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​The Story Behind the Story: Crafting Champions for the Modern Workforce

by Berrak Sarikaya

There are many ways to tell the stories of IH professionals, but the challenge is to tell it in a way that engages the younger generations. Sue Marchese and Ben Rome were faced with this exact challenge when it came time to update AIHA’s outreach materials to appeal to the younger audience. What came out of their hard work and collaboration with artist Klaus Scherwinski is an award-winning creative project.

Before we dive deep into the inspiration and process behind IH Heroes, let’s get to know the creative minds behind this project:

Sue Marchese is the Marketing and Communications Director at AIHA, and she’s been with the organization since 2014. In her own words, she “used to want to save the world. Now all I want to do is educate the world through public education, so we can all play a part in saving the world!” 

Ben Rome is AIHA’s Marketing Manager by day, but above all else, he’s a comprehensive creator. He’s been in the communications field for the last eighteen years, 9 of those in the association space. He’s also been a designer and game developer. 

Klaus Scherwinski is a self-taught artist living and working in Germany. His creative background as an aspiring comic artist who found his way into game illustration made him a perfect match for the IH Heroes project. 

The Inspiration behind IH Heroes

When Sue joined AIHA in 2014, she could immediately tell that the outreach materials needed a facelift to appeal to the younger demographic. As she got more familiar with the work of IHs, Sue realized that they are like “guardians of workers,” influencing and teaching management behind the scenes. The unsung heroes of the workplace, IHs always have the end goal to protect and monitor our health and safety. 

As Sue and Ben kept building on this idea through inspired conversations, they dreamed up the concept of creating an animated video of IH Heroes, complete with cosplay characters and even an app, to help them reach the “selfie generation” of workers. Keeping budgets in mind, they had to start small, which is why they decided to introduce the IH Heroes at the annual AIHce. The characters would be part of a timeless, interactive conference game set in an imaginary “future-forward” place. As the game came to life, the characters began to unfold, which led to the concept of their first comic book. 

According to Ben, the creative group is “ultimately aiming for a type of “‘Avengers: Assemble!’ moment, when the team finally comes together.”

Bringing the IH Heroes to Life

The first step in a project like this is to develop the avatars and “dossiers” of the characters. Ben began reaching out to his contacts in the gaming world, which is when Klaus came forward. Klaus was excited to work with Ben, Sue, and the AIHA team to bring their vision to life. 

“At heart, I’m a storyteller,” says Klaus. “It’s a great joy to help others tell their stories, and I gain a lot of excitement from collaborating with creatives from all avenues to deliver something great, something touching. Seeing the scientific approach to problem solving woven into a personal, human story while delivering an upbeat message and a narrative that nicely introduces the job of an IH professional was something really cool for me.”

The bulk of the writing, art direction, production, and integration was Ben’s contribution to the project. “First, you have to find out what kind of story you can tell within a specific limit," he says of his creative process. That’s where we turned to several of our members and just asked them for cool, way-out-there situations they’ve heard about or personally experienced. From that, we take the core bits that work and then frame the story and setting around it. Comic writing is a little different than slamming down words for a short story—you have to create a script of sorts. That script needs to work in parallel with the panel images you want to create; the panels themselves will help bring a lot of detail out that you don’t need to write into the story. Once you draft that script, you talk with the artist, see what their vision might be, and then pull and push things around until you have a script that makes sense both in words and in images.” 

After that? 

“It’s up to the artist to start sketching it all out and see where it goes,” says Ben. 

And so Klaus sketched. 

AlsoKlausSketched.jpg

For a project like IH Heroes to be successful, it boils down to good collaboration between the script and the art. The illustration (from an in-game comic Klaus created for Xbox One launch title Ryse: Son of Rome) shows how each panel of a comic book basically goes from script to lettered color image. According to Klaus, the comic medium is “perfect for showing actions and thought processes of the protagonists...in a very compressed way.” 

“Ben had a solid script from the get go but was also open for input on how we can compress info even more and make it pop visually” Klaus says. “He also gave me free reign regarding design so I could create a nice blend of moody establishing shots, personal close ups, and illustrating cool tech, which is a favorite of mine since I’m a big sci-fi geek.”

Creative Challenges

No creative endeavor is without its challenges, and this team overcame a few of their own in the process. The biggest challenge? Holding back and telling the right stories. 

“There’s a wealth of experience and stories out there within the profession, but you have to find the right ones that will resonate and inspire a young audience,” says Ben. “That’s the key—you have to constantly remember that the audience is preteen and teenaged kids. Telling them a story can be very different than communicating it to an adult.”

From an artistic point of view, the challenge was in compressing all the ideas into a 16-page book that was going to be printed in pocket size. According to Klaus, the most important decision was “to use captions in a sort of diary style.” This enabled the team to get into their characters’ thought process, helping resolve transitions from panel to panel more quickly. 

“From there, everything ran like a well-oiled machine,” says Klaus.

What’s Next for Our IH Heroes?

One thing is for sure: the characters and comic are a hit with everyone from ages 6 to 86. The characters are relatable and compassionate. With individual personalities and great stories of heroism to tell, it’s no wonder that the IH Heroes project has been so well-received. In fact, the IH Heroes Project has been recognized by countless marketing and association societies, bringing home 12 awards and grants in 2017 alone.

The team is currently scripting the second issue and discussing storylines for the third. 

“We want to highlight several of our current heroes in individual stories first, and then bring them together to solve a world crisis as a team. And yes, that’s totally the Marvel Cinematic Universe way—which is inspiring to the team, because we’re all superhero nerds,” says Ben, who is quite possibly the biggest superhero nerd on the team. AIHA is lucky to have his creative genius to help bring the humble and modest unsung IH Heroes’ stories to light and life. 

For Sue, “projects like this that represent the awesomeness of our members while educating the public are the best of both worlds.” 

While Ben is the creative genius behind IH Heroes, Sue was the champion bringing concept, strategy, and funding for the project. Of course, all their hard work and inspiration needed a touch of magic from Klaus to bring the IH Heroes to life. 

How Do You Get a Copy of IH Heroes?

The comic is freely available as a digital copy to anyone who wants to download it. Members can order a limited number for free to distribute during their community presentations or at school career days. If the general public would like a printed copy, just reach out and we’ll work something out for you.

You can also read more about the character development process in this four-part blog series:

Sketching the Future 

Finding Future-Forward Art 

Transforming Perceptions 

Creating Character​ 

Berrak Sarikaya is a brand amplifier based out of Seattle, Wash. Follow her on Twitter.

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