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From what I’ve read, Girl and Boy is a story that impacts each reader in a different way. A kid might get a superhero's love story, or a young woman will relate to a modern girl’s struggle with relationships. Others will be drawn by the cultural references, and the characters clothes. Comic books fans might go for the film noir style. There’s a lot going in such a short story. Did you intend to write for such a wide audience? Or is this a reflection of the many faceted Andrew Tunney?
I really just aim to write what I want to read and hope there's someone else out there that agrees with me. That's the first step. After that it's layers of things I like, things I don't like, things that will contrast or conflict or support, or just cool shit like sneakers and film noir references. Or setting it in Manchester. Some of it is design and some things just work their way in there subconsciously. It's a short story so I wanted there to be things that people could discover on further reading. And despite the details I think the story of GIRL is pretty universal, it's just what angle you personally look at it from. And yeah, I'd also quite like people to think I was an interesting dude haha.
The characters Girl and Boy were written to defy the comic book norm, right? Girl is a strong, layered female, in medium where many female characters are, at best, one dimensional props...and Boy is black, an underrepresented minority in comics.
Is using your work as a tool to defy stereotypes and shine light on often ignored issues something that’s important to you? Will we see more of it from you in the future?
It all depends on what comics you're reading. If all you're reading is the worst examples of US mainstream books then sure, there won't be a lot of minorities or well developed female characters and that's bad. But those aren't the only comics available. I grew up reading European comics like TINTIN and ASTERIX alongside UK TRANSFORMERS then transitioned into manga like RANMA1/2 and APPLESEED in my teens as well as the classic Claremont X-MEN so my comics diet was pretty broad. Seeing diversity in a comic's cast of characters or in its creators is not a new concept for me, it's what I'm used to. I think it's important to recognise that the world of comics isn't just the US mainstream; there's a lot of books out there for a lot of different people, they just don't always get the best exposure.
Also I'm not really a political guy. I know at the moment confronting social injustice in comics is a big thing and for lots of creators and readers that's the first thing they look for in a comic, but for me I'm mostly motivated by story. Most of my career as an artist has involved representing people of different races, religions, cultures, so it's something I do and it's something I enjoy. So that goes for my comics too. It's challenging creatively and technically and I get to learn about the world, so I'm all for it.
Most people who've read GIRL&BOY have told me it's their first ever comic. So they're not thinking about how it works in the larger context of gender representation in Western comics or whatever... they just like the book. For them it's succeeding on its own merits, so I love that.
A large part of GIRL&BOY is concerned with female empowerment but that mostly came from relationships I've seen or people I've known, not any kind of political desire. While I was making the book DC's reboot of CATWOMAN came out and there was a lot of stink about that and a bunch of other US comics at that time, so that was definitely on my mind. And yeah, part of me does like trying to show up a billion dollar corporation with a comic I made in my back room.
I do educate myself about current social issues... but I want to make comics, not manifestos. At the heart of GIRL&BOY is a story about relationships that I was passionate about and that I thought was powerful and might resonate with people if I told it well enough. I just want to move people.
Comic books have a relatively long history in self publishing and distribution, since the days of underground comix movement of the 60’s. These are things that are only really recently starting to catch on in the rest of the publishing world. We are just starting to see self published novels and ebooks getting the same kind of attention and following as traditionally published books, and of course in music, with the advent of online sharing and downloading it seems that self publishing is here to stay and is recreating the way we find, consume and share.
Why do you think it took so long for these other industries to catch on? In your experience, is self publishing an important learning curve for an artist, or is it still more like a necessary stepping stone?
Technology is a huge factor. What's the A J Liebling quote? "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Most of us have a computer and an internet connection now, so that's your press. I can't really speak on other industries because I'm not in them, for me self-publishing comics was necessary because I didn't think anybody was going to take a gamble on publishing my book. Either because of the content or the size or because I was unproven as a comics creator. Also I had a pretty good idea of the audience I wanted to get this book to and it wasn't one that I thought a UK publisher could deliver me.
More importantly though, I was at a time in my life where I'd continually been working for other people on their "next big thing"... only to see those projects never get off the ground because of reasons outside of my control. So really I just wanted to be captain of my own ship.
I certainly learned a lot from doing it because, aside from my art assistant KT Coope and my amazing print guy, I was doing all the jobs in the chain. Writing, drawing, colouring, sourcing printers, talking to stores, processing orders, shipping orders etc etc. Then it got nominated for Best Comic at the British Comic Awards so I really did run through the whole of the comic making experience on one project, and experienced all of it's ups and downs. I don't know how necessary it is as a career move because not everybody wants the same things. If you want to draw all day for Marvel and hate the rest of the process then it's maybe not much use to you. I just felt it was my only option.
With fundraising tools like Kickstarter becoming viable, (and platforms like Comixology, Big Cartel etc) and as there’s less place for industry gatekeepers, do you think we will be seeing the end of the middle man between creator and audience in years to come? Can only good can come from this?
