Alan Martin on Tank Girl's Return

The earliest adventures of Tank Girl -- the bald, violent, tank-driving creation of Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin -- are re-presented in glorious black and white as God intended, courtesy of Titan Books. "Tank Girl Remastered" volumes 1 and 2 are available now, with volume 3 following in August and "The Odyssey" and "Apocalypse" coming sometime after.

Tank Girl, along with Jet Girl, Sub Girl, Barney, and TG's kangaroo boyfriend Booga, detonated on the British indie comic scene in 1988 with a manic enthusiasm for shooting things, blowing them up, and having a crate of beer amidst the smoldering wreckage. The humor was swift and rude, the dialogue packed with pop culture references, the action dangerous and unpredictable. Above all, though, Tank Girl was just a lot of wild fun.

Then came the 1995 film adaptation, which proved absolutely devastating to the comic book. Hewlett went on to co-create the hugely successful "virtual band" Gorillaz with Blur's Damon Albarn, but Tank Girl faded from the public eye until Martin returned with a new version of the character in "Tank Girl: The Gifting" two years ago, publishing the novel "Armadillo," and the serialized story "Skid Marks" in the monthly UK anthology "Judge Dredd Megazine."

"I didn't feel like I could go anywhere near her for more than a decade. That was all down to the aftermath of the movie, which destroyed our original fanbase," Martin told CBR. "Perversely, the film has now brought a significant new audience to the comics."

"The Gifting," the first IDW-published series, began in 2007, and much like the original Hewlett and Martin strips, featured several short comics per issue. Written by Martin with art by Ashley Wood and Rufus Dayglo, the series represented the first new Tank Girl stories since 1996's "Tank Girl: Apocalypse" by Alan Grant and Philip Bond. Dayglo has since become the unofficial regular Tank Girl artist, illustrating the follow-up series "Visions of Booga" and the Megazine strip "Skidmarks," now in progress.

"Ashley drafted in Rufus to help out with the artwork and Rufus has stuck with it ever since," Martin said. "He was a big Tank Girl fan before he started, and he's also an incredible mimic, but now he's got his own thing going on with Tank Girl, which is pretty mental, mostly powered by strong coffee and dark chocolate."

Though both the US and UK "Tank Girl" stories are drawn by Dayglo, the IDW version of the character is a bit more Mod, whereas in "Skid Marks," the feature published in Britain's "Judge Dredd Megazine," Tank Girl looks a bit more like her old self. "The look of Tank Girl in the first IDW book was all down to Ashley Wood, so we just ran with that in the second book," Martin explained. "In 'Skidmarks,' we felt that we were bringing her back home, so a slight return to her roots felt apt."

On the subject of Tank Girl's origins and early days, Martin said the character emerged out of three creative friends mucking about. "I kind of fell into comics at college, mainly because my two best friends - Jamie and Philip Bond - were such good comic artists and they needed someone to write scripts for them. I met Phil at school when we were both thirteen, he'd moved down to Worthing from Liverpool and was sat next to me in maths class. He was already an incredible artist and that turned me on to comics. I don't think Tank Girl would exist if it wasn't for Phil, he had such a profound influence on both Jamie and myself."

Hewlett came into the group a short time later. "Jamie turned up in a graphics class a couple of years below us at art college. He and Phil were instantly drawn to each other because of their comic talents, but I was a bit aloof at first - I didn't like the way Jamie drew knobs all over everything," Martin recalled. "Eventually we all became inseparable and it was only a matter of time before we produced our own comic. So we 'borrowed' the staff photocopier key and ran of fifty copies of 'Atomtan,' which featured comics and stories by our little clique. The title was taken from The Clash song of the same name on their album 'Combat Rock.'

"The creation of Tank Girl was a happy accident - we were in the habit of using the suffix 'girl' a lot to describe people and characters - probably because of the Supergirl movie of 1986 - we put a picture of a tank behind an illustration of a girl that Jamie had drawn, so she just had to be Tank Girl."

