Gay Heroes of "Spandex" Breathe New Life Into Super Heroes

All super-teams seem to wear some form of Spandex. Whether it's actual Spandex, like the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four's unstable molecules, super heroes have always been partial to form-fitting costumes. Writer/artist Martin Eden's new independent super team comic book "Spandex" breaks new ground, though not by its costumes, awesome as they may be, but by the people wearing them.

"Spandex" is an England-based comic that features an all-LGBT lineup, including lesbian, gay, and transgender crime fighters, with names such as Glitter, Diva, Mr. Muscles and their leader, Liberty. Together, the team fights villains like a 50-foot tall lesbian who tears through Brighton in southern England, while also trying to remain focused on the task at hand when teammates start to become more than just teammates. A hardcover collection of the first three issues of the series will be released in late May.

Martin Eden, the UK-based artist and writer of "Spandex," took a few moments out of his day to share with CBR News what "Spandex" is all about, why he idolizes John Byrne, and how he thinks the mainstream comic book market is handling gay and lesbian characters.

Can you explain the "Spandex" concept? Some of these are existing characters, correct?

Yep, I was self-publishing a superhero soap opera comic for 10 years -- it was called "The O Men." After about 30 issues of it, I wanted to do something new. At the same time, some supporting characters in "The O Men" were starting to grab my attention. They were very much just background characters, really undeveloped -- and then I realized that most of them were gay, and I started thinking about how interesting a gay super-team would be.

Besides being the first all-gay team, what else makes this group of heroes unique?

It's hard to do something different when everything seems to have been done, but I do think the team members have a certain freshness to them. Each teammate kind of has a unique spin, I feel. Also, I think that being gay gives them a different vibe -- they're sometimes a bit tongue-in-cheek, sassy, and cheeky.

And finally, because it's a gay team in a mature-readers book, I'm able to explore aspects of their sexuality. For instance, a gay and lesbian teammate get a bit heated in a battle and end up kissing. What's happening there? Is their sexuality set in stone? You don't really get to see sexuality being addressed in superhero comics, but I'm featuring it in my comic!

What types of adventures and villains the team will face?

In the first issue, they fight a 50-Foot lesbian who is trying to destroy Brighton then they go on a mission to Japan in issue #2 and face tons of Pink Ninjas. I like to call issue three the 'Gay Zombies' issue, but it does have quite a serious side to it too. It's got a bit of a sci-fi/horror edge to it.

And all along, the team's archenemies, Les Girlz (led by Pussy), are plotting and planning behind the scenes, and they finally unleash their attack in issue #4. That'll be in the second [collected] book, if there is one (fingers crossed!).

How did the different members of "Spandex" get their powers? It seems some of them are inspired somewhat from existing characters.

I explore their origins in issue #6, and there kind-of is an explanation for how they got their powers later on. But yes, there are definitely inspirations and homages going on. Prowler can absorb the skills and abilities of any gay person, so essentially he's a cheeky, gay homage to Rogue. I once described Butch as a 'lesbian Luke Cage' and Diva as a 'lesbian Wonder Woman,' but there's more to all of them than that. All the characters have unique things going on -- otherwise, there's no point to them.

How long do you think "Spandex" will last?

In all, I'm going to do eight issues. The series sort-of reaches a climax with issue #7, and then I will do a special issue, just to have fun and tie any loose ends up. At that point, I will have told the story I originally set out to tell. However, I have a lot more "Spandex" ideas now, and I'd really like to do more, but there are other comic ideas I have in mind, too.

The first issue, which is included in the new collected edition, ends on a huge cliffhanger. Are any of the characters guaranteed to survive "Spandex?"

I let the story flow, so if it feels like a character has to die, then I let it happen. In general though, there has to be a bit of fairness in storytelling. If a character is really nice, then you can't just butcher them, and I don't want to do that anyway! It's not fair to the reader -- they might have invested in that character.

I was a big fan of John Byrne's comics from the '80s and '90s -- he wasn't afraid to kill or maim his characters!

Liberty has a bit of a reveal at the end of the first issue, as well. Does this mean that she might be the only non-gay member on the team?

