Batman, Superman and more… Why artist Jappy Agoncillo loves his Warner Bros collaboration

Jappy Agoncillo discusses his extraordinary art for the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros.

Jappy, thanks for joining us. What’s the best way to introduce you to readers? As an artist? An illustrator?
Hi Deej! I think artist would be best, though my main disciplines are illustration and mural painting.

Two areas in which I personally have what I think can be characterised as an encyclopedic ignorance! Tell me about your background, Jappy… How did you come to be an artist?
Well, I think from a very young age I had a good affinity for art – understanding shapes and colours and patterns. I’ve always been that kind of visual-learner type child. I grew up around a lot of pop culture, mostly TV and comic books, and I imagine that had a significant impact on the things I was inclined to do.

You were exposed to it all quite young, then?
Yes. I had an uncle who drew comics, and I’d ask him to draw for me when he would visit. Around the age of 8, I asked him to teach me. One lesson on basic guidelines later and I was hooked – I drew everything I loved and everything in sight. I became that one kid in class who always drew. Eventually my tastes branched into skateboarding and music, and again I was drawn to board graphics and album covers. I was drawn into street art and murals. And my style kept evolving with each new passion – but pop culture and comics were always the bedrock.

Brilliant! I love that you have a natural affinity, and then something really caused it to spark. And did you shore up that talent, Jappy? Did you get a formal education in art?
Well, I attended a fine arts college – but I didn’t find art school for me. I dropped out to pursue a degree in legal studies to eventually become a lawyer. I still did art, though, and was getting hired by classmates to do projects… Eventually I was getting hired by small businesses to paint murals and make posters and illustrations. After graduating, I put the law-school ambition behind me and focused on art.

Jappy Agoncillo, Warner Bros, Batman, Superman, Art, Film & TV, Publishing

Wow. You collaborate with local bars, clubs and restaurants… And some huge companies! These include adidas, Adobe, Playstation, Ikea, PayPal, Spotify – Marvel! What have they all got in common, though? What makes all your clients people you want to work with?
At first, many projects were a means to an end; to be able to make ends meet and find ways to invest money back into my career. Eventually the projects got larger, and I had more power to curate and choose my collaborators. What they have in common then was that they were brands and companies I admired, I grew up seeing, or whose values aligned with my own. I like working with companies where we share common goals, and who feel right to work for.

Great answer. Tell me about some of your work! What kind of things have you done?
I’ve done a little bit of everything! I paint, I illustrate, I do street art, I even designed a pair of sneakers for an NBA player… The pro model of NBA player Donovan Mitchell for adidas. Again, weaving in elements and sensibilities from my illustration practice to create a design that tells a story. Illustration will always be my first love and you see it in my style – whether translated into a mural or into product design. I put storytelling elements first, and I keep this very illustrative style.

I’ve also done a bit of animation, creating music videos for a couple of artists and animated shorts for a comedy special. And I paint a lot of murals, which is some of the most fun work I get to do because it’s so physically and mentally challenging. The rush is different seeing your work in such large scale and knowing you did it yourself.

Jappy Agoncillo, Warner Bros, Batman, Superman, Art, Film & TV, Publishing

I can’t even imagine! So now… You recently teamed up with Warner Bros. for their 100th Anniversary celebrations. I was particularly taken with your work on Batman and Superman there. When you contemplate iconic characters like that, is the process different from the one you go through creating something totally original?
Yes, the process is a little different. With original work, you have to build the storytelling up and create a character, or new worlds to populate the design. With Batman and Superman, you have decades of stories and media to pull inspiration from and fill the world you’re trying to portray. You already have fully fleshed out characters – and with them being so iconic, you wouldn’t have to worry too much about whether people understand what you’re going for, since most people know who those characters are and what they stand for.

Right! You’re going for Batman! And I guess, because you have so much of a history there, it’s more a question of which things from that history do you include… Rather than simply: what IS the story? And on that point, the Batman portrait struck me as particularly packed! Seems to me there’s a lot going on there! How do you know what it is you want to deliver?
I think with the Batman one I wanted to tell the story of the chaos that is tied so closely to the character. So many of the Batman stories are about mayhem, and yet he remains the strong, stoic figure that he is amidst all of it.

And how do you go about it? Do you do a rough sketch before you start? Draw the outline on the canvas? In what medium are you working? Tell me all about your skill!
This project I did all digitally, aside from some very rough pencil sketches I do on paper to get a sense of the layout and how it will look in small scale. When I’m happy with a sketch, I transfer it to photoshop and I recreate the sketch over and over, refining lines each time and adding or taking away as needed. With digital, I get to play around more with different textures and effects, which I needed to achieve the amount that I put into the illustration.

I’ve never met an artist that doesn’t amaze me, Jappy, and you’ve just done it there. I wouldn’t know where to start, I really wouldn’t. What’s the biggest challenge of working with those characters?
The biggest challenge would have to be doing the characters justice… As a huge fan myself, I understand there’s a fine line between artistic vision and creating something that gives justice to the portrayal of a character, even through illustration. I needed to draw them in a way that’s in line with who they are – but also design everything that felt natural to my sensibilities.

Jappy Agoncillo, Warner Bros, Batman, Superman, Art, Film & TV, Publishing

What’s the dream project for you, Jappy? Which characters would you most love to work with in future?
In many ways, this is one of those dream projects for me! Batman and Superman were such big pillars of my childhood – and getting to work on them is still very surreal. I’d love to work with them more… Maybe closer to the comics side of things, or for any of the new films set to come out! That would be really exciting. I’d also love to work with Green Lantern, one of my favourite characters from the comics.

Great stuff. Publishers take note! What are your other great passions in life, Jappy?
Well, I’m really into film and love watching movies. I still regularly watch movies in the cinema when I can, either with friends or by myself as its one of those things I love doing. I also box regularly and have been training since I was 15. I compete in amateur fights sometimes but I really am just a fan of the sport and I love the routine and discipline of training. I love skateboarding, and reading books, and walking around big cities. I find urban exploration really fun.

I’m exhausted, listening to it! We need to wrap things up here but what’s the one question I could have asked you today but didn’t?
I’d say you could’ve asked about my move to the US!

I’m originally from Manila, The Philippines, and I just moved to New York in January of this year on an artist visa. I’d been working as a full-time artist in Manila for the last six years, and I moved here to seek some new challenges in my career and find the next step for me. So far so good! But I’ve always been that kind of guy; constantly looking for ways to challenge myself and grow as much as I can.

Brilliant. Fantastic, Jappy; thank you so much for making time to chat with us.

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