Tank Girl is a British comic created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. Originally drawn by Jamie Hewlett, the strip is currently drawn by Rufus Dayglo, Ashley Wood, and Mike McMahon. The titular character Tank Girl drives a tank, which is also her home. She undertakes a series of missions for a nebulous organization before making a serious mistake and being declared an outlaw for her sexual inclinations and her substance abuse. The comic centers on her misadventures with her boyfriend, Booga, a mutant kangaroo. The comic's style was heavily influenced by punk visual art, and strips were frequently deeply disorganized, anarchic, absurdist, and psychedelic. The strip features various elements with origins in surrealist techniques, fanzines, collage, cut-up technique, stream of consciousness, and metafiction, with very little regard or interest for conventional plot or committed narrative.
The strip was initially set in a stylized post-apocalyptic Australia, although it drew heavily from contemporary British pop culture. Martin and Hewlett first met in the mid-1980s in Worthing, when Martin was in a band with Philip Bond called the University Smalls. One of their tracks was a song called "Rocket Girl". They had started using the suffix 'girl' to everything habitually after the release of the Supergirl movie, but "Rocket Girl" was a student at college who Bond had a crush on and apparently bore a striking resemblance to a Love and Rockets character. They began collaborating on a comic/fanzine called Atomtan, and while working on this, Jamie had drawn
a grotty looking beefer of a girl brandishing an unfeasible firearm. One of our friends was working on a project to design a pair of headphones and was basing his design on the type used by World War II tank driver. His studio in Worthing was littered with loads of photocopies of combat vehicles. Alan pinched one of the images and gave it to Jamie who then stuck it behind his grotty girl illustrations and then added a logo which read 'Tank Girl'
The image was published in the fanzine as a one-page ad (with a caption that read: "SHE'LL BREAK YOUR BACK AND YOUR BALLS!"), but the Tank Girl series first appeared in the debut issue of Deadline (1988), a UK magazine intended as a forum for new comic talent, or as its publishers Brett Ewins and Tom Astor put it, "a forum for the wild, wacky and hitherto unpublishable," and it continued until the end of the magazine in 1995.
Tank Girl became quite popular in the politicized indie counterculture zeitgeist as a cartoon mirror of the growing empowerment of women in punk rock culture. Posters and t-shirts began springing up everywhere, including one especially made for the Clause 28 march against Margaret Thatcher's legislation. Clause 28 stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." Deadline publisher Tom Astor said, "In London, there are even weekly lesbian gatherings called 'Tank Girl nights.'"
With public interest growing, Penguin, the largest publishing company in Britain, bought the rights to collect the strips as a book, and before long, Tank Girl had been published in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Argentina, Brazil and Japan, with several US publishers fighting over the license. Finally Dark Horse Comics won out, and the strips were reprinted in color beginning in '91, with an extended break in '92, and ending in September '93. A graphic novel-length story named Tank Girl: The Odyssey was also published in '95, written by Peter Milligan and loosely inspired by Homer's Odyssey, Joyce's Ulysses and a considerable quantity of junk TV, (although Milligan asserts in the preface that the story is entirely based on real events, inspired by the wanderings and adventures of a group of lost friends, all of whom appear in the pages under various pseudonyms). Another graphic novel called Tank Girl: Apocalypse, in which TG becomes pregnant, also appeared in '96, written by Alan Grant after he spent several hours alone in the pitch-dark bowels of an actual tank, experiencing sensory deprivation. Apocalypse was co-authored and drawn by Philip Bond. These last two stories, being graphic novels and not compilations of the strips, are distinctly more linear in nature, Apocalypse having absolutely no involvement from either Martin or Hewlett (and being dramatically less well-received by fans[c
About a century into the future, Earth was recovering in the wake of a disaster caused by a meteor which struck the planet, bringing about massive climate change and the collapse of civilisation as we know it. In this post-apocalyptic world Rebecca Buck, a.k.a. Tank Girl, was the pilot of a high-tech combat vehicle for the Australian Army. Hated by her superior, Sergeant Small Unit, for being rebellious, foul-mouthed and unable to follow orders, she was generally left to patrol the Outback simply to keep her out the way. Given a last chance, she was ordered to race to an international trade conference and deliver colostomy bags to President Hogan, the decrepit (and incontinent) Australian Head of State; a monster attack delayed her arrival, resulting in Hogan soiling and embarassing himself, and Tank Girl was declared a fugitive, complete with a price on her head. On the run, Tank Girl hooked up with the mutant kangaroo Booga, as well as fellow pilots Subgirl and Jet Girl, and sought refuge in the Outback, where she swilled beer, smoked cigs, and undertook a variety of adventures, working as a bounty hunter, delivery person, and general ne'er-do-well. As time progressed, she travelled to Tasmania, then further afield to both England and America/
Tanky is after the bounty on Rocky Deadhead, the hardest kangaroo in the Outback. Rocky and his gang are crashing a party with the hope of finding beer and women. Unfortunately the beer is warm and the chics are lame. Tanky crashes in, killing everyone, but Rocky and the chase is on across the Outback. Once Tanky catches up to him, killing turns to lust... until Rocky makes a run for it... back to killing.
