If there is one thing that modern technology and software have allowed for is to broaden the scope of who can create their own comics and graphic novels. The story behind these talented creators is as diverse as those who do them. Such an example is the team at Hearts Quest Studios. It is here that Dr. R. Benjamin Wesley and his wife and business partner Margaret have come together to make their creative dreams a reality. Starting with their first book, Portal of the Ancients: Book One of the Ancients Saga, they have worked hard to showcase their talents and their vision. I discovered their work through LinkedIn and after hearing about their journey, I knew we needed to talk to Dr. Wesley. So, let’s welcome R. Benjamin Wesley to GVN’s Talking Comics.
GVN: Thanks for sharing a bit of your time Dr. Wesley.
RBW: You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity for this interview.
GVN: I found your evolution from practicing cardiologist, medical researcher, lecturer, and graphic novelist an unusual one. When did you take an interest originally in drawing and writing and as your career in medicine went along, did you always plan to come back to that creative side?
RBW: I developed an interest in telling stories at a young age. I was fascinated by Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Dune, and Excalibur. After seeing these movies, I drew my own scenes, and wrote short stories. My cousin, Ken, completed his degree in computer science, and ultimately took a job with Industrial Light and Magic. Ken designed the computer-generated imagery featured in the pod racing scene from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. By this time, I was working in Atlanta as a medical doctor. Throughout my academic and private practice career, I used computers in medical imaging to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease. I knew I would eventually retire and use my computer skills to create worlds and tell stories again.
GVN: You had me at Star Trek and Star Wars. So, did you have any books or creators that you were a fan of early on who inspired your artistic side?
RBW: As I mentioned, I loved the work of Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, and Frank Herbert. I also loved the literary works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I have always been inspired by art which tells a story. As computer technology has evolved, the artistic tools to tell stories have evolved as well. Digital art tablets have enabled me to produce enough two-dimensional art to illustrate my own graphic novel. Three dimensional engines, such as the Unreal Engine produced by Epic Games, now allow me to create animated videos to tell stories such as Portal of the Ancients.
Inspiration for ‘Portal of the Ancients’
GVN: You and I share similar likes in a lot of things. The difference is that you have chosen to pursue your passions, I commend you for that. So, what inspired your first book, Portal of the Ancients: Book One of the Ancients Saga and did you start this project with the idea of a series or was your first book initially as much as a personal challenge to see if you could do it?
RBW: I have always been fascinated by epic journey stories, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. I drew inspiration from my own personal journey as an academic physician, professor, researcher, and practicing cardiologist. During my journey, I learned to focus on the process without becoming overly distracted by the final destination. Upon retirement, I decided to combine my love of art and storytelling into a series of graphic novels filled with the same peaks and valleys which I navigated in medicine. I saw my graphic novel project as a personal challenge, as well as an opportunity to work with my wife Margaret on a very creative endeavor.
Taking the Plunge
GVN: What I love about your personal story is how you and your wife jumped in feet first. Upgrading your artistic hardware and software to improve your workflow, self-publishing your book and then starting your own company to promote your work. Did you (or your wife) have any doubts or concerns as you plunged into your project?
RBW: After decades of stress from the medical profession, Margaret and I decided that our joint retirement venture, Hearts Quest Studio, should bring us joy. We always believed in the idea that career passion brings career success. Our primary measure of success with Hearts Quest Studio has been the opportunity to share our stories with others. We feel that our stories are important because they reflect the struggles which all humans face in the journey of life. Starting a studio ourselves gave us the opportunity to control every aspect of production, without compromising our vision. We both spent many years in corporations which limited our ability to control our own workflows.
GVN: There is certainly something to be said for having a supportive partner. I couldn’t do what I do without my wife Kathy’s love and support. So, I totally relate. You have now started work on your next graphic novel, Quest of the Ancients: Book Two of the Ancients Saga. What have you learned from the first go-around that you feel will benefit your project and workflow on this new book?
RBW: Portal of the Ancients was a great learning opportunity for both of us. I used a whimsical stylized art technique rich in color and texture. In my enthusiasm to create a deep fantasy universe, I introduced a daunting quantity of names, locations, and lore. I included a glossary at the end of the novel, as well as a series of maps to assist my readers. For Quest of the Ancients, I created a series of three-dimensional worlds using the Unreal Engine, a powerful video game and rendering engine for personal computers. I insert my 3D characters into these worlds and animate them in real time to create video sequences, which I intend to release as motion pictures on BD/DVD and streaming platforms. I import screenshots from these sequences into Clip Studio Paint to produce the graphic novel. This workflow allows me to create lifelike action with breathtaking lighting and computer-generated effects.
GVN: Creating videos for your website was a brilliant idea to draw interest. What made you decide to go that route?
RBW: Video creates an immediate visual impact which conveys a story in a brief period of time. Embedding my animated videos on my website allows me to demonstrate my projects and generate interest. Feedback on these videos allows me to refine my storytelling prior to completion of a graphic novel or animated film. To create these videos, I use Sequencer, which is a RealTIME cinematic renderer built into the Unreal Engine. I am currently using Unreal Engine 4.27.2. I plan to upgrade to Unreal Engine 5, which is planned for final release in the first quarter of 2022.
GVN: Well, it certainly sounds like you have a solid plan and I look forward to seeing the results on your second book. If Quest of the Ancients: Book Two of the Ancients Saga draws favorable reviews, do you have plans in place for a third?
RBW: Margaret and I originally envisioned ten graphic novels to complete the “Ancients” series. After completing Quest of the Ancients in graphic novel and animated film formats, we plan to remake Portal of the Ancients as a 3D graphic novel and animated film. Once the remake is complete, we plan to create the third graphic novel and animated film. Finally, after completion of the entire series, I plan to combine the animated films into a larger epic feature which will span several movies.
To Learn More
GVN: That all sounds very ambitious. But if your past work is any indication, I have no doubt you and Margaret will bring the project to fruition. Thanks again for talking to us today, Dr. Wesley. Before I let you go, please share your website address and the ways our readers can follow you on social media.
RBW: Thank you, Martin. Readers can find more information at our website, www.heartsqueststudio.com. I am also available on LinkedIn as R. Benjamin Wesley.
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Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 18 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.