If you are active on the internet, you have probably seen at least one of Israel the Creator’s brilliant animated videos. It could be about money, it could be about romance, it could be about the peculiarities of being Nigerian. The one thing they all have in common is his way with lines, colour — and an extremely relatable hilarity.
We caught up with him — well, he is a member of our team — and he told us about his rise from pro bono classroom artist to a money-generating purveyor of comedy.
Congratulations on having a thesis written on your work.
Thanks. It wasn’t the first time. A while ago, someone told me they used my work as a case study.
When you are big. Did you reach out to the thesis lady?
[Laughs] Yes. She shared a link with me.
What does it mean for you personally that your social media work receives academic attention?
It means a lot because there are people who travel out to learn animation. I wanted to do the same, but I didn’t have the resources. I had to be self-taught and yet my work gets written about in that way. You know it’s easy for people to look down on you because you didn’t study something in school or don’t have a certificate for it.
Where did you grow up and what did you folks do?
I grew up in Ikotun in Lagos. My dad is a businessman, and my mum has been a nurse for as long as I can remember.
How did drawing begin for Israel the Creator?
I have been drawing since I was a child. When you open my books, you will see all kinds of drawings. I didn’t think it was a career path because I did it for fun. I would draw and share in class. I spent my money to create because I loved it.
My mates liked that I could draw, but my teachers and my parents were not happy that I was using reading time to draw. My mum had a bounty on my drawings.
What does that mean?
It means that if my teachers caught me drawing, they had her permission to flog me. [Laughs]
So neither of your parents are artistic?
They actually both claim they were artistic. [Laughs]
Claim? Oh, the shade!
My mum says she used to be very artistic when she was younger. In fine arts, she was the best in her class, she says. She says I got it from her, but there’s no way to prove it. My dad just keeps quiet.
Was there money being exchanged for your drawings at the time?
Nothing. Zero. But a friend did say he could sell my work, and I was surprised. I think he sold them for ₦150 or ₦200 each. That’s what he said he sold it for and that’s what I got. This was probably 2008/09.
What did you finally study at the university?
Nigeria! I didn’t want to go to art class in secondary school because of the stigma attached. So, I went to commercial class. That was the first mistake I made. The rate at which I was drawing kept growing, but people kept talking about the need to make money, so banking came into the discussion. That was what influenced me.
I remember my dad telling me to study agric economics, which was what he thought was good for me. But I didn’t think my certificate mattered. So when I got human kinetics as a course of study after JAMB, I was fine with it, but my dad wasn’t. He asked me to write JAMB again, and then I got economics. Oh my God, I sucked at it! [Laughs]
Did you get famous in school?
No. But I kept drawing
What was the very first time drawing made you money?
A director reached out to me in 2017 and said he wanted a storyboard. I went to look for the meaning of storyboard…
At this time, I was jobless. I used to post my paper drawings, and I started a series called Patriots. I got about 3,000 followers in that period. People are always watching when you do things like this. But I had also sent him an audition video for a role. I would have gotten it, but I was travelling at the time. That’s how we first had an encounter.
Outside of school, what was you first real job?
I worked as a graphic designer for a company in 2018. Salary was ₦20k.
How long were you there for?
A few months. Maybe three or four.
I had taken the job because drawing wasn’t paying the bills and I felt graphic design and illustration was a field that I’d be great at. I had gone digital by 2018 and so it seemed natural. A friend had told me what graphic designers earned and I was like, “What?” But my own was ₦20k. I didn’t want to do the job, but I needed the experience for where I was going to.
While I was there, I got some other jobs that brought in more money than the salary.
Tell me about one of these.
Okay. So, there was a time I was asked to do a website mock-up. I didn’t know how to do it, but I found out and did it. And then the day after I did it, a friend asked me whether I could do website mock-ups. I said yes. I was asked to provide a sample and of course I had the one I had done just the day before.
That’s quite a coincidence.
It wasn’t even a coincidence.
The plot thickens. How do you mean?
My father had dreamed about it. I didn’t want to take the ₦20k job, but my dad told me his dream, which involved a company paying me a paltry sum but playing a big role in my career. We then both agreed that I needed to take the job.
To make it even more interesting, I wasn’t even the company’s first choice. But about three hours after my dad told me what he dreamed, the guys at the company called and said they only had ₦20k to offer me. My dad and I looked at each other.
I need to speak to your dad. I want to know if Arsenal will win the Premier League.
[Laughs] It’s a true life story. The freelance gig paid about ₦80k.
What happened next?
I went to an empowerment conference and then I quit. Before then, I had learned HTML and CSS for about 6 months, and then I taught some kids what I had learned. A friend called me and said a company needed tech support, but when they knew that I had front-end knowledge, they hired me. Soon, the company was acquired by a bigger financial tech company.
How much was this tech job paying?
It went from ₦80k and then ₦120k. It was from this job I bought the tools to go into full animation. And by the time I left the larger company after it acquired the smaller one, I was on ₦150k.
Why did you leave?
You know this one: PiggyVest.
Ha, yes. Before then, you were doing freelance gigs with the tools you bought, right?
Yes. I did something for Lojay, but he hadn’t blown then.
What was the highest you got paid?
I think I was getting ₦30k per minute and most of the visualisers I did were about 3 minutes long. But you know people will price and price.
How has that changed now?
I work with some brands now as an influencer.
At what stage would you say you became an influencer?
It has to be when something happened to me in 2021.
A bunch of my content went viral on TikTok. At the time, I wasn’t really posting on Instagram because I didn’t really have followers there. But something interesting started to happen: when my work goes viral on TikTok, platforms like BellaNaija and KraksTV pick it up and tag me on Instagram. That tagging is so important. After seeing how people liked my work when those guys shared it, I started sharing it myself on Instagram. And then I had a mega-viral video on TikTok.
Which was this?
It was about how the bro code in urinals says two guys shouldn’t pee next to each other. That video had more than 3 million views.
When was the first time a brand approached?
That was in 2022, and it was two brands.
What did you get paid?
It was ₦400k and ₦450k. One wanted me to create content as an ad and post on my account, and the other wanted me to talk about their event. They paid me to party, and I didn’t say no.
Of course! *Applause*
How often do you get these gigs?
Quite often. But I do turn down gigs because I am a one-man team. I can only do so much.
So, you have waiting clients?
Yes. And if I say they need to wait until June, like clockwork, on the 1st of June they are in my DMs!
That’s a good problem to have. Tell me, what’s a good month financially?
My employer will read this o!
Don’t worry. I won’t send it to them.
What tools do you use?
I use Procreate. And I have an iPad and an iPencil.
What’s a bad month?
Just my salary, I guess.
What would you attribute your success to?
God. Number 1. [Laughs]
The Nigerian response. What’s number 2?
I saw a lot of movies and animations. A lot of what I do is a homage to something that has made me laugh. Not to brag but people go to school to learn how to tell a story like I do.
My guy, you have earned bragging rights. What else can you tell an aspiring animator?
Do something you like. If you like it, someone else will like it. And put your work out there, even if you have only two followers. It is those two followers that can preach the gospel of you to others. Use all the platforms that you can.