Interviews

Meeting Captain Manchester: an interview

Real life superheroes get a lot of press. It doesn’t matter how small your town is, how street-level your gesture–someone is going to write a feature on you. You will be interviewed. There will be local newspaper headlines that sound like Vice swagger: “Our evening on patrol with Salford super-hero, Knight Warrior,” from the Manchester Evening News, f’rex. This is neither surprising nor ridiculous; did you read my first sentence? Real. Life. Superheroes. They’re edging higher purpose into actions accessible to the average Jane. They may be performing a physical service, like removing wheel clamps (Angle-Grinder Man, London) or breaking up pub fights (Knight Warrior and Knight Maiden, Salford), but they are also performing magic. Headology, as Granny Weatherwax would say. Via tights and party masks, they’re shifting the signifier of ‘some rando doing something’ to add nobility and tremendousness. Or flash and pizazz, if you’re a cynic. Get out of here, cynics!Captain Manchester may be more of a target for cynics than other pavement avengers, because he’s “not real”. The first week of October saw the news that his identity was a marketing tool–although, surprisingly, his physical unmasking did not feature. Away with you grumblers, though! Cap Manc is for charity. The man in the mask (he’s insisting on keeping it, I’m told, because good deeds are their own reward and rewards are what a modern man wants) is the human hype machine for a fundraising, ongoing comic–his public services (paying parking fines, handing out free umbrellas in the rain, encouraging employed colleagues to be generous towards one another, etc) serve as a mirror of the community-building work of Forever Manchester, the organisation who will benefit from the money raised. From their website: “We raise and distribute money to support local people and groups trying to make a positive change in our neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. Without funding these groups and projects would struggle to get off the ground or simply cease to exist.”

There’s punching crims, and then there’s giving a citizen a break before she feels the need to hold up a bank. Among other things, I asked Sam “Smudge” Jones–Alfred of the piece–how he feels his hero’s love of Manchester compares to Batman’s love of Gotham City.

“They’re taking two different approaches really, although I guess they’re both working towards the same goals. Batman is trying to make Gotham a nicer place by ridding it of shady characters, whereas Captain Manchester is encouraging people to be nice themselves, and getting actively involved within the community.”

I’d been following Captain Manchester on Twitter with a weighing eye. Their Twitter profile (as yet unchanged) read: “Got made redundant. Now wear an outfit & Help people out. My missus doesn’t know what I’m up to. Will run away if you try and take a photo.”

The wife who just doesn’t get it. Oh yes. That old chestnut. Women! Comics! Abloobloo! Finding this particularly incompatible with a community building charity, I gave them my thoughtful feedback and we had a little chat. “They”, who turned out to be S. Jones, apologised in a not-too-terrible way. Then I thought “well, why don’t I interview him?”

So I did.

Claire Napier: Why a superhero?

S. Jones: The charity who are our client do a lot of work with community groups, and superheroes are usually passionate about a certain city or area, so we thought it was a nice fit. I’m a bit of a comic book nerd as well, so I guess that had some sway over it.

CN: I did wonder if there was anything in the connection to the city. How do you think Captain Manchester’s care for Manchester stacks up against Batman’s care for Gotham? Which do you think is more productive?

SJ: They’re taking two different approaches, really, although I guess they’re both working towards the same goals. Batman is trying to make Gotham a nicer place by ridding it of shady characters, whereas Captain Manchester is encouraging people to be nice themselves, and getting actively involved within the community.

CN: Is manchester particularly receptive to the superhero idea, do you think? I used to go through the city fairly often, and there seemed to be a decent number of comic shops. Was that part of your thinking?

SJ: It wasn’t part of our thinking initially, but I think Manchester is quite a receptive city anyway. People are generally open to people trying to new things, and encourage them. Through the Twitter feed, a lot of people have got behind it and been interactive, doing good deeds of their own!

CN: Why decide to produce a comic? Was that your original intention? As far as I know, Cap M only started running about a few weeks ago, which doesn’t seem long enough to produce a full comic based on his success.

SJ: The comic was the original intention. Forever Manchester don’t really have a budget to compete with some larger channels so we devised the idea of making the character real to help promotion, and took what knowledge we had of the internet and social media, to try and push it as far as possible.

CN: Where did the comic idea come from? You mentioned you’re a comic nerd; was it all you?

SJ: Forever Manchester came to us (Tunafish Media) to ask if we had any ideas, and that was one of the ideas we came up with. It was my idea originally but once my business partners (Richard Brooks and James McDonald) got involved, things developed quite quickly. I think the idea originally came from seeing people doing it in real life. Over the last few years there has been a spate of people around the globe going out in costumes. I guess they were inspired by the film Kickass, themselves. Doing the research into those people was so much fun.

CN: Who did you research?