Tanky receives word that her next mission involves delivering colostomy bags to the President. On route, a creature attacks her, steals her tank and then flips it. A fight ensues and she has to drop a bomb to be rid of the hairy beast-creature. Unfortunately, this derails her plans to deliver the colostomy bags. Sorry, Mr. President...
Bounty hunter, Vex Godglove, lays in wait for Tanky (who he refers to as a "little tart" and a "dumb bitch") for whom he has laid a trap. Tanky trips the parking brake and her tank rolls Vex flat.
After unintentionally crashing a plane, she encounters two odd-balls who are waiting to witness the "second coming". They tell her they are going to a party and she takes them on a wild ride across the Outback, finally crashing through the roof of a house. Realizing she is now in the presence of Christ, she repents for not having brought a bottle of booze to the party.
Next, Sergeant Small feels intimidated by Tanky’s existence and vows to have her killed. Tanky considers plastic surgery so she can roam free with out being recognized. Her surgeon turns out to be a voodoo doctor. Sarge and his death-crew arrive during Tanky’s cosmetic procedure. Some of the voodoo charm initiates Tanky’s missile bra which lead to Sarge’s demise.
With the end of the 80s, independent comics publishers were emerging that nurtured new talent and challenged the popularity of the established names. Britain had its wealth of creators on 2000AD , but many more were emerging with energy and anarchy, avoiding conventional stories and creating characters who were raw and unpredictable.
When Deadline was first published in October 1988, it provided a creative outlet for artists and writers working through the comics medium but not interested in traditional superheroes; often they were experimental or influenced by music and the movies. They were a new wave of brash pop culture creators such as Brendan McCarthy, Phillip Bond, Shaky Kane and Brett Ewins emerging at at time of the rise of house music and the growing rebellion against a decade of Tory rule.
Amongst those were art college students Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett, who had worked on comic fanzines at school. Their mass-media passions gave birth to one of Deadline's most memorable characters: a new breed of savvy punk anti-heroine with attitude and a mouth full of expletives - Tank Girl.
Hewlettt and Martin seem to spark off each other, feeding their own tastes and passions, reflecting their viewing habits and record collection, and especially their upbringing as kids of the 70s. It feels like they've fallen through some distorted looking-glass and have found talking kangas instead of Cheshire cats or white rabbits.
It's a world of booze, breasts and explosions. Indeed, in his introduction, Martin summarises their collective obsessions at the time, which have all been blended together and scattered across the pages.
Tanks came from their obsession with war movies, the distinctive skinhead hairstyle from a number of sources including Love and Rockets, Australia from both Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max as well as being the home of kangaroos.
But scattered throughout each and every strip are a wealth of everyday cultural references culled from TV, film or song lyrics - just try counting the name-checks to all their heroes, and indeed, villains, scribbled in credits or footnotes.
Tank Girl becomes a cocktail of blended pop culture passions edged with cynical street-smart dialogue and graffitti-style art, but all presented with boisterous humour. Titan has now gathered all the strips in chronological order. These first two volumes follow those early formative Deadline adventures.
Book One features all the early black and white stories. They have an anarchic irreverence to them, being primarily self-contained tales which grow with confidence as well as expanding the cast.
Once we've met our shaven-headed, booted heroine, we're introduced to assortment of characters - Booga, Camp Koala Steve, Sub Girl and Jet Girl, each adding another level of mayhem, all adding to the bangs, booze and body count.
The emphasis is on big, bold and brash with Tank Girl at the centre of all the explosive chaos, whether she's taking on bounty hunters or bikers, stealking God's dressing gown or confronting Aboriginal vengeful spirits. She undertakes missions, delivers a colostomy bag to the Australian President (a certain Mr Hogan, no less) as well as liberating all the quality beer from the hands of the mafia. All gloriously bonkers and fuelled with adolescent testosterone and raw energy.
Book Two finds the action move away from Austalia and, decamping to Britain, the journeys become more surreal and fantastical. With the strips exploding into dazzling colour, they take on a psychedelic aura.
