Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a regular feature where we speak in-depth with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These conversations range from analyses of their current projects to a look at the lives they lead outside of comics.
Kaare Andrews is a creator best known to comic books fans for writing and drawing “Spider-Man: Reign” and for illustrating the Warren Ellis-scripted “Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis.” One either loved or hated how Andrews redesigned and interpreted the characters in these two stories of a retired Spider-Man in the future or an out-of-continuity X-Men tale where Andrews brought back mohawked Storm and drew a different Emma Frost than readers were used to. Earlier in his career made a splash as the cover artist for a run on “The Incredible Hulk” where he played with the style and design each month. More recently, Andrews was the cover artist on the first year Marvel Comics’ relaunched Ultimate Comics line, “Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe” and Marvel NOW!’s “X-Men Legacy.”
In addition to his comic book work, Andrews is also a filmmaker with a number of shorts and television pilots under his belt and in 2010 his debut feature film “Altitude” was released. He contributed a short segment to the upcoming anthology film “The ABCs of Death” and designed the poster for the film. He’s currently in pre-production on a new film, a reboot of “Cabin Fever,” and took time out to talk with us here at the Sunday Conversation.
CBR News: Kaare, you joked before we started that you might be too boring to do this because to have this kind of job can means it is your hobby and you spend your free time doing work.
Kaare Andrews: It’s true. Your hobby is your job and your job is your hobby so there’s no separation between the two anymore. It’s just your life. [Laughs]
In your work — or your free time, depending on how we phrase it — you really seem to like doing your own thing.
Totally. I think that’s why I’m attracted to directing film as opposed to just writing it, but also with comic books I find that my favorite artists and writers all really took every project that they worked on and made it their own. You didn’t always like at first what they did to your characters but they did it with such fire that you couldn’t help but respect it and sometimes even that respect turns into love. Look at all the people that hated for instance Todd MacFarlane back in the early ’90s. Or Frank Miller. I try to give myself permission to do my own thing, for better or for worse. It can make people crazy and it can make people love you, but at least you’re doing something. [Laughs]
I think of you as a designer as much as anything and design seems to be the point where movies, comics, covers, visual effects, all these things intersect.
It’s all really kind of the same thing. Great design communicates a message in a way that you haven’t seen before but is instantly appropriate. It’s the same thing when you’re designing a cover. How can I communicate or peak interest or just get a sense of tone in a single image that tells as much as you can in one shot. That kind of reductionist approach is in comic books and movies and visual effects and drawing. Everything is about simplifying and in that simplification trying to create more rather than less and more by doing less. Does that make sense?
By drawing it in such a way that it manages to suggest a lot and that people are then able to fill thing in on their own.
And I think that’s the magic of comic books. Comic books are like the haiku of entertainment art forms. Every panel has to communicate so much more than what you actually do and in the writing it’s more reductionist as well. Every word is more carefully chosen in comic books than in features or in TV series or novels because you only have so much space to just write the letters. The page only holds so many words. That’s what I love about comic books. It’s just such a distilled art form. Everything becomes about saying as much as you can with as little as you can.
What came first for you, was it movies or comics?
When you’re a kid they’re all kind of the same thing. I would devour comic books, devour movies, devour animation. I used to give book reports on special effects. It was all kind of the same thing. There was no real separation between any of that but as you grow older people try to tell you that you can only do one thing so you have to chose. I chose comics. After I found a little bit of success, I was like, why do I have to only do one thing? That doesn’t make any sense to me. So I bought myself some gear and started writing and directing short films and teaching myself how to edit and how to do visual effects and how to do sound. It filled such a hole in me. I was horny for filmmaking, basically. [Laughs] I had blue balls for filmmaking and it was painful. Just to get that release and to start doing it was awesome. These days I split up my time fifty-fifty between comic books and filmmaking. I started doing short films and that led me to TV pilots and that led to a feature film. Now I’m attached to various other projects. I’ll probably always try to keep that balance of comic books and filmmaking. Again, to me there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t be able to do everything — except for time — and there’s just enough time in my life to do both right now.
