Interview: Spandex creator Martin Eden
We chat with Martin Eden, the man who has brought a new band of gay superheroes to life in Spandex...
Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Brighton. Spandex is a brand spanking new superhero comic with sporadic explosions of rainbow coloured flourishes. Martin Eden, creator of the much lauded The O Men has created a band of superheroes that just happen to be gay or lesbian or hovering somewhere in between.
The fabulous group consists of "Liberty (a glamorous transvestite superhero) Prowler (absorbs the abilities of gay people), Glitter (male Dazzler), Indigo (beautiful French teleporter), and Mr. Muscles & Butch (strong twins)."
Martin Eden spoke to me about Gay Zombies, his plans for forthcoming issues of Spandex and the graphic novel he has planned. There are gay ninjas, 50-foot lesbian and super evil geniuses called Muscle Mary and Pussy. And they're going to kick ass...
When did you decide to create a superhero comic with an entirely gay group?
It was never really a decision or plan - I was just working on my O Men comic and some new supporting characters started to really stand out, and the idea just developed and evolved from there. On the one hand, the project seemed unique and fresh to me, and also it was something I knew I could have a lot of fun with, and do in a fairly tongue-in-cheek way.
The first issue sees the superheroes battle the terrifying 50-foot lesbian and I heard a rumour there will be gay zombies - what other villains and heroes can readers expect to be introduced to in later issues?
Yes, issue three is Gay Zombies. Issue two is Pink Ninjas. My villains are crazy. I'm just having fun with the concept and coming up with foes like Muscle Mary, the Gay-Bashers, Les Girls (formerly known as something else, but I thought that tongue in cheek 'joke' might not go down too well)... To be honest, the ideas are coming through thick and fast, a phrase or name will come into my head, and I will form the character around that.
How has Spandex been received so far?
Amazingly well! Before the media became involved, it was getting a good response. I think people just liked something new and different and quite colourful. Kids love the colours, which is a bit unfortunate, as Spandex isn't for them. After Spandex got into the Metro and the Sun website, it all went crazy, but the general response is that it is making people smile. The gay community seem very happy and proud to have something like this. I did a comic convention up in Leeds at the weekend and everyone was so, so nice. It seems to be getting a big female readership, which is what I wanted with O Men, but never seemed to get, and even straight guys weren't afraid to buy a gay comic. Good for them.
Where did you find your heroes and what other influences factored in while creating the comic?
Most of my heroes just start with a name. Or when I'm developing a team, it's a question of balance, and working out what kind of parts would make a good whole. Liberty, Diva and Glitter were background characters in The O Men, and they were obvious picks for the team.
Butch and Mr Muscles came to me quite quickly. It's almost as if these people exist, and they just introduce themselves to me. Prowler and Indigo took ages to develop though. Prowler is quite complex - he went from being just an agile monkey guy with a tail, to having the power to absorb the abilities of gay people, and his name went through about 10 changes too. Indigo came into my head fully formed, but then I developed the idea of her Indigo Room, where she teleports in and out for costume changes, make-up and weapons.
As for influences, well I think I always carry those around with me and they probably affect the comic subconsciously. All the old 80s Marvel Comics, Grant Morrison's comics, things like that.
You've wrote on your blog that a Spandex graphic novel is in the pipeline, can you tell me a little bit about this?
I couldn't just do one story with these guys, because you have to build the characters. So I decided to take a break from The O Men and focus on a different comic for a while. I found with O Men, that individual issues didn't work so well, people preferred to buy trade paperbacks, so I decided to collect five stories straight into a graphic novel. It'll be fun, because it's not a linear story, I'm telling the stories for issues 1, 4, 8, 12 and 15, and you can fill in the blanks of what happened in-between with fake covers and Editorial references.
So that will definitely happen, and to keep the ball rolling, I'd planned to release some mini-comics, 'Spandex Shorts', every now and then. But to be honest, I am so excited by Spandex that I am thinking of actually releasing issue two in the new year, or even do all five as individual issues. I'll have to see how it goes, financially.
What do you think of current depictions of gay people/culture in television/films/comics?
It's quite hard really... Look at EastEnders... I've lost count of the amount of gay characters they have had, and I think they run out of things to do with them so they dump them.. There's one at the moment, but he doesn't seem particularly likeable. I don't know, I don't watch it. I think people are less afraid to show gay characters now. I was watching FlashFoward the other week and there was a big lesbian storyline (not a Giant Lesbian) but it did seem a bit over the top and in-your-face... 'Look at us, we're portraying lesbian characters...gosh we need to have a big snog again'. It didn't seem very natural.
I think the trick is to introduce lesbian and gay characters without anyone batting an eyelid. Batwoman and Rictor/Shatterstar are kind-of achieving that, but by the same token, I don't feel their writers are doing anything particularly exciting with the gay aspect of it. It seems almost ignored. Maybe it's because the writers are straight, and they're not sure how to handle it. Write what you know, they always say! What I'm doing, is using the gay aspect as the set-up, and having fun with that, but I'd also want people to read it as an exciting story, with characters who just happen to be gay.
From what I've seen so far you seem to be having a lot of fun with Spandex while still exploring dark territory - do you think a lot of comic books deliberately take a darker route?
I think you have to explore the dark side of things, because life isn't always rosy. But then you don't want to go down the Eastenders route, which is too depressing. I think people will be surprised by Spandex. It's lighter than The O Men, but some very shocking things happen. Someone picking up issue one expecting a bit of camp nonsense is in for a big surprise.
Who are some of your favourite superheroes and villains?
I used to love the X-Men and I still do, but some of the characters seem to have lost their way. Look at Storm now, she's just uninteresting. I pretty much like most of Grant Morrison's stuff. Doom Patrol, The Invisibles - amazing. I wish they'd bring Crazy Jane back. Favourite team of all time though was Alpha Flight (R.I.P.)... I kind of like the Marauders in the X-Men, but they were really under-developed for some reason. They just look good.
Are you planning on returning to The O Men?
I put O Men on hiatus for Spandex, and I actually put it into a quiet little shelf in my mind, forgetting all about it so I could invest all my energy in Spandex. But when I did a London comic show the other week, it was clear that people wanted more O Men, and it did make me want to do more. So yes, my mind did start to think about more O Men stuff, but now of course Spandex has become fairly big. There won't be any O Men comics for at least a year, but I might try to do some drawings. I'm planning to do a fun, joint O Men/Spandex pic - where they're all in a nightclub or pub.
Which do you prefer doing, the artwork or the writing?
That's a tricky question! I don't even consider myself a writer. I just think about my comics a lot, and the stories and plots just pop into my head, or follow a logical conclusion. Or I'll watch a movie or listen to an album, and it'll create an image in my head of something that should happen in Spandex. So I write all these random notes down, and then when it comes to writing an issue, I'll have a vague idea of the important things that need to happen, but a lot of it is about connecting the dots, and adding in the cool lines of dialogue I've been thinking about and making sure I don't forget to include something important.
I love drawing - I've been drawing since I was about three. I'm completely self-taught. I'm kind of aware that people prefer my writing to my drawing, so it's a weird situation to be in! One guy the other day said I draw like a four-year-old! Some people think the art is too simple. I don't know, I'm too close to it. I do my best, and it is what it is, and I hope people like it. I think I'm a storyteller, above anything else.
Martin Eden, thank you very much!