Meet the Ottawa Artist Turning Rappers Into Comic Book Superheroes

Based out of Canada’s capital city, Andy Akangah turns rappers like The Weeknd and Drake into art ripped from a comic strip on canvas and clothing.

The Weeknd illustration by Canada's AKARTS

Image via AKARTS

The Weeknd illustration by Canada's AKARTS

Based out of Canada’s capital city, 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 featuring tees, hoodies, bottoms and other accessories.

His work’s so impressive it caught the eye of Timothée Chalamet, who wore the AKARTS Frank Ocean tee, causing sellouts and counterfeits, had The Weeknd share his After Hours art on his Instagram, and Rick Ross share his artistic take on the rapper with Drake on Hot Ones.

With AKARTS set to drop more products soon, we caught up with the artist to talk streetwear in Ottawa, dream collaborations, and making rappers the hero of the story.

Timothée Chalamet wearing AKARTS' Frank Ocean shirt

What’s the streetwear scene like in Ottawa at the moment?
It’s emerging and taking big strides. I had a few pieces in the streetwear store NRML. I applied to work there and the owner was doing the interview. I brought my portfolio and he said we should feature my work in the store. I emailed him later and asked if he was serious about it. He said yes so we had two pop-ups in 2019 that went really well.

It was beautiful to see people line up and come in. I was there the whole day and things sold. But I would say the scene there is important, with NRML at the forefront and more places emerging. I can’t wait to see what comes next, and be part of it.

“Whenever an album drops, I listen to it and try to imagine what would this album 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, trying to stay up late without getting caught. I was so amazed by the emotion, the characters and everything about it. I got into manga and comic books, looking at different art styles, colours, brush strokes. It’s fascinating.

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

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

Akarts images on a wall in a gallery

And music obviously plays a big part as well.
My work is dependent on artists making new music. Whenever an album drops, I listen to it and try to imagine what would this album 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 they create.

I also work from music videos the artist has put out from the album or the album cover itself so it doesn’t feel separate. It has to be cohesive, and an interpretation of it as 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 foreign. I want to put my twist on it. When I find something I can work from I do mock ups and a collage to see if the ideas work together. Then I draw it, colour it, and those steps come with the music. I normally do my work at night, when I feel like I’m the only one awake.

Model in Kendrick Lamar denim jacket

What do you currently have on offer at AKARTS?
I started selling canvas prints around 2016. That went well so I decided to branch out to clothing. My graphic tees were from earlier works I’d done but reimagined for t-shirts. I called it Pilot. It went well so since then I’ve been creating essentials.

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

The Weeknd artwork

You’ve had your work recognized by some impressive people. Timothée Chalametwore one of your T-shirts recently.
That was surreal. My friends were answering people in the comments asking where the shirt was from. We all woke up early because other people in different time zones were asking, so we wanted to catch them. It really brought a lot of positive growth to the brand.

With The Weeknd, everything I was doing at that moment was purposeful. I created an animation and had pieces backed up because I really wanted him to see it. I love the visual and whole concept of After Hours. So I posted it, tagged his fan pages and the Internet worked its magic and he shared it.

Illustration of Drake and Future

Is there anyone you’re looking to catch the attention of next?
Drake, for sure. I created an animation for Certified Lover Boy in January and still have it sat on my hard drive. If I never know what to listen to, I listen to Drake. Travis Scott too.

What have you got lined up we can look forward to?
I’m currently working on my spring/summer collection. For the holidays, I’m planning a series of weekly giveaways in which I’ll be giving away one-of-one canvas prints, so keep an eye out for that. I was also recently invited to have my work displayed at an upcoming RAW Artists showcase here in Ottawa. Their events feature and promote the work of local artists from a variety of fields, highlighting what makes Ottawa art so special. I’m super honoured to have been invited! 

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