North Country Artisan - Andy MacDonald
By Garrett K. Woodward
Photos by Damian Battinelli
Eighty years ago, this past June, Superman made his debut in Action Comics (Issue #1). Regarded as the official launching point of the superhero genre as part of American pop culture, a copy of the extremely rare issue sold for $3.2 million in 2014.
And since that issue first appeared in 1938, the image of, and the idea behind, superheroes has grown to mythic proportions — in print, on television, and across the silver screen.
It was a gradual evolution for superheroes and the comic books they resided in — the eternal quest of good defeating evil. Initially, these cartoons seemed like kid’s play, where adults might pick them up out of curiosity or novelty, but not as some kind of quality entertainment.
As things rolled around, comics came to embody the culture of the time, with a prime example being Captain America. The “patriotic super-soldier” appeared, perhaps purposely, just before the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and the country entered World War II — the superhero constantly at battle with the Axis powers throughout the actual time period of the conflict itself.
As the Baby Boomer generation grew up, so did the respectability and maturity of comics and superheroes. The entertainment genre broke into film with Batman remaining a fixture of blockbuster releases dating all the way back to 1943, only to also find “The Caped Crusader” on television sets in various series from 1966 to 2014. Then, you have Superman and all of the iconic films of the 1970s and 1980s, deriving from popular film serials in the 1940s and 1950s and widely-listened to radio broadcasts.
Batman and Superman are classic examples of record-smashing billion-dollar franchises kicking down the doors to spawn dozens of side films through the vast catalogue of characters created by DC and Marvel Comics. Not to mention the influx of graphic novels in recent decades, where the likes of “The Walking Dead” has parlayed itself into a bona fide televised cultural phenomenon.
And the minds behind these stories, characters and designs are folks who grew up just as captivated by comics as those who currently dive deep and immerse themselves in their works.
One of those minds is Andy MacDonald. A 1997 SUNY Plattsburgh graduate with a Bachelor of Arts: Painting & Design, MacDonald has created acclaimed works for DC Comics (Detective Comics “Night of the Monster Man”, Teen Titans “Earth One”, and Justice League of America) as well as Marvel Comics (Miss America 70th Anniversary Special, Multiple Man and The Punisher “War Journal”). This year, he’s also part of the highly-anticipated Marvel Comics release “Infinity Wars: Fallen Guardian” (Issue #1).
North Volume Magazine: How did you go from SUNY Plattsburgh graduate to chasing your dreams in “The Big Apple”?
Andy MacDonald: I wanted to live in New York City since I was in my early teens, but never had any real plans for getting there. It wasn’t until after graduation from SUNY Plattsburgh that I decided to just get there and make a go of it.
A friend from college had moved there a year before and told me about a possible job opportunity doing temp work that would pay enough for me to live there as well as help pay off student loans. It seemed like the best of both worlds — living in NYC and getting out from under a mountain of debt.
Again, there wasn’t a real plan for living or “making it” there, but I thought that I would never know unless I gave it my best shot. It was a daunting prospect, but the economic and personal gains were more valuable than I could have hoped for, and I’m glad that I took the gamble.
NVM: Why comic books? What about the artwork and style of storytelling appealed most to you?
AM: Comic books have always been a wide-open medium for exciting, diverse ways to share ideas, tell stories and entertain. I’ve read comics since my early teens — it may have made an impact on my decision to move to New York — and I’ve always enjoyed that comics offer up a writer’s story, an artist’s imagery, but still leaves plenty of room for the reader to add their own imagination.
After years of studying painting, drawing and design at SUNY Plattsburgh, I realized that I didn’t have to “pick a lane” with comics, and could do all three while telling a story that would cost millions in a medium like film.
NVM: What was your favorite comic book series or superhero? And what about these characters and storylines awoke something within you?
AM: The Incredible Hulk has always been my favorite. There’s an enormous list of other characters that I really like and would love to work on stories for, but The Hulk tops them all. He’s the physical embodiment of not just the frustrations that we can all face, but the fact that reacting to these frustrations can have tremendous consequences to be responsible for.
