AT COMIC CONVENTIONS ALL OVER AMERICA, ANDY LEE IS EASY TO SPOT. AMONG ALL THE OTHER ARTISTS, KNOCK-OFFS, AND FANBOYS, JUST LOOK FOR GIANT SHEETS OF SPATTERED RICE PAPER, AND A MAN WITH A HANDLEBAR MUSTACHE COVERED IN INK. WHEN ANDY DOES THE CONS, IT'S LIKE PERFORMANCE ART. PEOPLE GATHER AROUND TO WATCH HIM TURN SPLATTERS INTO FACES, AND SEEMINGLY ABSTRACT BRUSH STROKES INTO SUPERHEROS. ANDY'S WORK WOULD SEEM TO BE MORE AT HOME ON GALLERY WALLS THAN IN THE PAGES OF A COMIC. SO WHAT'S HIS STORY? THE NIGHT WATCHMAN FINDS OUT.
Night Watchman: In my own artwork I've found that sometimes the errant splatter or quick brush stroke sometimes describes an object better and more realistically than a tight drawing with hundreds of lines. You've really tapped into this in your work. How much of it is planning, and how much of it is just letting the ink work for you?
Andy: The traditional technique I was taught allows for no planning. It is more a splatter, and then an interpretation of that. However, we all need to paint on demand to make a living, so I started to develop a mixture of spontaneity and precision.
NW: Do you think this style of art requires more of the viewer, like a Rorschach inkblot, where it is more open to interpretation?
A: Part of the beauty of many forms of art is in the silent or empty parts. This is the hardest thing to learn, but it's necessary to allow the viewer or listener space to inhabit. Otherwise, the piece becomes impenetrable and, thusly, ineffective in stirring any emotions.
NW: I know that your uncle taught you the Cha'an Buddhist splash style. What age were you when you learned this technique, and were you interested in art before then?
A: My mom brought me to the YMCA to learn charcoal when I was in the second grade. After her death in '92 from hepatitis, my dedication towards art strengthened as an ode to her.
NW: Do you sketch anything out in pencil first, or do you go right from brush to paper?
A: No, there is no sketching. If an assignment requires something specific, then I paint hundreds of images until one works-- lots of wasted paper.
NW: What are the benefits of doing art this way?
A: It retains a sense of natural energy and immediacy. It's as natural as habit or reflex. It's the reason why grass grows towards the sun.
NW: You have a BA in Fine Arts with a minor in Biology. What did you think you wanted to do while you were in college, and how did that change?
A: I was going to be a medical illustrator for my traditional Chinese parents, who wanted to be proud of a son who was in the profession of medicine, law, or the like. My work was too loose, so I used the knowledge in another way.
NW: What do you think of the work of people like Jon J. Muth and Greg Ruth? Work that touches on some of the same elements as this tradition?
A: They are great. I look up to them.
NW: Do you find a lot of resistance to the splash style within the comics industry, because it's not seen as "traditional" comic art?
A: There are always traditionalists. But there will always be those looking for a new take on things. The resistance is bearable, though I prefer not to argue with anyone who thinks that what I'm doing is wrong. It's their opinion, and I respect it. I just think I'm right.
NW: I hear you're going to be working on a comic project with David Mack (Kabuki, Daredevil) and the way you're doing it is a little unconventional. Can you tell us a little about it?
A: Sure. It's based on the traditional splash style. The only difference is I've assumed a different identity when I interpret the splashes. That's all I could say. David is busy with Daredevil and the second installment of Kabuki, so our project is currently on the back burner because there is no deadline set. But it will be done.
NW: How did you and David meet?
A: His girlfriend at the time attended the same university I did in St. Louis, Missouri. Our friendship lasted. His relationship didn't.
NW: What other projects have you been working on?
A: I'll be working on Sam and Twitch issues #13 thru #18. Every interior page is painted by me, unlike the few pages I was offered for Ultimate Marvel Team-Ups, #15 and #16.
NW: Were you always interested in doing comics, or was that something that happened later?
A: I was always interested in comics. As for doing comics, no. It just happened that the comic scene is a good way to communicate to the reader what you want to say through image and word. More so than the stigma applied to galleries.
NW: When did you decide to start doing comic conventions?
A: It was never a decision, it just happened after I accompanied David to several of them. At first, I made temporary stamps out of potatoes for people, charging $2 per name. Later, I brought my artwork, and came out as an artist. It was a slow and gradual process.
NW: Are you able to support yourself completely with your art? If not, what else do you do on the side?
A: Yes. I also am working with a band called R.Cue<<, which consists of Chris Wilfong and Jay Smart. I'm a guitarist/vocalist in this band. So far, the band is a deficit, because we are still promoting ourselves. Hopefully, it will become something which could support me soon.
NW: I've seen people gathering around you during the conventions, almost like performance art. How strange was that to have people just watching you "perform" at first?
A: I don't notice them.
NW: Where do you want to go with your work? More comic oriented or gallery work?
A: I'm not sure. The success or failure of supporting myself in the future will determine that.
NW: In your opinion, do dogs have lips?
A: Yes. Because a lip shares the same type of muscle as the anus; dogs have an anus. Therefore,...
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