Everyone loves a good comic book. Whether it’s Archie & Friends or Spiderman, mostly everyone can recall crawling up and reading thousands of comics as a kid. However, not everyone can recall using comics and cartoons as a way to escape the madness of a childhood.
Teased unbearably as a child because of a learning disability, Joe Osei Bonsu sought an outlet in comics and cartoons. Little did he know, his escape would turn into a career that would prove to open many doors for him.
“The ample amounts of cartoons and comics I read as a youth were a large attribution to my interest in visual arts.”
Joe’s love for comic books and his subsequent desire to bring his own characters to life, were the two things that truly defined his happiness as a child. Suburban Sassy managed to catch up with Joe and get the low down on his career and future projects.
Suburban Sassy (SS): Who is Joe Osei Bonsu?
Joe Osei Bonsu (JOB): Well, I was born in North York, Toronto and raised in Mississuaga. I’m the youngest of five children, born to Ghanian immigrants. Growing up I didn’t have much friends and was teased quite a bit because of my learning disability. To escape the madness of my childhood, I would turn to comics and cartoons. I wasn’t always athletic growing up or Mr. Popular, so I used my art to compensate for that. However, I was a straight A student!
SS: What sparked your interest in visual arts?
JOB: The ample amounts of cartoons and comics I read as a youth were a large attribution to my interest in visual arts. My older brother was a huge comic book collector back in the day. He would bring home issues of X-Men, Batman and Fantastic Four and post them on the wall. When he wasn’t home, I’d snatch some of his comics just to read them. Other times, I’d grab his comics to use as references because I liked to draw my version of the comic covers on loose leaf lined paper. This continued throughout elementary school, where I was drawing different animated and comic book characters. As I mentioned before, I wasn’t good at things like gym. I was the worse at math, so I kept with art because it was one of things that made me feel good about myself, at the time.
SS: How did you begin your career as a visual artist? Any tips for aspiring artists?
JOB: When I was in junior high, my parents (my mother primarily) noticed my interest in cartooning and comics. After a parent-teacher meeting, my sixth grade teacher told my parents to encourage my desire to pursue a career in comics. Although my mother agreed, my father was on the fence. He thought comics and cartoons were silly and would never make any money. My parents ended up enrolling me in a cartooning school on Yonge and Eglinton. I was only there for a month and a half then I had to pull out due to a rough financial situation. Although things were rough at home, I kept practicing and reading about the comic art and the industry.
Fast forward a few years later, I was working with my best buddy Aaron Ong in his studio, Studio DYV on a few freelance projects. While, doing Heroes Of The World, Shawn Cuffie (our manager for Heroes Of The World) introduced me to a few clients but they were more on the design and web site of things.
For anybody that wants to pursue art, I just have two words: KEEP GOING! Keep on drawing, and creating. Don’t let anybody discourage or steer you from your path. People need art and the artists behind them.
SS: Growing up who were your favorite comic book characters?
JOB: Growing up, I had several. I was huge on Batman. I remember being six-years-old and watching episodes of the 1966 Batman series with Adam West. I think it was around the same time, the Tim Burtons movie came out, I was a huge fan of that film as well. Then the animated series came out and it helped me understand the character even more. What I’ve always admired about Batman was the fact that his character turned tragedy into purpose.
I was also a huge Masters of the Universe fan! My parents couldn’t afford the toys when I was younger so I would watch episodes of that show, religiously. I was also big on The X-Men, SpiderMan, Captain America, Daredevil and Iron Man.
SS: Do you feel as if your love for the characters inspire your work?
JOB: It does in a huge way! The love for these characters allow me to research their creators and their processes.
SS: I notice you attended Sheridan and Seneca, after you left these schools how were you able to cultivate your own style?
JOB: I cultivated my own style by constantly practicing things like perspective and the human figure. I was also able to take artistic cues and techniques that my friends would use to apply them to my own work.
SS: What’s the hardest part of being a freelance artist in Toronto, in your opinion?
JOB: The hardest part about being a freelance artist in this city is having people see the value of your work (or art in general). I’ve heard so many stories of freelancers doing work for little to no money. This is because people feel that the work we do is quick and easy, which is never the case. A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into the stuff we do. The value of an artist and his/her work should be on par with the work of a doctor, lawyer or athlete.
SS: You’re a co-founder of Heroes of the World, what is it about? Where did the inspiration behind this come from?
JOB: Yes, well it’s a comic book brand my best friend, Mark Williams and I developed around our 20s. It displays groups of heroes from all over the world. It actually began as Heroes of the Caribbean and our goal was to sell our artwork with these characters, at Caribana. We were both out of school and trying to make money as artists around that time.
One day, I was drawing a character called Captain Ghana and the idea came about. I saw this cool design of a Canadian character on the web so I decided to draw my own character. His aesthetic was akin to that of Captain America, only he had Ghana colours. Mark came over one day and inquired about what I was doing and then he told me about an idea his sister had for us to do face paint art at the Caribana parade for some cash. We weren’t too keen on the idea but then a cliche light bulb flashed above Mark’s head. He then took another look at Captain Ghana and said, “Wait, what if we take the same concept with Captain Ghana and mix it with the Caribbean?” We were both gung-ho on pursuing this idea so we started to work on heroes representing Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahamas etc.
The best day of our lives was when we debuted the idea at the Caribana parade. The same morning we went to Staples to print of the posters of these characters, while towing with us two lawn chairs and those mini-foldable IKEA tables. Once we got our product, we bolted down to the parade to set up shop. We figured we’d do okay, but surprisingly people LOVED US!! Ample amounts of parade goers were elated when they saw their island superheroes! We did Heroes of Caribbean for two more years until Mark’s agent Shawn Cuffie came on the scene. Shawn, saw us at Caribana around 2008 and saw potential growth in our brand. After the parade, he came on board as our manager. Around that time, we had expanded our product line (which included t-shirts, buttons, and most importantly COMICS), and created more characters. We also changed the name from Heroes of The Caribbean to Heroes of The World.
SS: When you’re working on HOTW, what’s a typical day for you?
JOB: Well with Heroes of the World, Mark and I would usually go back and forth about a story or character idea for our comic. Once we get all the ideas hammered out, we then meet with the rest of our team about the ideas at Shawn’s place and start putting things in motion from there
SS: What are you presently working on?
JOB: On the HOTW front, we’ve been in talks with a few people about getting an animated show developed. We’re continuing work on issues for the HOTW comic book. We’ve been heavy in the convention circuit, traveling to different parts of Canada and we intend to do more.
As far as personal projects are concerned, I’ll be revamping my website for 2016. I’m always trying to look out for the next freelance project to jump on.
To check out more Heroes Of The World you can visit Heroes of the World or download the app on Android (search – heroesoftheworld) or iOS/App Store (search – HOTW). You can also find Heroes Of The World, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram , Tumblr and YouTube.