When Oswald the Lucky Rabbit retired in 1938, following a nine-year run, Walter Lantz's studio went for months without recurring characters. It wasn't until late 1939, when Lantz had a trip to a zoo. There, the main attraction of the place was a young panda which Lantz drew pictures of. He would then use his drawings to construct a new character.
Andy's first cartoon was the aptly titled Life Begins for Andy Panda in 1939. (This was obvious wordplay on the perky titles of the popular Andy Hardy movies of that era. Coincidentally, a later Andy Hardy film was actually titled Life Begins for Andy Hardy.)
In the first three cartoons of the series, Andy's companion was a feisty turtle named Mr. Whippletree, while Papa Panda—Andy's father—was often the fall guy for their pranks. When the turtle disappeared from the series, Papa began to function as both companion and foil.
Andy was at first a mischievous cub, whose blustery Papa is frequently trying to prove himself as a good role model. Later, Andy became a stand-alone star in the vein of Mickey Mouse, and even acquired a Pluto-like dog named Milo as a pet.
The 1940 Andy Panda short Knock Knock featured the first appearance of Lantz's most famous character, Woody Woodpecker.
By 1942, Andy Panda started wearing clothes and shoes in Nutty Pine Cabin. The character was then given a major overhaul by director Shamus Culhane for the 1944 short The Painter and the Pointer, with a far more malicious personality than he had ever shown previously, but this new version was disliked by both Lantz and audiences, and was not used again. Lantz continued to produce Andy Panda shorts until he closed his studio in 1949; Andy's last short was Scrappy Birthday (1949), which featured his girlfriend, Miranda Panda (voiced by Grace Stafford). When the studio reopened in 1951, the Andy Panda series never returned to production.
Andy led a major part of his career in comic books. One early Andy Panda comic book adventure was drawn by Carl Barks (New Funnies 76, 1943). John Stanley also did Andy Panda comic book work.
In two 1943 cartoons, Andy Panda's Victory Garden and Meatless Tuesday, Andy's foil was a nameless rooster. In late 1943, this rooster became Andy's comic book sidekick, Charlie Chicken: "hatched" in NF 79 and rapidly growing into the cartoon model. Stories about Andy's and Charlie's often-bizarre adventures ran for many years. Some were reprinted domestically as recently as the 1990s, and in Sweden as recently as 2001.
Andy also appeared alongside Woody in shorts such as Banquet Busters and Musical Moments from Chopin. He also had a cameo in The Woody Woodpecker Polka with Miranda Panda, Oswald Rabbit, and Charlie Chicken. In print, Andy Panda appeared in a Whitman Publishing 1943–1944 Better Little Book "Andy Panda and Tiny Tom" which differed from the usual Big Little Book format by having art on every page instead of art on alternate pages. Andy was scheduled to appear as a cameo in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the deleted scene "Acme's Funeral".
The character appears in the new Woody Woodpecker series voiced by Scott Weil. Andy also has a more mature voice with a Southern twang in this series.