Noir After the Marine Corps: An Interview with Author and Artist Matt Andrew

veterans can succeed in creative fields
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Retired Marine Officer, Matt Andrew is a self-taught artist and published author of over seventeen short stories. Known for the classic pulp novel feel to his artwork, his graphic design crosses both traditional and digital mediums. His art often shows up alongside his short stories where he showcases his talent for noir and horror fiction. I sit down with Matt to get some insight on his work and for advice on how veterans can succeed in creative fields.

Matt Andrew is a towering stoic, who gives little away but sharply dissects the room, a habit I assume is embedded from his military police days. I make a joke, there is a pause and I’m pretty sure he’s about to stab me for failing to be funny, then I realize, he’s actually considering my words carefully, thinking about the context. He cracks a smile and laughs. His sudden good humor is infectious.

After twenty years in the Marine Corps, Matt has moved into retirement with newfound success in both the realms of creative writing and art. He’s a study on how veterans can succeed in creative fields. His short fiction can be found in small press journals and anthologies, with a focus on the noir genre. His work is striking, dark, and often meditative.

My fiction tends to focus on good people who do bad things, or regular people thrust into impossible situations—very much the basic definition of “noir” fiction. Black and white characters, in terms of how “good” or “bad” they are, isn’t the best way to examine the decisions and actions people resort to when their back is against the wall. I’d like to think that any time you try to get at the honest yet contradictory core of a human being, then the story will always be a step ahead in terms of defying norms.

When it comes to Matt’s artwork, there little difference in his approach. With a particular love for pulp covers, he’s drawn to dark subject matter, yet simultaneously has established a body of work that is reflective and detailed. I ask him about how he sees his art and where it is going.

Like my writing, my art tends to gravitate toward the dark side. Lately I’ve let my art turn more inward in order to examine my own issues and struggles. I can easily spend the next decades of my life doing countless nude life drawings or landscape renderings, but when I’m gone it’s not much of a legacy that I’ve left behind. While those forms of art are great practice and have helped other artists become world renowned, I decided recently that my own art needs to be a visual autobiography or introspection.

So where is he going from here? Matt’s creative career has bloomed. From his cover art at Rooster Republic Press and Pantheon Magazine to short fiction publications with magazines such as Dark Moon Digest, where’s Matt going next?

Art has been a bit easier in the goals department. I’ve already achieved one goal in that my first cover artwork has been released—a horror title from Rooster Republic Press. I hope to slowly add onto that portfolio and get some exposure at other presses as well, this year. As far as my traditional art, I plan on finishing an entering a few charcoal and pencil drawings into some high-vis contests by year’s end. Ultimately, I’d like to see those endeavors gain me more commissions and time in galleries.

Goals have been a bit more of a challenge in my writing, possibly because it’s a much longer process than art, at least in my case. I have a lot more ground level improvement to make before long works of fiction are getting out on the street. I have a few other novel ideas in my head, so as a goal I’d like to see those being committed to paper by the end of the year. Past that, it’s hard to say.

But how did he get here? Art and the military seem to be strange bedfellows. Yet for Matt, the world are quite separate but not mutually exclusive. I asked him if his time in the service inspired and stifled his creative mind.

I wouldn’t say it was exactly “stifled” me, but my creative output was very low for most of my time in the military. The thing about being a Marine is that it takes so much time and energy to live up to both the tangible and intangible standards they expect, that a lot of personal endeavors have to take a back seat for a while. It’s just one of the sacrifices that comes with being in such an elite cadre of warfighters. And that’s not even considering all the deployment and field time, military training, and long hours of “day on, stay on” garrison duties. I snuck some drawing and writing in when I could, but more often than not, my time was spent in all the nuts and bolts involved with being a Marine (as well as having a young family).

What advice would you give to veterans interested in pursuing creative work? How can veterans succeed in creative fields?

If you have a passion for something, you find the time. You get up early, stay up late, use your lunch break at work. You can draw while you’re waiting for your car to get the oil changed. You can bring you lunch to work and write when you’re done eating, instead of wasting time going to McDonald’s or wherever. If you’re spending your nights binge-watching Orange is the New Black, but then asking people how to find time to write/draw/etc, then there’s a problem. You need to reprioritize what’s important in your life. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few TV shows I spend a lot of time with, and I don’t get a whole lot of sleep. Figure out where you have your own fluff in your daily routine. I believe that if the passion is there, you’ll find the time, somewhere. Just an hour a day is all you need.

Take advantage of EVERY resource available when you are transitioning out. Find time to practice and hone your art—and prioritize that time. Connect with other like-minded artists. Those two steps are critical. Once you do those, I believe success is inevitable.

Despite popular opinion, there’s no crying in art, if you love it, just get out there and take care of business. Matt is clearly driven and taking no prisoners. That last bit, “Once you do those, I believe success is inevitable,” that’s why I think we’ll be seeing Matt’s work for a long time. Not to forget to mention how invaluable that advice is… no excuses, put your mind and energy toward what you want.

Finally, I ask him the most vital of all questions: Pizza, tacos or ice cream?

It would be a showdown between a REAL New York slice and rocky road ice cream.

You can follow Matt Andrew’s publications via Goodreads and learn more about his art at his website: Verboten Valley Art. Instagram: @killer_kadoogan


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