This initial drawing of Tank Girl, reproduced in the first volume of Titan's "Remastered" books, features a more bulked-up version of the character that would eventually antagonize humans and kangaroos across the Australian outback.

It was the formation of the anthology series "Deadline" by artists Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon that ultimately brought Tank Girl into her full chaotic glory, as Ewins and Dillon approached the creators about developing a strip around the character. "'Deadline' was a hybrid magazine that mixed fifty percent music and culture articles with fifty percent comics. It started out as a forum for the kind of writing and drawing talent that couldn't get published in mainstream comics," Martin explained. "Tank Girl was put on the front cover of the first issue in 1988, and she just exploded there and then, becoming the figurehead of the mag. It was a great publication to work for - for us anyway, because we got to do what ever the hell we wanted - but the editors and backers were in a constant state of anxiety due to the chaotic way we worked. The big problem selling the thing was that newsagents didn't have a clue where to put it - it wasn't a comic and it wasn't a music mag - so it got lost on the shelves."

"Deadline's" mix of comics and culture exposed Martin and Hewlett's heroine to an assortment of sympathetic readers. "Tank Girl resonated with the subcultures of the time - Acid House, Grunge, Baggy, Indie, Gay Lib - she just seemed to slot in with all those scenes," Martin said.

Given, though, that Tank Girl was so keyed in to the sub- and counter-cultures of twenty years ago, the early strips hold up remarkably well; whereas most cutting-edge or subversive material fades away when something more cutting-edge and subversive comes along, Tank Girl remains sharp. "Perhaps it's the anti-authoritarian attitude that carries it. Sticking it to The Man will never go out of fashion," Martin said. "I must admit that a huge part of it is the artwork - Jamie packed those early pages with so much detail that it's like uncovering some ancient, encrypted artifact when you read the first book."

Though Titan's early editions of the five "Tank Girl" volumes remain in print, Martin told CBR that he was never happy with the presentation of the early strips, which collected colorized versions of the originally black and white stories. "I was looking through one of the old (coloured-up) 'Tank Girl' reprint books and thinking how much I hated it with all that early '90s computer colouring on it," the writer said. "Then it dawned on me that it didn't have to be that way. Doh! Of course they look better the way Jamie and I originally envisioned them."

Volume 2, though, does feature some pages that appeared in color for their original publication in "Deadline," and these retain their stylized and psychedelic hues in the new editions. "The addition of colour had no impact on the content of the stories, we still originated them in exactly the same way, which was by spending a whole day in the pub," Martin confessed. "Most of the time we wouldn't know that we're were getting some colour pages until we were about to start putting the strip together, by which time we usually had the main theme of the story nailed."

With Titan rolling out new editions of the classic material and original stories appearing on both sides of the Atlantic, it would appear that Tank Girl is in the midst of a revitalization. Several projects coming up that should keep that momentum powering along. "I'm doing a six-part miniseries with Mick McMahon called 'Carioca,' with Rufus I'm doing another series with IDW ('The Royal Escape') and a new series with Titan ('Bad Wind Rising') along with a miniseries version of 'Skidmarks,'" Martin revealed. "Also, we're continuing our monthly contributions to the 'Dredd Megazine.'"

Now that she's hitting the popular consciousness again, one might wonder if there might be new possibilities for Tank Girl in other media--such as, perhaps, a less disastrous movie. Asked whether he thought a new "Tank Girl" film could succeed given the recent popularity of and respect for comic book movies, Martin said, "Jamie and I sold the movie rights, so it wouldn't be up to us, but I think it could work. I had no involvement at all with the first movie. In my opinion, that was it's biggest downfall!"

Tank Girl action figures, though, may yet be on the table. "All we really got round to was t-shirts and badges," Martin said of TG's first-run merchandising push. "It wasn't until the movie was produced that anyone had the cash to do anything else, and even then they only did a crumby clothing range and a really piss-poor video game. Of course, I'd love to see some high-end (and low-end) model tank toys and action figures. We're trying to untangle the merchandise rights right now, so we could be seeing some of this in the not-too-distant future."

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