Artists of Tomorrow: Interview with David Heredia, Animator (Part Two)

By: Mila Mabhongo, Staff Writer

Last month, the Overlook Journal Staff had the chance to speak to David Heredia, an award winning Black animator whose works have changed the lives of many. We were fortunate enough to have a follow-up interview a few weeks later, where we asked him a number of questions about his life as an artist and his newest project Heroes of Color.

Q: “You have a very tremendous artistic ability, so how old were you when you started drawing and then realizing that this was what you wanted to do?”


A: “I have been drawing since elementary school, but I don’t think I got serious with it until the seventh grade. My art teacher, Ms. Crown, posted something on the board and said, “PBS is having a contest called Racial Harmony and you have to draw something that reflects a multicultural society. Draw something where people from different cultures come together,” and that was all the information she gave us. I was like, man, I gotta think of something clever. Then one day, my friends and I were just joking around in class and I said “I got the perfect idea. I’m gonna draw a bunch of different people online on the welfare line.” So I drew a bunch of different races and I actually did a very good job, for a seventh grader, and I submitted it. Now this was meant to be a joke and in my community, it wasn’t a big deal. I was just drawing what I saw, and turns out, I won the National Art Award and Channel 13 gave me a certificate and there was an award ceremony which was televised and I was so scared at the fact that I won, that I didn’t show up and I didn’t tell my mother about it. Later on, my drawing was on Channel 13 and I recorded it, and that was when my mother saw it for the first time. I explained everything to her and she was mad at me. After winning that contest, my seventh grade teacher really pushed me to take [drawing] seriously. She was the one who encouraged me to go to the High School of Art and Design. From that point on, I started taking it a lot more seriously.”


Q: “As a follow-up to that, What do you think of the value of art in education for children?


A: “I think that it’s important because there are a lot of people who are visual learners and they learn a lot faster with visuals such as pictures, movies and videos. You get people’s attention so much faster that way. For me, with the Heroes of Color series, I’m able to get that messages across when otherwise it would be very difficult to get someone’s attention. The minute you start talking about race, peoples’ faces start turning upside down and frowning and they get uncomfortable. But when you display it in a way that’s fun, they don’t even realize that they are being educated on a subject because they are so entertained by the artwork. So I think that using art as a tool for education is honestly genius. Why wouldn’t we want to leverage that?”


Q: “Because Heroes of Color is a web series for the most part, what drew you to putting your series on youtube, instead of pitching it to a television series. What drew you to the internet?


A: “I’m working on that actually, I’m working on the network pitch and that is part of the reason why I haven’t released the other episodes on my website. When you maintain a level of exclusivity with your product, it’s more highly sought out. If I put all my episodes available for free on my website and youtube, why would a network want it? When I did the first episode, I didn’t even have website up, I just had my regular website up, which is I did the video and put it on YouTube and that was it. I didn’t really have a plan because I wasn’t sure how well it was going to turn out. And at first, it looked like it was just moderate. But when I started to get a little bit of media attention, a website called Atlanta Black Star picked it up and wanted to do a quick little interview and put it on their website. Then I got more attention and started thinking that if I wanted to do more of these, I should probably create my own website specifically for this Heroes of Color. Now I am working on putting together a packet of twenty-four episodes and target digital streaming first, places like Netflix and Hulu, companies like that. Because that’s one of the fastest ways to get this product into the homes of America.”

“As an artist, I never saw myself as an influencer, but if you have a platform where you are able to predict positive messages, then you have to be much more aware of those messages that are going out because your artwork will outlive you.””

— David Heredia

Q: When you started using your art to create Heroes of Color to bring about the attention of the importance and the value of people of color, were you initially worried about what the reaction of your audience may be?


