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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Andy Belanger: Deadlines and DDTs

When I attend a comic convention, I typically make a beeline to any comic pros who wrote or drew for DC comics during the 1980s and early 90s. Once I've exhausted those avenues, I typically enjoy walking around the con snapping pics of cosplayers and making conversation with any comic book fans -- after all, the whole event is about fandom. I tend to zero in on late Generation Xers or Millennials (so basically, people around my age). I figure that if they're around my age and are attending a comic convention, then they probably grew up absorbing the same pop culture I did, and hence we've got a few things we can reminisce about and get some sort of discourse going.

All this to say, during 2018's Ottawa Comiccon, I stumbled into Andy Belanger totally by accident as I was walking by his table in artist's alley and caught a glimpse of his Swamp Thing print and decided to ask him about it. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, I realized I NEEDED to interview this gentleman. Here is the conversation that ensued:

Andy Belanger at 2018 Ottawa Comiccon. Photo by Justin Francoeur

Justin: So which comics did you grow up reading?

Andy: So, when I was a kid -- and you're talking about comics in the 80s (which was when I got into comics) -- I grew up in a town called Kitchener–Waterloo that's about an hour west of Toronto. There was a second-hand bookstore there called KW Books and they had shelves and shelves with, like, thousands of comics for sale at, like, a quarter a piece. You know what I mean? Like from ten cents to a quarter. I would just buy TONS of them, but I was mostly concerned with monster comics.

From DC, it was Creature Commandos and GI Robot. From Marvel, it was Tomb of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night. And then I would buy Batman. I was always into Batman when I was that age. And those were the books I was into at that age.

Weird War Tales #93 (1980) & Weird War Tales #113 (1982)

Justin: So you would've been a big Universal Studios Monsters fan when you were younger?

Andy: Oh yeah -- massively. So the libraries in Ontario used to sell these orange books -- they were square and had an orange cover -- and they were based on all the Universal Horror films. They were a picture book with words describing what happened in the horror movie. I've been collecting them, since. I actually order them off ebay from old libraries to recollect these orange books -- and they're filled with old black-and-white film stills from the movies. From there, that's what really spawned me into loving monster comics and making monster comics and that kinda stuff.

Andy Belanger's Universal Studios Monster book collection. photo source: Andy Belanger.

Justin: So then you're not so much into the superhero fare, but more into monsters ?

Andy: Well, I'm into superheroes NOW -- I got into superheroes later. After I was sort of into that stuff, I got into [Mark] Bagley's run of Spider-Man and I also got into Thor quite a bit. Around 10 or 11 years old I discovered Heavy Metal Magazine, and from then on ALL superheroes were gone and it was just European -- like Moebius and [Milo] Manara.

Justin: I think it's a common feeling that if you've been reading a specific type of comic for a while, they start to seem slightly formulaic and predictable, and you start getting bored and want to venture out and look for something different...

Andy: Yeah, and I always felt that the European art that you'd get in Heavy Metal was miles better. When I became a comic book artist I didn't understand that an American artist will do 200 to 300 pages a year, whereas a European artist does 40 paintings. SO there's a big difference. Anyways, that was the stuff I was into in the eighties. I'm still an 80s freak -- y'know -- I love the Predator comics, the Aliens comics, the Predator vs Aliens comics, all that stuff from Dark Horse comics.

Justin: The Aliens film franchise... rank the movies.

Andy: The last one was the worst one of the bunch, I think. I preferred Alien Vs Predator to the newest Aliens film. Aliens: Covenant was one of the WORST Aliens films ever made -- everything that had to do with Michael Fassbender (Andy starts punching the table) filled me with rage. The level of stupidity of the characters surrounding HIS character FILLED me with rage. My problem with Prometheus and Aliens: Covenant is the stupidity of the people in it -- they're just TOO dumb. Like, you can't be a scientist and take your helmet off on a strange planet. If I know more about science than the scientists in your movie, you've got a problem. And I can suspend disbelief better than anybody, but that stuff -- I just had NO sympathy for those films. Guys petting a 'space snake' -- "don't worry -- I'm just going to PET it". What?! What?! For me, literally, I think they just keep getting worse with every movie they make -- save Alien 4, because I think Alien vs Predator was a BETTER film than Alien 4.

The comic books are different -- those Aliens and Predator comics (from Dark Horse) I loved when I was a kid. Terminator, Robocop,... I had ALL that stuff.

Andy Belanger Batman '66 art

Andy: I miss magazines, dude. I miss going to the store and picking up Fangoria. I used to go to second-hand bookstores looking for Famous Monsters magazines. Even modern ones like Juxtapose and Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal Magazine is making a comeback, but they're pretty much in comic book stores only. I've worked for them twice last year: I did a story with Grant Morrison, and I did a story [in Heavy Metal #284] with Donny C. Cates and Duncan Trussell.

I used to work for DC quite a bit on Swamp Thing with Scott Snyder, so I would go to the DC parties in New York and Grant [Morrison] would be there and we'd chat. Very cool guy. He's funny. Like, he had me howling. I was on the ground laughing.

Justin: How did you land that Swamp Thing gig?

Andy: It was crazy. Becky Cloonan did some of it (and Becky and I worked together at the time) and Scott liked my art, too. So I did part of the annual, and I did a few issues after that -- but they were all really rush jobs.

