Comic book artist Andie Tong
Originally from Perth, Western Australia and now based in London, Andie is a regular artist on the UK title of ‘Spectacular Spider-Man’. Other credits include ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, ‘Masters of the Universe’, ‘Starship Troopers’ and Batman Strikes’. We caught up with Andie to find out more about the industry and how he got his big break.
What have you been up to lately?
Lately, I’ve been working on ‘Spectacular Spider-man UK’. That’s my regular gig and at the moment, I’m working my other gigs around that as much as possible. So far, my other freelance jobs have been very accommodating which I’m very appreciative.
It’s very rare for a freelance artist to know he’s got a gig day in and day out. So to be a regular artist for ‘Spectacular Spider-man UK’ has been a dream come true and also, it’s nice to know I have a guaranteed cheque coming in regularly. I’ve been working on ‘Spectacular Spider-man UK’ regularly for close to five years and am currently around 5 issues shy of my 50th. Obviously I would love to reach my 50th issue and then some.
I’m also currently working with Harper Collins(HC) illustrating children’s ‘Amazing Spider-man’ books. According to my HC editors, they googled for Spider-man artists and found my work. At first they offered me one book, but after I handed in my art roughs for the first book, they expanded it to two, then to four books and again expanded their offer again just recently. The books are evaluated on a sale by sale basis being that the next book will only be commissioned based on the success of the previous one. At the moment, it seems to be constantly expanding so I guess the team must be doing something right. I was originally going to do the complete artwork for the initial first few books but with my other work commitments, I decided to share the glory with an old comic colleague, Jeremy Roberts, to take the pressure off me a bit. To date, six out of the nine books planned have now been completed. I’ve been doing the lineart whilst Jeremy has been colouring and I’m so glad the decision was made to pass on the colouring duties to him as he is doing an amazing, no pun intended, job. He is the master of hues!
Other than that, I’ve worked on bits and pieces for DC comics and their commercial services branch. Thus far, I’ve worked on sequential work and covers for several issues of ‘Batman Strikes’ and a special ‘Smallville’ comic created in conjunction with an episode of the show. My most recent work for DC include working on a couple of covers and some backup sequential stories for a twelve issue mini-series of ‘Tangent Superman’s reign’.
How would you describe your own work?
My work is an amalgamation of different styles and of all my favourite artists. It’s got a mix of American art with huge influences from manga and anime. I grew up reading american comics and fell in love with anime that lead me to research manga. I love the character interpretations and use of shadow to build atmosphere in American comics but I admire the dynamism and dramatic angles of the manga comics.
I’m also obviously influenced by many great american and manga artists. Masamune Shirow, Kia Asamiya, Mike Wieringo, Adam Hughes, Todd Mcfarlane, Chris Bachalo, just to give you a very short list. Nouveau artist Alphonso Mucha is also much loved in the comic community and I got introduced to his clean line art by a fellow creator a few years back. His work had such a contemporary approach for an artist of that period and I was completely hooked. I tend to borrow the best parts of each artists and combine it, a frankenstein of style of sorts, in hope to come up with a style that one day I can call my own. I’m still evolving. Constantly evolving and learning.
Have you always been a comic book fan?
I’ve always been a HUUGE comic book fan. I collected comics at an early age and I still continue to do so now. Except, I buy more trades and graphic novels now more than individual issues as it’s easier to read and collect. The whole story arc is in one book and I don’t have to go searching for individual issues scattered somewhere in the house. For me, I tend to look at good art in a comic before I would commit to buying any particular title. I guess it’s the artist in me that focuses on the art first compared to other readers who tend to follow story first and then art.
when did you first realize that you wanted to be a commercial artist and illustrator?
Since I was very young. At Kindergarten age, I was already drawing my favourite comic characters and knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I even told my mum, and I’m constantly reminded of it, that I told her ‘Drawing is my life. I can’t live without drawing’ or something along those lines. As I grew up though I didn’t think I could or the know how to get into the industry. So I did it as a hobby and eventually, I started believing that I would never work as an illustrator let alone a comic book artist. I always aspired to it, but when I was told in University back in Perth that there was no market for it, and got ushered into doing Design instead where there was more longevity and financial stability, my dream of becoming a comic book artist was literally shelved that day. That, plus I thought an artist had to reside locally to be able to work in that industry and at that point, with my limited knowledge, believed to be only in Japan and America. Of course since being in the industry, I’ve discovered a huge love for comics in the European contingent too.
However, back in 2000, after working about 4 years in the design industry, the particular company I was working for at that point, as an added incentive, sent me to a comic convention trip in Charlotte. There I met and mingled with many professional greats. Some, I’ve admired and been influenced by for a long time since I started collecting comics. When I showed my work around, they all told me one thing,’to submit my work’ cause apparently they saw potential. Of course that one question kept hounding me. ‘I didn’t live locally’. That’s when I was told literally no artist does and that’s where the big bad ‘world wide web’ came into play. The rest was history. As soon as I got back, I started submitting stuff, online, snail mail, whatever I could think of to get my foot in the door. Slowly but surely, I’ve been moving in the right direction.
What have been the highlights in your art related career to-date?
