Together with Forbidden Planet International, we’re delighted to present this interview by Matthew Badham with comic creator and Titan Comics editor Martin Eden, creator of the superhero series The O-Men and Spandex…
downthetubes: For those who don’t know you, and in 30 words or less, who are you?
Martin Eden: I’m Martin, a London-based magazine editor by day. I am the chap behind The O Men and Spandex self-published superhero soap opera comic series. That was really hard to do in 30 words, you rogue!
downthetubes: What’s your elevator pitch for those two series, just to get our readers up to speed?
Martin: The O Men is a big, epic superhero soap opera. It delves into the lives and problems of a diverse cast of characters. There are loads of twists and shocks. Spandex is about an all-gay superhero team based in Brighton. It’s a bit more tongue-in-cheek than The O Men, but it still deals with some serious storylines.
Both of my comics focus more on the personal lives of the characters than the superhero-fighting element.
downthetubes: What similarities do they have with each other?
Martin: Spandex kind-of spins off from The O Men, but you don’t need to read both series if you don’t want to. Some of the Spandex characters popped up in the background towards the mid-point of The O Men, and they kind of took on a life of their own. They share the same universe, but there’s very little crossover.
downthetubes: What differences?
Martin: They’re very similar, really. I’d say The O Men is more serious, and Spandex is funnier – but then The O Men can be funny, and Spandex can have fairly horrific moments. I’d say The O Men is influenced by The Invisibles, and Spandex is more Doom Patrol. I guess, they’re different in the set-ups, in the fairly self-contained universes, where Spandex has funny gay characters like James Bend and ‘Flexigirl’ running around in it, and The O Men has more down-to-Earth, serious characters.
downthetubes: And why have you chosen to tell superhero stories?
Martin: It’s funny. You probably wouldn’t have asked me that question about 10 years ago, as superhero comics were really predominant then – but that’s not really the case now. I guess superhero comics are what I grew up with and they’re what I am – or rather, have been – passionate about. I like watching soap operas, and I just think how much fun they’d be if there were powers in them – like if a character came back from the dead, for instance.
Sometimes I don’t feel my comics are superhero stories though. I like to focus more on the characters and personalities. I just find scenes more interesting to draw if there’s a lady with wavy magenta hair in the scene (i.e., Grace from The O Men).
downthetubes: Both books have been favourably reviewed in a lot of places. What are the qualities that reviewers have picked out that typify your work and have you got any particular reviews you’d like to link to?
Martin: The general consensus is that there is a lot of heart in the writing, and that the characters feel real. I can’t really write about a character if I don’t care about them. Most people find the art quite simple but soon get used to it. I think some reviewers are surprised that they get more satisfaction from my (self-published) comics than they do from a lot of mainstream comics.
To be honest, Matt, I do what I do, and I’m glad people seem to enjoy it. If everyone said it was shit, I don’t know if I’d have carried on for the past near-20 years! I am really grateful for my reviews, and I was lucky to get regular write-ups in Comics International and Starburst, and on Comics Bulletin, Broken Frontier, Bleeding Cool, and the Forbidden Planet International blog. I was really proud that Spandex made it into the Metro newspaper and The Guardian.
Q Magazine named Spandex as their sixth best comic of 2012, and it was amazing to get a thumbs-up from Jonathan Ross at a convention (apparently his daughter loves it). I think Sequart ran one of my favourite reviews…
Eden seems to have a touching if heretical commitment to the super-hero book’s capacity to prosper visually as fantastic fiction rather than social realism. He’s certainly well aware that the effectiveness of social comment doesn’t rely on flat, overly-sincere storytelling. Instead, he focuses upon narrative rather than empty-headed spectacle, emotion before the by-the-numbers rituals of fisticuffs, character rather than catch-phrases. His super-people are mostly idealised, but they’re entirely free of hyper-sexualised, steroid-pumped, silicon-filled, porn-star surrogates. His stage-sets ingeniously evoke everyday reality through the most enthusiastically naive of designs rather than through a blizzard of fetishistic, widescreen-filling detail. In fact, his stories positively exult in a joyful appropriation of the super-book’s traditions, from rampaging giant female criminals to tidal waves of sword-waving pink ninjas…
downthetubes: Spandex is complete. What did you set out to do and did you achieve it?
Martin: When I started Spandex, I had just finished my 35th issue of The O Men, and I wanted to try something different. I had actually burned myself out, to be honest. Spandex was going to be a silly, fun, fluffy stand-alone comic series. I just wanted to mess around and experiment, and I actually didn’t mind if it was an inconsequential series. But as I started to delve into the characters and storylines, it started to go into some quite deep, interesting places. I really didn’t want it to. It just developed and it eventually became quite a complex series, addressing some pretty major story ideas. So I was very satisfied with it, but I think it did become a different, better series.
downthetubes: Will there be more Spandex?
Martin: There will be more Spandex, but not for a while. I have lots of plans – I’d like to do a ‘Spandex Zero’ series (an origin series), a ‘Spandex: The End’ series, and I’d like to develop a Spandex web-comic, focusing on some of the cast, but also focusing on ‘Spandex International’, a grittier spin-off team. But I want to prioritise finishing The O Men first, and then start up my next project, ‘Class’. I’ll get back to Spandex when I get a chance.
