What if Batman's famed sidekick, Robin, wasn't an aerobat-turned-superhero but a young black kid from Chicago with a high top fade named D'Shaun?
Back in 2012, Chicagoan illustrator Anthony Piper brought the concept to life with a sketch of the character who he later dubbed Trill Robin. From there, Piper, who ironically freelances for Marvel Comics now, started remixing other popular DC superheroes with plans of using the characters to create a full fledged comic book series named Trill League. Now, with over $20,000 raised on Kickstarter from 2015, the young creative is set to release the first volume of the graphic novel later this year.
But in the meantime, Piper’s been busy. While the self-taught artist became a comic book fan from a young age, he started out his career by designing mixtape covers for underground rappers in Chicago. He later earned Marvel’s attention through Trill League’s one-off web comics that he regularly uploads on the comic’s Facebook page (a separate venture from the graphic novel that will have its own storyline.) Since then, Piper has worked on some of Marvel’s biggest titles including Invincible Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Infinite Comic, a one-shot story about Domino in Uncanny X-Men (2016) and an upcoming secret Marvel project. Last year he was also able to combine his love for hip-hop and comic books when he teamed up with Method Man to co-write a Ghost Rider X-mas Special.
But, despite making it to the big leagues, Trill League continues to be Piper’s passion project. Along with Robin, Piper also hilariously parodies A-list superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Instead of Superman being the last surviving Kryptonian, he's from Swolton, a fitness-obsessed planet. Blackmayne, the equivalent of Batman, is the son of two slain Neo-Black Panthers. Wonder Woman's counterpart, Wonderisha, is from the warrior island of Kenyattate and uses her "lasso of truth" to make sure Swolemayne isn't cheating on her. He often fails.
Since Piper created Trill Robin, the series has garnered over 30,000 likes on Facebook and the attention of Adult Swim, who are currently in talks with Piper about turning it into an animated series. We chatted it up with Piper to talk about Trill League, his thoughts on DC films and what we can expect if Adult Swim picks up the series.
A lot of people say you troll DC with Trill League. Is that intentional?
Nah, it definitely wasn't. When I was doing it, I felt [like] everyone knew who the DC characters were—they're the gold standard when it comes to heroes and everyone knows their origins and their powers. So, I just took that and toyed around with the mythology of it because it was something that I could do as an inside joke to comic nerds. I could see Superman's past, remix it and turned it into "he was this type of character." It works without me having to explain too much. I wouldn't say it was just me trolling, I say it was just me remixing the characters.
So, you're planning on pitching Trill League as an animated series to Adult Swim soon. What can we expect if it gets picked up? [Editor's Note: Piper pitched Adult Swim after this interview was originally conducted.]
Right now we want to go for a late night, half an hour series. Pretty much something in the same vein as The Boondocks. I mean, that's pretty much what people relate it to and it's kind of like the successor of The Boondocks so that's how we want to present it to 'em. The series will take a lot of what made the comic popular, but, we also want to do a lot of '80s and '90s nostalgia because I feel like that's the era that the readers are into. Not only stuff that's current today but stuff that influenced us like Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, stuff like that. For instance, Swolemayne, who's the Superman parody, I want his apartment to look like Martin's because two of the characters play off like Martin and Pam, how they're always bickering.
We got a few people who are working on [the series]. Rodney Barnes, who was one of the architects of The Boondocks, he has agreed to help us if it does get turned into a series. Chase Conley, who was a lead designer for Black Dynamite, will be on board as a character designer and director.
Are you still working with Marvel?
It's on and off. It's not as consistent as when I first started for Marvel. I initially started working with them I was doing some cover work, I was writing for them and I was doing interiors. But after my last project, a nine issue run of Guardians of the Galaxy, I returned my attention back to Trill League. But, right now, I'm supposed to be getting ready to work on a secret X-Men story.
Do you think DC will ever hire you?
Oh, no. [laughs] I honestly don't know at this point but I think they'll probably perceive that I am trolling them and making fun of their characters. Not to mention, in the Domino short that I wrote, I made fun of Batman v. Superman and it got a bit of press coverage because people were like "Oh, Marvel's trolling Batman v. Superman again” and I'm like “Oh my name's attached to that.” So yeah, I don't really know if DC will ever hire me. I would love to work for them though but it will be for select properties because I'm more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. Hopefully that door doesn't close for me. I would love to be able to go back and forth like a lot of artists who do between Marvel and DC.
Not to add fuel to the fire but you brought up Batman v. Superman...have you not been enjoying the DC films?
I have not been enjoying them at all. I think they started off horribly and to be honest, I think they're goofy when you bring them to the real world. That's the difference between Marvel and DC. It's like Marvel's characters are a little bit more toned down and DC characters are pretty much gods. So, it's kind of difficult to translate those characters, especially to make sense in a real world type of setting. I don't know necessarily if they can make the DCU work. We'll see with Wonder Woman. That's the only film that I'm kind of excited about. I'm not even excited about Justice League but Wonder Woman, just from what I've seen, looks great. But Suicide Squad sucked, I wasn't a fan of Man of Steel, the only part of Batman v. Superman that was great was Wonder Woman's part.
What do you think Trill League will end up contributing to the culture?
It's comedy. I think it'll offer a different outlook for black creativity. We dominated different outlets as far as music, fashion and slowly we're starting to get into TV and film but comics and art definitely has been something where our voice has been not as loud. I think that's an area where whites and Asians have been a dominant force and there's a lot of black creators out there who have a lot of dope ideas but we don't really get the opportunity. So I think if it truly does get turned into something, it'd be a huge contribution because it'll be something completely different that's never been seen before.