Conversations with Comic Book Creators #2.1 – HEROES of the WORLD: Mark Williams & Joe Osei Bonsu

HoTW bannerGentlemen! Always a pleasure!! I recall first meeting you a little over three years ago. If I’m not mistaken, it was at Gotham Central. Perhaps for Free Comic Book Day 2012?

(Joe) Yes!! It was FCBD. We were featured with Spent Pencils and we’re also members of that group.

Spent PencilsBeing a full-on comic book geek, I was going to ask you your secret origin but issue #2 gave me that coveted info. Nevertheless, I can’t ignore my curiosity. Tell me more!!

HoTW Mark & Joe's stylized signature(Mark) About ourselves or issue #2? Oh ok! My origin origin?

Yes! The real you!!

(Mark) Well, when I was in high school, I was a professional dancer. After that, I went into acting and background performing. I went to Humber College for Graphic Design part-time and then went to Sheridan College for Animation, Illustration, and Computer Animation. That’s where I learned to do mostly the artwork you see inside the books. I decided to do that because I liked creating worlds and stories. The way to do those things is from a blank slate, sort of like writing. You create things just by making them come out. I still do the dancing, modelling and background work on the side and I do self-promotion for any kind of products from Nintendo to Telus, depending what’ll be in Toronto. It helps me in talking about our own brand because promoting someone else’s brand will train you to promote your own stuff. It’s sort of a catch-22 😉

WOW! That’s impressive!! The dancing part…Did that help you illustrate the battle scenes?

(Mark) You know what?? Yeah! It’s actually true because usually when I’m thinking of a shot or a scene I’m focusing on the movement by acting it out. Dancing is acting as well. When you look at your moves and what you’re doing, it can go into the artwork.

Are you born Canadian? What is your ethnic background?

(Mark) I was born Canadian but my mom is from Barbados and my dad is Guyanese. I’m three different things but I’m mostly Canadian.

You were born here in the T-Dot?

(Mark) I was born in Toronto, raised in Mississauga.

HoTW Mark Williams bio

Perfect! Joe, what about you?

(Joe) I crash landed here from a distant planet. I was found by two Guyanese…NO! That’s BS!! Like Mark, I have this immense passion for comic books and arts and cartoons ever since I was five or six. It even goes further than that, you know what I mean? My brothers and I, we were always glued to our TV watching either MuchMusic or Saturday morning cartoons (Thundercats, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe) and that’s what inspired me to draw comic books. I remember as young as four, I would go into my brother’s room and steal his comics, take the books beside me and copy them image per image. My parents saw this and thought best to enrol me in art classes. I think I did those from the time I was eleven, twelve. I just kept with it. In high school, I kept drawing. That’s how I met Mark. He was one of THE GUYS. One of the top artists. I was trying to get where he was.

In Art Club?

Art Club. Yearbook. He was always drawing for the yearbook.

(Mark) There was a guy on top of us.

(Joe) There was another dude. There was him and another guy named Sketch.

(Mark) Sketch One. I was trying to copy him and … [laughter]

(Joe) I was trying to get where Mark is because I was working on the yearbook. I remember showing my stuff to Mark and he was like ‘Yo! This is some good stuff!’

(Mark) I didn’t know Joe. I didn’t compare him to the art. I didn’t distinguish between the two since I never saw him and his work together. I was like ‘Who’s drawing this?’

(Joe) No one really knew who I was.

(Mark) He was like Batman! [laughter]

(Joe) Yeah!! I just drew stuff and left!

(Mark) Ready to go!

HoTW Joe Osei Bonsu bioVery low-key.

(Joe) That’s how we kept it. I started taking it seriously when we got to Sheridan. This very location, I used to work here. That’s how I got together with Mark. We both found out here while I was working, Mark came by and told me he got into Sheridan College. Oh, snap!! So did I! Wicked!! Let’s do this!! Together! It was this bond. This brotherhood grew since then. We kept working together and met another good friend of ours, Aaron Ong a.k.a. Madd Sketch. We all formed a group of local artists.

But he’s not that Sketch guy 😉

(Joe) [laughter] We were called Studio DYV. He started off as Black Dog Squad which evolved into Studio DYV. We ended up working on small projects here and there. I think around 2005, in the midst of that, Mark and I started Heroes of the World.

(Mark) It was called Heroes of the Caribbean at the time. Actually, Joe drew characters from Africa [laughter] It should’ve been called Heroes of Africa but it was a random idea.

HoTW Caribbean(Joe) Why it was called Heroes of the Caribbean. Starting with Captain Ghana, Mark came over to my place one time saw what I drew and inquired about it. He was pitching me an idea his sister had for us to do artwork at the Caribana parade with these kids wearing hats displaying the different Caribbean flags.

