Howard Wong has got the geek-chic artist vibe down pat, with his spiky red hair, bead bracelets and retro-cool Iron Man T-shirt. But the freelance writer behind Hong Kong Disneyland’s one-shot comic Iron Man: Hong Kong Heroes actually used to be a corporate warrior.
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he had a successful career as a general manager for a large supplies company before relocating to Hong Kong and consulting for multinational corporation Cheung Kong.
But the 12-hour days and non-stop work culture finally got to him, and he decided it wasn’t where he wanted to be.
He took a chance in the creative industry and produced his first original work, After the Cape. It was a limited series published by Image Comics about Captain G, a once-beloved superhero who is tempted to use his powers for personal gain after he falls on hard times.
It’s an interesting take on the superhero genre, and for Wong, every good story starts with the motivation behind a character’s actions. “If you think about it, being a superhero doesn’t pay a salary,” he says. “Captain G dropped out of school to help the city, to save lives. But he is living in poverty, he has a young family to feed. So there’s a background, a reason for these decisions that he’s making.”
He also wants young aspiring writers to remember that the world they build their story on is just as important as the characters. For example, he quipped, “If you took Luke Skywalker and put him in [the movie] Interstellar, he would be absolutely useless. He can’t lightsaber his way out of wormholes through space and time. So the world itself helps define your characters.”
His impressive work led him to many other projects, including collaborations with local figurine company ThreeZero, mobile game developer Lakoo, and even Kunio Okawara, the legendary designer behind the iconic robots in Gundam. He's also part of the 2018 Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival.
But the most exciting development for Marvel fans in Hong Kong is his recent collaboration with Hong Kong Disneyland to produce Iron Man: Hong Kong Heroes. In this origin story based on the ride at the park, Wong was tasked with creating a brand new, locally-grown superhero to assist Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers in their battle against the evil Baron Mordo and robotic Arnim Zola.
The result was Arwen Wong, sister of scientist Wendy Wong (who is your guide in the Iron Man ride), and [spoiler alert!] she eventually gets her own Stark-tech armoured suit.
One of Wong’s goals in the comic is to introduce Hong Kong to other artists, so our great city can be featured in more creative works in the future. Iconic spots such as Mong Kok, and the Convention and Exhibition Centre are lovingly featured in his comic’s battle scenes.
The comic, he hopes, will show the world that “though Hong Kong is a small place, each district has its own distinct character. Wouldn’t it be cool for [Marvel’s] The Punisher to blaze through the Yau Ma Tei fruit market in a firefight? There’s so much potential here!”
He faced some challenges during the process, too. One was the length restriction. Wong actually had 100 pages of material that he wanted to explore but was limited to 20 pages.
The Disney executives also wanted him to feature more characters than the 10 or so he included, but Wong decided to focus on Stark, the Hulk and Black Panther as their background in science fit in nicely with the Stark Expo theme.
In this era where equal representation in the arts is still not yet the norm, it’s encouraging to see Hong Kong get its very own hero.