There's a greater sense of experimenting with the presentation too, as disjointed panels break down any narrative conventions, shaped by more rambling thoughts that almost abandon story. Less emphasis on big explosions and talks, with a greater obsession with sex, drugs and personal experience once we have gone through the 'Summer Love Sensation' storyline.
The subject matter is also shaped by a greater level of cult heroes such as with Jimi Hendrix, Starsky And Hutch (lampooned in 'Askey and Hunch'), the Hair Bear Bunch and Jack Kerouac (both appearing in the deranged road strip, Blue Helmet). Even Hewitt and Martin themselves put in an appearance, blurring their world with the world of Tank Girl herself.
Hewlett's art has achievd more iconic status by teaming up with Damon Albarn to form the virtual band Gorillaz whilst Martin has sought out sanctuary in the wilds of Argyll. Their individual talents, however are still firmly rooted in Tank Girl, a hedonistic love affair that can't be easily forgotten.
When the movie, Tank Girl, was released the recriminations flew. But, as this interview from 1993 reveals, the project got off to a dodgy start.
Despite what the careers guidance people might tell you, there is a place in this world for people without forty GCSEs and a degree in economics. Don't be fooled: spending your time in education day-dreaming and drawing on the table is not a sure fire way to a life of unemployed misery. In fact, it could be the first steps on the road to Hollywood!
Alan and Jamie drifted through school then decided to attend Worthing Art College. They were not dripping with qualifications, they just liked drawing (3 reasonable grade GCSEs will get you into art college). College was pretty dull and they spent most of their time reading comics. One day a man called Brett Ewins came in to give to give a lecture. The boys liked Brett, he was into comics as well. For Mr Ewins is Mr Comics and was the man behind the classics British Sci-Fi, weekly 2000AD, and weird strips such as Nemo and Bad Company. They showed Brett a comic/fanzine they'd done with their mate Phil called Atom Tan. In it Jamie had drawn a character called Tank Girl; he wasn't sure why, someone had given him a photo-copy of a tank...
When Alan and Jamie left college Brett offered them strips at a new magazine he was doing called Deadline. The boys collaborated on a strip called Tank Girl. Jamie would draw, Alan would work on the script. They had no real plans for Tank Girl, they just did it every month, as they saw fit. People liked Tank Girl. She was a mad surreal punky babe. Tank Girl kissed kangaroos and shot who she pleased. She was mad, bad and dangerous to know: soon she was really popular. This was new comic territory, none of your Captain Marvel or your cool hippy shit here. It was raw, edgy and the boys were having fun. Those years of day-dreaming and drawing had really paid off.
They would go on tours, do radio shows, while Tank Girl shot her way to cult stardom. Wranglers even got her to do an ad. She went on sale in the States and went down a storm. Then a man called Tom rang up and asked them if they wanted to make Tank Girl into a film. Tom was from the States: he managed Jane's Addiction and New Order. Tom got the ball rolling: Tank Girl was going to be a movie star and Alan and Jamie were going to be off on an excellent adventure!
Tom helped the script get touted around Hollywood. A woman called Rachel got hold of it. She'd produced Cry Baby and Hairspray. She'd also directed the last Freddie movie, which was crap, but that wasn't her fault: it was sixth in a trilogy! Anyway, Rachel took it to several directors. Spielberg liked it but said it was too hip for him. Disney wanted to do it, but as a more kiddie version. MGM turned it down. No one likes to make a decision at MGM: if they make the wrong one they get the sack. Then this guy Alan Ladd, who had Star Wars and Blade Runner under his belt, said "Make that Movie!" and everybody at MGM jumped! Having signed us up, they thought they better fly us out there to meet us.
So Jamie and Alan left sleepy Worthing for the bright lights of Tinsel Town.
They gave us the full Hollywood treatment. We stayed in Beverley Boulevard next to Rodeo Drive. It said 9120 on the pavement. They took us to expensive clubs, show biz parties and the top restaurants. We went to a rich producer's house and saw his collection of loaded guns. We hung out with Adam Ant. We saw Shaun Penn eat a sausage roll. We went to Madonna's next door neighbours house. We saw Nicholas Cage eat a sausage roll! My face hurt through false smiling so much.
The boys were being wined and dined to death by the MGM beasts of the Hollywood Babylon. The sort of creatures that prowled in the film The Player.
The trip took its mental toll as the boys glimpsed the hell of celluloid heaven through the eyes of alcohol soaked English youth.
Actually they were all full of shit. Really patronising. They'd say things like "Hollywood is like a Pizza. Everyone puts on different toppings and if you get it right you get a good movie!