The Power Of Tank Girl Interview: An Audience with Alan Martin with a bevy of Guest Stars
by Nevs Coleman 30-Sep-14
Nevs Coleman and guests interview Alan Martin about Tank Girl’s second coming.
There isn’t much I can add to the story of Tank Girl that a million ’90s teenagers haven’t said already. Bunked off school, sniffed glue and read Tank Girl collections, alongside Paradax, Love & Rockets and A-1, in the park when I should have been at Double P.E. An empowering comic icon who spoke like us, vomiting out a bile of rage mixed in with Pop Culture hatred, starting on the adventures of Tank Girl and her Kangaroo Boyfriend, Booga, onto experiments in Burroughs cut up technique, transcendence and love letters to the English countryside, Greek mythology and even the heady heights of having her own magazine launched on the UK newsstands with free gifts and everything, chums. The world was the oyster belonging to Clown Princes Hewlett and Martin.
Then the movie happened. That wasn’t an oyster, after all. That was a glass full of Hollywood cum and the boys had to swallow.
Stories abounded. Jamie’s working on a graphic novel with Alan Moore, Jamie’s taking over Spider-Man, Alan’s joined a cult, Alan’s writing for Image under a false name. The Face published Get The Freebies. Nothing more was said. We figured Tank Girl had gone the way of Plaistow Patricia, but without the happy ending.
Then IDW announced they were launching a Tank Girl series. There was a story of novelizations being sold on eBay from a pub somewhere in England, but they were like sightings of Richey Manic in India. And IDW? As in “Selling you your childhood at $3.99 a time” IDW? Had Chris Ryall swapped the rights to Tank Girl for a Daisy Chainsaw/Senseless Things rare split 7″? Why… why was Tank Girl dressed like a librarian? Had Alan read Bonfire of the Vanities one too many times? Maybe IDW would be promoting a Tank Girl/G.I. Joe crossover soon?
It was fine. The opening issue featured shit in a handbag. It was full of bile, anger and poems about eating meat. There was a nice touch with a Jamie Hewlett variant cover on issue 3. The spirit of two fingers up, a Carry On quote and a wank gag embroiled with the constant desire to kick the nearest UKIP member in the bollocks whilst downing a can of Tennants had survived, as drawn by Ashley Wood. It survived onto a run with Rufus Dayglo on art chores whilst being serialised in The Judge Dredd Megazine and has been featured in a number of mini-series from Image, IDW and Titan. The Power Of Tank Girl is a collection of Tank Girl mini-series written by Alan, drawn by Ashley and Rufus. It’s available in all the usual outlets soon. Hopefully scaring the shite out of Scott Pilgrim in the Graphic Novels section of Waterstone’s for Halloween.
While I had a couple of questions for Alan myself, to be honest, there’s a whole generation of women who grew up with Tank Girl and I thought it was more apt to let them ask him some things they wanted to know about one of the men who helped define a generation, so at the end I handed over to the women, Saffron Spackling of both Republica and Looters, Tooters And Sawn Off Shooters fame, Fran Lock, poet Genius type and author of both The Mystic And The Pig Thief’ and Flatrock, Sarah Taylor-Harman, Visiting Lecturer at Brunel Univeristy, who brings up the White Elephant in the room, Jessica Kemp, Visual Raconteur, and Kitty Stryker, Founder of @ConsentCulture.
Nevs Coleman: Where… where were you in those intervening years between the film and the IDW launch, man? We missed you. Tell us all.
Alan Martin: I was on a mountaintop in South Wales, meditating on a giant, spinning sliver mushroom that was hovering over the town of Cardigan. Also I went travelling with my wife, managed an ale house, wrote lots of stuff that went absolutely nowhere, and started a family.
Nevs: Tell me about The Power Of Tank Girl. Why do our loyal readers want it on their Christmas or Halloween lists?
Alan: It’s a compilation of the three books that were produced for IDW – The Gifting, Visions of Booga, and The Royal Escape. They were drawn by Ashley Wood and Rufus Dayglo, and represent the comeback of Tank Girl after a thirteen-year hiatus. The contracts expired with IDW and I decided to bring them all over to Titan – the UK home of Tank Girl’s back catalogue. Titan suggested compiling them into a single, fat book, which made perfect sense. I took the opportunity to head the book up with The Royal Escape story, which was my favourite of the original trio of books; I felt that it wasn’t well-publicised on its initial release and the work that Rufus and I had put into it deserved another chance in the spotlight. I really like the finished product; it’s a dense, never-ending ride of consummate stupidity.
Nevs: I was just looking at the line up of people who’ve drawn Tank Girl over the years, and aside from the obvious Jamie, you’ve had Mike McMahon, Jim Mahfood, Glyn Dillon, Ashley Wood all on pencilling duties, among others. I can think of a few obvious candidates to illustrate her, like Peter Bagge, Brendan McCarthy, Paul Pope, Jamie Hernandez, Steve Parkhouse or even Drew Friedman, but is there anyone you’d like to see draw Tank Girl you haven’t had a chance to get on the book yet?
