Every now and then, a British comic breaks big and becomes part of the national cultural fabric. In the 1950s it was THE EAGLE, bringing its fin-de-l'empire space ace DAN DARE to the masses. Then in the 1970s, it was 2000AD, with its punk era nihilism, making an icon out of Thatcher's boot boy JUDGE DREDD. And arguably the last time such a crossover occured, it was DEADLINE, at the end of the Eighties, when an emergent army of indie kids (yet to be labelled Generation E elsewhere, I suppose) took Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin's TANK GIRL to its heart. She was irreverent. Sweary. Moody. Self-indulgent. Promiscuous. Flatulent. A profligate substance abuser. A zoophiliac. But then again, who wasn't back then? Plus, she had cracking tits. Everyone loved her. It couldn't last. Besides, nothing can render a cool comic uncool faster than a botched movie adaptation.
So, Alan Martin, co-creator of TANK GIRL, HELL CITY, CAPTAIN PYRATE, HOT TRIGGERS, and PLANET SWERVE, has returned to the comic book fray. If you're a writer of comics, that list should make you sick with envy, 'cus it means he's worked with Jamie Hewlett, Phil Bond, and Glyn Dillon. And now to top it off, he's working with Aussie One Man Artist Corp Ashley Wood on a new TANK GIRL series for IDW. What a jammy git.
MC: Last I heard, Alan Martin was severely disillusioned by the TANK GIRL movie; quits comics; spends his Hollywood blood money on a camper van, and leaves to see the world. What happened next?
AM: We spent a year travelling around the British Isles ("we" being my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Lou) in search of stone circles and ancient sites. We landed in Wales, Cardigan Bay, and lived in some lovely places there for three years. The "Hollywood blood money" you talk of was really a pittance and ran out within a couple of years. So we lived pretty frugally, chopping wood to heat our central-heating-free house and joining wholefood co-ops with some hippy friends. It was a lot like living inside a Crosby Stills and Nash song. We now live on the Scottish Borders, Lou is a shop owner and we've recently added to our number with a son, Rufus Bodie Martin.
Cool name. Is your son named Bodie after Lewis Collins' character in THE PROFESSIONALS? Please say yes.
So, you split up the band, so-to-speak, and Jamie continues on for a while without you. Then, nada. TANK GIRL shuffles off to that wardrobe of radioactive comic book characters ruined by bad movies (see also, Crumb’s FRITZ THE CAT). So when TANK GIRL returns, with you in tow, it’s got to raise a few eyebrows. Did you officially get custody of the character whenever Jamie decided to become a pop star?
There was never a conscious decision on my part to stop writing Tank Girl stories. I actually had scripts written for the second series in the Manga magazine, but I was "edited out" by the twat that was put in charge. He stuck some terrible Tank Girl strip in instead, I haven't read it past the first few pages, I find it as galling as the movie script. I burnt all of my unpublished stuff before I left Wales, I needed to purge myself of all that, lance the festering boil, if you will. As you can tell, it still brings about a touch of the red-mist when I talk about it.
I'm sure that a few eyebrows will be raised at our return sans Hewll, but I've just got to say to the nay-sayers, purists, and general grumblers that this is a character that I co-created, this is my life that it will be supporting, this is my best work that I'm putting out there for you, and if you don't like it THEN DON'T FUCKIN BUY IT! It's that simple. I know I won't like Britney Spears records, so I don't buy them. Does that make me a genius?
And remember, I'm not some Hollywood mogul, remaking you favourite Ealing comedy into a piece of shit directed by Ritchy Cunningham. This is me, I love Tank Girl, good and proper.
As for official custody, the publishing rights to the character are still owned by Jamie and myself. I run all of my ideas by Jamie first. He was very nearly the main artist on this project, but alas, someone goofed-up.
Did the time away change your perspective on the character; the comic book industry; the movie; or life, the universe and everything?
Good. Does your re-engagement with the character go back to around 2002, whenever Titan started their programme of TANK GIRL reprints? I remember those books having a certain amount of new material, all originated by you, in them (text pieces, prose, scripts, etc). Then, for a while there, you were selling self-published TANK GIRL material on Ebay, weren’t you? What was that all about?
Yeah, I started to write her again in 2003, but I was banging my head against a brick wall, trying to get the stuff published. Eventually I thought I'd just have to do it myself, which, in a round-about way, brought about my meeting with Ashley and the rest of it.
And now, the hook-up with Ashley Wood and IDW. I was aware Ash was a big fan of DEADLINE, but how’d that come about? I’m guessing he approached you. Or were you actively seeking to bring Tanky back in comics rather than prose?
Rufus Dayglo introduced me to Ash. I had the scripts ready, just looking for another artist and Ashley instantly wanted to do it. When I got to see Ashley's art, there was no question in my mind that this was the man for the job.
