Meet the Ottawa artist who turns rappers into comic book heroes

Based in Canada’s capital, Andy Akangah transforms rappers like The Weeknd and Drake into art ripped from a comic strip. With his brand AKARTS, he turns those pieces into product drops with T-shirts, hoodies, pants and other accessories.

His work is so impressive that it caught the attention of Timothée Chalamet, who wrote the AKARTS . wore T-shirt Frank Ocean, which caused sales and counterfeits, let The Weeknd be . parts After hours art on his Instagram, and Rick Ross shares his artistic take on the rapper with Drake on Hot Ones.

As AKARTS releases more products soon, we spoke to the artist about Ottawa streetwear, dream collaborations and made rappers the hero of the story.

Timothée Chalamet wearing the Frank Ocean shirt from AKARTS / Image via AKARTS

How is the streetwear scene in Ottawa right now?
It is on the rise and taking great strides. I had a few pieces in the streetwear store NRML. I applied to work there and the owner did the interview. I brought my portfolio and he told us to show my work in the shop. I emailed him later and asked if he meant it. He said yes, so we had two popups in 2019 that went really well.

It was beautiful to see people queuing and coming in. I was there all day and things sold. But I’d say the scene there is important, with NRML at the forefront and more places emerging. Can’t wait to see what comes next and be a part of it.

“Whenever an album comes out, I listen to it and try to imagine what this album would look like if you could capture it and turn it into a comic book or manga cover. I try to make the rapper the hero of the story, because they are.”

Your brand is a combination of your love for music and graphic novels. What is it about graphic novels that captured your imagination?
I was maybe 10, watching Dragon Ball Z and trying to stay up late without getting caught. I was so amazed by the emotion, the characters and everything around it. I started with manga and comic books and looked at different art styles, colors, brush strokes. It’s fascinating.

In high school I got a computer with Photoshop. That was another love of mine, and I was amazed at what it could do. Fast forward to 2015, I got a tablet that I could draw on on my computer. I started drawing and realized that I made musicians the hero.

The more you look at art, the more you see the finer details. How the strokes get smaller for different movements, and you learn how to use color in terms of contrast. It’s a whole different world.

Akarts images on a wall in a gallery
Image via publisher

And of course music also plays a big role.
My work relies on artists making new music. Whenever an album comes out, I listen to it and try to imagine what this album would look like if you could capture it and turn it into a comic book or manga cover. I try to make the rapper the hero of the story, because they are. I love working with The Weeknd, Drake, and I love it when artists have alter egos that they create.

I also work from music videos created by the artist of the album or the cover art themselves so it doesn’t feel separate. It has to be cohesive and an interpretation of it like a manga cover.

How does your process work for these pieces?
It starts with a lot of research. I want my work to evoke something that feels familiar yet strange. I want to put my spin on it. When I find something I can work with, I create mockups and a collage to see if the ideas work together. Then I draw it, I color it and those steps belong to the music. Normally I do my work at night, when I feel like I’m the only one awake.

Model in Kendrick Lamar denim jacket
Image via AKARTS

What do you currently have to offer at AKARTS?
I started selling canvas prints around 2016. That went well, so I decided to focus on clothes. My graphic T-shirts were from previous works I had made, but redesigned for t-shirts. I called it Pilot. It went well, so I’ve been making essentials ever since.

Since last year I wanted to go harder, so I contacted suppliers and created sweatpants designs, tote bags, jackets, and I had a summer break with more accessories. Some of the pieces have been out for a while, but it’s interesting to rethink and adapt them in different ways.

The Weeknd Artwork
Image via Instagram

Your work has been recognized by some impressive people. Timothy Chalamet recently wore one of your T-shirts.
That was surreal. My friends answered people in the comments asking where the shirt came from. We all woke up early because other people in different time zones were asking for it, so we wanted to get them. It has really brought the brand a lot of positive growth.

With The Weeknd, everything I did at the time was purposeful. I made an animation and had pieces backed up because I really wanted him to see it. I like the visual and whole concept of After hours. So I posted it, tagged his fan pages and the internet did its magic and he shared it.

Illustration of Drake and Future
Image via Akarts

Is there anyone you want to draw attention to next?
Drake, sure. I made an animation for Certified Lover Boy in January and still have it on my hard drive. When I never know what to listen to, I listen to Drake. Travis Scott too.

What do you have in store for us to look forward to?
I am currently working on my spring/summer collection. For the holidays, I’m planning a series of weekly giveaways where I’ll be giving away one-of-one canvas prints, so stay tuned. I was also recently invited to feature my work at an upcoming RAW Artists showcase here in Ottawa. Their events showcase and promote the work of local artists from a variety of fields, highlighting what makes Ottawa’s art so special. I’m super honored to be invited!

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