The Daily Heller: David Heatley’s Animated Modernist Love Affair

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David Heatley is a Queens-based comics artist, musician, director and animator who recently launched a video production company called Dream Puppy. Since 2004, he has been directing animation for various brands, moving into developing and pitching TV series, starting with an adaptation of his recent graphic memoir, Qualification. Veteran TV writer Adam Resnick (“The Late Show With David Letterman,” “Get a Life,” Cabin Boy) and Gaspin Media (a Los Angeles production company) are helping him to develop a pitch for the series.

Heatley posts his comics on Instagram, including three serials that he describes respectively as “an unrequited middle-school love story called AMY, a meditation on fame and narcissism called Pamela and Louis, and a deep dive into my fraught life-long eating patterns called Me and Food.” Heatley has also recently delved deep into writing and recording new music. I was intrigued by the modernist style of his music video Life Our Own Way, and asked him to tell us about his design and authorship.

What triggered the making of this video?
I just finished recording my new record, Life Our Own Way, in the fall of 2021. This song is the title track, and something of a personal anthem, so I wanted the video to be extra special. I got a bit obsessive with it.

Who wrote and performed the music?
That’s me and Tif Lamson of the New Orleans–based band GIVERS singing it together. It was produced by Mark Bingham down in Henderson, LA, with Bryan Webre, Kirkland Middleton, Julie Odell and Lilli Lewis adding their musical brilliance to the track.

You told me you made 1,000 drawings in four months. Whew! Did you do all the production yourself?
Yeah, I did everything. Drew every frame by hand in Photoshop, then outputted PNGs to Premiere with minimal “camera” moves like panning, rotation or closeups. For the most part I wanted every transition to be drawn.

What is the story as you conceived it?
The song is a young lovers’ anthem, based on memories of a trip to the city that a group of my high school friends and I took on the Fourth of July in 1992. We saw Sonic Youth and Sun Ra play at SummerStage in Central Park before heading down to see the fireworks at South Street Seaport. This left an indelible impression on me, and I can still conjure up the feelings and scenes from the whole day. Looking up at the fireworks, it was the first time I held hands with a girl I liked named Rebecca. We’ve been married now for over 20 years.

There is a modernist design aesthetic here brought from midcentury modern sources to early 21st century “interpretation.” How would you describe the look and feel?
That’s a cool take on it. I don’t know if I would have thought of it in those terms, but I see it. I tend to overcomplicate everything and have been trying to be bolder and more minimal in terms of color palette and line. I wanted to give the feeling of New York City at night from a suburban teen’s view—darkness and light and magic.

What are the implicit and explicit influences on your work?
I take inspiration from underground comic books, as well as painters and designers. Above my desk are an original Japanese West Side Story poster and a gorgeously glowing and minimal Tron poster from 1982. Other important influences are Japanese artists from the ’60s and ’70s like Tadanori Yokoo and Seichi Hayashi. Peter Mendelsund’s The Look of the Book (2020) really knocked my socks off. It’s a great collection of striking book cover design trends throughout history. I think Francis Cugat’s Great Gatsby cover is a pretty explicit influence on this video.

Where will it be released, and when?|
The video is up on YouTube for all to see. The song is up on all streaming platforms, including Spotify now. The full 15-song album drops on Feb. 11.

As I ask everyone addicted to storytelling and image-making: What is next?
I’ve got another video I’m directing that’s coming out next month for the album’s second single. This is a collaboration with Ukranian illustrator Olga Shtonda and Istanbul-based animator Hadi Tabasi. I’m thrilled with what they’re coming up with, and relieved I don’t have to draw a single frame!