I think that everyone can relate to the idea of “hulking out”. But it’s making the decision to deal with the root causes of our frustrations in a better way, like Bruce Banner constantly looking for a “cure” to his affliction. As a result, we might just grow as people and find ways to help the people around us instead of adding more obstacles to their happiness.
NVM: In terms of the comic book itself, where does it go from “a thing kids read” to a full-fledged respected art form with no age range, and also beloved the world over?
AM: I’m not sure. Comic books are so broad and dynamic that it’s hard for me to consider them as being a medium for a certain age or person. I suppose it depends on the comics reader or if the person is a comics reader. I suppose it depends on what format media someone enjoys.
I enjoy a variety of media — drawing, painting, film, novels, a host of others — but, for me, comics are the magical combination of a creator’s idea and my reader’s imagination. Someone else might enjoy a certain basketball player’s hero’s journey to vanquish a foe and win the day over in the medium of basketball. People enjoy these stories and pick their format regardless of age.
That said, I think that it is as a respected art form as much as any other art form demands respect. It really depends on the considerations of the audience. Without the collaboration between creator and audience, none of this would ever
NVM: Where does the urge to create come from?
AM: Nothing? I’m kidding, but it’s kind of the case. Any creation comes from some lack and the need to fill that space. There’s a value to being “bored,” not having stimuli or more importantly being free from distraction. There’s heaps of things to distract us, but if we can kind of turn that all off, we can have some time to really think, consider, and just let ideas pop into our heads.
That was, at least I think, the starting point for me wanting to draw. I was raised on a farm, without too much TV or anything, so I had some time to draw. That grew and merged with an enjoyment of comics that made me realize that I could make million-dollar stories on paper.
All that said, I’m totally guilty of absorbing any and all manner of “distraction” like audio books, film and television, having tons of time to listen while I work. It can help to “jump-start” creativity when on a job that might not have otherwise been there. Even after exercise, a pot of coffee and waiting for inspiration, when you’re on a deadline you can’t exactly wait for inspiration to strike.
NVM: How did you get involved with the revival of Marvel’s Multiple Man?
AM: It came up like so many things: out of the blue and after a lot of footwork and bush beating. Persistence! Not every project is right for an artist and sometimes it takes time to catch the one that is best suited for you to work on. Luck plays a big part in it as well. Every new job feels like a lucky break. It’s not often that time and availability work together.
NVM: What projects really stick out when you reflect on where you came from to where you are today?
AM: Ivan Brandon, Miles Gunter and I created NYC Mech almost 13 years ago and it’s still very close to my heart. We may never print more issues of the line, but given the time, I may draw some NYC Mech stories on my own. Like owning a bit of land, we own NYC Mech and can go back in and just do some landscaping or build a skyscraper if we want to.
NVM: What do you think about how big the superhero film franchises have gotten these days?
AM: There’s definitely more saturation these days, but it seems to be driven by a legitimate desire to tell compelling stories with heart and humor. If this wasn’t the case, and it was some campaign to oversaturate the market with manufactured nonsense, none of it would have lasted nearly as long as it has. Personally, I think it’s great. More and more people have a better idea of what it means when I tell them that I draw comics for a living.
NVM: There’s this sentiment around small towns. It’s almost cliché, but also very real, where folks may think you can’t achieve your wildest dreams when you grow up in a rural, isolated area. What do you say to that?
AM: I can have hours-long conversations about this, but I won’t here. I will say, that if someone thinks that “this is where I’ve always been and this is where I will always be,” then they should try anything other than that. If you don’t at least try to do some other thing, that thinking is false.
When I was a kid, I thought I would never be able to ride a bike, and the idea of riding a bike made me very frustrated. That frustration meant nothing until I actually tried to ride a bike. If I didn’t at least give it a shot, I would still probably hate bikes, instead of trying repeatedly and, over time, learning how to ride and enjoying the process.