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Ottawa Artist’s Hip Hop-Inspired Comics Have Captured National Attention

Andy Akangah is an Ottawa-based artist and the Founder/CEO of AKARTS Comics. His work portrays artists and entertainment culture today with a classical comic lens, and has been found in Esquire and Complex Canada. At 17, Andy moved to Ottawa from West Africa, and completed a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing at the University of Ottawa. We sat down with Andy to discuss how he came up with the idea for AKARTS Comics, some of his favourite pieces, and where he wants to see his company go from here.

Photography by Sean Sisk

Where did the idea for AKARTS Comics come from?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was doing at first. I believe that “I want to see it come to life” drives all I do. I’m simply getting things out of my head, as I often say. When I first started learning how to draw pictures on my laptop in 2015, I thought to print them out on paper. When that happened, I thought, now I want to see it blown up on a canvas. I’d save my money to test samples from various places, figure out costs, make mistakes, and see the quality.

Funny enough, I heard about Etsy and wanted to try my luck there, so I hastily uploaded one of my designs and wrote a so-so description, cause again, I just wanted to see what would happen. I got my first sale a few hours later, and I was stunned. It grew well, so I decided to move to Shopify and expand into unique streetwear clothing inspired by hip hop and pop culture.

AKARTS is a play on my initials, Andy Kwame Akangah, and Comics is a nod to my love of comic books and how they have influenced my work. I grew up reading them, flipping through the pages, and I think it’s cool that it’s almost like I’m a publisher now myself. Now, I’m designing comics.

 

What are some of your favourite pieces that you’ve designed?

My work involves bringing together musicians and comic book covers. I think my all-time favourite pieces are Frank Ocean “Blond” and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny,” which have been bestsellers for years now and brought about a lot of growth for me. These pieces blew up on Reddit, Tumblr, and Timothée Chalamet grabbed a Frank Ocean long sleeve. I think what’s so special about these pieces is that they set the tone for the rest of my work. I felt like I was coming into my own. I created something that came naturally to me, portraying rappers as heroes since they were, and still are, heroes to me. They shaped my perspective, sense of self-confidence, and approach to overcoming obstacles.

Aside from that, I believe one of my other favourites has to be The Weeknd’s “Echoes of Abel.” It’s a piece that depicts all eras of the Weeknd, and it was difficult for me at first since every panel had to work together; I wouldn’t know whether this was the case until I was almost done. I had to experiment with colour and visualize the finished piece for a long time before it was completed. These pieces are really fun because you get to play with easter eggs and references I’m fond of.

 

Have you had any artists reach out to you about your work?

Not artists specifically, but I have had record labels like Empire and SALXCO approach me for some projects, and I designed merch art for Palestinian-Chilean singer, Elyanna. It was wonderful to build connections and learn more about the process that goes into this. Hopefully, there are more projects thrown my way.

 

Who are some artists that inspire you?

My favourite musicians are Drake, Kanye, Gunna, and Young Thug. Their tracks are often on repeat and are instant mood boosters. I love artists with a range and don’t just stick to the same flow or beats and are truly versatile.

My favourite digital artists are McFlyy, VanGoathe, RhymezLikeDimez, & Sam Spratt. Their unique style is super inspiring, and to see their growth, showed me that there was not only room for me to improve but endless possibilities for my art to grow. I’m talking about working with brands on so many things: making merch or album covers for musicians or animations for music videos to NFT’s. It motivates me to step out of my comfort zone and spend 30 minutes longer on a piece or send that extra follow-up email. You have to put the work IN until it works OUT.

Your work consists mainly of modern artists. Do you have any plans for a throwback or old-school hip-hop?

My work is inspired by nostalgia and legacy, so it’s something I’m definitely exploring and interested in. I love to juxtapose the past and present and highlight the similarities and differences. For example, I flipped the Outkast – Stankonia album cover, and instead of Big Boi and 3000, I replaced them with Drake and Future. I switched 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Trying cover with 21 Savage. I’d love to work on old-school hip-hop; it’s a matter of what sort of inspiration strikes.

In terms of expansion, where do you want to see AKARTS Comics grow to?

I want AKARTS Comics to be a brand that touches on anything and always doing something dope and creative. I’d love to open a physical storefront, design it intentionally in so many creative ways, come in with my friends, and work on creating more stuff. I’d love to work with artists to design their merch, like their tour visuals, music videos, and everything in between.

I love music so much for its ability to help us get through our day-to-day, whether it’s a great day or a bad day, so it’d be an honour of mine to support musicians. I’d love to collaborate with brands on clothing or installations. I’d love to design comic book covers for Marvel and DC or create animations for studios. I honestly think the sky’s the limit. I don’t shy away from challenges, and I’m always looking to learn something new to increase my skill set.

At what age did you move to Ottawa, and how did you enjoy growing up here?

I moved to Ottawa at 17 to attend the University of Ottawa, and it didn’t take too long for me to understand how much drive and talent there is in this city. I believe we are a city of underdogs compared to Montreal or Toronto, and I prefer being an underdog; it makes the story that much more enjoyable. I came here from Benin, West Africa; the city welcomed me and provided every way for me to flourish. From NRML allowing me to have two pop-ups on Rideau Street, to be able to befriend and connect with so many local creatives, it’s truly a blessing.

 

You received a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing from the University of Ottawa; how did you like that experience?

I’m a self-taught artist, and I imagined that with enough YouTube tutorials, a stubborn streak, and a genuine interest in learning, I could figure out this art thing on my own. I wanted to learn marketing to promote myself and the brand. I’m happy to say that it’s been working out. I’ve learned how to improve my website, design digital ads, connect with my customers and grow steadily over the years. AKARTS Comics now serves customers worldwide.

 

What do you like to do around Ottawa when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I love checking out food spots, going on late-night walks, and shooting portraits.

 

Where can people find you and your work?

I’m incredibly grateful for the growth. If you’re interested in checking out my work, it’s all happening on Instagram: @theakarts and my website: www.theakarts.com

Direct Message me anytime to discuss music and art. I appreciate the support, and this city inspires me so much; I only hope to repay the favour.

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