Young Mungo: the story of the cover

As the second novel from Booker Prize-winner Douglas Stuart arrives in paperback, we tell the story behind its celebrated cover, from early-2000s club night to Leicester Square billboard.

The use of Wolfgang Tillmans' iconic photograph of a kiss on the cover of Young Mungo made an immediate impact on booksellers, readers and social media. We take a look at what made the image such a perfect visual representation of the book.

In 2002, Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans took a photograph of two men kissing in London club The Ghetto’s gay night, The Cock. It’s an immediate, intimate image, not – or not only – because it’s a kiss, but because of the details. The graze of stubble. The delicate eyelashes. The clash of blues. The sweat. There is no filter here. It’s passionate, authentic; full of spontaneity and desire. We are alive, it says, we are present. 

Over the twenty-plus years since it was taken, the photograph (called The Cock (Kiss)) has survived a homophobic attack and been used as a symbol of defiance and celebration by the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2006 it was slashed with a key when on display in Washington DC. Ten years later, when the father of the man responsible for the mass murder of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Florida said that his son had been enraged by the sight of two men kissing, thousands of people responded by posting images of just that on social media, with The Cock (Kiss) one of the most popular shared. 

It was both the photograph itself and these responses to it that led to it being used on the cover of Young Mungo (designed by Stuart Wilson at Picador)the second novel from Booker Prize-winning author Douglas Stuart. 

The book tells the story of two teenage boys from opposing religious backgrounds, growing up, falling in love, and being torn apart on a sectarian, hyper-masculine Glasgow council estate. Tillmans' image, in all its impulsive, beating joy, makes a hugely compelling cover for the novel in its own right, but the history of the photograph makes its effect even more potent. As Douglas Stuart explained to The Face magazine: “It speaks to me of love and embrace. First of all, there’s sexual desire there because of the kiss. But the way that one lad is cradling the other lad’s head is incredibly tender. There’s a moment of care there.” A long-time admirer of the image, and cognisant of its relationship with violent responses to gay desire, he always knew he wanted to use it on the cover. It’s what Young Mungo is about: the “very honest tenderness of that first kiss and the violent reaction.”

There is, perhaps, no greater measure of the cover's success than the overwhelming response to it both on- and offline, with many expressing delight in seeing such prominent LGBTQIA+ representation – from triumphant bookshop displays to a starring role on Leicester Square's famous billboards.

Window display @dial_lane_books

Young Mungo

by Douglas Stuart

The extraordinary, powerful second novel from the Booker prize-winning author of Shuggie BainYoung Mungo is both a vivid portrayal of working-class life and the deeply moving story of the dangerous first love of two young men: Mungo and James. Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the meaning of masculinity, the push and pull of family, the violence faced by so many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.

Cover image: Wolfgang Tillmans, The Cock (kiss), 2002
Courtesy Maureen Paley, London