Alan Martin on Tank Girl

Tank Girl became an overnight success after her first appearance in the 80s. Review Graveyard catches up with one of her creators and talks about the old days, the new reprints launched by Titan Publishing and the dire film staring Lori Petty...

Darren Rea: How did you and Jamie Hewlett first get together? And how did you come up with the bizarre creation that is Tank Girl?

Alan Martin: During the mid-eighties I was in a band with the then unknown Philip Bond. One of our favourite songs was a track we had written called Rocket Girl. I was studying at Worthing at this time, which is where we met up with Jamie. He and Philip hit it off straight away. I was a little put off by Jamie's habit of drawing huge penis's on any paper that he came across.

The three of us then worked together on the comic/fanzine Atomtan. While working on this Jamie had drawn a grotty looking heffer of a girl brandishing an unfeasible firearm. One of our friends was working on a project to design a pair of headphones and was basing his design on the type used by World War II tank driver. His studio was littered with loads of photocopies of combat vehicles. I pinched one of the images and gave it to Jamie who then stuck it behind his grotty girl illustrations and then added a logo which read 'Tank Girl'.

DR: Where you surprised at how popular she became?

AM: It didn't really come as a shock to us. All of our friends liked it and that's all that mattered at the time. If no one else liked it we didn't really care.

DR: Had you planned how the story would progress from the start?

AM: No. We had about a month to create each part, so of course we'd leave it until five days until the deadline and then we'd stay up all night. I'd be filling in the boxes as soon as Jamie had completed the drawings. A lot of the time we wouldn't know how it was going to end until Jamie started drawing the final panel. A lot of the spelling mistakes were his, if anyone asks [laughs].

DR: Was writing comics an area which you had shown much interest in before this?

AM: Only vaguely. I met Philip at school and he is working for DC Vertigo now and has just started a series called Angel and the Ape [pictured right]. The two of us would get picked on at school because we would spend most of our free time reading or drawing comics. It was meeting Philip that got me interested in going to Art College.

DR: Do you think that comics are seen as a lot sexier now?

AM: That's a difficult question. I don't know whether they are to be honest. They are definitely more sophisticated and I think that has lessened the market. If you go in to your average British newsagents there are only one or two British comics on display. There is only really Action Man comic and 2000AD is hanging in there, but apart from that there aren't really any other comics to choose from. In the late 80's there were a lot more. Deadline was just one of a few anthologies that were around at the time. I don't really know whether the media has ever really broken the nerd aspect.

DR: I remember 2000AD being seen as one of the first comics that were aimed at the older generation, but still a lot of people would think - and still do to some extent - that comics were childish.

AM: Yeah, totally. I don't think we helped much with Tank Girl [laughs]. I think a lot of people were striving to make comics for adults. We made stuff that could only be sold to adults but really it was very childish, I think.

DR: Do you think Deadline was before it's time? How do you think it would do if it was launched in the current climate? Do you think it would be more successful?

AM: No. I think it would still fall on its face. I don't really think there has ever been a market for it. Maybe it would have made it if it had been launched in the mid to late 60s. It could have been sold alongside OZ or other extreme attitude magazines. I think the late 80s was not a good time to launch - it was a bad time to release anything. And I think that the market is a lot smaller for comics at the present time.

DR: With the current spate of comic book characters being made into Hollywood movies do you think that Tank Girl would fare better if a movie was made now?

AM: [Laughs] The film's a bit of a sore point for us really because we never really liked it. Again, I don't think the film would have made it at any point in time because I just don't think it has what it takes. So, no I don't think it would be more successful now.

DR: How much involvement did you have with the movie?

AM: We had hardly any involvement until the very last minute when they realised that it really didn't look anything like the original comic and then they pulled in Jamie and Philip to pad it out with comic panels. Up until that point we'd kind of hoped that they knew what they were doing. They made a lot of noise as though they did know what they were doing, but when it came down to it it didn't look that way.

To be honest they'd offered to make a film and at that point we were still a cult - Deadline was only selling 20 000 issues a month, which is just peanuts really - and the character wasn't really well known in America. So for someone to actually pick that up in the first place was a miracle and for them to then say: "You guys can write the script for us," knowing that we had no previous screenplay writing experience was impossible.

We sold them the rights thinking that the worse that could happen was that they would make some duff 'made for television' adaptation ALA The Incredible Hulk in the 70s or Wonder Woman. For which we didn't care. We thought it would be ironic, there would be some humour in it and everyone would appreciate it any way.

However, unfortunately they tried to make it look cool. They argued over what was cool and what wasn't cool. When you go to Hollywood and you see a bunch of fat businessmen sitting in offices arguing what's cool, you just think "No mate. Whatever you are going to come up with you're wrong." The struggle just ripped the heart out of the film and ending up not looking like anything really.

DR: That must be pretty soul destroying seeing your creation ripped apart in front of you?

AM: Yeah it is. I don't think me or Jamie have ever forgiven them really [laughs]. You live and learn though, don't you. It was as much our fault as it was theirs. But there seemed to be a bit of craze that year for ruining British comic characters - the Judge Dredd movie came out about a month before Tank Girl.

DR: Tank Girl has been given a new lease of life thanks to the new Titan Publishing graphic novels. Are you pleased with the way these have been produced?

AM: Absolutely, they're really cool. They're very similar to the issues that were out before, but we tried to put some new little tidbits in here and there. The majority of the stuff was released originally in Deadline and then Penguin put together a compilation of the first 12 issues of material, so there wasn't a lot more room for manoeuvre - they are very similar to the originals, but Titan have done a very good job on them.

DR: What additional material is in these new books?

AM: There are new introductions and I've also gone through my archives and dug out images that have never been published before of me, Jamie and anyone else who was hanging around at the time. There are also text pieces in there - in the first issue there is Tank Girl's story which is about five pages long, which is just her background story. Then in the second issue there is a 'How to write Tank Girl the Alan way'.

DR: Has your sense of humour progressed much since the birth of Tank Girl? Or is it still pretty sick?

AM: [Laughs] I think it's pretty sick still. The fourth book in the series was written by Pete Milligan and I've written an introduction for that and a supposed script for a comic that was never published. The material came out of me really easily. I wrote it in about half an hour and when I looked at it I thought: 'Yep. I am as sick as I was then [Laughs]. So I'd say that yes I am still as sick now as I was then. And I'd say that Jamie is even sicker now than he was back then.

DR: What advice would you give to aspiring comic writers and artists?

AM: Probably the best bet is to go to comic convention and hang around and buy the right people a drink. I can't think of a better way of getting into the industry. It's very difficult. The market has shrunk quite drastically in recent years and I haven't been anywhere near the industry for some years.

DR: How long is it since you were involved with the industry?

AM: Since the movie came out [Laughs]. The film sank, the comic sank and I bailed out. I'm not that interested in going back to it, but if someone made me the right offer you never know. I still see Jamie. He's in his element doing his work with Gorillaz. There is a lot of work in comics, the majority of which means late nights pulling your hair out. I think he was quite glad to get out of that. It doesn't really generate a lot of cash, unless you can sell your rights and make a hit movie and I think he's happier being at the helm of a bigger ship.

DR: Do you have any plans to work with Jamie again in the future?

AM: I don't know. He's so tied up with what he is doing at the moment. Although it's a novelty item that he's working on it could go on for some years, but who knows?

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Kate Jones at Titan Publishing

Volumes 1-4 Tank Girl graphic novels are available to buy from Titan Publishing
priced £10.99 each.

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