As the name suggests, 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 homosexual inclinations and her drug addictions. The comic's style was heavily influenced by punk visual art, and later strips were deeply disorganized, anarchic, absurdist, and frequently psychedelic, featuring 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. In fact, Martin described his attitude to plot in the third strip anthology as such:
Never start with a clear idea of storyline. Instead, commence blindly, with a vague notion of trying to include a reference to your favourite band, gift shop, or chocolate bar.
The strip was initially set in a stylized post-apocalyptic Australia (indeed, Hewlett and Martin have described her as "Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood), although it drew heavily from contemporary British pop culture. Real-life celebrities were commonly cameoed (usually B list, from Britpop bands and UK children's TV, although on one occasion Tank Girl did headbutt Princess Diana and steal her tiara).
Publication historyMartin 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 favourite tracks of which 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 giant crush on and apparently bore a striking resemblance to a Love and Rockets character. Hewlett and Bond hit it off straight away, but Martin was at first a little put off by Hewlett's habit of drawing huge penises on any paper he came across. (Martin is known for insisting in interviews that Hewlett's penis is 'hammer-shaped'.) They began collaborating on a comic/fanzine called Atomtan, and while working on this, Jamie had drawna grotty looking heffer 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 sort of 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, which 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 in an American publication, creatively called Tank Girl, 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's 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 spending several hours alone in the pitch-dark bowels of an actual tank, in a sort of sensory deprivation experience. It was also co-authored and drawn by Philip Bond, the chap with whom Martin was in a band when he first met co-creator Hewlett. 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).
- Tank Girl. According to her own herstory included as a preface to one of the books, her first words were "cauliflower penis". When she was 7, she started a collection of novelty pencil sharpeners (the collection is now housed in the National Museum of Modern Pencil Sharpeners, Sydney). She later became a tank pilot and worked as a bounty hunter before shooting a heavily decorated officer, having mistaken him for her father, and failing to deliver colostomy bags to President Hogan, the incontinent Head of State in Australia, resulting in him publicly embarrassing himself at a large international trade conference (making front page news), and so making Tank Girl an outlaw with a multi-million dollar bounty on her head, which doesn't seem to bother her much. Prone to random acts of sex and violence, hair dyeing, flatulence, nose-picking, vomiting, spitting, and more than occasional drunkenness. Has the ability to outrun any ice-cream van - even Mr. Whippy.
- Booga: a screwed up and perverted mutated kangaroo, formerly quite a successful toy designer of "products Santa would've sacrificed a reindeer for", and presently Tank Girl's devoted boyfriend, whom she met when he sneaked into her tank one night to pinch a pair of her knickers, only to fall in love. Big Dame Edna fan who once impersonated Bill Clinton. Always does the cooking, particularly the great British institution of tea, much to his protest. Follows TG everywhere and does whatever she tells him, by his own admission.
- The talking stuffed animals:
- *Camp Koala: a stitchy, brown, gay, koala-shaped trashbag described as "the Jeremy Thorpe of comics", whom TG sodomizes with a hot banana. Died tragically when they were playing baseball with live hand grenades which Camp eagerly caught in the outfield, exploding on impact, resulting in a violent, bloody, and gruesome death. After a tearless and comical funeral service, where he fell out of the coffin and into a toy store, they go to a toy store and buy a new one, although the original's known for visiting occasionally as a guardian angel. He's the only character TG's ever admitted to loving (at least vocally).
- *Squeaky toy rat: a squeaky toy rat.
- *Mr. Precocious: a "small Shakespearean mutant" who looks a bit like a mini bipedal pink elephant, though may possibly be a bilby.
- Stevie, a wild-haired blond Aborigine surfer-type chap who owns a convenience store and chain-smokes. Being TG's ex-fella, Booga is always a bit jealous of him. He has various familial ties and connections with Aboriginal culture and remote traditionalist tribespeople.
- Barney: TG busted her out of a mental hospital, she's more or less insane (in The Odyssey, she was responsible for killing the whole lot, thereby sending them all to the land of the dead, from which TG was forced to save them by finding the Prince of Farts).
- Sub Girl (real name unknown, although a trading card for the film once listed her real name as 'Subrina'). Described as "like a beautiful flower floating in the loo", she pilots a submarine that can operate both underwater and underground. A friend of TG's since childhood, she used to come round her house with Jet Girl and try on her mum's underwear.
- Jet Girl (real name unknown), a talented mechanic who flies a jet. She's the only girl, apart from Barney, with a full hippie head of hair (jet-black, naturally), and all her friends call her "boring" (she has admitted to being a big fan of Rod Stewart).
- Boat Girl. Otherwise known as Jackie. Barney's nervous hairdresser, former figure skater. Only brother killed by TG and Booga after they steal a whole load of stuff from a church. Owns a greatly modified WWII Motor Torpedo Boat.
The future of Tank GirlAfter the film, Hewlett went on to make his fortune creating Gorillaz with Blur's Damon Albarn, a virtual band for which he reportedly received a 'big money' deal with Dreamworks recently to sell the rights so they could make a movie out of this creation too, but Hewlett declined, still soured by his previous Hollywood experience, and opting this time to wait until he could control things on the project himself.
