Conversations with Comic Book Creators #2.2 – Joe Osei Bonsu & Mark Williams: HEROES of the WORLD

[Welcome back, readers! Here is the second and final part of this informative interview!!]

The reason I ask: I saw you two at Niagara Falls Comic Con. I wanted to just chit-chat. Nothing official. But I couldn’t because of the one guy from Costa Rica taking up ALL…

HoTW Niagara

IMG_2162(Joe & Mark) He was from Puerto Rico!

Sorry! Puerto Rico!! [sarcasm] HOLY!! I walked around a good half-hour, forty-five minutes. I came back and he was STILL THERE!!!

(Mark) You never know who’s gonna be there.

I looked at Steve, my editor. We were both thinking “Are you for real?” I say I’m a nerd but even so… My God!

IMG_2164(Joe) He bought a lot of stuff from us.

(Mark) He was very passionate about his country. He was very knowledgeable and was telling us every single thing. But it’s okay. Hearing about the land, we retain more info. For example, you have a frog named Coquí. Sometimes it’s good to hear things. Other times, you gotta go! Scram!!

IMG_2167That’s what I saw. I knew you couldn’t just stay talking to him because you wanted to tend to other people.

(Joe) It’s funny. He did bring customers.

(Mark) I almost forgot! Oceania. What sells the most for that continent is New Zealand, not Australia. Another small country!

We make all these assumptions. Bigger is not always better.

(Joe & Mark) [uproarious laughter]

Pun intended!! Mark, you must be on my psychic wavelength because my next point is this: You have tons of merch!! How successful is your enterprise?

HoTW ad for merch 2(Joe) I’d say it’s super-successful. Every time we go to the cons, we have this amazing following. We have our regulars as well as new people. Those are astounded by what they see. They have a compulsion to buy a shirt and they embrace it wholeheartedly.

IMG_2168(Mark) That comes with the Puerto Rican guy! [laughter] That was his very first con.

Maybe it was his first time in Canada. Who knows?

(Mark) Probably first time for everything!! [laughter]

(Joe) The highlight of that would have to be Montreal. Everybody was just crazy.

(Mark) They were just throwing it out there (¢a$h)

HoTW MontréalSpeaking of Montreal, and our homeland, is Kitana your only Canadian representation?

(Mark) You mean the model? Well, the funny thing about her…She’s not really our spokesperson anymore. We’ll still put her in a book because she was one of our first customers helping us sell our stuff. She’s doing her own thing. She shows that you can be your own hero.

HoTW KitanaA lot of people always want their own hero or themselves as super-heroes. Kitana is an example of that. Many remark that Marvel and DC don’t do that. Only Heroes of the World! We’ll customize your hero. No! You are the hero!!! It doesn’t matter if you want it to be from your country or reflective of yourself.

(Joe) You are THE hero of the world.

HoTW ad for merchHoTW ad for merch 2In real life, we are! Just not with costumes 😉 I will chime in the Azores. You have a T-shirt for that archipelago?

(Mark) Aza-who??

The Azores.

(Mark) Yeah, we do have an Azores hero. We’re doing the smaller regions associated with a country but they’re…

Independent. Autonomous regions.

(Mark) We call them ‘special editions’. The reserves. That’s where you have Québec, Toronto. It depends on how popular a place is, we’ll base a character around it. You’re from the Azores, right?

My parents. I’m Canadian-born too. I saw a tee at your booth. Shamefully, I don’t have one of those.

(Mark) Why don’t you have Azores? [laughing]

Like I was saying, whenever I saw you at Niagara Falls, whatever character you were pointing to you would say “This is so-and-so, his/her power is…” That impressed me!! I was telling myself “You would hope that they would know!” but again, if you have X amount of characters, can you remember them all? Of course, don’t take it the wrong way. I don’t see it like that if you can’t.

(Mark) Sometimes we don’t want to know all the powers of the characters because we might be wrong. We might have to change them as well. For example, for India there’s a character we call Gargantuar. We went to a house party and were showing the Indian super-heroes to an Indian guy. He thought it was all wrong. He suggested ‘The Mighty Singh’. “Why do you think we wear turbans all the time? We’re warriors. The Mighty Singh. Singh is King!” So, we changed him to King Singh which makes more sense. We researched online for accuracy. Marvel has a character from the Philippines named Red Feather.