“Blue balls for film.” I think we know what line from this interview is going viral. [Laughs]
It’s been interesting to see guys like you and Troy Nixey–
One of my best friends, actually.
Really? Wow. I mean any comics artist knows visual storytelling, but it’s really cool to see you guys take that and your design sense and really put those skills to use in a different medium.
Let’s also not forget the Wachowski Brothers also came out of comic books. They were writing comic books before they were writing films and created “The Matrix.” I think comic books and films are actually more different than you realize but they have such crossover. There’s this overlap of core skills [that] are just so woven into each other. It’s not necessarily, if you learn to do comic books, you can do film, and if you learn to make films you can make comic books. They’re entirely different mediums, but there is this incredible overlap. I think most people that draw comic books love movies and most people that make movies love comic books. If you put in the time, for most people there is a way to learn the other side.
I know that you’re directing a prequel to the film “Cabin Fever.”
It’s actually a reboot. It was announced as a prequel but technically it’s a reboot.
Okay, this question isn’t quite so valid, but I’ll ask anyway. Comics people know you for “Spider-man: Reign” and “Astonishing X-Men,” where you had freedom in how you approached the characters and the world. Making a prequel, or a reboot as the case may be, similarly involves playing in a world and the tension between pushing it, changing it and what has to be consistent. Do you find that to be the case?
That’s still a very appropriate question. Here’s the thing, in comic books the established characters have such a robust and solid core to them that not only can you push them into different places, I think you should. They’ll withstand it. They have the strength to bend one way and then bend the other. To go from Frank Miller to Bill Sienkiewicz to J. Scott Campbell to Bendis. They can withstand it because they have a core fanbase and a core history and a thorough exploration for decades. I think people really enjoy when you bend these characters in new ways that they haven’t quite seen before. A film like “Cabin Fever” is a pretty new property. There’s been one film and one sequel and it doesn’t have that core strength. While you still want to do your own take on things and still want to invest new energy, it’s not so recognizable that you can bend it in a different way and people will enjoy the bending.
It’s more like you’re bringing new energy and new ideas while still being built. It would be like issue five of the “Fantastic Four,” you still don’t really know who these people are and you’re still building the world. You have more responsibility in the construction and foundation — rather than, now I’m going to renovate the building — because you’re still building it. That’s how I see the difference between like projects like “Astonishing X-Men,” which just demands it being warped into your own madness and “Cabin Fever,” where you really have to be a little more have your engineering hat on and being like, how can I help build this into a thing?
And having said that, I think it was always a little overstated just how far you pushed the characters in “Astonishing X-Men.”
Yeah, right? All I did was I tried to take what I loved — and I did this is “Spider-Man: Reign” too — tried to identify for myself, as someone who loves these characters, what are the core concepts of these characters and how can I take that core and run with it. For instance, I always loved mohawk Storm back in the ’80s when she fought Cyclops for control of the X-Men. For me, that was always the most badass version of Storm. Mohawks were coming back in very fashionable ways. There’s a lot of hip, pretty young girls out there rocking these cool mohawks so I thought, let’s give Storm her mohawk back. Why not? Especially in “Astonishing X-Men” where it’s not in continuity with the other books and no one has to worry about it. I wanted to do it. I made her barefoot because that’s like a direct connection with the Earth. I’ve read since then that some people do consider walking on the Earth in their bare feet connecting back to Mother Nature. For Wolverine, he’s short and he’s a beast. The core quality of Emma, to me, was she’s a seductress. What is the modern equivalent of that? It’s not, in my mind, a noble British-accented S&M queen, it’s actually like a sexed-out Britpop chick.
I remember one criticism was that you turned her into a fetish object, and my reaction to that was, “Do you know who this is?”
She’s always been a fetish object! In the past she was like the girl from “Weird Science.” She was the overlord controlling her little nerds and it’s a different world out there now.
More recently, you’ve been the cover artist for the Ultimate line at Marvel.