A: “To be very honest, when I first started working on the series, I had my own office space and I had drawn out every single panel from the video on a piece of paper and stretched out across the floor. One of my office-mates, a very cool white guy, walked by and looked down at the drawings and said, “Wow, this is great, I love these,” and then looked at the drawing where three guys were being lynched. His face changed and he stopped commenting and just quietly nodded his head and walked off. I think it was at that moment that made me realize, ‘Oh snap, this might bother people and I really need to make a decision about the message that I am trying to get across.’ As an artist, you always want to look for a way to stand by your principles and to actually have something to stand for… When my co-worker walked away, I had to make a decision. I told myself that I was going to stick to it because as uncomfortable as it was for him to look at it, that was just as uncomfortable as it was for a person of color to not see themselves included in history. Not seeing themselves included in the cover of magazines, leading roles, toys, cartoons, etc. As uncomfortable as it feels, it makes us want to walk away too. And so, now I am putting it in your face. The purpose of the series is not to point fingers, but the purpose is to enlighten people, encourage those who have a voice to continue to use that voice and not be afraid of how other people are going to respond. As long as your objective is genuine, then you should not fear what backlash you are going to get. Because if you do something positive or negative or even nothing at all, you are going to be criticized either way.”


Q: When you are beginning your path as an artist, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle because you want to do the thing you love, but are so easily pushed towards other pursuits that will make money that you are not necessarily passionate about. Do you have any pieces of advice or words of encouragement to give?”


A: “I don’t want to copy other peoples’ quotes, but I think Denzel Washington said it best. He said, “do what you gotta do, so that you can then do what you wanna do.” I moved to California from New York, and found myself working at a Hollywood video store, working at six dollars an hour with two college degrees. I was thinking to myself, how did I end up here? This is not what I quit my job and moved across the country for. I was miserable and I managed to get out of that job and get another job at Walt-Disney Feature Animation and I was there for about four years. The issue that I was having was while I was at the company, I was not able to move up. Everybody was being promoted except me and I was frustrated and I needed at outlet, I needed to figure out what I needed to do to keep doing the stuff that I wanted. I ended up leaving Disney to pursue my own personal projects. That first year was beautiful and it went so well, that I launched a t-shirt line which went so well. Then business just went to the toilet. I couldn’t make a sale to save my life, nobody seemed interested in my artwork, I couldn’t find a client, and now it seemed like a situation where I needed to get a job to survive, because art just wasn’t paying my bills anymore. I ended up working at State Farm, selling insurance. Mind you, I don’t know anything about insurance.


While I was there, I actually ended up getting into trouble. I was the representative of my department and there would be these big company meetings and when we had those meetings, there were these big guest speakers and everybody was supposed to be taking notes. But one day, the guy that was giving the lecture looked like a cartoon character to me and so I started drawing him and when the meeting was over, we had to go back to our group. They were like, “Alright, David, tell us your thoughts on the lecture, let us know what we should be keeping up on right now,” then I was like “Um, I have this really cool drawing of this guy,” and I got written up… Then I was at my desk and I started drawing faces on post-it notes and I would take the clear plastic cups and the post-its and put it in the middle of the cups. So I started doing that and putting these cups all around my cubicle with all the drawings, and my supervisor came by and said, “David, we need to have a talk. Take down those cups with that artwork. We are going to have to write you up.”


Then my last straw was when I was on my break and I had my sketchbook with me. I was drawing one of the people sitting in the lunchroom and it came out really good, so people were like “Oh can you draw me” and then they wrote me up because they said I used company time to do personal work. At that point, I was able to get fired and we needed to have a meeting to determine what would happen and to be honest, I didn’t even care because I didn’t want to be there and I needed to figure out what I was doing with my life because this just wasn’t working out for me.


There was this supervisor who I always saw but never spoke to and his name was Gary. He came by and was like, “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?” We stepped into his office and he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I don’t get the question’ and he said, ‘I’m here because I am great with people and I love sales. Insurance is something that I have been passionate about for the last 15 years, that’s why I’m here. I want to know what you are doing here, because I don’t know anything about you, but based on the three write-ups you have gotten, it’s clear that your passion is art. You should be doing what you love. Figure out a way to do what you love. Don’t waste your life surviving. Yes, I understand that you need to work and pay the bills and get your things done, but don’t stop there. When you get home, keep creating and keep being you and keep drawing because you don’t want to spend the rest of your life just surviving.’ That really inspired me, in fact so much, that I quit before they fired me.”

We were very grateful to have spoken to David Heredia a second time. Not only is he extremely talented, but he is very down-to-earth. His works are important to him just as they are to the younger people who have been inspired by his art and creativity. For more information on Heroes of Color, make sure to visit the official website, or follow the show @_heroesofcolor on Instagram.