At first glance, anime and hip hop don’t have much in common, but Andy Akangah effortlessly marries these art forms in his work. His pieces are symphonies of bright colours, big ideas, and even bigger personalities. The Ottawa-based artist launched his brand under the name AKARTS Comic in 2016, selling prints and clothes featuring his drawings of big hip hop names like Drake, Nicki Minaj, and The Weeknd depicted as brave anime heroes.
For Akangah, these art forms couldn’t be more compatible: “Like anime, hip hop is supposed to be larger than life,” he says. “When you listen to the music, it’s always about being bigger than yourself, being so much more than you are because you want to become something great. So my goal is to make Drake or the Weeknd or any other artists be like the hero of the comic book cover or the panel.”
Akangah started small, selling posters and canvas prints on Etsy. “It was really chaotic because everyone wanted different sizes, but it was really, really fun, so I got to understand the demand, what people liked and what they didn’t like,” he says. “I called my first collection a pilot, like when you shoot a TV show. I was like ‘OK, let’s see what happens’, and it went really well, so I just kept making new products.”
It went more than well. Akangah not only received a warm reception from customers all over the world but also soon attracted attention from celebrities like Timothée Chalamet, and even from some of his muses. Shortly after Akangah released a piece featuring Director X, Drake, and Future, Director X ordered a hoodie featuring the design.
“It’s surreal,” says Akangah. “I grew up in West Africa and I came a long way to Canada, and now people are wearing my work around the world. I love that the art was able to reach people in Portugal, in Peru, in Singapore, all over—it’s really, really moving. No matter where you go, there are people that love the same things, and art speaks to people the same way.”
But while his worldwide celebrity continues to rise, Akangah’s heart remains firmly rooted at home. “I have a good reach internationally, but I do want to be more present in my community. So Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal is where I’m aiming to be right now. I want to show people that there are really driven people here in Ottawa, doing their thing. I think that’s really important because I love Ottawa. I think it’s a city full of underdogs who have such a drive to really go above and beyond.”
Akangah regularly posts videos on Tik Tok and Instagram explaining his creative process and sharing drawing techniques with his audience. He hopes that these “behind the scenes” glimpses of his process will allow people to appreciate the work that goes into his designs, and also educate viewers and empower them to realize that with some time and patience, anyone can draw incredible images.
“I love giving back. My work in itself is an homage to the artists and the illustrations that brought me here. If I can pass this on to other people, help them learn how to do art through my videos, that’s amazing,” says Akangah.
This sense of homage runs deeply in Akangah’s work. It’s no coincidence that his creations bring his subjects’ music to life through colour, movement, and thoughtful humour: He always listens to the artists’ music as he works on his depictions of them. “If I’m working on The Weeknd, I’ll listen to The Weeknd. I believe in bringing all my emotions into my work, so having the music with me is very powerful when I do the piece, because I can say that all of my emotions went into that piece.”