The House of Slay superheroes are here to stay

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One evening, just before Halloween, there was a party at Chinese Tuxedo, a trendy Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown, Manhattan. The participants entered a side street lit by yellow lanterns, past graffiti walls covered with posters of superheroes. Inside they sipped champagne while the Asian drag queens West Dakota, Panthera Lush and Dynasty wrapped themselves around the bars of the restaurant. The invitation of the evening had dictated: “Dress to Slay”.

However, that was not because the guests were going to get bloody. They celebrated the birth of a new breed of superhero.

Forget about shang chi. Forget the eternal. The most unexpected super debut is taking place online this week, courtesy of House of Slay, a web comic series about five Asian best friends battling the god of darkness. And which happen to be real too.

Or at least based on real people. Fashion people, to be precise.

Including the designers Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim as well as Laura Kim from Oscar de la Renta. Also influencers Tina Leung and Ezra J. William, a restaurateur and celebrity.

Friends who met through their work but felt more connected through the Asian hate crimes that spread during the coronavirus pandemic, the quintet formed a loose support group – they called themselves the Slaysians – which became a broader movement developed on social media. Now it has become the basis of a pop culture fable that is meant to reach anyone who feels like an outsider, whether they’re into fashion or not. Together, the animated gang fights against an evil overlord whose power grows with each episode of racial discrimination. Love and understanding must prevail in order to create a safe world for all.

“There are so many children, especially Asians, who feel strange or don’t fit in,” said Lim. “Showing these children that real people like us can become superheroes is so important.”

At a time when everyone from the British royal family to Barack Obama has been turned into a toon and high-profile celebrities are battling to become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was only a matter of time before fashion – an industry that after all, not unconscious of the trend – and comics collided.

“Both are great visual media,” says Alex Lu, the editor who worked on House of Slay. “Both deliver social commentary in a challenging and exciting way.”

The Slaysians originally came together largely by chance. Ms. Kim and Mr. Gurung had worked in the same building for 10 years and started meeting – as well as the rest of the gang – at fashion events. These chance meetings turned into evenings at Bubble T, a queer Asian dance party, and dinner parties.

“The first time Phillip invited us to dinner, I only accepted because I wanted to see his apartment,” said Ms. Kim with a laugh. “I thought I didn’t have time for friends.”

During the pandemic, Mr. Lim and Ms. Kim sent homemade kimchi and photo to the others via messenger. They met daily for walks on the West Side Highway or to shop at Sunrise Mart, the Japanese grocery store. “We made sure we were six feet apart and we had gloves on,” said Ms. Leung. “Do you remember when we all wore gloves?”

When the protests against Black Lives Matter took place, they went to the front lines together. “Growing up I was taught not to speak,” said Mr. William. “But Prabal and Phillip taught me to be louder.” As hate crimes became rampant in Asia, they shared each other’s fears. (“My 78-year-old mother lives in my house and goes for a walk every morning,” said Mr. Gurung. “I was so concerned about her that I bought her a blonde wig to wear.”) And they used her social media followers to spread the hashtag #StopAsianHate and raise funds.

When they started posting photos of themselves, along with the hashtag #Slaysians (a term coined by music artist Slayrizz, who also performed at the House of Slay opening party), they got hundreds, some days thousands flooded with comments, direct messages and emails saying how much they loved seeing this friendship. So they did it more often.

“We come from an industry where you are being made a competitor,” said Lim. “The narrative is always, there is only room for one or two of you. We realized that we can change that by showing ourselves together. A photo of the five of us was a show of force. It says: ‘We are Asians and we kill.’ “

The group had started discussing whether to use their popularity by launching a product (Slaysian Hot Sauce?) When Michael Chow, a friend of Mr. Lim and a media entrepreneur and investor, got in touch and asked if they would be interested in to turn her life into a comic book series.

“One day he took me out to dinner and said, ‘What is this Slaysian thing about?'” Said Mr Lim. “He said we miss BIPOC narratives in the media world. He convinced me that we could help raise awareness of stories and topics as well as celebrations in the BIPOC community. “

House of Slay was born.

It took a year to create the comic book series developed by Einhorns Epic Productions, a company focused on creating comic book series for “underserved fandoms”. Every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. there was a Zoom meeting with the production team to collect stories about the book. “We didn’t miss a single one,” said Mr. Gurung.

The Slaysians were given homework, including questionnaires, to fill out about their upbringing, fears, experiences, and dreams to determine which superpower would be best. Not to mention which outfit.

After all, from the start, the five friends had strong opinions about what their superheroes should wear.

Mr William, for example, wanted something blue for his character. It’s his favorite color, he said, “and all of the superheroes I loved as a kid, like Sailor Moon and Storm, had a lot of blue.”

The representative of Mrs. Leung finally wore a gold armor body with a chain mail and gold high heels. “I feel like a boss and so powerful when I wear a suit, so this is my favorite outfit,” she said. “I wanted my whole body to be gold and diamonds, but they said it wouldn’t be in the comic, so all I have now is a little bit of diamond heels.”

She said to Ms. Kim: “Originally I wanted to wear a beige trench coat with black leggings because I always approach things realistically.” The answer? “It’s too normal and I have to be more of a superhero. Now I have a white trench coat with a latex material that is translucent. “

Mr. Lim said he wore a green and gold robe “because in my previous life I felt I had a connection to monasteries or I was a monk and had a life of service.” But for the moments when If his character feels a little less relaxed, one of his arms is also covered in dragon-shaped armor.

Finally, there is Mr. Gurung Super, who wears jewelry from Nepal (Mr. Gurung is Nepali), black leather and a black cloak that changes color according to his strength. “That’s what this project is about,” he said: “Color has power.”

“The five of them also spoke long with Jeremy Holt, the comic book writer, so that the writer could get to know their personalities. “The way we talk to each other in the comic is exactly the way we talk in real life,” said Ms. Leung. “I don’t know how we were captured so well.” Much of what the superheroes go through is inspired by friends’ real life experiences.

For example, the story begins with our heroes looking at Asian antiques in a gallery where, unbeknownst to them, a villain raids the gallery to steal a rare and powerful artifact that gives him the power of darkness. Later in the evening, the good guys discover the opposite: an artifact that gives them light powers that they use to fight hatred and intolerance.

Mr. Gurung received the power of telepathy and the ability to control other people’s emotions. Mr. Lim is bulletproof. Ms. Kim can teleport (“I hate it at the end of the night when I’m tired and have to wait for an Uber,” she said). Ms. Leung can move objects telekinetically and Mr. William has the ability to control the weather. The battles between good and evil don’t take place in filthy alleys or on the sides of skyscrapers, but in the most exclusive and hip places in town (the names have been changed for the alternate comic verses).

In one episode, they all attend the Met Gala – or rather, their House of Slay rep. “I’ve never gone in real life, but at least the superhero lets me go,” said Mr. William.

The digital book can be read for free on the tapas comic strip platform, and the 48-page book is published in chapters on a weekly basis. Movies, TV shows, and music can also follow. And House of Slay merchandise – baseball caps, t-shirts, and groceries – is in the works.

“The fact that I’m a real person who’s now a superhero is hilarious, but also really cool,” said Lim. “I can handle it.”



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