By Ben Morse
Marvel invades the
UK courtesy of
Art, fashion, music, video games and more collided in the heart of England earlier this month under the banner of Urban Species. For ten days in October, the London-based clothing and art company hosted the British Marvel Secrets Exhibition at the Truman Breweries, bringing together Marvel zombies from across the UK to sample cool original artwork, t-shirts, hats and more inspired by the House of Ideas' British creators.
We caught up with one of Urban Species' directors, Hash, to get the recap of this unique event.
MARVEL.COM: To begin, Hash, what exactly is Urban Species and what is your role there?
Urban Species is primarily a clothing and art company. Overall we're a lifestyle company and have delved into the music arena, but we decided to focus our efforts on one medium at a time after having too many things happen at once. I'm one of the directors.
MARVEL.COM: Where did the idea for this exhibition come from and who was involved at the onset?
An artist gets busy
as The Hulk
All of our team from the start has consisted of friends and family, and we're all great art lovers. This kind of thing has always been a dream. A few years ago we held the one and only Camden Graffiti Jam, which was a runaway success. From then on we wanted to showcase the strengths of our printed art as well.
MARVEL.COM: Once you knew you wanted to do an art exhibition, what led you to select Marvel as the focus? In that same vein, what led you to select THE ULTIMATES as the centerpiece?
makes the trip
across the Atlantic
We've been nurturing our Marvel license for years now, and have found a niche in creating Marvel products in a way that's never been done before. Being a fanboy all my life as well, and growing up heavily in the "street culture scene," it was very organic. Besides, with everything "Civil War" onwards being in national newspapers, it's very topical. But really, in my heart, it had to be about THE ULTIMATES from the get go. During the god-awful mid '90s, I stopped reading most comics. I began to dabble again from 2000 onwards, and a classmate of mine, who has gone on to get a fine art degree, would not stop talking about THE ULTIMATES. One day while I was playing guitar on tour in Glasgow, [Scotland] with a British pop singer named Louise Redknapp, we had some downtime so I decided to go into the Forbidden Planet [store] and picked up THE ULTIMATES, not knowing that [ULTIMATES writer] Mark [Millar] himself just lived round the corner! I was blown away. To me this was my equivalent of being a young adult in the '60s, and being in awe by the maturity and originality of Stan Lee's work. And once I found out it was done by Brits…that was it. People from my country made me collect in a heavy way again. That ended up becoming the entire theme of the exhibition, letting other people in the U.K. know that a lot of Marvel's most pivotal storylines were created by British folk.
MARVEL.COM: What kind of art was on display? This wasn't stuff you'd see at your average comic convention…
A Marvel pop art
The first obvious one is the graffiti art. We know a good lot of cutting edge U.K. graff artists, which brought to the table Marvel graffiti art in a contemporary U.K. fashion. The Ultimates range was co-created by us and Acrylicize, a company which have patented the way that they print on acrylic, and a bunch of lads who grew up not too far from me. They have recently finished doing all the art installations in Wembley Stadium and Arab Emirates Stadium, two of the most important stadiums in good ol' blighty! The third art range was spearheaded by Voodoo Kinky, which is run by one of my best friends, Paul Aston. The ethos behind his range is to print art on wood in a very affordable fashion, with a great finish. There are two key ranges, the Stencil range, based on the stencil graff form, which reflects the influence of comics on modern street culture, brought to the mainstream by people such as Banksy. The second is the Mash-Up range, a remix of reality and classic Marvel characters. Think great spray art over some classic urban scenes.
MARVEL.COM: How did you find the featured artists? Is there a pretty devoted following to this stuff around where you guys are based?
Once again, all through friends and family. I've rolled with these people all my life, working with them is just natural. Although, some came through friends of friends, so the trust is there. And yeah, there is great love for comics, and people really do dig Marvel. The bloke who runs the Truman Breweries, the events building that held the exhibition, is a huge Marvel fan. He has thousands of comics like me. It's like a secret drug everyone does you know? "Hey, you want a comic hit? Oh man! I'm trying to get off that stuff! Okay, just a bit more!"