Having a middle man is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you're all working towards the same goal. There's a point where you need someone with experience to look after all the stuff you don't want to do, or don't have time to learn, like printing or distribution or whatever. I can handle that myself on a project like GIRL&BOY, or with my new anthology THE WASTE cause there's three of us (Mark Penman, myself and James Lawrence). But if your goal is to print and ship millions of issues of an ongoing monthly series to the whole world a publisher starts looking pretty vital. I think that's not going away, but what is coming in is more options for people. And that's exciting. I have my own Big Cartel which I love using and with that I've sold comics to 15 different countries. I'm also recently on ComiXology with GIRL&BOY and that's exciting too. I haven't used Kickstarter yet, but I like that the option exists now.
Are there any mistakes you see young artists making, particularly in regard to publishing? Any you made, or something you would do differently with hindsight?
I see a lot of artists passing comics around at conventions and they have this sad look on their face when they say "You can have my comic if you want, it's not very good". That's no good man, you should have confidence in your own work even if you know you have lots to learn. It's your thing that you made! Own it! If you don't care about your own work nobody else will. Just make the next one better.
And I see people struggle with the notion of charging money for comics and what that means for their artistic integrity. Just make the best book you can, satisfy all your creative principles in the work. Everything after that is about getting your work to the people while trying to make enough to enable the next book. Just don't behave like an ass and you're fine. It's ok to be excited by making money or winning awards, you're not selling guns to Syria.
As for myself, I maybe would have had all the other BCA nominees killed so I could have won Best Comic, but otherwise I think I did pretty well.
You describe your art as “youth focused, street driven”, you rollerblade, it seems you’ve grown up around and been influenced by the graffiti and skate scene...so why comics? Why not streetart? Was it always going to be comics, and will it always be?
Comics and animation were my first loves, as were movies and books. It's hard for me to separate out whether it's the story or the images I love more, but I'm lucky enough to be able to work with both so that's fine. Blading really gave me my identity as a young teenager. At this point skateboarding was not in a boom period and there were even less rollerbladers, so I just accidentally fell into this growing scene at a time when the world wasn't really focussing on alternative sports and cultures like it is now. It lead me into the hip-hop and graff world which meant I spent time away from comics but I was still drawing, I was filming and editing and designing t-shirts etc etc. Most everyone in my crew was a photographer, DJ, cameraman or artist, some guys rapped, some guys were programmers... it was an amazing environment to be in.
I did illustration and animation at university, that was a disappointment, but I rediscovered comics there via POWERS, DAREDEVIL and HELLBOY. I ended up more deeply involved with street-art and graff culture with my work in club nights and live-art events. But that night life scene and the graff scene has a lot of shady characters and a lot of beef that I just grew tired of. And I had way more to say in comics. But when I came back to comics I brought all that experience with me which proved to be invaluable.
And what about your interest in fashion and couture. Would you ever be keen to collaborate with a designer, ala KAWS x UNDERCOVER ? Who would it be?
I do love clothes. I've had a certain amount of experience in street wear via rollerblading brands and other projects I've been involved in and it's something I enjoy. Beyond that, in regards to fashion and couture I'm really just a curious outsider.
I caught the release of UNKLE's PSYENCE FICTION album at a crucial point in my life, so that holy union of FUTURA x BAPE x UNKLE had a huge affect on me. It lead me into discovering that early harajuku scene and the designer toy boom with Michael Lau and Kubrick, then architecture via WonderWall. And this was in the earlier days of the internet so I really felt like I'd stumbled on to something esoteric. If any of those people called me up to work with them I'd probably faint.
BAPE has changed a lot and the rest of the world has caught up to a lot of what NIGO was doing that made it special in the early days. That approach to collaborations has been co-opted by corporate business now, and these days it seems you get a better shot at those design opportunities if you're a wealthy rapper.
I love Yoon's visual language and Takashi Murakami does amazing work across all mediums, as does Ashley Wood. I like KAWS when he moves away into the abstract and not just co-opting animated characters and FUTURA and NIGO will always mean a lot to me. I've got a growing interest in architecture and interiors. I really just like making stuff. In comics you're creating worlds but they half exist inside the reader's head. I don't get a lot of opportunity to make physical objects. I'd like to see what I could do in the physical space, whether that's clothing, or a store, the stage for a runway show or whatever. So I'd like to work with anyone that could help me find the "me" in that.
TUNNEY x MAHARISHI? GIRL&BOY x 3A TOYS? I wouldn't say no to that.
I’ve always felt that comic book art is the most undervalued art, the sheer volume of work pumped out, hitting the same high standard panel after panel, is beyond impressive to me. What do you think?
If I think too long about the work involved in making comics I get terrified. It's really intimidating how much has to be done to get a story from idea into panels. Or at least the way I want to see it done. There's really nothing else I've done apart from animation that requires so much work and such a high level of execution. And with animation you're usually only focussing on one specific part of the process, with comics you're the god and the earth and the trees.
Still, I only have two books published so I really can't complain about workload. Compared to artists like Otomo and his body of work I have a long way to go.