by Chance Raspberry

Like most if not all kids, I’ve always loved cartoons, and the animated content my parents raised me on all came from the Golden Age of animation (1930-1960) because that’s what they grew up watching and loving. Cartoons like Tex Avery, Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Silly Symphonies, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, and Max Fleischer’s Color Classics were (and still are) among my all-time favorites. Thanks to my parents exposing me to – and encouraging me with – this magical work at a very young age, my #1 passion in life has always been animation.

When I was 8 years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. I had always been an excessively hyper child, and hyperactivity runs in my dad’s family, so he didn’t find anything about me or my behavior odd at all. God bless you, Mom and Dad! My mom, however, had gone to nursing school and was familiar with all the diagnostic symptoms of Tourettes. Everyone she brought it up to (including my doctors) basically laughed in her face. My dad was supportive, but not convinced. Finally, after seeing me tic a lot during my 3rd Grade school Christmas pageant (I would stretch my lower lip repeatedly during the songs while I was singing), my mom made me an appointment to be tested for Tourettes. Then another. Then another. After three or four opinions from different doctors and specialists, all resulting in a positive diagnosis, both my parents were convinced and I started seeing a therapist and taking a medication called Clonodine. Remember, my childhood era (the 1980s) was more or less the “Dark Ages” of TS and neurological conditions, so all the names and symptoms for things were still being figured out. The general public was still very unaware. Thanks to the help of God, my amazing parents, family, and friends, I eventually found a good balance between the medication, my condition, and life. As time went on, my tics subsided and though I have not taken Clonodine since I was 19 or 20, they remain very minor and hard to notice. Thank you, God.

As all this was playing out, the thing that helped me the most was my art. I would channel all my excess energy into drawing, inking, coloring, doodling, and even making my own films with my dad’s handheld camera. Some of the films were stop-motion made with clay or toys, and others were live-action starring my parents, friends, and I. I loved (and still love) directing and creating a project from scratch. I love seeing it through to the end. I love the process! The process is where you learn, grow, discover, plan, invent, and innovate. It demands not some or most, but ALL of your focus, energy, and attention to detail. The creative process is what really helped me harness all my energy away from my tics and towards something imaginative, productive, and FUN! As I continued to explore the world of art and animation, I decided once and for all that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t just want a job, I wanted a career! From that point on, I made it my mission to learn as much as I could about the history and industry of animation, and of course, to practice all the time. After years of hard work, sacrifice, and various adventures in art education, I landed some freelance jobs working at Cartoon Network on Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, and at a company called Inkworks, Ink. on Series II of the Family Guy trading cards. These jobs made my skill sets and knowledge of the animation business much stronger, and helped me in eventually getting hired as a full-time character layout artist (lead animator) on The Simpsons.

I’ve been a core member of The Simpsons animation crew for over 7 years now and it is truly the job I’ve always wanted. My career is my dream-come-true! So what does an artist do once they’ve accomplished their dream? They keep dreaming and working to take it all to the next level! At least, that’s how I think and live. That said, the whole time I was working at all these professional studio jobs, I couldn’t help but think back to my earliest days of just creating my own ideas and projects for the fun of it – the days of making my own art, just for me. Several years earlier during my last year of high school (1999), I had come up with this idea for a super unstable little boy who would do terrible (sometimes even violent) things when he got really happy. For example, the first gag I ever came up with was a birthday party scene where the little boy opened a present from his friend, and upon seeing that it was the toy tool bench he really wanted, got so excited that he repeatedly smashed his friend’s foot with the hammer while laughing hysterically.

