As the third post in our series of LGBT comic book characters and following our review of Martin Eden’s new all gay graphic novel volume Spandex Fast and Hard, HERE, Martin agreed to answer a few questions on his love of comic books, his inspiration for penning the series, and his thoughts on LGBT presentation on the pages of our favourite graphic novels.
DP: The obligatory opening question – would you mind introducing yourself?
ME: I’m Martin, I live in London. I wrote and drew an indie comic called The O Men for about 10 years, and now I’m working on Spandex, which has been picked up by Titan Books!
DP: From the various references littered throughout Spandex it’s safe to assume you’re a fairly big comic book fan, have they always played quite an important part in your life?
ME: Yes, absolutely! Like most British kids, I started off reading humorous comics like the Beano, and then I discovered superhero comics. Spider-man was my first comic, then I discovered the X-Men, then I went over to Vertigo comics, then indies… My tastes have changed a lot over the years, but I’ll never give up reading comics. I don’t read many superhero comics at the moment, I mostly read manga and indie stuff.
DP: I prefer Marvel but tend to think DC’s Batman is the more interesting character, what’s your preference, Marvel or DC?
ME: Marvel, definitely. I just love the way the characters are more human, whereas DC are more god-like and less identifiable. Also, I hated the DC names, like Elongated Man and Matter Eater Lad. I couldn’t take them seriously. I also found all the Earth 2 and JSA stuff really complicated (why are all those JSA guys still around?) – but I did read some DC stuff.
DP: What inspired, or instigated your work in creating Spandex?
ME: The idea just evolved naturally, and I thought it was a unique, original idea. I thought it would be fun to have a universe of mainly gay characters. It’s be something new for heterosexual readers if they were getting bored of the endless Marvel/DC ‘events’, and it would contain cheeky references for LGTB readers to enjoy.
DP: Is there an element of yourself in your work, or is it all the product of a fantastic imagination?
ME: There is a lot of me in the comic, mostly sub-consciously done, and mostly hidden and disguised. I find the thought of doing an auto-biographical comic a bit cringe-worthy, so I don’t do anything like that directly. So, I’d say that each member of the team is an aspect of my personality, and sometimes I indirectly address my own situations or issues in the comic, or something that I want to get off my chest.
DP: In regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgener representation in comics, obviously it has evolved with the times, do you think it’s fair to say that between Marvel, DC, Archie, and a slew of independent comics that there’s a fair and accurate portrayal of LGBT culture?
ME: It’s a difficult question. My first reaction when I think of a lot of current gay superheroes is that I’m a bit underwhelmed by them, because a lot of them don’t seem to do much. But then again, what can you do with them? How can you explore elements of sexuality in a comic that can be read by a kid? Is it the job of a comic to address and explore (any) sexuality, or is it the job of a comic to show the Fantastic Four fighting Doctor Doom? I don’t have the answers, but it’s nice to get a generally naturalistic representation of gay characters, and it’s a good first step.
DP: As one of the first mainstream directly gay story lines, what was your reaction to Northstar’s coming out, and the HIV surrogate daughter story line, 20 years ago in Alpha Flight #106, and then the subsequent marginalisation of his sexuality for a while afterwards?
ME: It was pretty bad, wasn’t it. There was all this fuss, and then Alpha 106 was pretty rubbish! And then Marvel barely dealt with Northstar’s sexuality for a long time. I guess it took them a long while to get their head around it – how do they deal with this storyline in a comic that is available for kids? It’s quite a mature subject matter. So for years, they didn’t really address it, but now Northstar is a much more well-rounded character, and it’s handled pretty well.
DP: With the recent explosion of comic book movie conversions do you think we might get to see a gay superhero in mainstream cinema anytime soon?
ME: I’m not sure. If you look at the Avengers movie, none of them are gay (or was Agent Coulson gay?), but that’s how they’ve always been written. There aren’t really any gay characters big enough for their own movie yet, and they shouldn’t just change a character’s sexuality to suit it. Maybe there should be a Spandex movie…
DP: Who are your biggest influences, in terms of either artwork of narrative?
ME: I learned a lot from John Byrne’s 80s Marvel comics, particularly Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four. The building-up of subplots and the way he wasn’t frightened to turn a character’s life upside-down. I admired Grant Morrison’s innovative characters and he has a really strong ear for realistic dialogue. And I’m in awe of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, their artwork, and the way they build personalities and stories.
DP: Do you have a favourite Superhero, or perhaps series?
ME: I have lots… It’s a tough call. For series, I’d go for Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. It was so unpredictable. For superhero… I’ll go for Crazy Jane from that comic. Such a brilliant invention – I really wish they’d bring her back.
DP: Who do you think is the ultimate comic book villain?
ME: Personally, I always had a soft spot for Titania, the poor luv. I always root for her whenever she turns up. But you know what, for me, I always go for really simple but exciting and fun and unique villains, like Gilded Lily and Pink Pearl in Alpha Flight. I miss seeing over-the-top people like that.
DP: Are there any other comic books with a strong LGBT theme that you would recommend to our readers?
ME: I think Love and Rockets. If you aren’t reading that, you’re missing out.
DP: Finally, can you give us any insight into the future of Spandex and your work, what can we expect?
ME: After the first book, there’s the four-part ‘O.M.F.G.’ storyline, which will hopefully be collected in Book Two. The ‘Les Girlz’ team attack Spandex and many secrets are revealed – including perhaps one of the most shocking twists in comics. After that, there is one more Spandex issue (‘Spandex Special’) and that’s it for Spandex. I really wanted to keep it as a short series.
I’m working on collecting my old O Men series across five books. The final book will be all-original material, as I took a hiatus near the end of the series to do Spandex!
Apart from that, I have loads of other ideas, so I’ll definitely do something after The O Men and Spandex. I’m just interested in growing and improving as a comic creator.
A big thank you to Martin for agreeing to answer our questions, Spandex Fast and Hard is available now through Titan Books and watch this space for future editions.