(Mark) Even keychains, or face paint. She said “Do something! Make some money!” That’s all that was in my head. ‘Oh, we gotta make some money. The thing is we were going to raise money. I used to work in Visual Effects. I worked at Soho VFX in downtown Toronto. They worked on Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men: The Last Stand. I wanted to make a better demo so we had to raise money. I said “Yo, Joe! Let’s do some super-heroes from the Caribbean” and just like that…

(Joe) It evolved into these characters. Mark did his set. I would do mine. I remember the day that we went to Caribana, we went to Business Depot first down the street, printed off hundreds of these characters…

(Mark) Jamaica Man! [laughter]

HoTW Caribana Toronto(Joe) I was thinking: it was the day before or the week before, we had bought lawn chairs and tables prior to that. We took everything on public transit!

(Mark) The suitcases we made like backpacks. [laughter] This is insane! We had to find a place to stay. I said “Joe! Garbage! Everyone throws their stuff in the garbage!” We set ourselves up near the garbage. That way, people had to pass by us. [laughter]

That’s quite the ploy. Therefore, you’ve been at this ten years.

(Joe) Yeah, ten years. Ten years.

You met in high school so maybe another…same time?

(Joe) Fifteen. I would say fifteen.

(Mark) With Heroes of the Caribbean, when we first started we only did Jamaica Man. He did Trini Woman and Little Trini Boy. I did Trinidad Boy and just to say how random it was, he did Jamaica Man and I did Jamaica Boy. We weren’t planning. We were just making it.

(Joe) It was something we wanted to do to make money.

(Mark) But people wanted to see Jamaica Woman. We looked at each other and said “We don’t know!” Everyone wants to be part of this product. To make everyone happy, we should have a boy, a woman, a girl, and a man. It actually worked out because in our story it’s sort of like Teen Titans meets the Avengers, almost. We added our main character Oreh Gaia which is the fifth element. If you watch The Fifth Element the movie, you have earth, wind, fire, water, and then…

The fifth element is Love!!!

HoTW elements(Mark) Exactly! There you go!! [laughter] Captain Planet!

I’m a geek too, eh!

(Mark) Captain Planet! [laughter]

That’s quite the story. Joe, it says here you’re born in North York.

(Joe) Yes, I am! Yes, I was. It’s crazy, I was born near York University. We were surrounded by family. My uncle on my dad’s side was living around there. Relatives on my mom’s side were living there too. One day, my parents decided to move to Mississauga! From ’87, I’ve been here ever since.

(Mark) That’s good that he moved here because otherwise this would never happen.

Everything happens for a reason! Sidenote: in terms of where here is, we’re at a Tim Hortons coffee shop (it can’t get more Canadian than that)…

(Joe) Tim Hortons/Wendy’s! I actually used to work at this Wendy’s as the cleaning guy. Honestly, it was the best and worst time in my life.

It was a part-time job.

(Joe) Yeah, a part-time job.

It wasn’t forever.

(Joe) It wasn’t a career. It was a means to an end. I wasn’t really serious about it.

(Mark) It was something to do.

And you weren’t, uh, flipping burgers? [sarcasm]

(Joe) NO! I was cleaning everyone’s mess, everyone’s garbage.

How about you, Mark?

(Mark) I worked down the street. From where we are, turn left. It’s FedEx. I was working there and Joe was here. I was storing boxes and he was cleaning floors.

(Joe) We all had to start somewhere.

That’s very true! I had my share of part-time jobs that I did not enjoy.

(Mark) It’s something you need to do.

That’s right! The rest is history!!

(Joe) The only thing that I don’t like is that this trend still happens in the Arts. I wish it’d be something that ceases.

(Mark) Stops!

(Joe) I think it’ll end when people start truly embracing artists.

(Mark) Art is everywhere anyways. If you want a cell phone, you need to design it first. You need a drawing. People have to understand that everything that you see, that you’re using: the cell phone, the coffee cup, even the laptop…That’s all drawn first before it’s actually created.

Absolutely true! When did this comic exactly begin? What’s the frequency of the publication?

(Joe) 2009. It began prior to that.

(Mark) Oh yeah! 2007.

HoTW #1(Joe) We tried working on the story by drawing it first then getting back to it later. We were preoccupied with another project with another company. That’s a long story. Once that ended, we focused on Heroes of the World. Around that time we ran into Shawn.

(Mark) We knew him before. 2008, me and Joe went to Carabana. He said he wanted to help us. We were going back to the idea of the comic book around 2009ish. When we were working with that other company, we didn’t tackle it full on. Shawn was wondering about us. Just like a machine: if you don’t have one thing done, nothing else will happen!

