Despite being diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at a young age, Chance Raspberry never let it distract him from his passion for art and drawing. The 37-year-old has worked as a character layout artist on The Simpsons for a decade. L.A. Weekly talked to Raspberry about his passion for classic cartoons and the 1980s, his work on The Simpsons and his new animated series and comic book, Little Billy, a strip about living with neurodiversity (which includes neurological conditions like autism, ADHD and Tourette's that are the result of natural variations in the human genome). The upcoming series and comic book strips are in early production, but we have a sneak peek at the comic strip and animated character.
L.A. WEEKLY: Tell us about your childhood.
CHANCE RASPBERRY: I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1981. I moved to North Hollywood [in] 1983 and lived in L.A. ever since. As a kid I loved to draw. I remember when I was 2 or 3, just doodling, making drawings. Once my parents realized this, they started showing me animation, cartoons from the golden age, like Looney Toons, stuff like that. I fell in love with cartoons and just began drawing more and more; it was a big part of my life. I am thankful they encouraged me to keep drawing and pursue art as a passion. By the time I was a teenager, I already knew I wanted to do art as a career.
What are your job duties as a character layout artist for The Simpsons?
It’s not simple. We have to take a storyboard, the script and the recorded dialogue, and piece these together for our animation. We animate all key positions and frames and coordinate the characters' facial expressions, actions, body movements and action shots. We are basically lead animators, but we do frames and all the perspectives and background. The layout is the first stage of animation production. Our job is fun but very intricate. The Simpsons is the only show left doing animation layout here in America. Everyone else does them overseas.
As an animator, do you get a chance to work with the writers of the show?
Great question, but no, for the most part if it’s not in the script, we don’t do it. We have some freedom in terms of the character placement and facial expressions and movements, body language of the characters, but we are animators and we don’t get to have any input really into the writing. Sometimes we can suggest things, but for the most part, we are in charge of the animation, not writing of the scripts.
Tell us about your new project, Little Billy.
Little Billy is my own personal animated series inspired by my childhood growing up with Tourette’s syndrome in 1980s America. I am proud to say that it is the world’s first and only animated series about neurodiversity. When I found there was no animation and very few live-action shows tackling this subject, I figured why not? I can share my experiences with people through this art form. But rather than just make Billy have Tourette's like I have, I invented a fictitious condition that acts as a symbol for all neurodiversities, called UHS, Ultra Hyper Sensitivity, which is a mashup of ADHD, OCD, autism and Tourette's. There are other characters in the series that have these as well.
As for the ’80s connection, I love ’80s culture. I grew up in the 1980s and they have now become nostalgic to our generation. The cool thing is the character is representative of life the way it was in the 1980s — there were no cellphones, no social media, and Little Billy will show how kids dealt with these issues.
The series will be in half-hour episodes. It's very much inspired by classic cartoons I loved like Ducktales. I also loved live shows that were positive, but they were comedic and uplifting [with] a deep, important message, not offensive edgy or slapstick humor. I am really into family-friendly fun humor, so this is what Little Billy will do — merge animation with sitcoms from the ’80s I love, like Perfect Strangers and Full House.
I am still working on finishing things up production-wise with both the comic and series, but people can still contribute to the crowd fundraiser and see the content so far I have on Patreon by looking up Little Billy, or by looking me up on social media.
Do you watch other cartoons?
Yes, when I have time I watch The Simpsons reruns. I [watch] some Rick and Morty, The Regular Show and I am a fan of Family Guy and Futurama. I also like Adventure Time. I actually went to art school with the guys who created both Adventure Time and The Regular Show. It's cool to see acquaintances and friends who have created shows. Some of the new shows I like are Clarence and Craig of the Creek, which are great.
What is the best part about working on The Simpsons?
There are so many great parts about my job. But I would say all that I learned and the wonderful people I work with are some of the benefits. It’s surreal to see your work on the screen, and it feels great because it represents the good times and hard work with your cohorts. I love the support and camaraderie I get from The Simpsons. I have gotten several master’s degrees in animation from this job. You always learn more on the job than in the classroom. Also, I love the longevity. It has been around for so long it’s amazing, really. Most animation projects don't last nearly this long, and I am so proud to be part of this legacy. And with that, I want Little Billy to become a new positive thing for entertainment, and another place for long-lasting jobs in animation.
More information on Chance Raspberry and Little Billy at patreon.com/Littlebilly.