What’s The Deal With The Mr. Men?


Photographer: Fred F.

Like me, you might’ve noticed these Mr. Men mosaics dotted around our hallowed town of Southampton and wondered to yourself ‘Who puts these here?’, ‘What’s the reason?’ and ‘Does anyone else notice these?’. At least, these are a few of the thoughts that came into my head, but with no discernible way of answering them, I moved on, walking past Dr. Ninth every day on my morning walk without thinking too hard about him. I’d seen others too (Mr. Grumpy by the police station, Mr. Small by Woodmill Lane) but let them sit in the back of my mind as a meme, the germ of an idea that unexpectedly led to a story more compelling than I could’ve anticipated.

I met Will, the creator of the Mr. Men mosaics, entirely through happenstance. We were both sitting at a bar minding our own business when Will started talking to me. We chatted about this and that, eventually getting onto the topic of carpentry, an interest of mine. He showed me some pictures of a new laser engraver he had bought and told me he’d use it to create his ‘Squoji’s’. I, naturally curious at this statement, asked him what these Squoji’s were, to which he said, ‘Well, have you seen those Mr. Men mosaics around town?’.

The locals, presumably having heard this story a hundred times before, left us two to it, and I, feeling as if I’d just been let in on some secret, asked Will to tell me all about them, as I had seen them, and had been so curious to find out where they came from. He told me part of the story there at the bar, and we arranged to meet at a later date. Now that I knew where the mosaics were coming from, I wanted to know why.

However smart we think we are, I think a lot of things go over our heads as students, this is a local story covered by most other publications from the BBC to ITV, but not the Wessex Scene. A local story deserves to be in a local paper, so I’m writing that wrong.

Will invited me to his ‘Squoji Lair’, a dusty work shop scattered with tiles and debris, a double for the great studios of Picasso or Basquiat, and it is there he told me the story of how he became known as ‘Mr. Mosaic’.

The first Mr. Man went up in 2019, on Romsey Road (Mr. Tickle) and since then have appeared periodically around the greater Southampton area, but the story goes back further.  Standing serenely and collecting moss in the University Botanical Gardens is a tattooed zebra, sporting patchwork pictures of bugs, birds and orcas, looking very cool in the sun. Will told me he had a hand in that zebra’s creation, in fact, there used to be a whole trail of rhinos and zebras reaching from Portswood to West Quay, but all the pieces were eventually sold off. Will had been involved in a few of these art trails and thought to himself that the city deserved something more inspired, and something permanent. The soon-to-be Mr. Mosaic went by his business, with this thought sitting in the back of his mind when one night, it all came together. He was reading a picture book to one of his foster kids when it hit him, that what Southampton needed was the loveable characters from the exact picture book he was just then reading! Southampton needed it’s Mr. Men, and Will was the man to do it. 

My. Happy, Mr. Tickle and Mr. Impossible were the first to go up and others quickly began to notice Will’s endeavours. He gained a pretty substantial following on social media and people began to recognised him as the Mr. Men guy. Eventually, the mosaics started to take on a life of their own completely separated from their creator. Certain sites have been used as Poke Stops for Pokémon Go (remember that?) and even as city landmarks. One such example is Mr. Hope. Itchen bridge has a sad history of suicides and when it came time for Will to put his stamp there, none of the Mr. Men seemed quite appropriate (imagine Mr. Bump!) so he came up with a character of his own called Mr. Hope, which is now used by ambulance drivers to coordinate which side of the bridge people might be, so they can be sure they’re coming from the right direction.

On a lighter note, while the Mayor of Southampton was giving a speech in the city centre, Will took his chance and asked him what he thought of the Mr. Men. A bold move from Will, considering the vigilante-esque nature of his escapes, but it paid off: the Mayor thought they were marvellous and commissioned a Mr. Mayor and Mrs. Sheriff. The popularity and scope of Will’s endeavour is in some way remarkable, but in others, expected; what’s not to enjoy about these charming pieces of public art? They are after all, emblematic of ‘Modern British culture’ as ‘Mr. Mosaic’ himself says.

Squoji; Photographer: Fred F.

Talking about public art in general, I suggested to Will that we don’t have enough of it. For many people, green spaces and aesthetically pleasing living areas are a privilege, not shared by the majority of our country’s population. Will says public art can be ‘magic’ ‘inspiring’ or ‘bonding’, but refuted the idea that his mosaics intrinsically reflected these values. Instead he says ‘It’s art – it clamours to be seen’; ‘It’s a talking point, at the least’. I suppose that’s true, it grabs our attention. Will’s mosaics have grabbed enough attention for him to use them as a catapult for his other creative endeavour, his Squoji.

Squoji (mosaic cartoon faces) are a means of monetisation for Will, since Mr. Men being a protected IP evades this possibility. Now he creates his own intellectual property which is by no means less popular than its familiar-faced counterpart. Will has created something of a community around his Squoji, boasting an Instagram account just shy of fourty-and-a-half thousand followers, weekly Squoji workshops and Squoji hunts that regularly have anything from forty to sixty people in attendance, it’s safe to say Will is doing well for himself, and the future is bright too. Letting me in on an exclusive scoop, Will said to keep an eye out for international Squoji hunts, one in Wales and Portugal, both coming soon. (Mr. Mosaic goes international!)

Will; Photographer: Fred F.

The story of Southampton’s Mr. Men mosaics is not just about colourful tiles adorning city streets but a testament to the power of creativity, entrepreneurialism and unexpected connections. What began as a casual encounter between myself and an enigmatic artist turned into an inspired narrative of civic pride. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, the mosaics have ingrained themselves in the fabric of Southampton, demonstrating the transportive power of art to inspire and unite others. Within the bustle of urban life, these mosaics are more than decoration, are symbols of community and the spirit of creativity that endures through difficulties.


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