Tanks, Beer, Violence, Kangaroos, More Beer. Yes, it’s the girl with the tank.
by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett
“What’s bald and smelly, snogs kangaroos, wears shoes that don’t fit and a bra that’s too tight, (and knickers that need a good wash), smokes, drinks, and fights too much for her own good, and at this moment in time has a mega hangover …. you guessed it…”
Oh, Tank Girl, love of my life. Okay, not really, but there was a little bit of me that fell for the girl with the big tank back when I first met her in the pages of Deadline Magazine, all rude words, explosions, stupid stories and manic ideas. But would coming back to her in these new editions be a mistake, was it something uniquely of it’s time? Would it be everything I remembered? Would the girl with a tank still rock my world.
Well, yes and no. The big problem with Tank Girl was that it was done by Martin and Hewlett on the fly, month by month, anarchic ideas and manic, stupid action done to deadline by a couple of kids, new to the whole game of making comics. Which means reading it all in one go is never going to be as satisfying as discovering it as it happened.
Having the whole thing collected in three volumes means it’s an exercise in self restraint – read a couple of strips a day and you’ll be loving it – that way all the impact, all the silliness, all the brilliance that made it such an important comic back in the day comes through the way it should. But read a book in a day and you’ll occasionally be wondering what all the fuss was about. Reading it in one go tends to become an overload of unconnected brilliance and diminishes the effect somewhat.
(Tank Girl, page 1, book 1. Here’s where it all started. From Tank Girl Book 1 by Hewlett and Martin, Titan Books.)
Anyway, Tank Girl was always more about that immediate impact than anything like a continuing story. There’s no point reading Tank Girl expecting anything more than one long series of almost completely unconnected anarchic tales. So sit back, relax, consume these ridiculous, wonderful tales a couple a day and at least two of these three volumes of the complete Tank Girl as created and executed by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett are an amazing, glorious, riotous mess of comic history.
It’s all beautifully on show in the first volume, with the combination of Martin’s writing being all over the place (but in a great way) and the raw Hewlett artwork giving me what I think is the classic Tank Girl volume. It’s all there for you in Book 1; everything you ever really need to know about what made Tank Girl such an icon for the times.
It’s quite amazing in these early volumes to see Jamie Hewlett’s artwork evolve and develop. He starts off so rough and raw, looking very much like a mix of influences from Brett Ewins to Brendan McCarthy and many other 2000AD artists of the time. It’s incredibly dense, intricate artwork, but full of chaotic invention. But within just a few months, by the end of book 1, Hewlett’s artwork has matured and simplified so much that you can really see Jamie Hernandez in his lines and his style. There’s a moment in Book 1 where it all comes together so wonderfully well, in a phrase I can still remember all these years later:
(One image to sum up Tank Girl for me at the time, perfectly capturing everything I loved about the strip. From the very end of Tank Girl book 1 by Hewlett and Martin. Titan Books.)
Book 2 pretty much picks up where Book 1 left off initially, with one of my fave Tank Girl stories; “I’ve Got Friends at Bell’s End/ Half a pound of Tupenny Rice“, in which the girl wakes up in a One Flew Over The Cuckkoo’s Nest / Prisoner type thing and finds Hewlett and Martin on their way to resigning from the comics biz inside their own strip. Half a joke, half bloody serious from what I read, since the whole Tank Girl backlash meets shite pay meets general youthful cannot be fucking bothered-i-ness was really taking hold at that point. Whatever the background though it’s still gorgeous, ridiculous stuff.
(My fave Tank Girl strip. Where it all came together so wonderfully well. From Tank Girl Book 2 by Hewlett and Martin. Titan Books)
But then we get the thing that spoilt the whole Tank Girl thing for me at the time; Summer Love Sensation and Jamie being given colour to play with. Initially Jamie seemed to treat colour like a big kid with a new toy and the results are a little too much. Add to that a feeling that Martin seemed to be less and less involved or maybe less and less interested and the result was a complete turn off for me. But to be honest, reading it now, I didn’t have any of that shocked reaction I had at the time and damn it, I actually enjoyed it all a lot more second time around.
(The colour strip that turned me off Tank Girl at the time. What do you know – reading it again and it’s pretty bloody good. From Tank Girl Book 2 by Hewlett and Martin. Titan Books)
By the time we get to Book 3 things it’ all gone a bit Hollywood, as these strips all happened around the time of the Tank Girl movie. Martin’s increasingly sidelined, Jamie’s art is not a patch on his earlier stuff and the best work in the book comes from long-time friends and hangers on Philip Bond and Glyn Dillon bringing their art to the book.
Tank Girl certainly managed to become something truly iconic in a very short span of time and re-reading her exploits in these three books I couldn’t help but fall a little bit for her all over again. Buy Book 1 for the sublime invention and manic excitement, buy Book 2 for the maturing (well, sort of, but you know what I mean) of character and creators. But to be honest, I could do without Book 3.
(One last bit of Tank Girl before we go. Silly, stupid, fatuous, childish. Yeah, so what. Tank Girl was wonderful. From Tank Girl Book 2 by Hewlett and Martin. Titan Books)
The girl with the tank is a true modern classic. It sums up a generation and a wonderful time in my life. If you lived it, you should be loving this. Hewlett’s gone on to far bigger things with his rock star pals, Martin came back from semi-retirement with the surprisingly good new Tank Girl with a surprisingly good Hewlett replacement in Rufus Dayglo, but the amazing energy, the chaos and the anarchy of Tank Girl lives on in these Books. Or at least in the first two – they’re the ones you need.
Tank Girl is sex and drugs and rock & roll writ large in comic form. Hewlett and Martin just added weaponry.