From 1988-1995, Deadline was your go-to place for alternative comics in the British scene. It leaned hard into the countercultures of the day, featuring comics with an alternative bend by many young creators as well included articles about bands from the alternative spectrum. One of the comics featured throughout the entire run of the magazine was Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (best known for the visual aspect of Gorillaz), which has gone on to do bigger things outside its corner of the comic book world.
Most people will know her from her movie or perhaps have only heard about her through the recent news about Margot Robbie optioning the rights for a new film. Whatever the case, it’s a great time to look back at the Tank Girl comics and Titan Comics has made it easy with this week’s release of Tank Girl Full Colour Classics Book Two, which brings the Tank Girl comics of 1990-1992 back into print with glorious new colours.
Reading through these comics, you can see that they wear the attitudes of the British countercultures of the time – the transitionary period between the end of Madchester and the rise of Britpop – for all to see. They reflect a “f**k the man” attitude with Tank Girl being a character that does as she pleases and if that includes cartoon violence, drugs, and nudity then so be it. In some ways, she’s a proto Harley Quinn that doesn’t have to live by the confines of a superhero universe. She doesn’t play by the rules and, consequently, her stories go in all kinds of directions.
And weird and wonderful direction they went. Some of these include drug-fuelled visits to the beach, 70’s cop parodies with magic jeans, a weird adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Blue Helmet, and much more.
Hewlett illustrates these stories with an energy that’s lively and full of personality. While his pages can look busy, they’re never cluttered as he often fills them up with slightly wonky details. This is achieved through his clean lines, which allow for plenty of detail which he uses to give his characters and surroundings their own personality.
Tank Girl herself is oozing with personality from the top of her mostly shaven head all the way down to her boots. She isn’t decked out in conventional clothing, instead, she leans hard into an early 90’s punk rock with a hint of rave aesthetic that changes and evolves with each story. It’s what kept her fresh too as the subcultures she reflected evolved and shifted over the years.
You can tell that Martin and Hewlett are having a lot of fun with these comics and with that comes the confidence to experiment. It’s not uncommon for Tank Girl to break the Fourth Wall, well before Deadpool was doing it. To take it further, the creative pair insert themselves into their stories as they interact with Tank Girl. A great example of this is when the creators interrupt a story to take Tank Girl on a new adventure, which happens to be them visiting their editor to quit comics. It’s all done firmly tongue in cheek, but it shows that they’re thinking outside the box.
Hewlett has experimented with different mediums and new variations on his signature style. Beyond the usual pencil and ink, he also explores other mediums such as collage and watercolours. These allow for the stories to go down a psychedelic path with trippy visuals, such as a surreal midair orgasm over Stonehenge. Hewlett mixes his media to show the intensity of it, combining paint, collage, and all kinds of odd imagery bursting out from every direction.
Part of this experimentation means that they also play around with how these stories are told. One story is a comic within the comic with the reader seeing it from the point of view of the character reading it. In another, the boundaries of the panels slowly disappear as you get lost in the story as if you’re in a psychedelic drug trip. My favourite one is a story in which there is a secondary strip down the bottom of each page, which acts a commentary for what has been going on above it. This experimentation makes for a fun read and means that no two stories are alike.
While most of these comics were originally presented in back and white, colourists Tracy Bailey and Sofie Dodgson have updated them with a period-appropriate colour pallete. It can be risky to colour decades-old comics for the first time. Sometimes the wrong colour pallete or style is used and it sticks out like a sore thumb. This is not one of those projects with Bailey and Dodgson capturing Tank Girl’s energy by complimenting Hewlett’s energetic linework while look not looking out of place. By looking at the comics, you wouldn’t have known that they were not originally published in colour in the first place.
If you’ve heard about Tank Girl and want to know what the fuss is all about, Tank Girl Full Colour Classics Book Two is a good place to begin. It’s where we really see Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett begin to experiment with the form in wild ways to give us stories that are weird and wonderful. The newly added colour is also a welcomed edition which does not detract from the original art in any way but allows Hewlett’s art to shine as if it were always in colour.