This is really challenging. I’ve done something like 36 different covers in a period of about a year, which for me is crazy. I’ve never done that many covers in so little time on such a consistent thing. When I did my “Incredible Hulk” run, the idea evolved into, what can I do new this time that I’ve never done before. Every month it was like, what can I do new? Art style, composition, design, anything. With Ultimates, it’s different. It’s a line and I was hired to give it a consistency, so it’s not about what can I do new and what can I do different. I know Axel [Alonso, Marvel Comics’ Editor-In-Chief] wanted me to create a sense of video games and modern pop culture feel. Something that didn’t feel old school but felt very next level, if that’s the word. [Laughs] For me it was like, “Okay, I can’t push these characters too much.” I’m just trying to create a consistent look that travels from book to book every month so people know this is the Ultimates universe. It was hard to do so many books in so short a time. I don’t think some of the covers are my best work, but some of them succeeded. At the end of the day I’m proud of what I did for the line, so it was a good experience.
And this was something they pitched you?
They came to me with it. Axel was like, we’re rebooting the line and we thought we might want to get one cover artist to do all the books to keep it consistent. I liked the challenge of it. It sounded cool. I try not to do the same thing again and again. Nothing hurts your art more than being uninspired so the only way to be inspired is to really challenge yourself with new things. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to try to figure this out.” How to make it feel consistent and fresh and new. It was my idea to return to the black bars. To me, that was the Ultimates. Let’s return to the black bars and have every cover coming past the black bars and exploding towards the reader. Either leaping through the black bars or exploding past the black bars or swinging into the black bars and that’s how I’m going to make the black bars different from before but it will feel familiar but in a new way. That was in a way my answer to that challenge.
Did you want to know what was happening in the books?
They wouldn’t tell me! It was a secret! I didn’t know that Spider-man was a half-black half-Latino kid. I just knew the [costume] design. I was more shocked than anyone to find out who was under the suit. It was pretty funny. I had to draw those covers so early in the game there was nothing for me to really read. Or it was so top secret they didn’t want to risk it being leaked somehow. That was a challenge. I was never a huge fan of the original Ultimates line, so I didn’t always know the Ultimates version of each character. I knew the characters well in normal continuity, but the Ultimate versions I often asked somebody to send me reference or I would have to google who they were.
You mentioned before that you’re into martial arts and studied pancration.
A little. Very little. What happened is when I was growing up I took some karate, really enjoyed it, but I didn’t stay with it for very long. In high school I took some tae kwon do and really enjoyed but you know, you’re a teenager, it didn’t last that long. I found myself at a point where I hadn’t been to the gym in a while and I thought I should get another membership, but I always loved martial arts and I became a big UFC fan. I thought, instead of lifting weights why don’t I try some MMA stuff?
I signed up at one gym and it was very much the “Cobra Kai” situation from “Karate Kid.” Guys who are all, “yes sir, no sir.” I’m like, “Man, I’m an old man. We’re the same age. I can’t call you sir.” That didn’t work. Then I found a much more relaxed school which was very good and it was so much fun. It was so much fun to be rolling around with these guys and trying to do moves that I had watched on UFC for a decade, but my body just couldn’t take it. I really hurt my back and I had to take a year off from any exercise, really. Not quite a year, almost a year, but I was like, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” [Laughs]
I thought I had permanent spine damage. I was so beaten down by my biology. I had to abandon my dreams of MMA. It’s too late to live that dream. But I have to tell you when I was training in pancration, I’ve always been naturally super flexible. That’s why I can draw “Spider-man,” because I feel like we’re the same guy. [Laughs] For whatever reason I could escape any triangle attempt. A triangle is when the guy can use their legs to wrap around your neck and choke you out but the way my shoulders work, I could pop out every time. I loved it. If I was much younger, my nose would probably be quite broken by now from all the MMA. It was a nice dream while it lasted, but it was only a dream.
Now you just watch it.
Yeah I still watch it. I love it. So many comic book guys love it, I think, because it really is like watching the Hulk brawl with the Thing. These larger than life, super physically talented guys, man on man, two walk in, one walks out. To me that’s pretty fun. [Laughs]
You live in Vancouver, British Columbia, but we’ve heard time and again if you want to work in movies you move to either Los Angeles, California or Bombay, India.