MARVEL.COM: Which artists did you focus on?
by Alan Davis
Well, when you say artists, there's two takes on it. What we did was do fresh takes on great Marvel art. In terms of who created the unique treatments, it's all of my U.K. people. But we did everything to stay in theme. We had plenty of painted [Adi] Granov IRON MAN stuff that was featured in Warren Ellis' "Extremis" storyline, and Ellis is a Brit. Obviously [Bryan] Hitch's ULTIMATES work, as he's the best in the biz. Some Alan Davis CAPTAIN BRITAIN stuff, as well as his other work. Mark Buckinghams's Spidey, John Romita Jr.'s Hulk from when Paul Jenkins was writing. Basically, either the art was by U.K. artists, or the writer from the artist's work was British.
MARVEL.COM: What sorts of fashion items did you have on display?
Technics vs Marvel
We featured our Technics vs Marvel range of t-shirts, which were produced in collaboration with DMC Records. We also featured our own range of Marvel t-shirts and hand-painted caps, all designed by Urban Species.
MARVEL.COM: Why the marriage between art and fashion?
Us being a fashion company first, we had to have clothes! Art and fashion go hand in hand, and all kinds of clothing with painted/sprayed/printed/embroidered art on them have gone on for so many decades. Naturally pop art and comic art have always used clothing as vehicles and visa versa. People literally wear their hearts on their sleeves.
MARVEL.COM: How was Xbox/Activision involved in the event and what did they exhibit?
An attendee plays
Friend or Foe"
Xbox/Activision gave us gaming pods to demo the new "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe" game, which was a bloody good laugh!
MARVEL.COM: What was Mark Millar's role in the event?
Luckily we managed to get in contact with Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch a long time ago, when the idea was for it to be a much more intimate event about ULTIMATES art, featuring them as the guests of honor. As the event snowballed, so did Mark and Bryan's workload. It's a double-edged sword, while being the hottest guys in the biz, they became way too busy. Bryan began work on their new FANTASTIC FOUR run, had another baby, and had too many commitments. He very politely had to bow out, which is fair enough, a man has to take care of his world. With Mark becoming a Hollywood brat—his words, not mine—he just couldn't make it down for the actual night. What we cooked up instead was, for him to do an interview that would be played on a big screen projector at the event next to the ULTIMATES artwork. On top of that, we got him to sign a whole bunch of certificates, and underneath his signature was written "this art has been seen by MARK MILLAR and he doesn't think it sucks!" More than anything, it meant the world for us to meet them and get their blessing, which was achieved.
MARVEL.COM: Did Mark provide any of his trademark memorable moments?
Wolverine in an
Oh plenty, but nothing I can really talk about here! I know us English have a reputation to like a bit of a tipple, but the Scots do it better. In fact we met him in Glasgow lately and that was a fun night! Seriously though, it was great to hear from the mouth the entire thinking of the book, the approach, and the inspiration. Apart from that, he promised us he's going to put Joe Quesada into one of the issues of FF with a pet monkey on roller skates and smoking a pipe that blows bubbles. I'm just waiting to see if he has the guts…do you have the stones Mark?!
MARVEL.COM: What are the DMCs?
and the DMCs:
a true dream team
DMC are the world's premiere DJ label. The very first that ever existed, and the strongest to this day. They hold the DMCs World DJ championships, which is the most important DJ competition in the world, and is held internationally. Technics created the 1210 turntable in the '60s, which is regarded to this day as the industry standard turntable for every pro DJ. DMC are licensees of Technics merchandising. While looking at a Spidey image, I had the idea one night while having drinks with one of the DMC guys of, "Hey, how about we do a t-shirt with Spider-Man rubbing a record? And make it official" This was something I always knew would work. The relationship between comics—particularly Marvel comics—and urban hip hop culture, is legendary amongst the fans of both, but has never been represented on an official level. After much blood sweat and tears, and much persistence, we created Technics vs. Marvel clothing. Don't get me wrong, it's been well worth it, but you have four separate identities there, this has never been achieved on a clothing range in history ever before, and that took a lot of legal work! The DMC/Urban Species relationship flourished from then on. Our British Marvel Secrets exhibition was designed to coincide with the DMC World Finals. We launched the Technics vs Marvel Iron Man t-shirts at both events and aired the trailer at both nights of the DMCs.
MARVEL.COM: How did you get to show the "Iron Man" movie trailer and display the armor from the film for the first time in the UK at the exhibition?
"I am Iron Man...
