June 18th, 2008
It was with surprisingly little fanfare that Tank Girl made her return to comics last year. I guess being such a zeitgeist shagging style icon of the 90′s might dilute her current hipster status and subsequent fiscal worth. Not to mention having an absolute mega-bomb of a movie hanging around like a a stinking albatross. (Seriously, I don’t understand how a movie featuring Ice-T as a Kangaroo could be bad, but that piece of cinematic dogshit achieves it in spades). But when IDW resurrected the franchise I for one was glad to see her and the gang back (relatively) unchanged and unscathed.
I guess it’s mainly nice to see Alan Martin back writing comics. We all know what Jamie did next (AlbarnGorillazMoneyFameJonathanRoss), but the quieter of the two TG creators apparently took the money from the sale of his most famous creation, and buggered off round Britain on a neo-Kerouackian quest to find..well, something I guess. Probably just had a right laugh. But now the Hollywood pay-cheque seems to have diminished enough to tease him back into the loving bosom of comics. Ahhhh. Welcome back Alan.
His writing is surprisingly unchanged. It’s still by turns funny, weird and strangely sentimental. Beat poetry via Carry On movies. It’s got the same strong whiff of teenage indulgence it always had, that eternal pleasure of having girls saying rude words and farting; of kangaroos with their cocks out, and of gratuitous pop cultural references.
One of the things I always loved about TG, was the complete lack of continuity beyond the occasional running nob gags. After the initial few episodes notionally set in some 2000AD- esque radiated future, it quickly relocated to whatever locale Hewlett & Martin fancied. Parochial Britain, the 60′s beach parties of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, the Wild West – all were fair game depending on the whim of the authors. Characters died frequently, lost limbs, swapped partners, and changed jobs at will. Snatches of lyrics and shout outs to the creator’s friends were scribbled in the margins. This freewheeling, disrespectful tone was a thrill when I first started reading Deadline waaaay back in the early 90′s. The joyful abandon and enthusiasm of the strip was infectious and somewhat inspirational; I must have turned out dozens of cod TG strips in the ensuing years. All the references to bad 70′s television and the listing of what music they’d been listening to all seemed ridiculously cool to this pubescent Beast, not to mention the downright rudeness of it all. Whilst my enthusiasm for all that may have slightly diminished it’s nonetheless pleasing to see that the new IDW Tank Girl has resolutely refused to grow up.
In working without Hewlett, Martin’s lost not only one of Britain’s finest and most original comic artists, but also a co-conspirator and it does show slightly. Whilst Rufus Dayglo does a pretty neat Hewlett impression the very fact that it is an impression means the strip has lost some of it’s freshness. That magical synergy that came from the two creators (who, let’s not forget, were best friends first and foremost) has diminished. Hewlett’s constantly evolving art style was one of TG’s most appealing elements; from his quasi-Brendan McCarthy beginnings to his joyful late ‘Hanna-Barbera’ phase his art was always bold wild and fun. People often remember TG in her b+w skin head phase, but I much prefer the neo-psychadelic/pre-Britpop style of the (very) early 90′s. Hewlett & Martin’s love of the taste-free, arse end of the 70′s bestowed the strip with a cheesy loveable identity that had as much to do with the Banana Splits, On The Buses and Syd Barrett as it did with the Riot Grrl and Grunge movements.
The new series continues this pre-Gorillaz style, but adds a muted palette. Gone are the good vibes and druggy haze of the strip during it’s ’2nd Summer of Love’ phase (remember that weird as fuck Booga solo strip cum Wrangler’s advert ‘Askey & Hunch’? Or the ‘Sunflower’ beach story that was on the back of a gigantic TG poster…?) All in all though it’s a pretty attractive package, and now Dayglo’s working sans Ashley Wood, events are a whole lot clearer and less impressionistic. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy Wood’s contribution. His scatchy style was initially jarring, but actually quite refreshing, and certainly more enjoyable than most stuff I’ve seen by him (something about his instant elevation to coffee-table art book status irks me. I’m not sure why).
The newest mini ‘Visions of Booga’ is a longform story, unlike the previous series ‘The Gifting’, which was a far more scattershot mix of skits and stories. Like a bag of Revels it was a hit an miss affair, but I always liked the silly, tossed-off nature of TG. It has to be said, regarding ‘Visions of Booga’ that plot ain’t exactly Martin’s strong point. It’s a fairly generic criminal caper, albeit one that features a kangaroo in a dress. Plus the usual lashings of Beat writing filtered through the crumbling seaside facades of Worthing (Hewlett and Martin’s childhood hometown, a soggy, tatty adendum to Brighton. It has a certain charm). It does feel a little recycled – I’m pretty sure there was a TG story called ‘Blue Helmet’ that was virtually identical in plot and tone, and indeed was possibly funnier. The proof is in the pudding however so it may yet veer off in strange new tangents. It’s inessential reading, but I like it’s idiosyncratic little corner of comics. Tank Girl was never supposed to change comics. She was just Minnie the Minx with a bestiality fetish. I never really bought the feminist icon thing fully – seemed a bit bandwagonesque* to assign her such a position. As much fun as Tank Girl is, and as refreshing as it was to have a filthy irreverent amoral comics heroine, she never quite shook off the wank-fantasy element. Not as harmful as 90% of female representation in comics for sure, but hardly Andrea Dworkin either. None of this is the creator’s fault mind, rather lazy media-representation.
*spot the indy band reference kids.
Interestingly IDW has an advert for a *gasp* original series by Alan coming soon, called ‘Pristeen 16′ which appears to be about sixteen genetically created girls who are going to destroy the world (I’m presupposing the genetics bit). Hmmm. Well it’s hardly new territory but that’s a great title. Martin’s such an old indy kid. ‘Pristeen 16′ sounds like something written by a winsome C86 band. You can practically hear the tape hiss. It’s drawn again by Dayglo, and the advert uses a very nice font for the title so I’ll give it a shot. I’m guessing it’ll be full of swearing girls and exlposions and references to Grange Hill.
And let’s be honest, there’s always room in the world for more comics like that.