Alan: I don’t think there are many others, apart from everyone you’ve just listed. My knowledge of comic books is limited to say the least. Brian Bolland did some definitive covers for us back in the mid-nineties. I would love to see more from him, he really nailed the character. I did ask him, but he politely ignored me.
Nevs: Talk us through the Kickstarter you went through to make 21st Century Tank Girl a reality. I’m taken aback that any publisher wouldn’t just see the proposal of “New Tank Girl, hardcover By Jamie Hewlett” and have Iggy Azalea and Beyonce drive a truck full of money up to your front door. What was the appeal of going this route?
Alan: I didn’t take it to any publishers, that was never the plan. Kickstarter brought Tank Girl the kind of publicity and reach into unexplored territories that a publisher could never give. She’s a cult character with a sizeable following; I can’t think of many other characters of Tank Girl’s popularity that are still creator-owned. So she seemed tailor-made for a Kickstarter project. Jamie loved the contact with the backers and the buzz of seeing a project grow, brick-by-brick. This was guerilla publishing, small press, underground – taking it back to Tank Girl’s publishing roots. If you pledged, you’ll see what I’m talking about when you get your book; there’s no barcodes, no price tag, no endless credits of company CEOs and tea ladies who had nothing to do with the book. It’s a stripped down, no frills, wholesome and honest book.
Alan: I wish I had more time to read comics, then I might be able to give you an informed answer to that question. Ask me again in fifteen years when my kids have both left home!
Saffron Spackling: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline and will there be any more kickass women characters?’
Alan: Yes and yes. I’m hatching a plan right now that involves a new breed of bollock-booting female characters. It’s top secret.
Fran Lock: What are your thoughts on Tank Girl’s role in riot grrrl culture- how much was she reflecting and how much shaping that movement? Is Tank Girl a feminist or “post-feminist” character? Or are those terms a yawn-worthy irrelevance that suck the fun right out of writing? Who are Tank Girl’s spiritual successors? Do they even exist? Are they coming from the mainstream or from the fringes? Or even from comics at all?
Alan: We were quite unaware of the movement at the time, this was pre-internet days and we were two dumb shmucks living in a sleepy seaside town, it didn’t reach us until much later. Wikipedia gives the date of the birth of Riot Grrrl as 1991, by which time Tank Girl was already three years old and half way through her “golden age”. So there’s really no correlation. I would never claim that Tank Girl is a feminist character, she was never invented as such and is far too flawed to embody such aspirations. I can’t think of any spiritual successors. I know of some people who’d like to think they were her spiritual successors, but they couldn’t be further away if they tried. She doesn’t need successors – she still exists.
Sarah Taylor-Harman: Here, in 2014, what do you now think of Tank Girl, the movie? Has time healed all or some wounds?
Alan: Deep down I really dislike the movie, all because of the script, it makes me cringe. There’s one incestuous joke in it that people keep on quoting at me, like I wrote the damned thing, and it makes me want to curl up and disappear. However, the movie has brought a whole new generation of readers to the comics, which has given them a whole new lease of life.
Jessica Kemp: A) why after such a long absence did you return to Tank Girl, and b) any possibility of Get the Freebies being collected together as a published book?
Alan: I returned with Tank Girl because I realised I could. After the movie, Jamie and I felt that there was nothing left of the character to carry on with, and we both walked away from it. When I was putting together the first series of reissues together for Titan in 2001, I wrote a short script as a bonus for one of the books, and I found that Tank Girl was still alive and well, desperate to get out, and dying for a shit. Get the Freebies isn’t anything to do with me, that’s Jamie Hewlett and Mat Wakeham’s property, so best ask them.
Kitty Stryker: As a third wave feminist/riot grrl from an early age, Tank Girl really spoke to me as an icon. Her ownership of her sexual desire was clear to pre-teen me, as was her kickass attitude. As I grew older, I questioned whether that was my projection, or the intent- there’s certain throw-away gags that suggest some subtle racism and a lot of fatphobia. Due to this, there’s been a lot of debate whether Tank Girl is, in fact, feminist, or if she’s a violent, self-centered hedonist. Thoughts?
Alan: Any fictional character is subject to the audience’s projection. Tank Girl is not a real person; she is a comic character, and she is flawed and wrong-headed in most of what she does. We never set out to create a character that embodied any specific ideology; she was always meant to be a trouble-maker, an outlaw, and a social outcast. Aside from the politically incorrect throw-away gags, she’s been known to kill innocent bystanders and destroy people’s lives on a whim; surely if we’re judging her as a real person, those events would be the first things we would look at? The bottom line is she’s not real, she’s a fictitious, psychotic anti-hero, and behaves accordingly.
[The Power Of Tank Girl is released 1 October, while 21st Century Tank Girl is released in November.]Tags: 21st Century Tank Girl, Alan Martin, Ashley Wood, IDW, Jamie Hewlett, Rufus Dayglo, Tank Girl, The Power Of Tank Girl, Titan