Because we're special! Ha! No, really, unless you've had your head under a rock for the last few months in the entertainment industry, "Iron Man" has sent ripples. Lionsgate were key in the development for our event and they had just launched the U.K. version of the "Invincible Iron Man" animated film, which rocks. I honestly don't include anything that sucks with what we do. And as we know, the current versions of 616 Iron Man and Ultimate Iron Man were heavily developed by Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, all seminal U.K. creators. So it fit in nicely with our event. Besides, working with Marvel internally, I've seen plenty of "Iron Man" footage, and I honestly believe that this will be the first Marvel film that transcends the "comic book film" genre. It's going to be a sci-fi action epic. Spidey has always been my fave character, but I believe this is going to be bigger. Not only did we get the trailer, but at the exhibition we got to show for the first time to the public "behind the scenes" making of footage from Jon Favreau's "Iron Man." Getting the armor was a cross between sheer luck and persistence. Turns out when the amour came in to go to another event, no one wanted to handle as it weighed three tons. So I busted my butt to get it into the exhibition when I saw the window of opportunity and found a way for it to be displayed. The reaction we got was phenomenal. We had media and PR people hollering like it was a bloc party!
MARVEL.COM: Overall, what type of crowd did you attract and what was the general feeling about the event among attendees?
You know, we got all kinds, and it was great. Our group of people on our team have this idea of people like us, comic/pop culture fans, being this secret international gang. When we were younger it was almost a dirty secret, now it's vogue again! But these things do move in cycles, and Hollywood has picked up on it, so we're in the start of a huge high. We had people of all ages, all races and all styles, from the painfully stylish to backpacking geeks. Here's a good example: our PR guy Saj was interviewing Busta Rhymes one day for another magazine and was wearing one of our Human Torch Technics vs Marvel t-shirts. Busta walked up to him and was like, "YO! Where'd you get that t-shirt from MAN? That's off da hook!" Goes to show how many different kinds of fanmen/women there are nowadays.
MARVEL.COM: Why do Marvel comics play an important role in the culture Urban Species is a part of?
Put Marvel on
Well, whether any one likes it or not, the urban or street culture that has taken over the world originated in [New York City]. In my opinion, the very first "urban," song was Jimi Hendrix "Cross Town Traffic." He was talking about the melting pot that was this crazy urban thing happening, and he couldn't get over it while he was in the traffic Around that time, there was a lot of ethnic uprising, cross culture beginnings, political strife, race riots, campus riots, the baby boomers, the love generation etc. During that time, Afrika Bambaata got kids off the streets, out of various troubles and got them to join Zulu Nation. They created the elements of hip hop, break dancing, graffiti, MCing, and the DJ. They created bloc parties, workshops, and believed to further themselves politically, financially and spiritually. Around this time Stan Lee created the [Marvel Universe] and as we all know, he tapped into everything he saw around him. There was this brilliant synergy of all the arts/culture in NYC during the '60s and the '70s and Stan had his finger RIGHT on that pulse. It also bounces back and forth—when Bambaata joined Soul Sonic Force, the cover for their seminal record "Renegades of Funk," was a reworking of an AVENGERS cover. This started a trend of superstar DJ's dressing up as superheroes.
The relationship between the DJ and super heroes continued from then on. The seminal DJ team The X-Cutioners were originally named the X-Men before they got signed. That's still their nickname, and one of their team, Roc Raida, shocked the DJ world when he introduced body tricks when winning the DMC's one year He wore a Marvel X-Men t-shirt for the occasion. There are many more examples from rappers like MF Doom, David Banner, Method Man—a.k.a. Johnny Blaze, Ghostface Killah—a.k.a. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, a.k.a. Captain America. Wu Tang Clan even had their own comic, leader RZA being a comic book aficionado. This list is far too long to try and compile it all now! I mean, Sticky Fingaz from Onyx played Blade for the Spike TV series! Not to mention [Black Entertainment Television president] Reggie Hudlin has been [writing] BLACK PANTHER for a while now. That says it all really.
MARVEL.COM: Would you classify the event a success? Will you be doing more?
and give us
our armor back!
The event was a great success. I couldn't be more grateful of all the support that the public and our friends have given us. And oh yes, we are going to do more…
For more on Urban Species, visit their web site.