House of Slay superheroes are here to stay
One night just before Halloween, a party was held at the Chinese Tuxedo, a hip Cantonese restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Participants entered through an alleyway lit by yellow lanterns, past graffiti walls covered with superhero posters. Inside, they sipped champagne as Asian drag queens, West Dakota, Panthera Lush, and Dynasty writhed around the restaurant poles. The invitation for the evening had said, âDress to Slay.
It wasn’t because the guests were about to bleed, however. They were celebrating the birth of a new kind of superhero.
Forget about Shang-Chi. Forget the Eternals. The most unexpected supe debut takes place this week online, courtesy of House of Slay, a web comic series about five Asian best friends who battle the Dark God. And that also happens to be real.
Or at least are based on real people. Fashion people, to be exact.
They include designers Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim, as well as Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim. Also influencer Tina Leung and Ezra J. William, a restaurateur and socialite.
Friends who met through their work but found themselves more closely linked by the Asian hate crimes that proliferated during the coronavirus pandemic, the quintet formed an occasional support group – they dubbed themselves the Slaysians – which became a wider movement on social networks. Today it has become the basis of a pop culture fable meant to reach anyone who feels like outsiders, whether or not they care about fashion. Together, the animated gang battles an evil overlord whose power grows with each episode of racial discrimination. Love and understanding must prevail to create a safe world for all.
âThere are so many kids, especially Asians, who feel different or don’t fit in,â Lim said. “Showing these kids that real people like us can be superheroes is so important.”
At a time when everyone from the British Royal Family to Barack Obama has become a toon and top celebrities vie to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was only a matter of time before fashion – an industry that is, after all, not oblivious to the trend – and comics have collided.
âThey’re both super visual mediums,â said Alex Lu, the editor who worked on House of Slay. “They both deliver social commentary in a stimulating and exciting way.”
The origin story
The Slaysians originally got together largely by accident. Ms Kim and Mr Gurung had worked in the same building for 10 years and began to cross paths – along with the rest of the gang – at fashion events.. These chance encounters turned into parties at Bubble T, a night of queer Asian dance, and dinner parties.
âThe first time Phillip invited us to dinner, I only said yes because I wanted to see his apartment,â Ms. Kim said with a laugh. “I didn’t think I had time for friends.”
During the pandemic, Mr. Lim and Ms. Kim sent homemade kimchi and pho to others through Messenger. They met daily for walks on the West Side Highway or grocery shopping at Sunrise Mart, the Japanese grocery store. âWe made sure we were six feet apart and had gloves on,â Ms. Leung said. “Do you remember when we all wore gloves?” “
When the Black Lives Matter protests took place, they went to the front lines together. âGrowing up I was taught not to speak,â Mr. William said. “But Prabal and Phillip taught me to be more vocal.” When Asian hate crimes were rampant, they shared each other’s fears. (âMy 78-year-old mother lives in my apartment building and takes a walk every morning,â Mr. Gurung said. âI was so worried about her that I bought her a blonde wig to wear.â) And they have used their social media following to help spread the #StopAsianHate hashtag and raise funds.
When they started posting photos of themselves, with the hashtag #Slaysians (a term coined by musical artist Slayrizz, who also performed at House of Slay’s opening night), they were inundated with hundreds, if not thousands of comments, direct messages and emails saying how much they enjoyed seeing this friendship. So they did it more often.
âWe come from an industry where you have turned into competitors,â Mr. Lim said. âThe story is still, there is only room for one or two of you. We realized we could change that by showing off together. A photo of the five of us was a show of force. He said, ‘We are Asians, and we kill.’ “
The group had started discussing whether to capitalize on their popularity by bringing a product (Slaysian hot sauce?) Into their life in a comedy series.
âOne day he took me out to dinner and said, ‘What’s this Slaysian thing?’ Said Mr. Lim. âHe said that we are running out of stories from BIPOC in the media world. He convinced me that we can help raise awareness in the BIPOC community about the stories, issues and celebrations.
House of Slay was born.
It took a year to create the comic book series, which was designed by Einhorn’s 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 brainstorm stories about the book. “We haven’t missed any,” Gurung said.
The Slaysians were given homework, including quizzes they had to complete about their upbringing, fears, experiences, and dreams to determine which superpower would be most appropriate. Not to mention what outfit.
After all, the Five Friends had strong opinions from the start 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 the superheroes I loved growing up, like Sailor Moon and Storm, had a lot of blue.”
Ms Leung’s representative ended up in a golden armor bodysuit with a chain mail cape and gold high heels. âI feel like such a boss and so powerful when I wear a suit, so this is my go-to outfit,â she said. “I wanted my whole body to be made of gold and diamonds, but they said it wouldn’t appear in the comic, so now I just have a little diamond crystal heel.”
As for Ms Kim, she said: âInitially, I wanted to wear a beige trench coat with black leggings because I am always realistic in my approach to things. The answer? âIt’s too normal, and I have to be more of a superhero. Now I have a white trench coat with translucent latex material.
Mr. Lim said he wore a green and gold robe “because in a previous life I had, I felt like I had a connection to the monasteries or I was a monk and engaged in a service life “. But for those times when his character is feeling a little less serene, one of his arms is also covered in dragon-shaped armor.
Finally, there is Mr. Gurung’s supe, who wears jewelry from Nepal (Mr. Gurung is Nepalese), black leather, and a black cloak that changes color to match his powers. “This is the purpose of this project,” he said: “There is power in color.”
âThe five also spent a lot of time talking to Jeremy Holt, the author of the comic, so the writer could get to know their personalities. âThe way we talk together in the comics is exactly the way we talk in real life,â Ms. Leung said. âI don’t know how we got caught so well. Much of what superheroes go through is inspired by the real-life experiences of friends.
For example, the story begins as our heroes look at Asian antiques in a gallery where, without their knowledge, a villain raids the gallery to steal a rare and powerful artifact that grants him powers of darkness. Later that evening, the Gentiles discover its opposite: an artifact that grants them powers of light, which they use to fight hatred and intolerance.
Mr. Gurung received the power of telepathy and the ability to control the emotions of others. Mr. Lim is bulletproof. Ms. Kim manages to teleport (âI hate it at the end of the night when I’m tired and have to wait for an Uber,â she said). Ms. Leung can move objects by telekinesis and Mr. William has the ability to control the weather. Battles between good and evil do not take place in dirty alleys or on the sides of skyscrapers, but at the city’s most exclusive and fashionable sites (the names have been changed to the alternate verse of comics).
In one episode, they all attend the Met Gala – or rather its House of Slay replacement. âI’ve never been there in real life, but at least the superhero me can go,â Mr. William said.
The digital book is free to read on the comic book platform tapas, and the 48-page book will be released weekly, in chapters. Movies, TV shows, and music can also follow. And House of Slay merchandise – baseball caps, t-shirts, and groceries – is in the works.
âThe fact that I’m a real person who is now a superhero is hilarious, but also really cool,â Mr. Lim said. “I’m still accepting it.”