Sleep, Eat & Draw: An interview with Andie Tong
Hotcourses Malaysia is thrilled to be able to interview Andie Tong - undoubtly one of the most famous artists in the comic industry. He is known for his work on books such as Spectacular Spider-Man UK and Tron: Betrayal. Trained and worked in the field of Multimedia Design and Animation since 1997, Andie only migrated to full time comics in 2006. Since then he has worked with most of the major companies that include Disney, Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, Dynamite Entertainment, Image, Panini Publishing and HarperCollins. Besides comics, Andie has also done commercial work for DC, Nike, Mforma, Universal, CBS, Mattel, Hasbro’s Duelmasters game and illustrations for Whitewolf’s “Exalted” fantasy gaming books.
Andie’s comic industry work includes sequentials for the titles Batman Strikes, Smallville, Wheel of Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Masters of the Universe, Starship Troopers and Noble Causes, plus pin ups and covers for Blade of the Immortal and Bloodrayne.
From 2005 to 2010, Andie was the regular artist for Spectacular Spiderman UK. In 2010, Andie completed the Tron: Betrayal graphic novel for Disney and Marvel, a prequel comic to the movie, Tron: Legacy. When time permits, he also juggles illustration duties with a range of children's picture storybooks for HarperCollins. Recently Andie completed a HarperCollins' children's storybook for the Dark Knight Rises, part of a series of tie in merchandises to be published in conjunction with the release of the movie in 2012.
How did you first get into Comic Art? What attracted you to Comic Art?
My parents bought me my very first comic books pre kindergarten and I've been drawing ever since. It was the dynamism and the vibrant characters that were in those pages that really got me into comics and art. I think perhaps it's the colour red from particular characters that drew my attention, Hah, as I believe my very first comic drawings were of Spider-man and Iron Man. Well, an attempted copied version of Spider-man and Iron Man to be more exact. When I first started out I mainly copied the images from the comics. After a few years of constant drawing and lots of late nights, I honed in on my skills and it's eventually evolved into something I now believe I can call my own. Not to say that I'm done and my art is perfect but my art is constantly evolving and adapting and hopefully it will continue to do so for many, many more years to come. In my opinion, for an artist, I think it's very dangerous to think that your art can no longer grow and update itself as it means that you will also no longer grow as an artist. If you look at my art now, it's different to what I did two years ago and again different to two, three, four years prior to that.
How I got involved in comic art professionally was through the internet. Art forums like digitalwebbing.com, conceptart.org and drawingboard.org helped like minded artists try to get published. In fact, it was digitalwebbing.com that helped me get my first publication which then helped me get noticed by other companies. Don't be shy to post artwork on these forums and get criticism from your creative colleagues. This process definitely helped me improve as an artist.
What are some of the struggles/obstacles that you have experienced?
When I first started out, I guess, one of the biggest obstacle was trying to get noticed by any company that would hire me. Comics is a volatile competitive industry. There are so many great artist that's competing for the same job. So it's been a struggle to try and constantly improve myself so that I would stand out from the crowd.
Another struggle has been trying to stay in the game. As hard as it is to try and get into the industry, it's equally just as hard, if not harder, to try and maintain and continue working in the industry.
Who or What inspire you and Why?
My parents encouraged and nurtured my talents when I was young. My mum taught art back when she was teaching and my dad although was involved in Politics did a lot of life drawings back when he was in college. My brother also gave me the turning point that got me really committed to art. lol. This will sound shallow but back when we were in primary school we were both drawing for friends. At one point I gave up on art but my brother continued and he started charging for his drawings. I thought, "Wow, I could actually do this for a living." So that gave me the motivation to get back into art. Don't be embarrassed to admit that money can be a great incentive and motivator. As much as I love art and without hesitation would likely have done art for free or just for myself for fun, it definitely assured me to know that I can do something I love, to be able to share it with the world and still be able to put food on the table for the family at the same time.
All the great comic artists out there motivate and inspire me also. Every now and then when I get a chance to go to the comic stores and sift through some graphic novels, it's jaw dropping to see what a colleague has done with that book. I guess it's the competitive nature in me to then go back, get to my drawing board and see what I can do in response. I guess it's more an internal personal response just to see if I can try and draw better.
I love the human anatomy too. Occasionally if time permits, I do like sitting at coffee houses and watch all the different facets of human life walk by. Tall, short, thin, wide. I love scribbling people I see as comic interpretations in my sketchbook.
In your opinion, how important is an Art education?
It's very important the know the basics of art. Art education do help propel you in that direction but is not necessarily a prerequisite. I know great artists that have taught themselves everything but you need to be really talented and disciplined. I wasn't any of that so Art education was a great way to help me focus on the skill I had and to help me evolve as an artist. A good example is when you look at comics, especially Manga and Anime, a lot of the human proportions in that genre can be exaggerated. A good understanding of human anatomy is essential so that when these exaggerations are executed, it can be done in a relatively convincing and non-outworldly manner. Art education teaches you this. It teaches you human proportions, light and shadow, perspective, foreground, background, negative and positive spaces and so much more. It's some of the most basic foundations a creator will need to work on their craft, be it comic art or just art in general.