HoTW India

We didn’t know that name was taken :-[ Sidenote: for Kitana, we call her Lady White Bear. A Native woman pointed out to us: “No! That is not Native! That is not Canadian! She asked us why. That’s the name of my tribe. Red Feather.” We were selling the shirt at a convention and one girl really took to it. We research online and discover Marvel has a character with that name.

That’s the first I hear of this :0

(Mark) From the Philippines!! It makes no sense. The character doesn’t even have feathers. He looks like a birdman, ish.

Joe and I wondered what to name her. Joe suggested adding an ‘s’ to ‘feather’. Red Feathers was up for grabs and we decided to use that.

HoTW Red FeathersHow long have you known your teammates Shawn and Vince?

(Joe) Sean, I met in 2008.

(Mark) That’s for Joe. I met him a few years prior. He was my manager for dancing, modeling, acting. He knew I drew. I told him about a friend with similar interests. He acknowledged that but never saw the work. He needed to see it. Once he saw our products at Carabana with me, Joe, and Aaron, he bought into it.

HoTW Shawn Cuffie bioHe’s a very visual learner like myself. When I’m learning, I actually have to see what you’re doing. What about Vince, the writer?

HoTW Vince Galvez bio(Joe) Vince was 2009. Around the time we were trying to put the comic book out there, we were looking for a writer. [Mark laughing in background] We found one guy. He didn’t work out. No offence to him. Little backstory – we used to work from Shawn’s dance studio. He runs DML Dance & Entertainment. It’s currently in Woodbridge. It used to be at Bloor & Dundas. Salsa classes were happening when one of these girls suggested her brother to us. This was Vince’s sister Grace. This is how we ended up meeting him. A week after we met with him. Vince pitched us the idea. The three of us meshed and it took off, just like that!!

DLM Studios(Mark) Even though sometimes we didn’t always understand his ideas we went along with them. Joe read the first script, called me up and said: “Mark, it sounds like Pokémon!” I was like “WHAT?!?”

(Joe) To be honest with you, I’m not so much of an animé fan.

I thought that too with the fight scenes!!

(Joe) I realized he was trying to appeal to…

(Mark) …a broader audience.

(Joe) Which is cool.

(Mark) When Joe mentioned Pokémon, I called Vince. Vince pointed out the premise of our series – you have a boy travelling the world looking for others to help him on his journey. He asks: “What does that sound like to you?” I retorted: “Pokémon”. He agreed but mentioned that it also sounds like Dragonball Z. He took a manga approach and integrated it with western culture. Our story is universal. You can interpret it as Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avengers, The Incredibles, etc. When you read it, it has its own unique flavour. Plus, Avatar: the Last Airbender, Captain Planet and Harry Potter because he grows up while becoming a hero.

I see that Vince has a penchant for acronyms. I’m a bit of a wordsmith myself. I love those as well as puns!! I pride myself on being a punster. Is that easier for him?

(Joe) The acronyms came before him. We came up with F.I.S.T. but we were having trouble with the designation. Vince suggested the Fraternity of Insidious Soldiers of Terror. UNI.T.E. – the UNIfied Task force Elite.

HoTW StryderHoTW Neila Suarez







You notice there’s a pun right there: u n i (you and I)?

(Mark) OOOHH!!! That is hilarious! Omigosh! Another ironic twist to this thing.

Sidenote: I’m an English teacher so I think I know a little bit about those things 😉

(Mark) We’re trying to help ‘you and I’. [laughing]

Your HQ is right here in T.O.!! Now that I know where you live, I mean are located, I’ll have to pay a visit. Bloor St. W.?

(Joe) It used to be. We’re now working from home.

(Mark) Sometimes we go to Shawn’s place. He has food for us. He’s a professional cook.

I have to invite myself over ;-P Let’s talk about your sponsors. You still have any dealings with SIPS Comics? I see you switched to Century Graphics with #4 and who exactly for #5? Guerilla Printing?

(Joe) When we’re in the States we go with Century Graphics. We were with SIPS Comics. For local purposes, we opted for Guerilla Printing.

(Mark) SIPS Comics does a really good job but they take a whole week since they’re out in Vancouver. We need somewhere closer for expediency.

They are on College St.

(Joe) Used to be. Now on Spadina.

Guerilla PrintingSee what I know? Last year I dropped by and Comic Book Lounge was there too. It no longer exists. A lot of change in the air!

(Joe) Things change in the industry, right?

(Mark) Things change!

