Based in Canada’s capital, Andy Akangah turns rappers like The Weeknd and Drake into art ripped from a comic book. With his AKARTS brand, he turns those pieces into drops of products including t-shirts, hoodies, stockings and other accessories.
His work is so impressive that it caught the attention of Timothée Chalamet, who wore the AKARTS Frank Ocean T-shirt, sparking sales and counterfeiting, shared with The Weeknd his After hours art on his Instagram, and Rick Ross shares his artistic catch on the rapper with Drake on Hot ones.
With AKARTS set to release more products soon, we caught up with the artist to talk about streetwear in Ottawa, dreamy collaborations, and making rappers the hero of the story.
What does the streetwear scene in Ottawa look like right now?
He emerges and strides forward. I had a few pieces in the streetwear store NRML. I applied to work there and the owner was doing the maintenance. I brought my portfolio and he said we should showcase my work in the store. I emailed him later and asked if he was serious about this. He said yes, so we had two pop-ups in 2019 that went really well.
It was beautiful to see people lining up and walking in. I was there all day and things sold. But I would say the scene there is big, with NRML in the foreground and more venues emerging. I can’t wait to see what’s next and be a part of it.
“Every time an album comes out, I listen to it and I try to imagine what that album would be like if you could capture it and turn it into a comic book or manga cover. I try to be rapper. the hero of the story because they are.
Your brand is a combination of your love for music and graphic novels. What captured your imagination about graphic novels?
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 related to it. I got into manga and comics, looking at different art styles, colors, brush strokes. It’s fascinating.
In college I had a computer with Photoshop. It was another love of mine, and I was amazed at what he could do. Fast forward to 2015, I had a tablet that I could draw on on my computer. I started to draw and realized that I made the musicians the hero.
The more you look at the art, the more you see the finer details. How the strokes get smaller for different movements, and you learn to use color in terms of contrast. It’s a whole different world.
And music obviously also plays a big role.
My work depends on the artists who make new music. Every time an album comes out, I listen to it and try to imagine what that album would be 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 create alter egos.
I also work from clips that the artist took out of the album or the album cover itself so that it doesn’t feel separate. It should be consistent and interpreted as a manga cover.
How does your process work for these parts?
It starts with a lot of research. I want my work to evoke something familiar but foreign. I want to put my twist on it. When I find something that I can work from, I make models and a collage to see if the ideas work together. Then I draw it, color it in, and those steps come with the music. I normally do my job at night, when I feel like I’m the only one awake.
What do you currently offer at AKARTS?
I started selling canvas prints around 2016. It went well so I decided to get into clothing. My graphic t-shirts were taken from earlier work I had done, but reimagined for t-shirts. I called him Pilot. It went well so since then I’ve been creating essentials.
From last year I wanted to take it a step further so I reached out to vendors and created models of sweatpants, tote bags, jackets, and had a summer drop with it. more accessories. Some pieces have been out for a while but it’s interesting to reimagine them and adapt them in different ways.
Your work has been recognized by awesome people. Timothée Chalamet recently worn one of your T-shirts.
It was surreal. My friends were responding to people in the comments, asking where the shirt came from. We all woke up early because other people in different time zones were asking us, so we wanted to catch them. It really brought a lot of positive growth to the brand.
With The Weeknd, everything I did at that point had a purpose. I created an animation and saved songs because I really wanted him to see it. I like the visual and overall concept of After hours. So I posted it, I tagged his fan pages and the internet worked its magic and he shared it.
Is there someone whose attention you seek next?
Drake, of course. I created an animation for Boy in love certified in January and I still have it on my hard drive. If I never know what to listen to, I listen to Drake. Travis Scott too.
What have you planned that we can look forward to?
I am currently working on my spring / summer collection. For the holidays, I’m planning a series of weekly giveaways that I’ll hand out unique canvas prints in, so keep an eye out for that. I was also recently invited to exhibit my work at an upcoming RAW Artist Showcase here in Ottawa. Their events showcase and promote the work of local artists from various fields, highlighting what makes Ottawa art so special. I am super honored to have been invited!