SJ: Loads of people. There’s a guy in Salford called Knight Warrior who breaks up fights outside pubs. He’s broken the one rule of giving the press his real name too. He’s called Roger. There’s a guy in London called Angle-Grinder man who liberates cars when they’ve been clamped. He’s the best.

CN: Oh wow, Angle-Grinder man has a fancy costume!

SJ: Yeah, I’m so jealous of his costume.

CN: I understand why you chose to create a basic, false civilian ID for the guy who played Captain Manchester. Why did you choose to make him recently unemployed?

SJ: Being unemployed would explain why he was out in the daytime in the middle of the week, and not in work. We also said he was recently made redundant so we could explain why he may have had a bit of money to help people

CN: Do you think that his redundancy resonated with people and made him seem more sympathetic?

SJ: Not really, as that was rarely mentioned, to be honest. The only time people were sympathetic was to the idea that a grown man would still feel the need to dress up.

CN: Is that angle going to be explored in the comic?

SJ: In the comic the character’s background is a bit vague. They start with him acquiring a new sidekick, and the stories are told from his point of view in a Doctor Watson kind of way. I guess it could be at some point, though.

CN: You know that I wasn’t big on the “Ohhh my wife (/sometimes girlfriend) can never know about my secret good deeds, she wouldn’t understand” part of the Twitter identity. Forever Manchester is about strengthening communities, and using the age-old wife-as-obstacle deal does basically the opposite of that! The last thing girls and women who enjoy comics need is another joke wife, so I hope you’ll be doing research into women in comics. I can give you a lot of links.

SJ: I know, and I apologise for that. Links would be perfect. We needed an excuse as to why he couldn’t be at beck and call all of the time, and that was the road we went down.

CN: Is she going to feature in the comic?

SJ: Quite possibly; we didn’t originally plan for it but I think from the messages we got on twitter, she is more popular than the Captain himself.

CN: I see that Tunafish Media are a video company and this was your first non-video project. I’m surprised this is the case, because fan films are so popular–there’s a Wonder Woman one going around at the moment that’s knocking socks off. Will Cap Manchester be starring in a video any time soon?

SJ: Yeah this was our first non-video project and it was a bit daunting, but really enjoyable. I haven’t seen the Wonder Woman one–do you have a link? My business partner is putting together a video at the minute which will be out to promote the second comic. We’re also planning a Christmas charity single which could really go either way.

CN: Blimey, a christmas single. That could be quite something.

SJ: That Wonder Woman trailer is awesome. Forever Manchester have told us to have fun with [the Christmas single] and we thought a Live8 style Xmas single featuring a lot of unsigned manchester bands would be good fun. David Cunningham from Syd Bozko is writing it currently.

“Life’s a Picture” (so comics!) by Syd Bozko:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/19030744″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

CN: Can you tell me about the comic? How big it’s going to be, how many pages, are there any previews up anywhere? How long do you plan to continue it for?

SJ: Yeah sure. The comic will be out every 5 weeks or so and will feature two stories. One is continuous and one is standalone. The first run is for 6 episodes, and then we’re going to go from there… It costs £4 and the money goes to charity. They’re kind of short stories with comic book panels, and the artist is Chris Spain who does As You’re Up, which is a webcomic I really enjoy

CN: Why decide on one continuous and one standalone? Is that a format you’ve enjoyed elsewhere?

SJ: The continuous half was to attempt to make the comics collectable or wanted. With the standalone we wanted a bit more freedom, and they are going to be interactive so the characters that appear in the stories will be real people that Forever Manchester represent, or people they work with, etc

CN: Interesting! And the Captain himself will keep appearing? In real life, I mean.

SJ: Yeah. The person who was playing him is refusing to give him up; he’s enjoyed it too much. I have no say or control over him anymore…

CN: You should have thought to write in his one secret weakness. What could Captain Manchester’s Kryptonite be?

SJ: Haha, in the comics we decided he’s scared of walking through doors so he climbs through windows and paraglides through the ceiling and stuff. I think that’s because Chris wanted to have some fun drawing stuff.

CN: It’s a fair enough reason! OK. For my last question: what are some comics you really like?

SJ: I really like Iron Man, and I not so secretly want to be him. Even more so since the films have been out. I used to love Bucky O’Hare. I like Enemies For Hire at the minute too. The comics have just arrived now, so I’m going to go look shortly. A tiny bit too excited.

Support Forever Manchester– winners of the Big Society gong at the Charity Times Awards Gala, 2013–and enjoy the softcore adventures of Captain Manchester by buying the comic here. Or carry the spirit of Captain_MCR with you by doing something nice for someone. If he can be a hero, you can.

BV-si6VIgAAIRou-1

Finally–readers! Links to your favourite posts on women in comics. What have you got? Let’s make a difference!