Andy Belanger Swamp Thing art. 
Justin: But you knew your Swamp Thing already? You knew this history of the character?

Andy: Well yeah, I knew how to do monster stuff.

Justin: But this was New 52 Swamp Thing, so I guess the previous history didn't matter that much anyway... Did you give much story input to Snyder? Or were you more or less the guy who laid out the panels and the pacing?

Andy: That time Snyder gave pretty bare-bones scripts -- because he was doing a lot of the writing after.

Justin: So the 'Marvel Method', in which he gives you a general idea of the story, let's you illustrate it, and he fills in the words afterwards?

Andy: Well, not completely, because he did include dialogue, but for my first time working with Scott I felt it was a bit more like the Marvel Method.

Andy Belanger Poison Ivy, Swamp Thing and Deadman art

Andy: Following Swamp Thing I went to Image Comics. I started Southern Cross with Image... and I've been working on that for three years. Last year I did two stories for Heavy Metal Magazine (under the new Morrison revamp). I do WWE comics for BOOM studios... because I'm a pro-wrestler.

Justin: What?! Really?! Who are you? What's your wrestler name?

Andy: 'The Animal' Bob Anger is my wrestling name -- my alter ego, if you will. And I wrestle for IWS.

Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. |
Andy Belanger as 'The Animal' Bob Anger. Photo source: Photo © André Lemelin

Justin: I was just wondering about that. You're more fit than most comic book artists...

Andy: yeah... I have to be. Being a wrestler is INSANE. My trainer, Big Magic, is training us -- it's NXE training. Now I'm on this huge health kick, I've lost crazy amounts of weight. I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 25. I'm 40.

It's the most fun I've ever had. I've got a wrestling mask like a luchador. It's nuts. My instagram is mostly art, but if you go to my Facebook, specifically, it's mostly wrestling pics.

I'm in a tag team... my character is a lot like George 'The Animal' Steele. I'm biting people. I've chewed turnbuckles apart. I come out on a chain. I do all that stuff. They bring me out on a chain.

Justin: My guilty pleasure -- on a Friday night when it's too late to go out and do anything, and it's too early for me to go to sleep -- is to search youtube for old WWF wrestling footage from the 80s.

Andy: 80s wrestling is the greatest wrestling of all time. Not only in WWE, but the smaller versions like AWA. That stuff is amazing! Bruiser Brody matches!

Justin: I stopped following wrestling just before The Undertaker started. I can't remember why I dropped it -- maybe I was into something else? But all my memories are of Hulk Hogan and the Rock n' Wrestle era. That's what I grew up with.

Andy: Yeah, that's the BEST stuff. That's my favorite stuff, yeah. When I think about wrestling... I mean, I'm a wrestling STUDENT now. I go through the history, I go through everything, but 80s is still always my favorite.

Justin: So you're a pro-wrestler? Is that your day job?

Andy: Comics is my day job... I'm considered a professional wrestler, but it doesn't bring in enough money. If I want to make money as a professional wrestler, I'd have to travel A LOT. I have a baby and I'm 40 -- I'm not willing to travel a lot. So, I just like wrestling in Montreal and Ottawa. I've wrestled here, in Ottawa, twice.

Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. |
Andy Belanger tagging in Mike Sciascia, Photo source: Photo © André Lemelin

Justin: Has it ever happened that you had to throw down with someone in a bar?

Andy: Like a fight? No. People don't fight me in bars. Since I've moved to Montreal 6 years ago and started wrestling, I think I've almost gotten into 5 bar fights, but it's because I'll stand up (while they're picking on a friend of mine) and they'll just back down. I'll bring out 'The Animal' personae and everything deescalates.

I've been in wrestling matches where the matches turn into a fight.

Justin: For real?

Andy: Yeah, and you don't know what to do. A guy will mess up a move and get really angry and starting punching your face for real.

Justin: What do you do with that?

Andy: I didn't know what to do -- I just acted professional. I continued looking after him -- being gentle -- well, it's not gentle because you're fighting. But I just wanted to be professional and I didn't want to hurt him. And that's the way I took it. But next time that happens I'm going to beat the crap out of them. (laughs)

Justin: Have you gotten badly injured in the ring?

Andy: Oh yeah! Of course! My first 'table' -- I took the wood, snapped back and slashed my face open... it cut my lips open. I broke a rib. I got a REALLY bad black eye in one of my matches... on my own. I had a flag, and I was waving this Canadian Flag (as The Animal) and there was a piece of doweling on it that whipped around and hit me in the eyeball -- before the match. My eye went blood red, blood was pouring out of my face, and I had to do the match. Under my mask was just blood pouring out of me and it was my own fault -- I did it to myself. Actually, I broke my rib myself -- I tripped over my own feet and landed on the rope. Most of the stuff you do as injury sometimes ends up being really small that you did yourself... by accident. But I'm very careful at my age. I don't let people pile-drive me or do anything involving my neck.

Andy Belanger Superman and Batman (with Bane) art

And this was my interview with Andy Belanger. And...whether you're a Swamp Thing fan or wrestling fan... you now realize why I NEEDED to interview him. Andy was super polite and easily the funnest interview I had all weekend at that the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon. Do go up to talk to Andy if you see him at a comiccon, he's a pretty stand-up guy and easy to chat with. 

The above wrestling photos were taken by André Lemelin, and André can be reached at Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. |

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