O Men and gay superheroes in Brighton – Matt Badham dons his sparkliest spandex to talk to Martin Eden
Martin Eden is the writer and artist behind the Eagle award-nominated comic, The O Men, an action-packed superhero soap opera. By day he’s a mild-mannered magazine editor, but at night he becomes a whirling dervish of creativity, whose comics are some of the most popular on the ever-burgeoning British independent comics scene. Matt Badham tracked Martin down to his O Cave and, over a couple of cocktails, asked this reclusive playboy millionaire about his double life, making comics and his plans for the future.
(the acclaimed small press series The O Men, art and (c) Martin Eden)
Matt: You’re obviously a big superhero fan. Tell us about the books that influenced you? Early comics experiences? What do you think about the state of the superhero genre?
Martin: I think my main influence is Grant Morrison. I love his natural dialogue, his crazy and inventive characters, and the way that his stories always build towards something. Zenith, Doom Patrol, Invisibles – all stunning, and they all have kind of seeped into the pages of The O Men, I think.
Sandman also was a great influence – the sprawling storyline and the way that characters come and go in the story. I like to add that element into The O Men.
Other than that, well, I grew up on Alpha Flight (John Byrne), Claremont’s late ‘80s X-Men, stuff like that; just top quality. They really don’t make them like that any more.
I was always a Marvel zombie – started off with Spidey in the ‘80s, then got into the X-titles in a big way, then it was Vertigo. Now I kind of just snap up stuff like Powers, Walking Dead, Astonishing X-Men…
I’m not too impressed by comics these days, to be honest. You need a degree to understand DC Comics – they need to make them more accessible. Marvel just needs to be more value for money – give us some more self-contained stories and longer reads. I think Mark Millar is the only writer who seems to realize that this is important – his current Fantastic Four is phenomenal. I think there are so many ways comics can make themselves more attractive and more accessible, and I find it quite frustrating.
(the cast from the O Men, art and (c) Martin Eden)
Matt: You’re a writer/artist. How do you go about putting together the O Men? Full script, thumbnails? Tell us about the creative process for Martin Eden.
Martin: While I’m drawing an issue, which takes ages because I don’t always get time to draw, I’ll get all sorts of ideas for future stories, scenes and conversations, so I note them all down. So when it comes to writing the next issue, I’ll know what’s going to happen and then it’s just a question of piecing it all together – looking at my notes and remembering all the key moments. The issues write themselves really – in a way, a lot of it is down to logic – like, figuring out who is in the issue, and figuring out what they are going to contribute to it, and where they’re going to be, etc.
So I have the vague idea of the scenes, and then I’ll thumbnail the pages – really small, about 6 pages per A4 sheet, just stick figures! – so I know what’s going to happen on each page. I’ll write any cool dialogue down that comes into my head, so I don’t forget it (forgetting cool storylines and ideas is the most annoying thing…).
It normally takes me 2 or 3 goes at doing the thumbnails. It just takes a few times to get it right and also I try and keep the page-count down – the first draft normally comes to about 28 pages but I like to keep it down to around 20 if I can, so often, I do lose a couple of interesting scenes. After that, I just type out the dialogue – there’s no point doing a full script because I know what’s going on.
Matt: What’s happening with the O Men? It’s all been a bit erratic release-wise?
Martin: Yes, it has been a bit rubbish, schedule-wise. I burned myself out last year on two O Men issues – a combination of doing them and working hard full-time on my day job, and going through some personal stuff. It was crazy. It wasn’t a good year for me and I didn’t think I could do any O Men for six months or so. But of course, I couldn’t stop myself.
(cover to the O Men 2.6, (c) Martin Eden)
I’ve been working on Issue 2.6 [the sixth issue of the O Men’s second season] for a while now – since maybe October. It’s very frustrating because it’s almost finished – I’m just tinkering now. I’m at a stage now where I just want to enjoy it and not let it take over too much. If I get invited down the pub these days, I’ll go to the pub, whereas before, I’d turn down a lot of social stuff for The O Men – and I don’t think that’s necessarily a healthy thing to do. I don’t want to be at a stage where it becomes a chore.
Matt: Any plans for a third season of the O Men?
Martin: Yes, definitely. The plan now is to get 2.6 out, do 2.7 – which will be AWESOME!!! – and then take a break for Spandex (see below). Then back to O Men to finish off season two – prob 5 issues – and then 3 or 4 issues of season three to finish the whole thing off! At that stage, I should have answered all the O-questions that need answering. To be honest, I’m partly taking a break so I can come back at it with a fresh perspective and get it right. I want to re-read the whole series and work it all out, because it’s very easy to forget important elements.
(the gay superteam Spandex; I like the use of the spectrum of colours in the text, echoing the rainbow flag of international GLTB organisations; (c) Martin Eden)
Matt: Can you tell us a bit about Spandex?