Just working on comics itself is a huge highlight in my career. I’ve build up so many little highlights along my path, I can’t really pinpoint a specific one. My first ever exhibition was a big highlight for me. Working on 80′s pop titles from He-man and the Masters of the Universe to TMNT to drawing mainstream comics like Spider-man, Batman and Superman. You know, being born in Malaysia and hailing from Perth, Australia, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be working full time in a comic industry.
What software do you use?
I use to utilise a whole bunch of applications as designer. But as a comic artist, I’ve narrowed it down to mainly Photoshop, Painter and Illustrator. Although these applications do make it easier in this day and age, when it comes to drawing, I still prefer traditional pencil or pen to paper. If I get the opportunity and the time, I use computer software mainly to colour utilising a combination of Photoshop and Painter.
Do you have a favourite artist, or artists?
Yea, plenty. I can’t single out just one. They’re all equally great. From manga to mainstream American comics to traditional. As mentioned earlier, although I only discovered recently, my main classical creator that inspire me is Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. Other contemporary fantastic artists like Jim Lee, Mike Wieringo, Chris Bachalo, Arthur Adams, Adam Hughes, Humberto Ramos, Olivier Coipel, Steve Mcniven, Frank Cho, Manga artists; Masamune Shirow, Kia Asamiya, and so many many more, all influence me in some way or another. It might be a particular artist’s way of drawing backgrounds, or the way he draws faces or hands or the anatomy or guns or robots. I try to incorporate the best bits of each artist into my art. I find new inspiring artists everyday. It’s never ending. There’s just so many talented creators out there. So I’m constantly evolving. If you look at my art from, say, a year ago, it would be different to what it is now.
Do you prefer working on your own creations rather than established, long-running characters?
To be honest, I haven’t really had the chance to work on a lot or creator own work. I would like to but I feel to give my creator own a chance, I need to have a fan base first. So in a way, one of the reasons I’m still drawing established, long-running characters, as much as I love it, mind you, is to build up a fan base first and foremost. After that, if one day I decide to work on one of my own creations, the fans will support the title and go out and buy it. That and plus, there’s just simply not enough time in the day. As it is, I work almost 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. Working freelance, managing your own hours and work from home has it’s perks but the work hardly ever stops. If only there was 72 hours in a day. Somehow though even if we did have that many hours in day, I have a feeling I’d still run out of time.
What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Keep drawing and plugging your work. Keep persevering. It’s taken me 8 years, slowly but surely, to climb up the ladder and to finally be working full time in comics and i haven’t even gotten there fully yet.
My first ever paid gig I got, was by showing my work through art forums and via my website. Regularly posting up artwork on different art forums and getting feedback. It’s the best free self promoting tool on the internet. Art forum, Digital Webbing head honcho, Ed Dukeshire, noticed my work and started hooking me up with writers and although pay was minimal, got my foot in the door. Digital Webbing is one of the unique art forums out there whereby they publish their own anthology comics and get creators from their forum to contribute. i managed to contribute a pinup, couple of covers and short stories in the title and from there, eventually the company Whitewolf took noticed and offered me their line of gaming illustrations for ‘Exalted’.
Another important factor is to get to comic conventions and network. You never know who you’re going to meet. In 2000, during my Charlotte convention trip, I met artist, Sanford Greene. We kept in contact after the show and we became friends. Three years later, he turned down a gig he was offered due to his other work commitments so he recommended me instead and that was how I got my ‘Masters of the Universe’ gig. I can’t stress enough how important it is to sometimes have a face to face with a potential editor or just to meet up and socialise with your fellow colleagues. Going to conventions have taught me a lot about how the comic industry works. Watching other artists in their element, you tend to pick up some tips here and there. The tools to use, the paper to buy, etc. My first New York Comic Con trip got me in touch with DC Editors whom, although not immediately, years later got me my first DC gig.
However, although creative talent, skill and networking is needed in this field, sometimes the opportunities that comes knocking at your door just happens to be pure luck and timing.
My little ‘stroke of luck’ story I like telling aspiring artists is how I landed my Spider-man UK gig. I had just moved from Oz to London when I discovered the British comic convention in Bristol. I managed to get a table to do sketches and signings as I’d manage to get some small press titles ‘Masters of the Universe’ and ‘TMNT’ under my belt. I had my folio turned to this detailed drawing of Spider-man as my ‘money shot’ pinup to pull people in. My Spider-man editor, who at that time I didn’t know who he was, was approaching my table. Just before that however, a fan had just seen my folio and left it at a TMNT pinup page. The editor walked passed, saw the TMNT page, didn’t think much of it and was about to move on when I myself looked up and realised my folio wasn’t at my ‘money shot’ pinup. So literally as I was turning the page back to the Spider-man pinup, my editor performed an exorcist like head turn, saw the pinup, gave me his card and few months after that, I was drawing Spider-man. The rest was history. If I hadn’t turned my folio page at that time and moment, I’d probably still be a designer to this day and working on comics only on my free time. So, sadly, sometimes no matter how talented you think you are or how many times your friends and peers have said, “you should be in the industry”, on occasions, it all comes down to simple luck and timing.
And finally we have to ask who is your favourite superhero?
It has to be Spider-man. As a kid, I’ve always fantasied about climbing up walls and saving damsels in distress. So I’m really very lucky to be drawing Spider-man and getting paid to do so. I just hope it lasts a while.