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Reflections #222: Andy Smith

I feel special.

Andy Smith, current artist on "Stormwatch PHD" at Wildstorm, never sells anyone his original art, yet I got my hands on a cover after over a year of coaxing. Anyone who knows me knows that I adore anything CrossGen Comics-related, and my home displays 15 or so framed original covers from several CrossGen artists and titles. For the longest time I could never get one of my most favorite artists from that company, Andy Smith, to fork over some artwork.

It took an entire breakfast at MegaCon in Florida, but I finally got Smith to agree to sell me his first cover on his great book, "The First" (heh, first cover of "The First"). The art hangs proudly just as you enter, and I'm ecstatic that I have it.

Since CrossGen folded, Smith has been a busy man, working on "52;" "WWIII;" the "Red Sonja/Claw" miniseries and its "Claw" spin-off; "Hawkman" and much more. Smith also created an amazing little miniseries called "Armor X" (not related to the X-Men books) with Keith Champagne that I still hope will someday get a sequel.

Andy Smith also wrote a book, "Drawing American Manga Superheroes."

Robert Taylor: Hey Andy, what's shaking?

Andy Smith: Not too much, brother, just wrapping up the last issue of "Stormwatch PHD." It's been a fun ride and I impressed myself by penciling and inking five issues in a row.

RT: We'll talk more about that book later.

Let's kick things off with your "Drawing American Manga Superheroes" book. How did you choose the topic?

AS: I really enjoy the art of guys that are influenced by manga, like Joe Madureira, Ed McGuinness and Art Adams, to name a few. I thought writing a book that shows how to incorporate manga into American superhero comics would be a good idea. I mean, there are a ton of books on drawing manga-but they are all aimed at the traditional manga. Plus, my publisher really liked the idea and wanted me to jump on doing it.

RT: How big of a manga fan are you?

AS: To be honest, I'm probably middle of the road. I enjoy the more popular manga artists that most comic artists do. Masumune Shirow ("Ghost in the Shell") is one of my favorites. I love the "Intron Depot" books that showcase his art. I also really like Kazushi Hagiwara's art; he is the creator of "Bastard." I have a few other manga art books by various Japanese artists as well.

RT: Would it be safe to assume that the guys you just mentioned are your biggest manga influences?

AS: There isn't a huge influence in my work anymore, but when I was really into putting some of it in my work, it was Shirow and Hagiwara.

RT: So sell us the book in three sentences or less!

AS: Do you like superheroes? Do you like manga? Don't know how to incorporate the two? This book is for you!

How's that? And it rhymes!

RT: I absolutely love it when my interviews create poetry.

I know your first book, "Drawing Dynamic Comics," was great, and not just because I bought it. Is it still on sale?

AS: Thanks! Yeah it's still out there. It's in its seventh printing and is one of [publisher] Watson-Guptill's bestsellers. I hear from lots of people that have it and have learned a lot from it.

RT: What made you want to do another drawing book?

AS: To be honest, I never really gave another book that much of a thought. The first one was a lot of hard work. Anyhow, my publisher started calling me the year after my first book came out about doing another one and I kept saying no. Finally, after getting more calls on a regular basis from them about doing another and talking back and forth different ideas I agreed to do another one.

RT: What problems did you have with the first book that you've tried to fix in the second?

AS: Well, I learned that I didn't have to be super tight in my writing because it would go through an editorial process and be tightened up and then sent back to me to review and tweak some more.

I also learned I could pace the book better knowing how they lay it out in production, in regards to page count and such.

RT: Give us a quick little manga tip or two.

AS: Tip one: Go to the bookstore. Tip two: Buy the book! [laughs]

RT: Now let's talk "Claw," specifically whether there will be another miniseries or not.

AS: I don't think another one is going to happen. As much as I enjoyed doing it the sales just weren't there to keep it going unfortunately.

RT: That's such a shame, especially because it ended on a huge cliffhanger. Any idea what would have happened?

AS: I know Chuck [Dixon] had it planned to be a trilogy, each being six issues. If memory serves, the second arc would have dealt with him teaming with the evil sorceress chick to escape and the third he would have become a king.

That's the quick and easy summary. There was more in there, of course, but I don't remember it all now.

RT: Tell us about working in the sword and sorcery genre, both with "Claw" and the "Red Sonja" crossover. It really seemed like a great fit for you.

AS: You know, at first, I was pretty hesitant because, besides one pin-up for Marvel in '92, I've never drawn that type of stuff before. Hell, I hadn't drawn a horse in about 15 years, I think. But I went and got reference on different periods of time and such. I grabbed up a bunch of the new "Conans" and, of course, the big John Buscema "Conans" to inspire me and use as reference. Even got the first two "Conan" movies on DVD to pump me up!

