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.