Martin wandered around for a bit, staying at communes with hippie friends and looking for stone circles and ancient sites before settling on the Berwick Upon Tweed in the Scottish Borders with his wife Lou and son Rufus Bodie (named after Lewis Collins' character in The Professionals), where he's played in various bands, written a Tank Girl "novel" (Armadillo) published in March 2008 by Titan Books, as well as various screenplays and scripts. He is currently creating several new TG limited series (the first in over ten years): Tank Girl: The Gifting with award-winning Australian artist Ashley Wood and Rufus Dayglo for American publishers IDW, the first issue of which was released in June 2007 , and Tank Girl: Carioca with Brit comics' legend Mike McMahon for Titan Books which should see print in summer 2009.
Summer 2008 has seen Tank Girl - Skidmarks appearing in all-new Nine-page episodes in the Judge Dredd Megazine, written again by Martin, with art duties taken on again by Rufus Dayglo, who drew issues 2-4 of the The Gifting, and Visions of Booga for IDW Comics.We went to the comics graveyard and dug her up. She's smelling pretty bad, but we're gonna put her in a wheelbarrow and parade her around for all to see, anyway.
Alan Martin and Rufus Dayglo are currently working on a fully functioning Death Star, and a comprehensive Tank Girl website, at www.tank-girl.com has info, exclusive art, forums, blogs, exclusive sneak previews, as well as links to all Tank Girl material in Print.
Soon to be released from Titan Books, Cream of Tank Girl, complied by Alan Martin, it is a feast of Jamie Hewlett art, from her Earliest Beginning as a Pin Up in Atomtan, right up to a brand new Jamie Hewlett cover.
Collected editionsTank Girl has been collected into a number of trade paperbacks over the years:
- Tank Girl Book 1 consists of the first 15 episodes, originally published in Deadline Magazine, starting Sept. '88, all originally in black and white.
- Tank Girl Book 2 consists of the next 17 episodes, some colour, some black and white.
- Tank Girl Book 3 rounds up a final 9 episodes, including some featuring Booga as the star. All in colour.
There are still some original Martin/Bond strips as yet uncollected.
- Tank Girl - The Odyssey consists of 4 issues released between June and October 1995, published by DC's Vertigo imprint. These comics were printed in full colour.
- Tank Girl - Apocalypse consists of 4 issues released between November 1995 and February 1996, published by DC's Vertigo imprint. Again these comics were in full colour.
A graphic novel adaptation of the movie was also released by Penguin books in 1995.
The entire back catalogue was reprinted by Titan books in 2002. These books (Tank Girl, Tank Girl 2, Tank Girl 3, Tank Girl - Apocalypse, Tank Girl - The Odyssey) were readily available as recently as December 2007. 2008 will see the same books "re-mastered" in anniversary editions, as they are stripped of their later-date computer colouring and line work is repaired. Book one is expected in sept/oct.
- The trade paperback of Tank Girl: The Gifting 4 part, was released in November 2007.
- Tank Girl: Armadillo and a Bushel of Other Stories (Novel, Fiction, cover art by Jamie Hewlett) released by Titan Books in March 2008.
- Tank Girl: Visions of Booga (4 part mini, IDW Published Comic, covers by Ashley Wood and art by Rufus Dayglo) released in May 2008.
- Tank Girl: Carioca 6 part mini series drawn by Mick McMahon.
- Tank Girl: SkidMarks 12 part series in the Judge Dredd Megazine , released August 2008. (To be collected as US Fomat mini series for the US market in 2009)
- ''Tank Girl: The Royal Escape"" (4 part mini, IDW Published, art by Rufus Dayglo) to be released in 2009.
Martin and Hewlett are known for speaking poorly of the experience, calling it "a bit of a sore point" for them. Martin shrugs,We had hardly any involvement until the very last minute when they realised that it really didn't look anything like the original comic and then they pulled in Jamie and Philip to pad it out with comic panels. Up until that point we'd kind of hoped that they knew what they were doing. They made a lot of noise as though they did, but when it came down to it it didn't look that way.
To be honest they'd offered to make a film and at that point we were still a cult - Deadline was only selling 20,000 issues a month, which is just peanuts really - and the character wasn't really well known in America. So for someone to actually pick that up in the first place was a miracle and for them to then say: "You guys can write the script for us," knowing that we had no previous screenplay writing experience was impossible.
Hewlett has said:The script was lousy - me and Alan kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren't getting it. They forgot to film about ten major scenes so we had to animate them ... it was a horrible experience.
Martin continues:I can't remember the name of the film, but it was a heist movie about a bunch of guys digging their way through a sewer into a bank vault. At the moment they broke through, the lead character says, "Through the shit, to the stars."
The experiences that Jamie and I had in Hollywood were almost the antithesis of that movie; it was like digging our way out of a loaded bank vault and into a shitty sewer.
Ironically though, despite its critics, the film did however undeniably broaden the comics' fanbase from a relatively modest UK cult following to an international audience. Indeed, a great many fans today cite the film as their first introduction to the character, which later prompted them to seek out the comics.
- J-punk-pop-noise band Judy and Mary have a bubblegummy tune called "Judy is a Tank Girl"
- One story called Bushman Tucker was dedicated to Bill Hicks and co-starred Kenny Baker
- Alan Martin interview - about the 2007 relaunch from IDW comics.
- Jamie Hewlett interview about influences