What’s the difference between working on TANK GIRL with Jamie, and working with Ash? Does the division of labour change when the artist is a couple of continents away, rather than down the hall of the bedsit?
I've had to re-learn comic book writing so that I could send properly formatted scripts out to Ash. The old way of writing Tank Girl was to sit next to Jamie and fill in the panels as we went along with no real idea where it was going. Things are a bit tighter this time around.
One of the things I have the fondest memories of from the old TANK GIRL strips were the daft pop culture cameos. Ken Dodd. Tucker Jenkins. Jimmy Saville. The Undertones showing up in a tent with Barney. Can we expect to continue seeing this sort of thing, or does it become harder to do when you’re working with an artist with a completely different cultural perspective to your own? Or do the Aussies have Rolf Harris, too?
It would probably have been a little over indulgent to have continued with the obscure 70's references, so I've opened it up somewhat. F'rinstance, there's a two-parter about Booga and his obsession with a toy ray gun from the original black & white Buck Rogers films. But Ash is a well informed anglophile, his wife is from England and he's spent some time over here.
Along the same lines, I was re-reading the Titan edition of THE ODYSSEY and discerned you’re maybe a (water) closet DOCTOR WHO fan. Enjoying the new WHO at all, or are you more of a classicist?
I don't own a television set, so I haven't seen the new stuff.
As soon as Ash’s press release hit the internet, there was discussion about the project on the messageboards. Funnily enough, the bit that has caused the most instant controversy has been Tank Girl’s new look, dressed like a “high school teacher from the mid-eighties”. All your idea, or does Ash have plenty of input into this side of things? I’m guessing that Tank Girl was so of her time, had such an influence on the zeitgeist for a while (at the end of the Eighties, early Nineties), that this must have been one of the hardest decisions to make, creatively (plus, yer right - “punk chic” has been rightly buggered up by the f#ckin’ Yanks lately. Avril f#ckin’ Lavigne? Every other emo-lovin’ tosser hanging around every war memorial in every dreary market town wearing a Ramones t-shirt? Do any of those c#nts have a copy of TOO TOUGH TO DIE on vinyl in their attic? I don’t think so).
That's just great. It couldn't have worked out better. Tank Girl was always about upsetting people, and that's what we've done already, with just one picture and one paragraph! Fuckin' A! We thought about it long and hard, and the main part of the problem was the time that has passed since she was last seen, it's like she'd been frozen in some kind of 80's/90's mono-image, and she could never look like anything else. Back in the day, we would switch her dress nearly every page, so there was never any real "look" that you could pin down anyway. Y'know, we're not gonna dress her as a working girl throughout the whole thing, we're just fucking around here! I find it very amusing when Tank Girl becomes a topic for serious debate, it's quite a shock to see that we can attract a serious readership with such frothy dross.
My brother has got my copy of Too Tough To Die.
When I look back at the old TANK GIRL strips, I always think that it was barely influenced by other comics. A little Brendan McCarthy here, a little 2000AD there, but mainly it’s Chuck Jones’ ROADRUNNER cartoons, the MAD MAX movies, pop music, references to old T.V. shows, etc. Did you even read comics before falling in with Phil and Jamie? Do you read any now? Plus, what music can we expect to see feeding back into your work now? The same old stuff, or have you fallen for any new bands?
I'm not a big comic fan, I used to read The Freak Brothers when I was at school. I was pretty blown away by Milligan, McCarthy and Ewin's stuff in Strange Days when Jamie introduced me to it, that was the coolest comic I'd ever seen, probably still is. Nowadays I read Daniel Clowes, that's about it.
No new bands, just some very, very old ones.
I see Ash has your old PLANET SWERVE mucker Glynn Dillon contributing some work to the next issue of his art mag (and I don’t mean that euphemistically) SWALLOW. What’s he up to these days? His is a name I often see bandied around affectionately whenever someone starts a Where Are They Now? thread on any comic book message board.
Glyn shares studio space with Jamie at Zombie Flesh Eaters. He has become one of the most talented storyboard artists on the planet. As you can imagine, having such a prolific job, his art has taken some quantum leaps forward.
We have been working on a new idea for some time that will hopefully see light of day this year. It will also feature input from Jamie, Ashley Wood, Philip Bond, Brendan McCarthy and Pete Milligan. I can't say another word on the matter (I'll probably get my wrist slapped for revealing what I have!), but I'll let you know more as soon as poss.
Along those lines, what do you think the odds are of Jamie ever returning to the medium of comic books in the future? Is he lost forever to pop, animation and hanging out with Mark Kermode?
I can't answer for Jamie. And I don't know who Mark Kermode is. Does that make me lucky?