Pop Culture

‘Project Runway’ star turns Marvel superhero

On TV’s “Project Runway,” Tim Gunn cuts an elegant figure in impeccably tailored suits as he urges budding designers to “make it work.” But in an upcoming Marvel comic, the fashion icon will trade them for something a bit more severe — the high-tech battle armor of iconic superhero Iron Man.

Gunn will make the transition from black tie to red-and-gold armor in an upcoming four-issue series called “Models Inc.”

“He’s been a lot of fun to work with,” says Paul Tobin, the main writer on the series. “I’ll hear somebody say, ‘Let’s talk to Tim for 10 minutes,’ and two hours later they’ll get off the phone because there’s so much to talk about.”

Involving flesh-and-blood people like Gunn in the action-packed doings of heroes like Iron Man and Spider-Man is a Marvel tradition, Tobin points out. “It’s inherent in our creations that they live in the real world,” he says.

For Marvel, that world has always been centered in New York, where the Avengers and the Fantastic Four have midtown headquarters — and which is also a fashion hub and the home of Parsons The New School for Design, where Gunn was chair of fashion design from 2000 to 2007.

Besides, fashion and comics aren’t as incongruous as they may sound. Back in the ’60s, while boys were discovering then-new heroes like Iron Man, girls were enjoying female-oriented characters like Millie the Model, who had been juggling romance and career going back to the ’40s.

In fact, it’s Millie’s fault Tim Gunn winds up in an iron suit. “Millie gets wrapped up in a murder, and she’s the prime suspect,” Tobin explains. To get her off the hook, several other of Marvel’s vintage female characters team up.

Also involved, through comic-book machinations too complex and hush-hush to go into here, are Mary Jane Watson (love interest of Peter Parker, alias the wall-crawling Spider-Man) and Gunn, who grew up familiar with fashion comics like Millie the Model, which featured clothing designs submitted by readers.

But aren’t modern comics the exclusive domain of fanboys far more interested in who would win a fight between Thor and the Incredible Hulk than haute couture?

Not necessarily, according to Tobin. “It’s really changing,” he said. “I used to run a comics store, for about 10 years, and I watched the clientele change over time. It was maybe 3 percent female when I started, but by the time I was through it was roughly 30 percent.

“I like writing female characters and I like reading female creators,” he added. “If you have female fans, you have female creators, and that’s to the benefit of the medium.”

And maybe the appearance of Gunn on one of several alternate covers of “Models Inc.,” scheduled for publication Aug. 26, will be enough to pull in those female fans. After all, when another figure from real life — President Barack Obama — appeared on a cover of “Amazing Spider-Man” mere months ago, it sold more than half a million copies.