Seriously, what keeps you in Vancouver?
Well my citizenship keeps me here.
Do we let you into the United States?
[Laughs] You allow me to visit. It wouldn’t be that hard for me to get American citizenship if I wanted it. I’ve thought about it. Maybe there will be a point where I move down to the States somewhere sometime, but for now there’s a lot of production in Vancouver. I have my agents and managers in LA. It’s a very quick day trip for me to fly down and take some meetings or work on a project. For instance, “Cabin Fever” will be shot in the Dominican Republic. Vancouver is actually, it turns out, a very central location for filmmaking. Troy Nixey lives here. Neil Blomkamp is originally from South Africa but he’s a Vancouver guy as well. He’s filming “Elysium” here. There’s a lot of filming always going on in Vancouver.
You also grew up in Western Canada, is that right?
I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I went to art school in Calgary, Alberta — where John Byrne and Cary Nord also went to art school — and we all dropped out. Then I moved to Vancouver. I ran into the ocean, otherwise I would still be traveling West, I’m sure.
You e-mailed me this poster you did which was just released for a movie, “The ABCs of Death.” This is an anthology of twenty-six short films.
“ABCs of Death” is a crazy idea that some guys came up with. Tim League, who runs the Alamo Drafthouse down in Texas, and Ant Timpson came up with this crazy idea to just find the coolest genre directors from around the world and give them all a little bit of money, a letter, about four minutes and a way of dying. For instance A for Animal Attack, B for Beheading, C for Cannabalism, D for Decapitation. The cool thing is that it’s people from all around the world. There’s only two guys from Canada. There’s me and Jason Eisener who did “Hobo with a Shotgun.” He’s down in the Maritimes. There’s the guy who did “Norwegian Ninja.” The guy who did “A Serbian Film.” It’s really fun and just crazy. It’s just so fun to be given a little bit of money and no instructions and just do something cool. I’m excited to see the whole thing. I think it’s going to be an exhausting experience of just blood, bodies and mayhem. I think the idea is it’s going to come out at the end of the year.
What letter do you have?
I’m not supposed to say. It’s all top secret. They’re very concerned with secrecy. The cool thing was they asked me to do the poster, which was a lot of fun. That’s actually my little monster. I just had a baby boy about a year ago and he’s not only on the poster, he’s in my segment. It’s his feature debut as a performer. We’re all very excited to have him in this blood-soaked, violence-filled film that he won’t be allowed to watch until he’s nineteen.
You’re setting him on right path early.
For his nineteenth birthday, we’ll be like, “Casey, let me tell you a story about the first time you were in a movie,” and then we’ll show him. He’ll either love me or he’ll just walk away.
The real question is when the film comes out, what will happen first: you’ll get an offer to make another movie or will you get an offer to write a parenting book.
[Laughs] I’m just hoping his performance is just so captivating that I never have to work again. He becomes the next Tom Cruise and I’ll just make my own projects with his money. It’ll be great. I’m sure he won’t resent me at all.
We talked about the covers. Is there anything else you’re working on right now?
I just signed up for some covers for a Marvel miniseries that’s going to be hilarious, but I’m not sure if I can say what it is so I won’t. And then I’m also writing and drawing a small project for Marvel right now. It hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t say what it is. It’s in continuity, directly tied to a major Marvel event. It’s just a fun little project because I can’t commit to anything larger at the moment until I figure out my schedule for these films but it’s just a lot of fun. I think people will dig it.
[Laughs] I know, right. Lots of information. More Marvel stuff. More covers. More interior art. More writing. And there are some more feature projects in the works as well that haven’t been announced that are in various stages of development, as they say.
It’s funny that we started this conversation by us talking about how we should talk about thing other than work, but we did nothing but talk about work. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I find that comic books are such a time-consuming labor-intensive job that comic books are all they do. There’s not a lot of free time. Maybe they love baseball but it’s not like they have secret lives. It’s all consuming this job. I mean maybe you’re watching some porn. That’ll slow you down, let me tell you. [Laughs]