Marvel’s Astonishing line relaunches and expands in May, 2010 with a new take on Astonishing X-Men with the superstar team of writer Warren Ellis and artist Kaare Andrews. Andrews, whose dynamic, animation-inspired style has mostly been used in film and TV projects the last few years, took some time out to talk to Newsarama about his new X-book, what keeps him in comics, and his exciting new film projects, including his first feature film, Altitude.
Newsarama: Kaare, tell us about the basic premise and storyline for the X-Men storyline.
Kaare Andrews: The story starts off with the X-Men investigating a possible new strain of mutants in the country of Mbangwi. I won’t tell you what is different about this strain but it opens up some questions. What is a mutant? What defines a mutant? Or what is simply mutant-like? Make sense? No? What happens when you have people that have mutant powers but don’t fit the mutant paradigm?
You’ll have to read the book to understand because I don’t even know where Warren is going with this one!
Nrama: This is, I believe, your first extended interior comics story sinceSpider-Man: Reign. What made you want to work on this project, and what was appealing about the Astonishing line in general?
Andrews: Well, I don’t know if you would call six issues “extended” per se. But it is fun to be on a monthly, even for so short a run. I guess my interior absence seems to make this look like an important choice for me, but really, I just thought it would be fun to work with Warren and work on these characters.
He’s a great writer and I’ve been an X-Men fan since the early days. I still remember drawing my X-Men try out pages when I was trying to break into Marvel. Wolverine trying to fight a Raptor. Ha!
What I find exciting about this project is taking the public’s perception of the X-Men and twisting it into my version of the X-Men. I’m from the camp that whatever you do, you should make your own. Run hard, run fast and keep running. You know?
I really wanted to take the book away from the photorealism that has been flooding the market these past few years. It’s kind of embarrassing to constantly find Maxim photo spreads that have been traced into superhero covers and pin-ups. F*** that. I don’t have any patience for it.
With this book, I’m attempting to bring back some style to comics. Push the look of the world and the characters. Ask the question: what would my ideal of these characters be? What do I remember about Storm that made her so special? What is it about Wolverine that I can do differently?
Because after 30 years of these characters, if you are not asking those questions then I have no interest in what you are saying. You know? I don’t want to walk lightly. Art is about leaving footprints, pissing people off, asking questions and challenging definitions. Otherwise, I’d be a dentist.
Nrama: What sort of research did you have to do for this story? Were you familiar with Mbangwi prior to working on this book?
Andrews: Warren provided me with a bunch of links, and I have been drawing on those and my usual arsenal of Google image and internet research.
It’s always a lot of fun to find out how doctors dress or how villages look in other countries. Maybe that’s why I’m not so big on drawing space or fantasy right now… I just love to research and respond to reality.
Back in art school a teacher told me once that “to draw” really meant “to draw in”. To process. Then to respond. I loved that idea and it really is a foundation to what I do.
Nrama: You've done some X-work in the past -- what is most appealing to you about working on these characters?
Andrews: I just love the archetypal characters that make up the X-Men. I like to say that the X-Men is an adult book. Spider-Man has an innocence regardless of whether he is 18 or 30 or 70. His life is about accepting responsibility, about growing up.
The X-Men has always been about what do do after you’ve grown up. What are your core values? Who do you love? Who do you hate? It’s a book of romance, love triangles and the investigation of groups of humanity. Whereas Spider-Man is about the individual, X-Men is about the group.
Nrama: Which X-Man is your favorite to draw, and which is the most challenging? Which new concepts/characters for this story have been the most fun to work on?
Andrews: Right now, I’m having the most fun drawing Emma. We’ve seen a lot of variations of her, but never quite the way I’m doing it. At least, not that I can remember. I’m sure some people will hate it and some will love it. That’s great! Indifference is my only enemy.
Nrama: Warren has a reputation as a very artist-friendly writer. What has your collaboration been like, and what is most enjoyable/unique about his scripts?
Andrews: In a perfect world, I would have the time to do a much larger project with Warren. He’s a gentlemen and a true storyteller. The most interesting thing about Warren is how he is constantly doing both big, mainstream books and more independent, creator-owned stuff. I love that attitude. And his passion for technology really comes through in his work.
