KAARE ANDREWS' ALTITUDE & ASTONISHING: "Slutting Up" Emma

Our two-part interview with Astonishing X-Men artist Kaare Andrews on his feature film directorial debut, Altitude, concludes today with more exclusive behind-the-scenes art and Andrews thoughts on his…unique interpretation of Emma Frost.

[click here for Part One]

Newsarama: Kaare, getting back into film – how did your artistic background come into play on Altitude?

Kaare Andrews: In every way you can imagine. I was the only storyboard artist, ended up drawing the props, and as you saw in the trailer, there’s a comic book in the film. So I take a break from comics to direct this film, and wind up drawing another comic book for it! [laughs] It was cheaper and easier than hiring someone else.

So there’s a comic book cover, some pages, a paperback novel cover, the creature design, the storyboards, concept paintings…and it helped when I had to go over effects shots, I could fix things up in Photoshop, and give very clear notes on scale, lighting, and so forth.

Actually, when we first created the concept trailer, I painted a concept movie poster as part of our package. That movie poster has survived the entire process and is now our official poster, DVD cover, everything.

Nrama: A number of comic artists have moved into directing – Frank Miller, John Cassaday did a terrific episode of Dollhouse – it seems like comic artists are moving not just behind the scenes in Hollywood, but in front of the camera. Why do you think that is?

Andrews: Well, it’s all visual storytelling. I don’t know that many other fields where there is training for that. And there’s a lot of raw creativity in comic books.

I think in the film world, people get lost in the big budgets and development, but comic books are comparatively cheap to do – it’s just man-hours. It empowers you creatively to build your storytelling skills without worrying whether something’s too expensive or commercial.

It’s only when you start directing that you realize just how small an operation it is to create a comic. [Laughs] There’s the writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, editor…that’s far, far fewer people than it takes to make a film.

So you not only become used to telling stories, you are designing props, lighting, composition, even acting. When you start directing, you’re used to wearing a number hats already.

My good friend Troy Nixey just directed a film for Guillermo Del Toro called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and he’s an example of a comic book creator who’s crossed over. And it doesn’t just go one way-- a lot of film guys are coming over to comics – film guys, TV guys, and concept artists... It’s a very incestuous time in comics, but this is where incest is best. [laughs]

Nrama: When you do film, what do you take from that when you go back to comics?

Andrews: That’s an interesting question. I think the biggest change is that over the years I’ve tended to favor horizontal panels in my books, probably because that reminds me more of film.

And I tend to think in terms of how to edit conversations between two characters visually – how to make this shot work, and this shot from a matching angle. Kind of like drawing coverage, for all you film guys. I mean, these are just little things I can guess at. There really is no conscious decision to bring film aesthetics back to comics but I’m sure it happens.

Nrama: It seems like now if an artist does something for themselves, be it an interpretation of a character or their own creation, it can get sent around online and people can see how they’re experimenting visually on their own, really giving it a chance to catch on.

Andrews: I agree, and that’s why I can’t wait for digital comics to catch on more. It opens up the world to comics. Instead of trying to convince people to find a store, and a lot of cities don’t even have them anymore, you can bring the comics straight to the people. There’s so much immediacy and creativity in comics right now, and I feel that’s unparalleled in any medium.

The only thing I don’t like is when there’s a comic that’s specifically written to set up a movie. I ran into that in my film life, where people would say, “Why don’t you just do it as a comic?” I say, “The film is the film, and the comic is the comic.”

I don’t believe in chasing one medium when the story’s made for another. If it happens organically, so be it. But Sin City wasn’t created to become a movie, Hellboy wasn’t created to be a movie. And those are some of our best.

I think the key is if you were a fan of comic books beforehand and then you became a screenwriter, that transition might be easier. But if you were a screenwriter with no knowledge of comics and you just see the medium as a quick way to sell your screenplay, then I think you’re going to fail. [laughs] You deserve to fail.