I love that analogy!! I never thought of it that way.

(Mark) It’s a car. You need oil to run the car. You need someone to steer the wheel. You need someone to rev the engine. To make a comic, you need the writer, artist, etc.

The letterer. The editor.  

(Mark) You need all those people.

Therefore, with six issues out when did the last one actually see print?

(Joe) The last one was May…

(Mark) This year. Even though it says 2014 on it.

HoTW #6I understand that it’s an independent work and you have your own printing company or whoever is helping you out in that way. I was just wondering since I was able to read FIVE out of the six…

(Mark) It’s good that we’re doing this interview now with you having read five books because in the beginning, we had nothing. There’s something you can go through and understand how the story is advancing with the characters.

You’re both listed as co-founders and illustrators. Who does what exactly?

(Joe) We both share the duties. Mark will take half the book, pencil and ink it. I’ll take half the book and do the same thing. Mark is good with special effects and sprucing up the images. I leave that to him.

HoTW Oreh Gaia divided(Mark) Joe is really fast at drawing. If I need him to do an image of Oreh punching someone a certain way I’ll act out the part and Joe will draw that. Done! We work here and there with the whole book. It’s funny – the first book was drawn by Joe and coloured by me. Joe did the flat colours and I did more to them. Once we learned what we did with the first one, Joe suggested we do it in pieces. As soon as we hit the second book, when the scientists were looking for the ancient power, that’s when I began illustrating more. From book three, we started cutting in half. It works better this way because if I do the beginning, I can take some pieces and integrate them into Joe’s so they look seamless.

(Joe) Rather than two different artists working on something.

(Mark) Why does it look so different? [sarcasm]

Interesting that you mention that specific word. I was going to say that to me it looks indistinguishable. Is that a good thing that I notice that?

(Mark) As one person, right?

(Joe) That’s good! That’s good! That’s the idea!!

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The styles are the exact same. That’s why I wanted to know who does what. Since you mentioned FX, can you show me an example of that? Like when they yell the word or something along those lines?

(Joe) Issue five has one of the best. Example: Omega Saviour.

(Mark) Pencils by Joe. I start to make the lightning, the shocks, the smashes. Joe starts adding the visual FX like when they say “Dark Punch!”

Even the blurred lines…

(Mark) Yeah, blurred lines, streaks…All those things.

That’s Joe’s department, or yours?

(Mark) Joe put the streaks but I added more to it. More filters on top. If you go to this book as well (#5) Oreh Gaia being reborn, I put in the symbols and clouds to make the images pop out more.

Omega Saviour vs. Oreh 1Omega Saviour vs. Oreh 2Omega Saviour vs. Oreh 3When you were saying you each work on half, does that mean you do ten pages, and he does ten pages?

(Mark) When you get to book six, up to this part [no spoilers!] I did one, Joe the other.

That’s more or less halfway through.

(Mark) Exactly!! That’s how we do it now. Half-half. To make Oreh look consistent, I’ll take older pieces, like Photoshop cut and paste, and edit them. Like animation. That’s what I learned in that field.

HoTW Oreh GaiaEven looking at these two pages, they are the exact same!! You are one person!!

(Joe) We want it to be homogenous.

Perfect!!

(Mark) It looks like a cartoon.

Let me ask you this ‘off-camera’ so to speak: Number six the final chapter??

(Joe) No. It’s going to continue.

(Mark) Me and Joe planned it as books one to four, the first season. Books five to eight, the second; books nine to twelve, the third. We’re trying to do it like a trade paperback.

(Joe) We’re doing it like a graphic novel. Every four issues.

HoTW posterI was going to guess twelve as the final number for the first ‘chapter’.

(Joe) Keep in mind it is.

(Mark) It is. We have that idea right now but it depends on the writer. In book six, we weren’t planning the origin story. We were moving on to the next country. The writer wanted to take it back and figure out Oreh’s motivations. That’s why it’s good to have a writer or another person looking from the outside of mine and Joe’s collaboration. He questions Oreh’s actions. Having a Peter Parker moment or Batman moment.

I also hope going forward it’s not always going to be the origin…

(Mark) No, no, no. You know how in ARROW they have flashbacks? If you need something that requires clarification. A lot of our readers will ask why certain things happen. I don’t like watching a movie that has a huge plot hole. We have reasons but not much time to throw them into the book.

(Joe) A lot of comic books end up doing that. Take X-Men for example from the 60’s. They would go on various missions but the character development slowly started during subsequent issues. That’s the approach we’re going with.

(Mark) Video games do that as well with DLCs.

