The Girl With The Tank In Living Color! – Tank Girl Full Color Classics #1

by Richard Bruton

My oh my, the girl with the tank is 30 this year. And to celebrate the occasion Titan Comics are having a bit of a celebration, including this, a full-color reprint of the very first Tank Girl adventures from Deadline Magazine. It’s a magnificent way to remember an incredible moment of creative fire, pure incredible anarchy writ large on the comic page.

I remember Deadline Magazine so well. I was there when the very first issue came out, working in Nostalgia & Comics, the legendary comic shop in Birmingham UK. I was a mere strip of a lad back then, and Deadline was oh so perfect for little teen me. We shared the same taste in music and we shared the same taste in comics, and within a few pages, I fell in love with the girl with the tank.

She was bigger than life, bold, brash, sexy, sticking two fingers up at the world and blowing lots of shit up.

Here, with Tank Girl Full Color Classics, we get the chance to relive the earliest Tank Girl experiences, as published month by month by two eager and snotty young punk kids, Martin and Hewlett. There’s no sense of a bigger story here, there never was. Tank Girl was done on the fly, each tale complete anarchy on the comic page, with no connections from strip to strip, bar the recurring cast of her good lady with the tank, her kangaroo mutant boy toy Booga, stuffed toy Camp Koala (the only thing TG ever admitted loving, killed brutally in a game of hand-grenade baseball), and later on, the likes of Jet Girl, Sub Girl, Boat Girl et al.

Each new Tank Girl strip is just a riot of glorious ideas thrown at the page. It’s a glorious, insane mess of comic history. And frankly, here with the very first load of Tank Girl on the comic page, you get pretty much everything you’ll ever need.

Artist Jamie Hewlett went on to become perhaps THE superstar artist of a generation. Tank Girl was an immediate blast of sheer talent that led to other comic projects including Hewligans Haircut (2000AD, 1990) with Peter Milligan, for whom Hewlett would also provide brilliantly over the top covers for his 90s DC series Shade The Changing Man. Hewlett drifted away from comics for a rather successful career in design and music. You might just have heard of his band that he formed with Blur’s Damon Albarn? Pretty successful? Gorillaz? Oh yes, that was Hewlett’s creative genius right there.

Looking back on these earliest Tank Girl moments, it’s just amazing to see just how fast Hewlett’s art evolves. You can see loads of Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy in there early on, totally in your face influences high in Hewlett’s art mix. And it’s all so rough, so raw early on, with an artistic density that just piles the lines, the ideas, the chaotic invention onto each panel, each page. But even within what you can see in the pages of this first issue of classics, there’s a massive leap in Hewlett’s artistic development. You can see the evolution almost page by page, maturing, simplifying, and it’s pure brilliance.

And here’s the one problem I have with the idea of coloring Tank Girl. The sheer density of Hewlett’s invention on the comic page, the lines he throws into every panel, the intensity of the artwork… it was all designed for black and white, and it works with black and white. And frankly, there’s not really the space to add colour here.

So, although colorist Tracey Bailey does a damn fine job with the coloring, particularly where she’s providing vivid color blocks over the pages, she was always going to be fighting something of a losing battle. The end result is the equivalent of trying to remake Citizen Kane, or more appropriately, having The Damned redo New Rose with better production. It’s just totally unnecessary. Sometimes the raw talent, the first take, that’s all you ever need.

You can actually see exactly what I mean by comparing Hewlett’s original pages with the artwork he did for covers, or pinups.

There you get more of a sense of space, somewhere Hewlett was actually designing the art for the addition of color, giving room, pulling back on the tight line work, and here the color works perfectly.

As the years have gone by, there’s never been a better Tank Girl than the Martin and Hewlett Tank Girl. Sure, subsequent works featuring her with the tank have been fun, all penned by Martin and featuring art by great names such as Glyn Dillon, Philip Bond, Ashley Wood, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Jim Mahfood, Brett Parsons, Rufus Dayglo, Mick McMahon and more. But there’s only ever one original.

She’s Tank Girl. She’s a girl with a tank. She’s written by Alan Martin. She’s drawn by Jamie Hewlett. And here in Tank Girl Full Color Classics we get to relive the beginnings in all their ridiculous anarchy.

It’s a magnificent, wonderful thing. Did it really need the color? Nah, but just seeing the girl again is a riot.

Tank Girl Full Color Classics Issue 1 is currently available in shops. Published by Titan Comics, written by Alan Martin, art and covers by Jamie Hewlett. Colors by Tracey Bailey.

Variant covers by Jamie Hewlett…

And finally… two wonderful moments inside Tank Girl Full Color Classics Issue 1.

A touching note of thanks to two dear, much missed comic legends whose connection with the original Deadline Magazine was vital to its success; Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon. And a piece of Steve Dillon Tank Girl art from the Deadline press pack that I’d never seen before.

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