There’s no way around it. If you don’t understand the medium, how do you expect to make something worthwhile? But a lot of big guys, like Straczynski or Goyer, are long-term comic book fans and can go back and forth between mediums.

That’s the kind of creator I’m most interested in now – someone who has that childhood love of multiple mediums, and jump back and forth by following all their passions and not being exclusive.

It doesn’t always work. And Lord knows I’ve had a few of those experiences where it just doesn’t, but if as an artist you constantly explore outside your comfort zone, all aspects of creativity, you can do amazing work. The new creators are multimedia creators. It’s very Bruce Lee – not to limit yourself to one set of skills.

Nrama: And you’re keeping one foot in comics – anything after the X-Men book?

Andrews: Nothing I can tell you about! [laughs] But yes. Of course! The only problem is that I have too many ideas and not enough time to do them.

Nrama: Why’s it important to you to keep doing comics?

Andrews: I grew up loving comics, and that will never go away. I love the medium. When you’re a kid, there’s not really a difference between comics and TV and toys and movies. It’s only when you get older that people say “You have to be a lawyer, you have to be a musician, you can’t be a musician/animator.” And I say, “Why not?”

Nrama: What are some comics you’re currently reading that you’ve really enjoyed?

Andrews: Believe it or not, I hadn’t been reading The Walking Dead. I just picked up the Compendium a little while ago, and I was really impressed! It’d be hard to read on a monthly basis I think, because you just want to keep reading. I’m like that with good novels. And it read like one.

Nrama: Any people you’d like to collaborate with in comics?

Andrews: I’ve had the great opportunity to collaborate with some of my favorites, like Mark Millar and Warren Ellis – Zeb Wells is a fantastic writer as well. I don’t know! [laughs] Right now, I’m a little more interested in doing my own thing next – being a “lone wolf” in the medium again, like with Spider-Man: Reign. That’s where you’ll find my next project.

Nrama: A very silly comic book question: On X-Men, what did you think of everyone who saw the preview art and started complaining about Emma Frost’s, um, badonkadonk?

Andrews: [big laugh] Well, you have to keep things interesting for yourself while drawing! No, seriously. The most amusing thing about all that was she’s always been drawn in the most ridiculously scandalous outfits over the years. I thought, “She controls minds, she controls male behavior with her powers and appearance, so why not take that further with her base appearance?”

I think it’s hilarious how people have responded to it. People get crazy because I draw her short and stacked. I’ve been accused of slutting her up. But she is probably wearing more clothing than any other interpretation of her character… ever!

The funniest was the reaction to the cover to issue #3. Somehow, it becomes interpreted as this crazed, sexualized, deviant cover. But Scott and Emma are clothed and eating pancakes. It’s all about what the viewer is bringing to the experience.

I remember one message board post saying it was a homoerotic cover. Really? What part of a woman sitting on a man, eating pancakes, makes it homoerotic? But I love pushing people’s buttons. And it’s been a lot of fun.

Also, whenever I change out my art style, there’s a reaction from fans – some wish I’d still do Spider-Man manga style, or what I was doing with my realistic Hulk covers. But I can’t help myself – I have to try and draw new things in new ways, and X-Men was a chance to break out the brushes and grey markers and draw a more realistic, yet exaggerated style.

I’ll tell you a secret, I really had in the back of my mind a strange sort of Jim Lee/Barry Windsor -Smith/John Byrne thing. No real specifics- just that 90’s sort of crazy anatomy with some of the more classic rendering of Windsor Smith and those flat blacks of John Byrne. I don’t think anyone would get that from looking at it and it was never my intention to replicate their work, but that’s what was fueling this art choice.

It was another great experiment for me, and I have a rule to never switch styles halfway through a project. I’m bound to chase this and see how it ends up.

Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?

Andrews: The movie comes out on DVD Oct.26 from Anchor Bay, and if you live in Canada, try to get the U.S. version anyway, because it has more special features and commentary than the Canadian release.

Fly the unfriendly skies with Altitude on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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