To read and write this now, the idea sounds really inappropriate and graphic, but remember, it came from a mind that was (and still is) perpetually on vacation in Cartoon Land. None of it was ever envisioned or intended to be mean-spirited or unkind. It was all real edgy, but also real cartoony, so I figured the silliness of this combination would balance itself out (like the old Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck cartoons.) This was also the heyday of Family Guy’s aggressive randomness, so that was the vibe I was going for at the time. All that said, the concept had a long way to go! While the extreme contrast of this idea was hilarious to me, I realized even back then that people would end up hating this kid and mistaking his innocent, oblivious antics for meanness and cruelty…unless he was SUPER CUTE! I figured if I drew the cutest little boy ever, who was obviously not doing these things on purpose, no one could be (or stay) mad at him…no matter what he did. It was all coming together! All I needed now was a strong title that was super cute and easy to remember. As my career began to take off, however, I had less and less time to spend on personal projects, but I never forgot about that idea and how much I liked it.

Through the years, I kept adding to the concept, developing the character(s), and even writing the music (theme song) for the opening of the show. I already knew how hard it was to pitch and sell a cartoon or idea, so I figured if I just created an amazing title sequence for the cartoon with a super catchy and appealing theme song, companies, studios, and/or networks would rush to buy it! The name of the show finally came to me while I was writing the lyrics of that theme song…Little Billy just fit perfectly. However, by this point, I was spending all my time getting ready to graduate from college (after 6 years of bouncing around different art schools and programs), so all of my focus was on that, and on finding a long-term animation job. Once again, Little Billy was moved to the backseat and put on hold…until I started telling people about the idea. The more people I told and shared the art with, the more they started (and kept) asking me when/how I was going to make the show real. This continued all throughout my career at Foster’s, Inkworks, and The Simpsons, and the more time went by, the more motivated I became to “do my own thing” again…which, of course, brought me right back to my favorite pet project, and the one everyone was asking for – Little Billy.

After everything I’d learned during my career in animation, I knew the only way this project was ever going to happen exactly how I envisioned it was if I did it myself, just like the good ol’ days. In order to do that, I would need one key ingredient – MONEY! The secret weapon that would provide this final missing piece of the puzzle had been introduced to me only a couple years earlier, but I had not heard or thought about it since. The weapon was a young, new website called Kickstarter.com. The friend who told me about it was also an artist and animation fan, and a mutual influence of ours (Joe Murray – creator of the ’90s hit shows Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Laslo) had “crowdfunded” his own new webseries called Frog In A Suit on Kickstarter in 2009/2010. What blasted Kickstarter back onto my radar was a brand new campaign launched by John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy and The Ripping Friends in 2012. It was then that I realized I could be on the same level and in the same arena as these cartoonist heroes of mine from childhood, simply by taking the same approach they were using to fund and create their own, original, new cartoons without network or studio interference. Wow!

This amazing opportunity is what pushed me from just planning Little Billy to actually taking action and launching the project. With the help and support of my family, friends, and some new comrades I made along the way, I managed to raise $30,000 in 30 days with Kickstarter to fund the pilot episode of Little Billy. It was this experience that also shifted the entire concept of Little Billy onto the subject of Special Needs. Most Kickstarter campaigns had a good cause behind them, so in building mine, I realized that Little Billy had always been loosely based on my own wild childhood of hyperactivity – why not go all the way and just give Billy his own special condition (sort of) like the one I had? Of course!! Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?!? This new direction not only solidified the heart, depth, and realness I had always intended Little Billy to possess, it also fine-tuned Billy into a much more lovable and relatable character while paving a perfect path for the emotional, heartfelt era the series was set in – the 1980s! After nearly a decade-and-a-half of creative development, planning, and work, the project had finally become what it is today.

So what phase is the Little Billy project in right now? I’m glad you asked! The pilot episode is currently being produced and is now in the preproduction phase of writing and storyboarding. Though this episode does not yet have a set release date, you can follow its progress and learn more about Little Billy, me, and my work via the links below. There is an FAQs button on the homepage of the first link that will tell you a lot more about this specific project. Thank you, Ross, for sharing my story on your site(s), and thank you all for reading it and supporting myself and Little Billy! I can’t wait to share this process and project with you and the whole world.

www.LittleBilly.com

www.ChanceRaspberry.com

www.ChanceRaspberryMusic.com