Newfoundlander Joseph Hewitt has cultivated a strong following for his brand Polar Bear Comix in his now home-country of South Korea
Cormack’s own Joseph Hewitt is a notable name in his now-home South Korea. The resident of Ulsan, South Korea, who relocated from his Western Newfoundland home 19 years ago, is well-established in the comic circuits for his rising brand Polar Bear Comix.
Hewitt moved to South Korea in 1998 after graduating at Grenfell at the behest of a friend to ply his trade as a comic book writer/illustrator. He grew tired of pumping out freelance content for next to nothing here at home and made the trek to Asia with the idea that his excursion would be temporary. He’s been there nearly two decades.
“It was a one-off that morphed into something bigger,” Hewitt shared with The Herald while on his first visit to Newfoundland in four years.
“While I was in university I had started doing comics, and I was making a little bit of money off of it. When you’re in university you get a cheque for $50 and then it’s like, woahh, I can have pizza! Then after I graduated and you get a cheque for $50 it’s like, hmm, I’m not going to be able to live on this! A friend of mine who’s Korean-Canadian suggested I go to Korea for a year and pay off my student loan and come back here and set up as a cartoonist. I went to Korea for a year and never bothered to come back.”
Hewitt would marry and the couple would welcome a son, Shawn, into the fold. Before long he’d move into a teaching position at a university. Originally believing the job would focus more on writing/editing, Hewitt has gone on to teach creativity. He’s become a favourite among his students, often partaking in creative and compelling activities.
“Every spring we do a carnival games and every fall we do a Halloween haunted house,” Hewitt explained. “Three years ago I cut a student in half. Last year a student cut my head off. Two years ago a giant monster ate me. This year I still have no idea how we’re going to top all of that. I’m going to try to find a new way for me to be graphically killed at the end of the haunted house to beat it.”
While focusing primarily on his teaching, Hewitt made the choice to feature some of his comic work at a local convention. From there, everything seemed to snowball and Hewitt and his soon-to-be-named Polar Bear Comix would become a big hit in his adopted homeland. “I came up with the name Polar Bear Comix. Polar Bear is my Korean nickname,” Hewitt laughs. “My students would call me polar bear because I’m big, I’m white, I’m from Canada, they don’t like the heat. They’d make up these long lists between me and a polar bear. I thought it was a pretty good name.
‘Snow Cone City’
“My most popular series is Snow Cone City, which is a superhero penguin series. That turned out to be hugely popular in Korea, people loved that,” Hewitt shares, delving in to the origins of his brand’s most popular entry.
“Way back when I was teaching elementary school, usually at the end of class, students would want a game to relax and unwind from all of the English learning; so around Christmas one time I asked the students what they wanted for Christmas? Did they want a robot, a car, Power Ranger? All of the students Grade 3 and above, reacted very negatively to the Power Rangers, because they said Power Rangers are for little kids and they were older than that and didn’t want Power Rangers. I said well in that case how about a Penguin Ranger? I started making up these stories about the Penguin Rangers and the world they lived in and in every class I’d draw on the board a continuation of the story. It got to the point that the rest of the school year they didn’t want a game at the end of class, they wanted to find out what was next for the Penguin Rangers. After awhile I thought, wow, I think I have something here, and I turned it into a comic book. We now are approaching the end of the storyline that was originally on the white-board of my classroom.”
Polar Bear Comix is set to unveil a compilation aptly-titled Unfortunate Fanfic, which will feature ‘Mad-Style parodies and commentary on fandom,’ and include the works of over a dozen artists from around the globe. From there they aim to publish a Canadian conspiracy thriller comedy web-comic titled How to Be Human, which is loosely based on an educational film from the 1980s as well as a box set here in Newfoundland which will serve as a modern day Newfoundland re-telling of the fairytale Rosanella.
The Bucket List
The bucket list for Hewitt involves Polar Bear Comix expanding globally, predominantly here in his native Canada. “The next step I’m hoping would be to expand internationally and mostly I mean Canada,” he says. “I’m pretty much only known in Korea. I have people who come to me at every show looking for my new stuff, which is great. I come home to visit and nobody here knows me. My cousins don’t even know I’m doing comic books. I’m looking into different ways to reach out to the English comics world.”
For more information on Hewitt’s work visit polarbearcomix.com