Mickey Mouse, by Carla Regalado Teixido
'Amsterdam Onder Water' (1982).

Mehmet "Memo" Tunali was a Turkish illustrator, cartoonist and painter. Spending his early years caricaturing on the streets of Istanbul and traveling through Europe as a commercial artist, he eventually settled in Amsterdam, where he created the apocalyptic graphic novel 'Amsterdam Underwater' (1982) and ventured into painting.

Early life and career
Memo Tunalı was born in 1955 in the Istanbul district of Sarıyer. An adventurous child, he explored old neighborhoods of the Turkish capital, while earning his first money on the streets with selling lemons and shining shoes. Moonlighting as a newspaper salesboy motivated his interest in journalism and illustration. Roaming the streets, he also encountered many people from 1960s Istanbul, including the caricaturist Faruk Bey, who encouraged the boy to explore his artistic talent, teaching him the basics of his craft. When Bey unexpectedly died, his twelve year-old student soon filled his vacated spot on Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue. It made Tunali discover the possibilities of commercial art and quickly drop his other endeavors.

Traveling illustrator
After two years of doing street caricatures, Mehmet Tunalı had saved enough of his earnings to embark upon a journey through Europe. He spent most of the 1970s and early 1980s traveling back and forth from Turkey to several European countries, while making his living as a journeyman illustrator. At age fourteen, he was in Germany, doing his first assignments as a book illustrator. He later did illustrations, comics and cartoons for several European publications, including cover illustrations for horror and sci-fi pulp novels by the German Zauberkreis-Verlag (the 'Silber Grusel-Krimi' series), as well as Suat Yalaz's 'Karaoğlan' comic books.


'Kömürün Öyküsü' (Kumbara magazine).

Turkish comics
In Turkey, he made humorous comics and cartoons for magazines like Çaylak and Oğuz Aral's Gırgır, as well as comic adaptations of literary works for Kumbara, a children's magazine published from October 1978 on by the commercial bank Türkiye İş Bankası. These included serials based on 'Kömürün Öyküsü' ("The History of Coal") and 'Çay Ağacı' ("The Tea Plant") - both by Talip Apaydın - and 'Gülibik' by Çetin Öner. In 1976, he made the comic serial 'Yiğit Han-Çopendozların' for the Dünya newspaper, while the magazine İleri Yavrutürk ran his series 'Alparslan', about the adventures of a Seljuk Sultan. Another comic project was the crime story 'Türk Mafiasi', in which one character was based on his father, a notorious pub owner in one of the Istanbul slums.


'Amsterdam Onder Water' (1982).

Amsterdam
After many sojourns, Tunalı eventually settled in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he got married and had a son. He continued to work as a commercial artist, while also making the graphic novel 'Amsterdam Onder Water' ("Amsterdam Underwater", 1982), a dystopian thriller taking place after a nuclear devastation flooded the Dutch capital. The black-and-white comic book was published by De Bastaard, an infamous early 1980s imprint also responsible for releasing sex parodies of Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' and Hergé's 'Tintin'.

Painter
During the mid-1980s, Tunalı's interest shifted from illustration to fine arts. By now an official Dutch citizen, he left the commercial art field - which was more and more dominated by computer-generated graphics - and turned to painting with support from his friend and mentor, the painter, poet, composer and filmmaker Mustafa Şener. Working with oil paint, he started out creating abstractions, architectural interpretations, landscapes, genre paintings and portraiture. In the 1990s, he settled into a studio space within an old grain silo building along the water highway at the northern boundary of Amsterdam's inner city, where he developed his art among other local painters. The architecture of the squatted "Graansilo" inspired Tunalı to make dozens of paintings depicting its interior and exterior, as well as the wide open vistas from its rooftop. Further exploring the city, he painted Amsterdam's streets, houses, canals and bridges, but also locations in Turkey and the other European locations he had visited.

Final years and death
After spending nearly two decades in Amsterdam, Mehmet Tunalı began to long for his home country, and felt the desire to paint his beloved streets of Istanbul. While making plans to return home, Mehmet Tunalı was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He died fifteen months later, in 2004. In that same year, the Turkish publishing house Oğlak Yayıncılık published a new comic book by Tunali, entitled 'Zaman Herzamandır' ("Time is Anytime"). His surviving relatives kept his legacy alive by building a special website devoted to Memo Tunali's life and work. The artist's son Tan Tunali helped organize retrospective exposition's in the Studios Çukurcuma in Istanbul (2014) and Gallery Stam on the Amsterdam Prinsengracht (2021).


The old "Graansilo" and the Amsterdam Silodam.

mehmettunali.com

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