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Any favourite memory during university/college days? And how does it relate to who you are today?
Back in my university years, I really wanted to do Illustration as my major. But the university interviewer advised me against it, and to concentrate on a degree like Design instead. Reason being is pretty practical when it boils down to it. There's just more jobs out there in design then there is in Illustration. In hindsight I'm glad I listened. Through the design course, I picked up essential creative skills working on tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign and the likes. Picking up these applications also helped me self teach myself to learn other great programs like Painter and Manga Studio, which along with Photoshop and Illustrator, I continue to use heavily in comics today.
Having a Degree also gives me a fail safe that if I ever fall short in my comic adventures, I can always try to go back to Design.
What are the essentials in becoming a successful comic artist/ artist?
I'm still working towards becoming a successful comic artist to tell you the truth. Heh. I think I've been very fortunate up to this point to be still working in the industry. It's a very tough industry and a lot of great artists come and go. As mentioned, there's so many talented folk and only so few jobs out there. So the competition is fierce. For me, to still be in the industry as long as I have- a very patient, supportive spouse helps tremendously! Some of it has got to do with skill.
A lot of it however is through hard work with a little bit of luck and timing to help along the way. How I got my gig with Spectacular Spider-man UK, for me, is the very definition of luck and timing. I was at a table sketching away at the Bristol comic convention. The editor for Spider-man (who I didn't know at that time who he was) walked by my table, saw my folio which was turned to a pinup of TMNT, he didn't think much of it and was about to walk on to the next table. At this point, it just happened that I decided to turn my folio to a Spider-man pinup. The editor literally did a 180 degree head turn, gave me his card and the rest was history. I ended up working on Spectacular Spider-man UK as their regular artist for a good five years running. I have no doubt that if I hadn't turned my folio at that point in time I would likely still be working in Design today and only be working part time in comics.
Perseverance and patience go a long way too.
What are you working on now?
I've just finished my run on Wheel of Time with Dynamite Entertainment and completed a tie in children's book with HarperCollins for the Dark Knight Rises movie. I believe the latter is on the shelves now to run in conjunction with the release of the movie. Currently working on adapting another fantasy novel into comic form. I have another children's book with HarperCollins lined up in the next month or so. In addition, I'm also in the midst of tackling a couple of creator own works but it's a bit of a hush hush gig at the moment therefore I'm unable to divulge anything at this stage. :)
What can we expect next from you?
I'll be attending the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC, for short) this coming September 1 and 2 at Marina Bay Sands. I'll have sketches, prints and original artworks there for perusal and sale. Other then that, I haven't planned all that much this year. I have a baby on the way in November, therefore I'm trying to keep my schedule as free as can be, especially since there's the likelihood of foreseeable sleepless nights that will come along with being new parents. :)
Some tips or words of advice for students who aspire to be an artist/ comic artist?
Don't be afraid to take criticism and learn from different artists. It's a great way to evolve as an artist yourself. There's a lot of good and bad advice out there. It's good to remember that art is subjective. What one person see as art may not be true for another. So be sensible to pick which advices work for you, that can help you nurture your art along and leave what you think doesn't, behind. Everyone is different, every creator has got their own view’s interpretation, techniques and style. Be bold and experiment, to mix and match.
Get published. There's a common comic industry lore that more often then not, the bigger companies will likely take more notice of you only once you get published. It's almost like a rite of passage to show them that you're serious about your craft. The best way I found to get published quickly is to work on an anthology book. Anthology comic books are a gathering of different short stories from different creators collected into one single publication. So instead of working for months on end to get one whole book out, you can possibly spend two to three weeks working on a 5 or 10 page short story. It gets your work published and on the shelves faster.
If you can, try and get to a comic convention. Network and meet with creators and editors. It's one of the best ways to cement yourself, get noticed and push yourself to the front of the line. This process doesn't necessary guarantee work, but is more often proven positive then negative. I got my first DC comic gig after meeting a few DC editors two years prior at the New York Comic Con. And yes, these opportunities may take some time to come about so as mentioned, patience and perseverance is the key.
Wouldn't hurt to have a backup plan either. I did design for almost 10 years before I managed to get an opportunity to work full time in comics. Some artists are talented and lucky enough to get into comic industry right off the bat. But for a lot of us, we will have to work hard at it.
And finally, of course, draw! Definitely draw and draw and draw. :)
Please complete this sentence: Comic Art is…………..
something I'll likely do for the rest of my life be it professionally or simply for fun. Hopefully professionally. :)
A success doesn't come overnight, but it starts with a dream. Find your dream; your passion and work towards it.
Birkbeck, University of London graduate.