In the meantime, I’ll probably come up with the odd new Spandex portrait or art print when I feel like drawing the team (which happens often).
downthetubes: What’s happening with The O Men and what point in the story are you at with that?
Martin: I’m collecting all of The O Men series across five books. I just released Book Three. Book Four (out in Spring next year) will take us up to the final O Men issue that I did. Then, Book Five will be all-new – finishing off the series in an eight-issue collection. I’m just finishing writing it all now, and I’m bringing so many storylines to an end and answering so many questions. It’s going to be exciting and it’s going to break people’s hearts, and it’s going to do some very interesting, experimental things. It’ll be the end of a massive project that sprawled over about 20 years of my life. The person who started issue 1 of The O Men isn’t the same as the person doing it now – in many ways.
downthetubes: Who would you say your creative influences are, in terms of both writing and art, and how can you see those influences in your work?
Martin: John Byrne was a very early influence – I really admired his ability to actually do shocking things to his characters in 1980s/90s series such as Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four, and I liked his ability to build mysterious and interesting sub-plots. Grant Morrison is one of my favourite writers. I like his plot-twists and I like his ability to write ‘real’ characters.
Jaime Hernandez is perhaps my favourite writer/artist of all time. His art is flawless and his writing can be breath-taking.
There are so many influences: James Jean, JH Williams III, Jill Thompson, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore… I can’t say if you could see any of them in my comics – but they are people I aspire to.
downthetubes: You’ve been self and professionally published. What are the pros and cons of both?
Martin: Self-publishing is hard! It’s fun, but it’s hard! You have to do everything yourself – create the comic and then market it and then sell it. I lugged three heavy bags (and a banner) to a convention at the weekend, and I thought “I’m getting too old for this!” Lol. But I also like the fact that you do everything. I think it’s quite unique – you have a unique relationship with your readers. I know a lot of my readers.
Titan professionally published the first three issues of Spandex. It’s so good to have someone else help out. They made the book look amazing and they sorted out tons of reviews and interviews for me.
I think one main different thing with being professionally published is that you don’t have complete control any more. You don’t always know what’s happening with your comic (but you can always ask, of course), and other people have ideas about what to do with your comic (which can be a good thing).
But it’s just a different way of achieving what you want to achieve. Titan also helped me get my comics out through Comixology. I would have struggled to get that done myself, I think.
downthetubes: Could you describe a moment from Spandex that gives a good indication of the flavour/tone of the comic? Perhaps from The O Men too? Just to give those readers not familiar with your work a sense of where you’re coming from. Perhaps some favourite moments of yours.
Martin: I would say the second half of Spandex #1. They’ve fought the 50-Foot lesbian and the team all go to their separate homes and you get to learn their little secrets and what makes some of them tick. I think most people tend to read the first half of the issue – the more superhero style section – and they’re like “Ohh, I don’t know what to make of this” – and then they get to the more personal storylines and they’re like, “Ohh, now this is interesting.”
With The O Men, I’d say Book Three is the best. This is what I want in my comics – interweaving stories, shocks, twists, pay-offs. Book Three includes Issue 23, which is mental. After 22 issues, you finally find out what’s been secretly happening to a few characters – and it gets very messy. It’s like, “How are they going to get out of this? What the hell is going to happen next?” I like to keep my readers and my characters on their toes.
downthetubes: Which comics are you enjoying at the moment and why?
Martin: I’m enjoying a lot of Image Comics. They’re releasing some really top-notch stuff – Deadly Class, Manifest Destiny, Saga, Alex + Ada, and so on. They know what they’re doing.
I’m enjoying The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin. It’s really slick, exciting and fun. I like to dabble in a bit of manga – I’m enjoying Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny, and I get Shonen Weekly Jump on my iPad – it’s only 70p a week! I don’t like all of it – I don’t think I’ll ever get into “One Piece”, and I have no idea what’s happening in “Naruto” and “Bleach” – but I like “Stealth Symphony”, “Hunter x Hunter” and “All You Need Is Kill” – and I like checking out the different writer and artists’ techniques.
downthetubes: Any particular small press creators we should be looking out for?
Martin: Cristan Ortiz has a fantastic style – kind-of Moebius meets James Jean. Check out his comic Golden Campaign. T’Sao Wei is one to watch. His art style just grows and grows. My chum Paul Rainey has his first book out this year – There’s No Time Like The Present. He’s an amazing, funny talent. Rob Wells was shortlisted for the Myriad graphic novel prize with his book about his anxieties – Back, Sack, Crack (and Brain). He’s been showing me the pages he’s been working on, and it’s really, really great.
downthetubes: Please tell me about Class, your newest project? What’s the high concept?
Martin: I kind of want to keep this a secret for a bit. I don’t want anyone to steal my idea ha ha! I’ll tell you that it’s a five-volume story and it’s told in a very interesting and different way. If you like my stuff, you’ll love this. It’s kind of sci-fi and it’s semi-related to Spandex and O Men – but in a way, it’s not related.
Okay, I’ll tell you two things – it’s set in the future and it’s an all-ages comic…
Spandex and The O Men are appearing on the digital comics service Comixology fairly regularly: Spandex #5 is on sale 15th October, and Spandex #6 and The O Men Volume 2 should be on sale at the end of next month.