Not all transvestites and cross-dressers are gay, but Liberty/Jason definitely is. He is a transvestite superhero -- he wears a female power-suit. There's actually a reason behind the power-suit -- I reveal Liberty's origin in issue #5, and it's quite unique, I think!
Your style is also pretty unique. What is your drawing process like?

I draw it all out by hand, pencils, and then inks. Then I scan it and Photoshop away! I haven't explored using a Wacom tablet yet, and I do just like sketching away on proper paper. I don't draw my issues in order. I do the bits I find the most exciting first, and leave the difficult bits (with lots of backgrounds) until last!
Are there any artists or writers who have directly influenced your style?

I think, writing-wise, John Byrne's comics from the '80s and '90s had a huge effect. He wasn't afraid to really mess with the characters' lives and he knew how to build subplots and make everything really engaging.

Grant Morrison was so influential. I love his twists and I love his characters and dialogue. I prefer that side of his writing to the surreal/crazy side.
Art-wise, I really like old-fashioned craftsmanship -- artists like Jill Thompson and Pia Guerra. Beautiful, simple illustration. My ultimate favorite is Jaime Hernandez. I don't know how he does it. Every panel is a mini-lesson in life drawing.

Is there a large gay comics scene in England?

There are plenty of LGBT creators. Not all of them do LGBT comics, but some do, and there are a lot of LGBT web-comics. To be honest, I don't really see "Spandex" as a gay comic -- it's just a cool, fun, exciting little comic about people who just happen to be gay. It's just like any other comic I'd do, and it's the dramatic character moments that matter the most to me.

How do you feel the mainstream comics industry handles LGBT characters in their books?

It's nice to see more gay characters in the mainstream, although there are only so many things you can do with them, since most mainstream books are for all ages. Batwoman, Rictor and Shatterstar [from "X-Factor"] are all really naturally written. Northstar was a bit of a mess when he first came out, as I think Marvel were wary about exploring his sexuality too much, but he's doing more interesting things now. But if you want a really good example of LGBT characters and realistic sexuality, check out "Love & Rockets!"

As for the negative side of things -- I really don't like some of the more crass, porn-style gay comics. You know the ones I mean -- where the guys have massive thingies. That's just horrible.

Often times, writers like to insert themselves into their stories by way of a particular character or an amalgamation of characters. Do you think that any of the heroes in "Spandex" represent your own views in the story?

Prowler is definitely more close to me -- I think I even look like him a bit (I don't have a tail though). He's very much an everyman and the voice of common sense, and I hope people can relate to him. As the leader of Spandex, you'd think Liberty would be a good mouthpiece for me, but she's not quite all she seems to be. She has a sinister, manipulative side.

Other than that, I think, like with most team books, they all are parts of me. Butch is the quiet, serious side, Glitter is the jokey side, Indigo is the fun, slightly sexy side, Diva is the brave side.

Any interest in writing for any of the UK's larger homegrown books, such as "Phoenix," "2000 AD," or "CLiNT?"

Sure, I'd definitely be interested and I have tons of ideas. It's just finding time. I might pitch soon, but I'm having too much fun with my own stuff at the moment.
Would you ever consider letting other creators either write or draw your characters in future issues?

I'm quite selfish, in that there are certain scenes that I just want to draw myself. There are things that I will have had planned for years, and I just can't wait to draw them. However, I have already let other creators contribute pin-ups and mini-comics for parts of "Spandex" that I'm less close to or don't have time to do myself.

Drawing comics is a very time-consuming process. "Spandex" #1 took a year to create, and then the issues took me six months each. I'm getting faster now, but I'm starting to think that maybe my life would be a lot easier if I just wrote!

Given the time between issues, do you have another job when you're not writing and drawing comics?

I'm a magazine editor in my day-job. It's hard to earn a living out of creating comics, so I'm lucky that I have a creative job. It would be a dream to earn a living out of writing and drawing. We'll see!
"Spandex: Fast and Hard," collecting the first three issues of "Spandex" in a hardcover format, comes out May 22nd in the US and May 25th in the UK.

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