to take my career into my own hands and promote myself.
Things definitely weren’t easy in the beginning as I often had to deal with clients who low-balled me or wouldn’t pay at all.
It was painful taking a commission for an illustration that would take me 4-5 days to complete and only receive $50 for it (minus Paypal’s fee…LOL).
It was necessary though as every time I finished a product for a client, it increased my exposure.
Some artists, in the beginning of their careers, don’t really care to take on low paying projects.
I can’t fault them, especially if you know your worth, but sometimes its really excellent for promoting yourself and building your clientele.
Right now, I’m at the next stage of my career, so there are new challenges I’m facing, since I am not only working in the animation industry but creating my own content.
It can be a tad bit overbearing at times, juggling so many titles, as well as promoting yourself, but I’m grateful to be in the position to do so.
I don’t think I’d be where I’m at without social media.
You’re talking about a gateway to people across the world without having to leave your house.
There are no excuses with social media as to why you can’t get exposure for whatever it is you do.
Being able to post my work online and have people view and share it helped me immensely with my career goals. I’m able to not only post my work, but give insight into the steps I’ve made in my career.
I think because of that, a lot of younger artist follow me, since I tend to talk about not only the progress I’ve made in my art career starting from my parent’s basement, but I also talk about some of the missteps and disappointments I’ve encountered along the way.
To produce my own animated series. This was a dream I had as a kid, which I sort of gave up on awhile ago, since I saw how difficult this was to actually accomplish.
But a lot of people have revitalized that dream with the love they have shown to Trill League, so that's where I am putting all of my energy.
I think at the moment, I was officially validated as an artist in the industry.
2. Getting offered a job with ADHD, not knowing I was going to be working with under Chase Conley (Black Dynamite, Axe Cop), the artist who inspired me to shift from a comic style to one more tailored for animation once he started work on Black Dynamite.
3. Seeing my first check from an animation studio (it was nice!!!)
4. Moving to California.
5. Finally being able to work around other professional artists.
What experience do you have with the entertainment industry in Los Angeles?
I’m still fresh out here in Hollywood, so right now I only have two series under my belt. I’m taking a break from animation though to focus on my own content.
From Chicago to Los Angeles
Its been great. I’m still getting used to it. I’ve never actually been to Los Angeles before and I was expecting it to have a big city vibe similar to Chicago and New York. I was mistaken. LOL.
However, the weather is great and I’ve met a lot of cool people…so I guess that makes up for lack of a big city and insane traffic.
What is it about comics that you enjoy? Favorites?
I enjoy comics because it allows anyone to tell a story and help their viewers envision the characters and world they have in their head.
I think comics are an invaluable medium and do things novels will never be able to do.
Novels require you to have some sort of familiarity with the type of characters and world the writer is creating and through descriptive text, the reader can piece together what they think the world is like.
Comics, on the other hand, show me exactly what the creator wants me to see and it can be as normal or bizarre as they want it to be, since there isn’t much room for interpretation.
Comics are also an easy medium for artists to tell their stories. Film and animation are time-consuming and expensive…with comics you eliminate one of those factors.
One of my favorite comic series right now is Very Near Mint by Justin Peterson (really good book. I think if you liked Scott Pilgrim, you’d like this too).
I’ve been getting more into independent series lately since I feel a lot of mainstream comics are becoming stale and repetitive.
I am self-taught. Graduated from University of Google with a minor in YouTubing. When I was trying to establish my art career, I was struggling to make a living, so those things weren’t available to me.
I just learned how to better myself through practice, studying other artists and being very critical of my own work.
No one that would know they were (LOL). As I stated above, two artists who really played a huge part in my career are both LeSean Thomas and Chase Conley.
These were guys who I saw steadily progressing and solidifying their careers in animation with the work they were putting out. I wanted to emulate them and sort of be a part of that clique so I just kept steadily progressing.
I never asked them for advice or anything simply because I didn’t feel I was on that level artistically to ask or even receive acknowledgement.
Now I’m better than both of them!!!! (I’m joking. I still have a long way to go to catch up to their skill).
Right now, its all Trill League. I would also like to do some work for Marvel in the near future. I did start on a portfolio for them, but due to other projects, never had a chance to complete it. I’ll have to see how that plays out and if time permits.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
If you ever come to California, make it a priority to find a restaurant called Rubio’s. I’m addicted to their food! I’m thinking that in a few months, the way I’m eating there, if you mention my name, they’ll give you 25% off your order.
Where can people go to find out more information about you and your work?
I’m currently working on the official Trill League website, so it’ll be awhile before that is up but if you want to follow me on social media or check out some of my work, visit my website: