In this article: Artist, writer, and filmmaker Kaare Andrews talks about making it in the comics industry, drawing a naked Peter Parker, his influences, and the martial arts inspiration behind Iron Fist: The Living Weapon.
In the years since Fan Expo Vancouver’s 2012 launch, Saskatoon-born, Vancouver-based artist, writer, and filmmaker Kaare Andrews has become one of the convention’s most popular returning draws. Andrews’ appearances at the Expo sketch duels—40 minute exhibitions where two or more artists illustrate a character selected by the audience while also fielding their questions about anything under the sun (the finished sketches are raffled off to audience members)—have entered the convention’s growing oral tradition, and they are among the most anticipated and heavily-attended of the comics-themed events that don’t revolve around cosplay or celebrities from TV or film. It’s not uncommon to hear Expo-goers change their plans when word gets around that Andrews is doing a sketch duel session at the same time as another panel.
“Performance art” would be a fairly accurate blanket term to describe what the writer and artist of Marvel’s Iron Fist: The Living Weapon series does during these duels. He brings a unique combination of live painting, observational stand-up comedy, extemporaneous speaking, and brazen self-promotion, but his presence never overwhelms the artists with whom he shares the stage. If anything, Andrews’ ebullient demeanor challenges his fellow participants to raise their game, turning what would normally be a relatively sedate “dish and draw” affair into a lively, raucous show that is much more enjoyable for all involved.
I’ve covered every one of his Fan Expo Vancouver sketch duels with the exception of those held in 2013 (when scheduling conflicts limited my attendance at the convention), and it is my experience that his energy never flags during these shows, even when answering the same questions over and over again or during the times when he is called on as a late replacement for an artist who can’t make it to their scheduled sketch duel. Making Andrews’ performances even more impressive is his predilection for working with ink washes and watercolors and the quality and speed with which he creates his sketch duel pieces—in one particularly memorable sketch duel from last year, Andrews produced two ink wash pieces in the time the other artists took to finish one pen/marker piece, all while participating heavily in the ongoing question-and-answer sessions.
That infectious enthusiasm is not just reserved for the sketch duel stage. Andrews’ table on the main Expo floor is a hub of activity, with the artist doing commissions, signing comics, engaging in small talk, and providing portfolio feedback for what seems like a never-ending stream of fans.
To see Andrews at the convention panels is to gain some insight into his creative mindset and career. The exuberance with which he approaches Fan Expo Vancouver springs from a single-minded dedication to the art and craft of comics. Asked by a member of the audience at his sketch duel with Superman: Earth-One artist Shane Davis for advice on getting into the comics industry, Andrews had this to say (emphasis original):
Everyone’s journey is different. All we know is what we did to get to where we are. I came in at the worst time in comics, when people were telling me that the industry is over, they liked my stuff, but there was no work for anyone and I should try to draw video games or something like that.
After high school, I took a year off, went to art school for one-and-a-half years and left before I got bored, and then I worked at a liquor store for about a year, and then I decided to move back into my mom’s laundry room for about a year and really focus on breaking into comics because that was my dream. I was like, ‘What am I doing working in a liquor store and I’m getting robbed at knifepoint and it’s my birthday and it’s Sunday morning.’ This happens to everyone, right? I’m not even making this up!
So I moved back to my mom’s laundry room and found my first job [in comics] for no money, it was a small black & white book, and that led to my first pin-up that I got paid for—$40—and that led to my first book for a company out of Hong Kong that went bankrupt but they paid me a couple thousand dollars. Every step, the thing to do is to just not stop. Just keep pushing on that wall. People are gonna throw obstacles in front of you, they’re going to hold you at knifepoint, they’ll tell you there’s no comic books, they’ll tell you all sorts of stuff, but grit is the ultimate determination of success.
Your odds of making it are either 100 percent or zero percent. You’re either going to do it, and you’ll make it, or you’re not. How hard can you bang your head against the door until it opens?
For Andrews, the grit that led him through an early career path that included stints on obscure independent titles like The Wonderlanders (published by Oktomica Comics, the aforementioned Hong Kong-based comics outfit), Razor’s Edge (published by London Night Studios), and Intrigue (published by Image Comics).
Andrews’ combination of talent and persistence eventually landed him a fill-in penciling gig on Marvel’s Gambit before he was assigned his first major Marvel Comics project, illustrating all three issues of Before the Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm and Logan, a job that had the artist working with one of his idols, fan-favorite GI Joe and Wolverine scribe Larry Hama.Since then, Andrews, a lifelong fan of Marvel’s comics, has drawn just about every one of his favorite characters for the publisher with the notable exception of the 1980s GI Joe: A Real American Hero characters (Marvel lost the comics license to the Hasbro toy property in the mid-1990s, although Andrews was still able to supply a variant cover for 2003’s GI Joe vs. The Transformers #1, jointly published by Devil’s Due and Image Comics).
In 2003, Andrews was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Cover Artist for his series of stylistically diverse covers for The Incredible Hulk that referenced everything from Jim Steranko’s iconic cover for 1968’s Hulk Special #1, Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where The Wild Things Are, film posters, cereal adverts, and everything in between.
Known primarily as an illustrator early in his comics career, Andrews established himself as a writer of note with Spider-Man: Reign, a four-issue, mature readers-rated prestige format series published in 2007 under the Marvel Knights imprint that was, in some ways, Andrews’ attempt to do for Spider-Man what Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns did for DC’s Batman.
Set decades after the events of then-current continuity, with Reign, Andrews sought to get to the core of the Peter Parker character by examining him as an aged widower, in search of purpose and relevance in his twilight years. Due to an unfortunate confluence of events, however, the miniseries might probably be best remembered by readers more for an editorial mix-up that led to the printing of what has come to be known as “the Nude Panel” [NSFW image link warning] in the first print run of the debut issue.
Andrews expounded on the incident in reply to a Fan Expo Vancouver 2015 sketch duel question asking him what was the “most risqué” image he ever had published in a comic:
I drew Peter Parker’s ‘peter’ in one issue of Spider-Man: Reign. There was a Frank Miller book called Elektra Lives Again. It was an adult book about Daredevil, and in it, he drew Matt Murdock’s genitals. It was like a European book and it was really cool, and I wanted to do that cool stuff [in Spider-Man: Reign]. My editor saw it and went “What are you doing?”
So they made me change it, and so I did change it, but they printed the wrong page. They printed the earlier version…
… So what happened was they trashed the book, but you can still find copies [of the original issue]. In the [trade paperback reprints] he’s covered in a sheet. The assistant editor almost got fired over that.
Subsequent career highlights include working with writer Warren Ellis on Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis, but it might be his 12-issue tour de force as the sole writer, penciler, inker, and colorist on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon that stands as his career-defining work to date. At the very least, and with all due respect to all the talented creators who’ve worked on the martial arts-themed superhero in the past such as Doug Moench, Larry Hama, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Rudy Nebres, Mary Jo Duffy, Kerry Gammill, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja, the soon-to-conclude Iron Fist: The Living Weapon maxiseries might be the definitive Iron Fist story based on the singularity of its creative vision and the caliber of its execution.
Below is the edited transcript of my brief conversation with Andrews, conducted in the waning hours of the final day of Fan Expo Vancouver 2015, on the walk from the designated sketch duel venue of Room 118 of the Vancouver Convention Centre to his exhibition table on the ground floor, where we talked about the series coming to a close, the martial arts inspiration for the series, and his post-Iron Fist plans.
The Geeksverse: First off, congratulations on the uninterrupted 12-issue run writing, drawing, and coloring Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. How does it feel now that you’re near the end? You’re pretty much done working on it, right?
Kaare Andrews: I’m actually inking issue #12 right now. For me, it’s a personal milestone because I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never written or drawn anything beyond six issues in a row, so I’m a little sad to stop working on the character, because I really enjoyed it, but it’s also a personal victory to have done that amount of work on one book.
TG: You don’t see too much of that anymore with Marvel titles, where one guy handles the writing and all the art. The last time that happened was maybe John Byrne on Sensational She-Hulk and Namor.
KA: I don’t think Byrne colored his own stuff. It was more common back then to have these big runs and have writer-artists as well. So part of my inspiration was all those guys—John Byrne, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Steranko, Eisner. It was more common back then for whatever reason [to have artists write their own books].
I think I do know what happened. It takes so long to draw a book these days. The expectations are higher, and you know, it takes a fast artist five weeks to draw a book and you can’t maintain a monthly schedule if it takes you five weeks to draw a book. It’s just about finding a style that can support that schedule.
Part of the work I had to do for Iron Fist was to find a look and a style that I could achieve quickly enough that I could make a monthly schedule.
TG: It’s interesting that you bring up the topic of style. At last year’s Fan Expo, you mentioned during one of the sketch duels that “the best style is having no style.” That struck me as something that’s straight out of Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do…
KA: It is, it totally is. It was me ripping off Bruce Lee. And I think it is true. Bruce Lee got his ass kicked in a kung fu street match and realized that his own style wasn’t enough and that’s when he started to incorporate wrestling, boxing, and other forms.
I feel the same way about art. You can’t get wrapped up in just one way of doing things. To really achieve your full potential, you have to do things more than one way. You have to open your horizons up to oil painting or digital work or watercolor or pencil or collage or sculpting or whatever. The more forms you know, the better and more complete you will be as an artist.
KA: It’s a potpourri of styles. It’s a mixture. In my childhood, I did a little bit of karate, a little bit of taekwondo, a little bit of pankration, and it mixed with a love of martial arts films from my whole life. So I was referencing some kung fu forms, but I don’t perceive [current Iron Fist] Danny Rand as specifically a kung fu fighter. First of all, his style is from K’un-Lun, which is in Asia, but it’s not in China. It’s fantastical. I imagine the K’un-Lun style has no real equivalent in our mortal realm.
I also think of Danny Rand as a guy who embraces other forms. So you’ll see him do the spin kicks of taekwondo or use the eight points of attack of [Thai] kickboxing and all sorts of other styles.
TG: In issue #4 of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, Danny Rand talks about how he’s not trying to “own” the “Eastern ways” but is instead dedicated to sharing them. Was this something you wanted to address from the get-go, or was this a reaction to all the discussion going on right now about “cultural appropriation” in comics and other pop culture?
KA: It wasn’t really intended to be a political statement and it was more of an investigation into his personal fictional history. Danny’s father Wendell was an entrepreneur, a businessman, and he viewed K’un-Lun as a plunderer of resources, and he paid the price for his pursuit of capitalism at the expense of everything else.
Danny is more spiritual, and I think he’s learned from his father’s errors. These were the questions I had to ask myself when I first started, questions about who Danny was, who his father was, how Danny’s a man out of his own culture and who learns a new way of looking at the world and then comes back to the West after ten years of living in what is basically Shangri-La.
TG: Another interesting aspect of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon is how it addresses the theme of family. I don’t want to call it a subversion of Eastern tradition, but filial piety is a core value in many Asian cultures, and in the comic, Danny has to deal with all this emotional baggage from his relationship with his birth father, he has to defeat The One, a villain who wears his deceased father’s face; and of course, he also has to deal with the murder of Lei-Kung, who is basically his adoptive father. What was the motivation behind all this?
KA: Danny’s origin is a story of a family that was destroyed and his new family, and the clash between the two. I wasn’t trying to make a cultural statement about East and West family values per se, but if you chase out the story for Danny, it has to be about family.
Some characters, like Spider-Man, the story’s not really about family. Spider-Man’s story is about personal responsibility—although his family members did get hurt because he avoided personal responsibility.
But with Danny, his story really is about family: his father’s obsession, his mother sacrifice to save him, his new family in K’un-Lun. His story is rooted in family, more so than a lot of other heroes, more than Daredevil, more than Batman, even. Batman was basically, “My family’s dead, now I start my war on crime.”
TG: Any creator-owned comics projects in the works?
KA: The creator-owned thing has always been part of the plan, but there’s nothing immediate. I’ll get to it eventually. Part of the thing is, I spend half my life in comics and the other half in the film world, so I bounce back and forth between Marvel and movies the way some people bounce between Marvel and creator-owned comics. There just hasn’t been a lot of time to do it. It will happen at some point, and when it does, I think it will be a lot of fun.
- INTERVIEW | Mike Del Mundo
- INTERVIEW | Philip Tan
- INTERVIEW | Ed Brisson
- INTERVIEW | Adam Warren
- INTERVIEW | Whilce Portacio
- INTERVIEW | Larry Hama
- INTERVIEW | Jerome Walford
- INTERVIEW | Ted Naifeh
- INTERVIEW | John Barber
- INTERVIEW | Mike Raicht
- INTERVIEW | Fred Van Lente
- INTERVIEW | Ross May and Brett Wood
- INTERVIEW | Darron Kappauff and Chris Delloiacomo