Joe, I had no idea you had own your own site :0 By Google searching Funky Zodiacs, I found an image of the logo. Once I clicked on it, voilà!

Funky Zodiacs(Joe) It’s a site to showcase my artwork. Besides Heroes of the World, I’ve also done other projects Back in the spring, I wrapped up a children’s book with Nadia Kenisha Bynoe called Shades of Me and the sequels Shades of Happiness and The Right Shade for Me. They’re in the Toronto Reference Library currently. We plan on releasing a few more books. I’ve done some logos.

HoTW JayOh InstagramHow about you, Mark?

(Mark) I don’t have a personal website. I maintain a singular focus. I’m always invested on our major project. That leads to more of the creative process. I’ve always wanted to work on my own games. That’s when Aaron came along. He wanted to make VGs for smaller studios. I’ve done my own characters. I haven’t put them online yet because I always think someone’s gonna take my ideas. That’s how the world works.

I wanted to know why there’s “Mv” in your name. Luckily, creeping your Facebook page I figured out it stands for MaxVol.

(Mark) MaxVol, MaxVolume. Where it came from – when we were in college, Aaron was creating the group BDS (Black Dog Squad) where everyone has a nickname. His was already established: MaddSketch. Joe was J.O.Marvel but changed it to J.O. They were trying to find a name for you. “Oh, Mark’s always loud. We’ll call him Volume” What, you’re naming me after a switch?!? I don’t like that!! Whatever. I just didn’t care. Call me whatever. This is where Mv came from. Joe is majorly into social media e.g. MeetMeinTO back in the day, Hi5. MySpace came along. What’s that? I was interested in that!! I need to be on there somehow. Someone already had Volume :/ Joe suggests MaximumVolume. It wasn’t taken but someone grabbed it!! That guy thought that we were kindred spirits. Um, no. Aaron told me to shorten it to MaxVol. Mv is shorter. Sounds like Mark Williams with half a ‘w’. Like anything else, it’s all connected!  

HoTW MaxVol InstagramAre you both still part of the OLA?

OLA(Joe) Yes. Always! It has a huge Facebook presence.

(Mark) That’s what Aaron is working on right now.

(Joe) I’m always posting sketches or anything related to Heroes of the World.

(Mark) One of our friends created that group. He was going to make a company but it turned into a Facebook community which is cool because now others can show their work on Ontario League of Artists.

I said this to Mark but you corrected me before the interview, Joe…the past affiliation with Spent Pencils. You’re obviously still good friends with them.

(Joe) Oh, yeah! We’re still members. We actually travelled with them to Montreal.

How big are they now? 30 plus??

(Joe) 25 members??

(Mark) 20.

About a year and a half ago maybe two, when they were coming to Gotham, I looked up their website. At the time, they were 30. Maybe I’m wrong. It would fluctuate, right?

(Mark) Some left, some stayed. At the end of the day, everyone has his/her own thing.

Mark, you are more dynamic in person yet you seem to be more low-key on the managerial side of things. Is that a safe assumption?

(Mark) What do you mean by that? [laughing] When you’re selling something, if you don’t make yourself a major presence, no one will see you. When we’re at conventions, I put on a show to reel in people. When I’m working, I’m more low-key. I don’t know if that’s a sign of insecurity.

IMG_2824WOW! You’re reading my mind! You, Joe, regarding Funky Zodiacs, guess my sign? You have three shots.

(Joe) Your Zodiac sign is Libra for 5 points.

NO! Two more!

(Joe) Am I close though? Aries?

NOPE! One more!

(Joe) UUUHHH, Cancer.

Wrong! Mark?

(Mark) Gemini. Aquarius. DAMN! Capricorn.

Gentlemen… [making horns along my forehead]

(Joe) Sagittarius!

(Mark) Aries!

The one after Aries. Taurus! I’m very hard headed.

(Mark) You have that huge truck! [laughing]

Mark, you’re still dancing? You can bust a move?

(Mark) Sometimes. Shawn got me past gigs at Pride and clubs as Michael Jackson. That was cool at the time. Mostly, it’s on movie sets. Whenever I can, I’ll do it.

HoTW PrideIs it specific to hip-hop? Ballroom?

(Mark) I used to do ballet, jazz, acro, and tap. My mom put me in these classes to keep me out of trouble. [laughing] Putting me in those things got me more involved in the arts. I did gymnastics on the side and karate. Whenever I tired of one activity, she put me in another. I put myself into drawing. I’m glad I did all these things!! You can integrate anything you learn into what you need to do.

