Hi, I’m Sylvester Effiong Ekanem, a.k.a. Effyze. I’m a 21-year-old digital artist, recording artist and content creator. I’ve been drawing all my life. I’m extremely unique; I’ve just come to embrace that about myself. Life is too short to want to be like someone else. I hate learning something new because at that stage, it’s so frustrating. My number-one supporter would be my mum because she let me study fine and applied arts — majoring in graphics/animation — and that’s really cool. I’m working on my first Webtoon show called Unfamous.
Unfamous sounds fun. What’s it about?
It’s a web series.
It’s about four friends who go to an influencer high school in Nigeria — a satire on the lives of influencers. It focuses on the friends — Folake, Styles, Zoey and Femi — their wild imaginations and experiences. There are a lot of side characters who are influencers of different niches and genres. I really want people to resonate with these characters, especially now when everyone is on TikTok with a notion of what a content creator’s life is like. Unfamous shows the funny side of what everybody thinks about influencers.
How did you convince your Nigerian mum to support your art?
My mum is one of my best friends. She’s not wild like most Nigerian or African mums. She has her moments, I’m not going to lie, but most of the time, she’s really cool. There are so many things most African youths can’t approach their moms to ask for that I can. And it made it really easy to just let her know I didn’t want to study medicine or engineering. I wanted to go to school to draw. She already knew I had it in me. The walls of our first house really suffered. In secondary school, everyone was drawing Ben 10, Naruto and Goku, but I wasn’t just drawing stuff I saw in movies, I imagined my own characters. It wasn’t really much of a big deal to convince my mum. And I love her for it.
Did you have that childhood experience where your parents discover you can draw so they refer you to one uncle to put you through?
I was the kind of kid who’d cling to any older person who could draw. When I was little, I was so intrigued by anyone who could draw, so I didn’t need anyone to do that for me.
What was the first character you created?
Dennis the Vampire. I wasn’t as creative with the names of the characters I came up with, or their stories. The name was inspired by Dennis, the Menace — my mum used to buy me a lot of comic books. It was about this vampire who was really bad at being a vampire. He had glasses on because he couldn’t see. Every single issue of that comic book ended with him getting sunburnt to a crisp.
How old were you when you created him?
I was in my JSS 3, so I was 12 going on 13. I don’t have any of the illustrations anymore, but I remember what he looked like. It was my first original character, after all. If I were asked to redraw him, I definitely know how I’d do it.
Would you recreate it anytime soon?
I don’t know. The thing is back then it must’ve felt super original to me, but now that I’m grown, I realise it wasn’t as original as I thought. If I revisit Dennis, I might change the story a bit. For starters, he was white and had a black best friend. I was wired to understand that was the perfect dynamic. I can change that now.
You seem heavily into pop culture.
I’m the last kid in my house. My immediate elder sibling is five years older. So I grew up with people who already knew what was trending at the time. My brothers were all into gangster rap, and my sister listened to R&B. Watching them inspired me to know what I want early on. And lucky for me, the things I like tend to go mainstream.
I’m watching Wednesday right now. I see stuff that’s mainstream, and it’s really intriguing to me. Some people are like, “Oh, mainstream is boring. Go underground.” I feel like it’s popular for a reason.
What were those shows for you growing up? Were they all animated?
It was a mix of animated movies/shows and live action. For starters, I’m a Disney boy (for life). Growing up, I’d watch Kim Possible almost religiously. I’m also a big Cartoon Network boy. Stephen Universe’s art style has inspired me a lot. That and Total Drama.
Your web series art style is giving The Proud Family with some Jimmy Neutron — because of the large heads. And I sense some gaming influence.
I don’t play games, but I do admire game characters a lot. You’ve mentioned some really nice toons too, TBH. Jimmy Neutron and The Proud Family are very dear to my heart. But for Unfamous, I think the art style I really incorporated would be Gravity Falls, one of my best cartoons off the Disney channel. When I was figuring out the art style, I really did get a lot of inspiration from Gravity Falls, but not so much that when you see it, you’d think, is this Gravity Falls fanfiction or something? When I imitate an art style, I just take elements from the style.
Are you studying animation in Nigeria?
I wish. But my final thesis sheds light on how universities need to start offering animation courses of study here in Nigeria. The closest thing to a computer-animation-related programme I could get was graphics design in UNN. And that’s where I am.
I don’t trust Nigerian schools enough to think it’s being taught well
It’s not. In the first semester of my final year, we learnt surface-level UI. To be honest, our lecturers don’t know much about what they’re showing us because when they were learning, they used cutters and rulers and cartons to construct stuff. They’re trying their best, teaching us the theory. The practicals, which is the real work, I learn from YouTube and Skill Share.
Something I find really cool about you is you make couples’ art. Tell me about that
The first-ever couple I illustrated was my friends, Ubong and Joey. They were dating at the time. I just used them to practice. Then I started getting commissions from couples for their weddings. Every couple I’ve ever drawn ends up genuinely resonating with my goofy version of themselves, and it’s just really great to see.
How much did you charge when you started drawing for couples, and how much do you charge now?
When I started digital art, I didn’t understand how to put a price on my work. I felt I was just starting, and therefore, should be cheap. That’s not a good notion to carry in your head. What matters is how good you are and how well you can deliver.
The first-ever commission I got was from a couple who wanted their wedding souvenir to be different from what everyone else was doing in 2017. I charged them ₦10k. These people lived abroad. I was just starting, but it was still quality art. I remember the money finished just as fast as it came.