Nrama: Hey! Saw you were doing a film! It had airplanes and that pretty girl from 90210 and sky-tentacles and stuff! Can you give us a status update, and other tales of your Hollywood adventures? I hear you got something coming up with that Terminator-lady!
Andrews: Right now I’m wrapping up post-production on a feature film called Altitude. It’s kind of a throwback to the old TwilightZone TV series and is a nice mix of supernatural thrills. It stars Jessica Lowndes from 90210 and Julliana Guill from Friday the 13th as well as Landon Liberoin, Ryan Donowho and Jake Weary. It’s really a classic Twilight Zone situation: put a bunch of different personalities under a supernatural pressure cooker and see what boils out.
The challenge of this project was how contained it was. For most of the film our characters are stuck in a small seven-seater airplane, lost in a supernatural storm. It was like trying to make an entire film in a mini-van. I mean, you couldn’t even fully stand up in this thing! How do you keep it interesting? How do you break up the scenes?
It wasn’t like Speed, where we could just cut to the FBI trying to find the bad guys. This was more like Hitchcock’s LifeboatT. I had nowhere to cut to but outside the plane and then inside the plane. So I broke up the story into cockpit, cabin and back of the plane to give myself some different “locations” to cut to. But it was a challenge!
The other big hurdle was our VFX count. We have over 600 VFX shots, which for a little movie is unheard of. Thank goodness I come from comics and can draw the whole thing out on paper. It really was a blessing to have that visual toolkit on such a small project.
Anyways, I’m really excited about it. It’s being distributed by Alliance here in Canada and we’re negotiating with various distributors in the U.S. Hopefully it will be ready in time for the Toronto Film Festival, one of my favorites which has already screened some of my earlier work. We’ll see.
In the past I’ve directed a live action TV pilot for Cartoon Network, a lot of short films and a couple of music videos. But I am really stoked about my next feature film. It is indeed being produced by Terminator co-creator Gale Anne Hurd. Gale’s produced the Terminator, Aliens, Armageddon and both Hulk movies.
And having been trapped on a plane for the last one, I am so excited to paint with a bigger palette. I'm directing from a script I wrote called The Hunted, and t's about a guy who enlists in a world of contract killers. Basically, what if Blade Runner was a modern-day hitman movie. That’s what I’m going for. It all explodes in a city-wide bloodbath. I can’t wait to pull off some of the crazy action I wrote for myself.
Other than that, I’m meeting with studios and entertaining various projects that come my way. It’s a lot of fun, actually!
Nrama: Do you see yourself moving into film/TV as your main gig, or do you want to keep a foot in comics? What have you learned by working different media?
Andrews: The funny thing about Altitude is that I had to take a little time off from comics to do the film, but our film has a comic book as a key prop. So I actually found myself drawing more comics while on hiatus from comics. I couldn’t get out of the comics biz if I tried!
But really, growing up, there was no difference between movies and comics and animation or toys. They were all just things I loved and I still love, even though they’ve been separated by "grown-ups" into different categories.
The challenges of filmmaking is one of collaboration. It’s leading a team of a few hundred people all focused on bringing your vision to life. That is a very cool thing. You collaborate with actors, composers, editors and DP’s. The challenge of comic books is personal responsibility. You are the sole contributor to every element. You don’t have a team of guys drawing panels for you. It’s just you and a pencil acting out scenes, designing props and lighting sets.
We’ll see where I end up, but I have every intention of staying in both mediums until the day I die. Choosing one over the other would be like cutting off one of my legs. Sure I could learn to hobble around on one foot, but I need both to really run!
Nrama: What else is coming up for you?
Andrews: Well, I’m getting married in May to my beautiful girlfriend and we just bought a house. So, it’s comics, filmmaking and entering the world of grown ups in my future.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet
Andrews: Yes. Leave Watchmen alone already. You’ll only end up making us all look like asses. And you may end up cursed from dark magic.
Astonishing X-Men relaunches from Marvel May 2010.
Zack Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.