I noticed by issue #3 that Oreh is “hero” backwards. I slap myself for not realizing that sooner!!

(Mark) Oh! There you go! How did you know that? [laughter] Wait a second! When did you see this? [laughter]What part was that? [laughter]

It came to me once his secret origin was presented. Did you also know that Oreh is a village in Krumovgrad Municipality, Kardzhali Province, southern Bulgaria. It’s also a walnut. Did you know this??

HoTW Oreh's origin(Joe) Another person mentioned that to us, exactly how it’s spelled.

(Mark) That person said ‘walnut’. I didn’t know about Bulgaria. Walnut works too because Oreh…

His personality?

(Mark) Yeah, he’s a nut in the head. No. [laughter] He’s the seed that connects everyone. Whoa! I didn’t even think of that!!

Was that intentional?

(Mark) No. That’s the thing! Even though it’s random, somehow it all ties in together.

Yes, it does. It’s called coincidence, I suppose. [sarcasm] Hero backwards. I’m right, aren’t I?

(Mark) Yup, yup. You are right. And Gaia Mother Earth. He is a seed.

Oreh Gaia in and out of costumeYou were reading my mind because that was going to be my next point. Gaia is a variation of “Gaea” a.k.a. Mother Earth. I’m sure that designation was deliberate.

(Mark) Yeah. We were trying to find a last name. Earth? No! Gaia sounds better.

Even Oreh is an awesome name! It has an African sound to it.

(Mark) No spoiler but he’s from the origin of man where all the countries were one.

Pangaea!

(Mark) Exactly! He’s somewhere from Africa. He’s a mix of everybody.

PangaeaSegue!! You definitely cover the entire globe!! Never having liked Geography and having been horrible at it, I appreciate the info on the countries from each continent. Seeing those blurbs has stirred an interest in vexillology.

(Mark) What does that mean?

Vexillology is the study of flags.

(Mark) Oh! That’s new!! See? We’re learning things!

I’m not that big on flags but now I’m going to start learning and be able to identify.

(Joe) I was never big on flags either until we got on to this project.

(Mark) It teaches you how the world works by having fun with it. I’m not giving any promo here but there’s a channel I got into after since they talk about flags. It’s Geography Now on YouTube. The host breaks down pieces of the flag. From doing this, I find other channels and realized what I was learning.

There’s also Big Bang Theory with Sheldon doing his “Fun with Flags” segments.

(Joe & Mark) [laughter]

(Mark) Everything is connected somehow.

It is!! Truly, as I said, I will get into this. Even though I may identify a country by name, the little tidbits you throw in there, the factoids. That’s quite educational!! I read through all of them. Except for #6 because I never got it 😉 [I read it just before this interview was conducted]

(Mark) I’m still trying to figure out what to do with Canada. Not to sound controversial nor confusing, but certain sites have their take on the origins of the flag and what it stands for. One site claims that the red represents the British, the white represents the French, and the maple leaf represents the native land.

HoTW #1 countriesHoTW #2 countries

 

 

 

 

 

HoTW #3 countries 1HoTW #3 countries 2

 

 

 

 

 

There are 200 countries presently on planet Earth. Can you list all the heroes you’ve created??

(Mark) Say what?!? [shocked look] [laughter]

(Joe) Truly?? For each character?? [shocked look]

(Mark) If I had to, I’d look at a website. [laughter]

(Joe) UUUUHHHHH [worried look] To be honest with you, I couldn’t. I’d have to have some kind of reference.

HoTW #4 countries 1HoTW #4 countries 2HoTW #4 countries 3

 

 

 

 

 

(Mark) We’d have to look back at our roster. The only reason is when we sell our stuff people inquire about our knowledge. We are only aware of the ones that sell the most products. Portugal, Barbados, Trinidad, Ghana. For those and others, people come to us. For Europe it’s Portugal and Italy, mostly.

I’m glad Portugal is there J [wide smile]

(Mark) On a rare occasion, it might be Greece or even Netherlands or Spain. Portugal and Italy dominate!

HoTW #5 countriesAll right!!  

(Mark) For South America, it’s Guyana which is shocking because I thought it’d be Brazil.

Yeah! It’s the biggest country…

(Mark) But Guyana is the one that sells the most. Chile is second. That’s very strange. The perception is Brazil. For the Caribbean, it’s Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados. The others are spread out. For Africa, it’s Ghana and Nigeria. Sometimes, Ethiopia and Eritrea which is weird since they’re very small. [laughter] We don’t know whenever we go to conventions.

HoTW #6 countries 1HoTW #6 countries 2Tune in tomorrow for part two, faithful readers!!