A YOUNG couple is charging around a city’s darkened streets beneath lightening split skies, it seems to them as if the rest of the world scarcely exists.
Bolting across dampened rooftops the masked lovers are alone in a moonlit rainstorm. They race into the night past blackening clouds against a gloomy city skyline and...The Arndale Tower.
When most people think of a comic book setting it’s hard to look past New York and the big three – Superman, Spiderman and Batman.
Andrew Tunney’s new comic ‘Girl & Boy’ replaces NYC’s endless skyscrapers with MCR’s NCP car park on Tib Street, Edge Street’s derelict shop rollers and converted textile factory flats. It’s a comic book set in streets most Mancunians will be familiar with.
"The climate is perfect for it, we’ve got all these old buildings and this really interesting skyline which you never really see in other media."
Tunney’s nickname among friends is ‘2hands’ owing to his curious ability to draw with both of his hands – “I’m not ambidextrous it’s just a thing,” he modestly muses.
He describes his work as "youth focused and street driven with an eye for couture" which is hard to disagree with after reading Girl & Boy. Its dark pages reveal a world of dingy side streets, glamorous designer clothing labels and adrenaline fuelled young lovers.
With two musician parents working on cruise ships Tunney spent a lot of his youth on the Atlantic, with crossings ending in a trip to a comic book store near the port. Having learnt to read through the old Transformers comics in England the other side of the Atlantic offered a new source of readership in the form of the classic Marvel era X-Men comics.
“So I was reading most of the Transformers from England and a lot of the X-Men material as I got into my teens, which is a really good time of life for that. And then I was reading Tin Tin and Asterix as well when I was really young because they had them in the school library.
“I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back now, I was reading comics from the UK industry, the European style and American stuff so I had accidental but really good comic education. And the European industry is incredible because everyone reads comics, it’s similar to Japan in the way that there’s no stigma about it. If you say ‘comics’ to English people they just think of The Dandy and The Beano.
“In France you can buy Western comics, sci-fi comics, and murder mysteries, whatever. Same in Japan. There’s comics about tennis and cooking whereas we don’t get that diversity.”
Girl & Boy story charts the relationship of two young lovers, one called Girl, and, believe it or not, one called Boy. The masked duo exists in a glamorously stylised film noir Manchester.
“There is an obvious film noir style to the comic for several reasons. For one I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler, watching Casablanca, and that inspired me. Secondly I wanted to set it in the city because the climate is perfect for it, we’ve got all these grand old buildings and a really interesting skyline which you never really see in other media. Plus I live here so if I want to do any research I can simply go into town and get my camera out and research it directly.
“The point is that this is a story that could happen anywhere to anybody. As glamorous and as beautiful as the characters and the setting is, it’s something that everyone goes through at some point so I didn’t necessarily want to put ‘Meanwhile in Manchester...’ because it’s not super important or integral to the story that it happens here but I wanted it to be obvious.
"So if you live here you could be like ‘Oh, that’s Hunters Take-Away, or that’s such and such a street and the Hilton just looks cool. I knew I had to have this couple making out while they were drinking so I had them outside Common. I’m always looking for things that people can relate to even though the characters are running around in masks. So my Boy & Girl get drunk and make out with each other. ”
“I’ve had people ask me whether they are crime fighters or not," continues Tunney. "If you need them to be, if that means you enjoy the story more then cool, it’s not important it just allows me to play up certain metaphors and things. Just by putting masks on them it changes everything. And the costumes look like superhero costumes but it’s nothing that you can’t find in a store.
“I’ve had some girls saying they want to 'Cosplay' (costume-play) as Girl which is awesome but I don’t know how they’re going to deal with the Lois Vuitton Kanye West sneakers, that might be a bit tough.
The story of young love and a lust fuelled whirlwind romance may not be groundbreaking but in a comic book sense Tunney believes there aren’t too many role models for girls out there. The narrative is mainly from Girl’s point of view and how she copes when things are going right as well as when they go wrong.
“It’s hard to explain without spoilers but I seem to have met a lot of girls who feel that they’re not allowed to be single because it’s like a judgement so they end up with people who are terrible for them. Girl’s getting her head around that problem and where she goes from there. Also in the context of comics and what’s going on at the moment, specifically in American mainstream comics there are not a lot of good role models for girls in characters and there are also not a lot of Black heroes and villains who get used prominently and star in their own story. I was trying to address some of those problems.”
Tunney is part of a mini-Manchester trend.
Our streets are also home to a whole host of comic and illustrative talent who are putting Manchester on the cell shaded map. Andrew Tunney’s debut issue nestles on the shelves of shops like The Travelling Man and Forbidden Planet among the international big hitters but also other Manchester based comic artists.
“In terms of comics Manchester has got one of the best pools of talent," says Tunney. "There’s Adam Cadwell who went from self-publishing comics to industry figure. He's started the first British Comic Awards which will be in November. Then there’s Mark Penman and John Allison as well who does Bad Machinery, an online comic which is one of the biggest web comics in the world. So the scene is big but the problem is that if you don’t fit into a couple of boxes Manchester is supposed to be known for, you can get forgotten. It'd be good to see that change.”
During Manchester’s recent comic convention at Manchester Central several people claimed to Tunney that Girl & Boy was the first comic they’d ever read.
Indeed this was the case for myself, not that I was ever opposed to the idea of comics, it’s simply that further than reading The Beano in the car home from school every Thursday I didn't know where to look.
Girl & Boy is a far cry from Beano. It’s exploration of relationships via playful metaphors that keep you wondering if you’ve got the story right. The characters may or may not be superheroes, it’s up to you.
"I think he's my favourite sidekick ever" says Girl at one point. Does she really mean sidekick? Or does she mean boyfriend? It’s as if the narrative itself has a masked identity.
Andrew Tunney’s Comic Book Recommendations:
Blood Blokes – Adam Cadwell.
Chloe Noonan – Marc Ellerby.
Peabody and D’Gorath – Mark Penman (Digital Only)
Conan The Barbarian – Becky Cloonan
You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenPRobinson.
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