RT: At least you didn't decide to pick up the "Red Sonja" movie. Ick!

AS: In the end, it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I've worked on in my career. I wish it could have kept going; I was really getting into the world and characters.

RT: You art there wasn't inked, and I know you normally ink yourself. How did you have to alter your style to go straight to coloring, if at all?

AS: You know, I didn't really alter it much at all. I actually think I loosened the pencils up a bit to give it a rougher look to fit the feel of the book, so it wasn't all slick and shiny like most super hero books, but more gritty and dirty even organic.

RT: Now back to the sad news-so what's going on with "Stormwatch PHD"?

AS: Well, the word is out that issue 12 is the last issue of this series. It stinks because I was really hitting my stride in the book and getting the characters down. I was also getting used to working with [writer] Christos Gage. There is always a period of adjustment for me when working with a new writer. I really felt like we were clicking as a team.

RT: I agree completely. What drew you to the project in the first place?

AS: [Editor] Big Ben Abernathy! He called and offered it to me because he really likes my work and enjoyed working with me on "Red Sonja/Claw" and then the "Claw" miniseries.

Plus, I've always been a big "Stormwatch" fan from back in the day.

RT: What if any changes did you make to your style for the project?

AS: I didn't really try and make any. I had a vision in my mind of what I wanted and just went with that.

RT: Favorite character?

AS: I really like Jackson King. He doesn't take any crap and knows how to dish it out.

RT: Favorite character to draw?

AS: Drawing-wise I really enjoy drawing Fahrenheit.

RT: Least favorite character?

AS: I don't have a least favorite really. They are all unique and cool in their own way.

RT: You knew this one was coming: least favorite character to draw?

AS: To draw, it would probably be Fuji! Ha! I kind of painted myself into a corner by drawing him in a busier containment suit. Luckily, he wasn't in the book that much. [laughs]

RT: Tell us about working with Christos Gage.

AS: It's been great! He lets me take any liberties I want in regards to adding panels and messing with the pacing. He's very open to ideas and has a nice sense of mixing the action with the quiet scenes throughout an issue. I also really like his dialogue.

RT: What else do you have coming up?

AS: I have a few irons in the fire and can't really mention any of them at this time. It's cool stuff, I'll say that much.

RT: Lightning round time!

AS: Uh, okay-gulp.

RT: What was your first comic book?

AS: " Captain America" #275, and I still have it. Mike Zeck and John Beatty's art got me hooked! I found my "crack."

RT: Favorite comic book of all time?

AS: "Green Lantern" #76, Neal Adams' first issue on art. I have three copies of it. One that is in crappy condition I got for one dollar. The Silver Age reprint DC did a few years back and a near-mint/mint condition issue I picked up about five years ago.

RT: What comics can you never miss?

AS: "Savage Dragon!" I love the fun Erik Larsen puts in that book. On a more regular basis, I love "Superman" and "Green Lantern."

RT: Biggest guilty pleasure?

AS: Swedish fish candy.

RT:

AS: Yeah it's lame but they are so tasty!

And slushies!

RT: If you could only work on one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

AS: For a major company, it'd be "Green Lantern." There is just so much that can be done with him.

For myself, I'd love to bring back my guy "1stMan" at some point.

RT: Who would be your writing partner?

AS: Keith Champagne. I had a great time working with him on "Armor X" and "WWIII." We've become very close friends and think along the same lines.

RT: Best comic book movie ever made?

AS: Off the top of my head, I go with the first "Spider-Man."

RT: What is your biggest strength as an artist?

AS: When I figure that out I'll let you know. I'm very self-conscious about my work and still know I have a lot to learn.

RT: Then you'll love the next question. What's your biggest weakness as an artist?

AS: Oh, where to begin. Not to cop, out on the answer, but I try and better every aspect of my work daily. Storytelling, compositions, basic drawing-all of it.

RT: Weirdest convention experience?

AS: Last year, a guy came by my table and looked at my stuff and asked me if I did sketches. I told him yes and told him how much. He then said "You're not good enough, you're not good enough" and he repeated it again as he walked away. I could tell from the conversation he had with Tom Grummet before talking with me that he didn't know much about comics at all and when he got to me, I didn't have any actual comics of mine out just some photocopies of work.

I think he thought I was trying to break into the business.

RT: If you could only be remembered for one thing in your career, what would it be?

AS: "He was a hard worker that tried to produce the best work he could, no matter the project."

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