Now, it’s a lot different. I follow a lot of artists who give tutorials about putting a price on your art. I got to know about pricing and list making, and I came up with price levels in 2021. A pack of six illustrations of you and your partner is ₦30k, for eight, it’s ₦35k, and the 16 is ₦45k. There have been times when I compromised because I just loved the project. It depends on how much I believe in the project. It doesn’t even have to be a couples thing. It could be a children’s book or stickers.
Do you mean WhatsApp stickers?
When I illustrate couples, I just make the Whatsapp stickers and send if they want them. That’s a promo thing I do. I remember when I started doing that in 2020, it was for a couple who lived in Brooklyn. They wanted stickers they could use on social media platforms, and I was like, WhatsApp would be a good one. So I thought that’s what I could do on the side to say thank you to my clients for their patronage, because it really doesn’t take much to make them.
How many have you done so far?
I’ve illustrated well over 50 couples since I started in 2019.
How do you bring life to the people in your couples art?
Some people don’t exactly know how to describe what they want, so I ask questions about character traits. Someone who loves to read or is mischievous would be represented just like that. For people I already know, or relationships I’ve witnessed, I don’t think I’d need to ask them to tell me about themselves. But if it’s a stranger, I ask them.
Who influenced you to take on animation?
I owe my love for drawing to Chris Brown. It’s his talent that motivated me to start everything I do now — singing, acting, choreography, drawing. I remember listening to With You for the first time and being like, “Who’s this guy?” When I started researching about him and found out he could draw, I said, “Oh, I’m going to draw too” because I wanted to be like Chris Brown. Other people have inspired me too, like Butch Hartman.
That’s bold in 2022. Who inspires you right now?
Yes, I have other artist inspirations too. When I started doing digital art, I was afraid I’d be the only Nigerian doing it. I was amazed to discover artists like Mohammed Agbadi, Mumu Illustrator and many more. I know a lot of really amazing Nigerians that, when you see their work, you’ll wish you could do something like that. People like Nari Animation. He inspired me to start learning how to draw backgrounds. Most of my recent inspirations are Nigerian artists. Seeing people, who understand what it’s like to be Nigerian, create these things is amazing. Also, Ridwan Moshood, the creator of Garbage Boy and Trash Can, is a huge inspiration. I follow him everywhere.
Are you working on a big project we should be expecting?
In years to come, I really hope I can do an animated show. But before that, Unfamous is coming for you guys, and it’ll be great. I’m writing it with one of my best friends, Arnold. We’ve known each other since we were five.
What are your favorite works so far?
I’m really feeling this piece called Otilo (She’s far gone). It’s currently on my Instagram, a photo I drew of a girl smoking out her window. You can see what she’s thinking, just like random stuff in nice doodles on the side. I really resonate with it. I’m also proud of this album cover I did for an artist. He wanted something a little spooky. An artwork I think I’ll always be proud of was this angelic lady adorned in gold. She was crying; over her crying face was a smiley face. It’s the first time I drew what I was feeling. I’m proud of all of them, my little scribbles and warm-up sketches. I’m just trying to make sure I’m proud of myself before anyone else is proud of me. If you don’t approve of yourself, you’ll always be looking for approval elsewhere.
What are the highs and lows of being a digital artist and animator?
The best way to create digital art is to have good materials, and I’ve never had any of those. The ones I have are OK, but not cutting-edge. The real struggle is me trying to use regular materials to make A-grade art.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in school?
I sing. To draw, you’d have to get your tools, press buttons and all that. But with singing, I just open my mouth and never shut up. When I’m not drawing, I’m definitely singing, and I’m an R&B boy. I think I sing more than I draw these days.
Do you have anything out?
Right now, it’s just covers for people who want to listen to what I have to say and get an idea of the kind of sound to expect once I start putting out actual music. The biggest question an artist must ask themselves is how they’ll tell their story. That’s why I’m taking my time. I’m still trying to figure out how to tell my story. I have a few demos on AudioMack, but there are bigger projects coming.
What do you want for your life and career?
First of all, I’m manifesting happiness and fulfillment. What I want is for people to see my art and resonate with it. I want people to feel things they didn’t even think they could until they saw or heard my art. Everybody wants to go mainstream. But I don’t just want to blow, I want people to have a purpose once they experience my work. It may sound like a lot of pressure to put on oneself, but it’s what’s keeping me going. A lot of artists starting out have messaged me on Instagram asking for advice, and I give them everything I know. I want to impact people’s lives with my art. In 50 years, I want to look back and see I actually achieved what I wanted to achieve.
And in terms of measurable success?
In the next five years, I want to see Unfamous go from a comic to an animated show, maybe on YouTube. We could start from there and build up. In music, I feel like every musician’s dream is to pour their heart out in a song, have everybody singing that song, and then a few awards here and there. For me, it all boils down to resonation. Even if I don’t win awards, if I walk down a street and see people just listening to my music on their phones, I’d feel like I’ve won.
What would you like to share with people who are scared to start creating?
Don’t compare yourself with any other person. Most artists are in love with everybody’s art except their own. It’s one thing to be driven by someone else’s art, but it’s another thing to continuously compare yourself with them. You shouldn’t do that as a beginner artist. Let your last work be your competition. Think this way, “I’ve created this. The next one will surpass it. I’m in competition with myself. I’m only getting better.” You might not know how long the people you compare yourself with have been practising. Art is subjective; whatever you’re creating is still art.