Martin: It’s basically a gay superteam. I figured that was the last remaining untouched idea in comics – but of course it probably isn’t. I just wanted to do something that was a bit more self-contained and less sprawling than The O Men. It’ll be similar to The O Men, and it’s set in the same universe, but they’re pretty much separate entities. Spandex will be a bit more fun and a bit more tongue in cheek (the first story is called ‘Attack of the 50-Foot Lesbian‘), but there will be plenty of drama. It’s set in Brighton and follows the lives of seven gay superhumans. I’m still ironing it all out, to be honest.
Two of the characters have appeared in The O Men before – Liberty, a transvestite superhero who’s a lot of fun, and Diva, who is a lesbian cross between Wonder Woman and Britney Spears. Other characters include Butch, who’s a female Luke Cage, Mr Muscles, Glitter (like a male Dazzler). There’s a guy – at the moment he’s called Unity – he can tap into the skills and abilities of gay people. It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s all changing. There was a Miss Fantastic character on the team, but I think she’s now going to be a villain (and yes, I came up with the name before I read the new Fantastic Four stuff!).
(Diva, the lesbian superhero from Spandex, art and (c) Martin Eden)
It’ll be a big balance between action and personal stuff. I’ll be exploring the sexuality of these people, but I won’t do anything gratuitous – I have too much respect for my characters to do that! It’s certainly not going to be one of these gay comics that is covered with ginormous cocks!
I’ll release the first issue as normal – as a proper comic – but then I’ll take a year or so to do the rest of it – 5 more stories, and release it as a cute little digest book thing. I might release stuff online along the way. So by the end of it all, there will be a 120-odd page Spandex collection, full of normal stories and lots of fun little short stories too. And then that should be all I want to say about those characters.
Matt: Go on, pimp both the O Men and Spandex for new readers. Who said good things about it and where have they said those things? Why do you think that the O Men has been a success?
Martin: To me, The O Men is like the comics I enjoyed growing up – Claremont’s X-Men, mixed with some of Morrison’s superhero work. It’s a bit off the wall, surprising, human, scary, funny, and it’s full of twists and shocks and surprises. It’s kinda like one of those cool US sci-fi/drama shows that you get hooked on. The O Men is a mature superhuman soap opera, but the emphasis is on these people’s fucked-up lives more than big superhuman slugfests. It’s the kind of comic I’d want to read, but no one seems to be making it any more. We’ve got a core cast of characters who I do all sorts of nasty things to – and we see how they get through it all – and we’ve got lots of mysteries and questions, and the answers aren’t ever what you expect.
The O Men has been received well, getting some great reviews in places like Comics International and silverbulletcomicbooks.com (I got a 10 out of 10 in CI once, but the Editor dropped it down to a 9!). Of course, I’m 30-odd issues into it now, and obviously that’s gonna put people off, but I have done small trade paperbacks and honestly, I do feel you can jump onboard with any issue – I really try to make it accessible.
Spandex – well its early days, but I hope it’s gonna be big. I have huge ideas about how to market it, and I will pitch it to publishers.
(meet Unity from the Spandex crew. Yes, it is a tail, but he’s still pleased to see you. Art and (C) Martin Eden)
Matt: What next for you after Spandex? Any other series/comics waiting in the wings?
Martin: After Spandex, I’ll finish off the O Men… And then I think I will lie down for a year and not move.
Matt: You’ve been in this small press lark for a while. Any plans to migrate to t”Big Press!!!’? Go pro’ as it were?
Martin: Well I’d love to, but I never really get anywhere. Every now and then I submit material, but it gets rejected or I don‘t hear back. I don’t think my art is up to scratch at the moment, and people seem to prefer my writing – but to me, writing is harder than drawing. I consider myself an artist more than a writer, it’s just what I prefer doing, but I think everyone seems to say my strength is writing. I’m working on it, though. I think there’s potential in the art, and I want to build on my drawing strengths and improve. I’m doing it now with Spandex. I’m not going to put anything out there that I’m not happy with. I went to a Chinese comics workshop day recently, organised by Paul Gravett, and the talent really inspired me to get better – use life-drawing etc, to improve it all.
I’ve never made any money out of my drawings, and that is something I want to rectify. I mean, yes, I sell copies of The O Men, but I only break even. I’m not in it for the money, but it would be nice to just make a little bit! I guess I don’t push myself enough. Doing The O Men takes up enough time as it is, the self-promotion part is a whole other job.
Matt: What’s your dream comics project, pro’ or otherwise?
Martin: Dream project, I guess, would be to write an X-title or maybe have Vertigo pick up Spandex or something.
(cover art from Season Two of the O Men, (c) Martin Eden)
Matt: Who do you read in the British small press? Anyone, no one? Who are your top tips for the stars of tomorrow?
Martin: Does Strangehaven count as small press? (it certainly does and one of the most successful too – Joe) I like that, although I never know when a new issue is out. I love Paul Rainey’s No Time Like The Present – he cracks me up. I like Mardou’s stuff and Sean Azzopardi. Graham Pearce’s Sgt Mike Battle – he works so hard on that. To be honest, it’s been ages since I went to a convention or Bristol, so I’m kind of out of the loop. I miss getting small press comics through my letterbox!
Top tips? Oli Smith is very creative and he seems to be doing amazing things to promote small press comics too. I’ve probably forgotten someone… Sorry…!