(Joe) With the arts, I feel like in Toronto, just to segue from what Mark said…The arts…The community we live in now is huge yet so small and concentrated. You’ll meet people in the comic book industry that dance. There’s a correlation. Some in the movie industry love comic books, especially set design. It’s all connected!!

(Mark) We have a friend named Yohance who works on movie sets. He helped us sell Heroes of the World. Example: Shawn, professional cook turned dancer turned comic book guy. He didn’t know anything about them. He just thought it was magical.

(Joe) It goes deeper than that.

Why the mini-format for #4?

HoTW #4(Joe) I blame the printer. We wanted it one way. They did it another way. I don’t want to get into it. One of my good friends used to work for the company.

(Mark) There’s another place called Minuteman Press. They made three formats: small, magazine-size, and one edition that was falling apart. Somehow, they all still sold and they still sell. Doesn’t matter what’s wrong with them.

(Joe) First issue. 2009. When we had the 81/2x11, we sold out of all those copies. That’s crazy!!

(Mark) At Animé North, we had the ‘right’ copies but we warned people of their poor conditions. They wanted our signatures and didn’t care.

Who is Hot W Comics?

(Joe) That’s our self-publishing company. It’s derived from Heroes Of The World.

Hot W Comics 1Can it be found online or no?

(Joe) The comics?

The actual name.

(Joe) The actual name…

(Mark) Wait a second! That’s a great question! I’m gonna check that right now. [laughing heartily]

(Joe & Mark) I don’t think so.

Hot W Comics 6I see your site asks for donations and also has a link to Kickstarter.

(Joe) We did a campaign in the recent past for a motion comic. We gathered those donations to create our app. We hired a friend of ours Chad King to create our first online app which is an extension of our website. You can find it in the App Store or Google Play. When you search on Google Play, it’s weird. You have to enter heroesoftheworld, lowercase, all one word, hit “Search” and you’ll find it. On our business card and comics we have QR codes that you can scan.

(Mark) [interrupts] Nobody took it: Hot W Comics. [alluding to copyright or existence]

Hot W Comics 2(Joe) With the App store, type HOTW and you’ll get it.

(Mark) Oh! You know what’s funny! I typed in Hot W Comics and a message says “Coming soon: Oreh Gaia”. You can’t find that company name but our franchise will pop up. When you download the app, look for the logo that has the Earth and a ‘u’. ‘The Earth in You’. AAAHHH! [laughs & claps]

HoTW appThat’s what Oreh has on his costume!!

(Mark) Yeah, yeah. He is the Earth. Green, blue, and white. Look for that logo and you’re good to go.

HoTW Earth with UAnything else to enlighten our audience? Another form of employment? Silly pursuits?

(Joe) Besides Heroes, I’m still freelancing with a few commissions. Hoping to do more. Also, we’re trying to pitch HOTW as an animated series. That’s the huge thing. We’re in talks with some individuals. We’re shopping around different networks. Someone that Mark ran into will help us fund this baby of ours. We end up doing it full-time. For Mark and myself, we’re sick and tired of doing side projects. We want to turn it into an empire!

(Mark) Even if we make the cartoon, I’m a gamer and a lot of people like games. It can serve that purpose. Do it like Pokémon meets Street Fighter.

I just remembered two more things. One’s a question and one’s a comment. Mark, if I remember correctly you do dress up every so often. The way I met you was in costume. Not knowing who you were. Just some random guy in a costume representing a specific country. I think it was at Fan Expo 2009 from afar I just saw you and your booth.

(Mark) I was dressed up in my bootleg Barbados costume. [laughing heartily] That particular costume came from parts for a Superman suit the man wanted back. I’m no tailor. I used safety pins to keep the yellow pieces together. It looked horrible, like diapers. This lady named Megan Head saw it and offered to make a superior version. Shawn asked the cost and it was done. Vince’s cousin who runs Heroes in Tights offered to make two more: Jamaica and Canada.

HoTW Blue Trident and friend (cosplay)HoTW Blue TridentYou still wear those?

(Mark) Yeah, I still wear them.

Once again, my spotty memory…I remember seeing you in the Canadian one on FCBD 2012 at Gotham Central.

(Mark) Yup, yup.

HoTW Mark as CanadianHoTW real heroesThat’s it, gentlemen. Immense thanks for your time.