Case One: Framed by irregular panels, Tank Girl rouses from a drunken slumber, holding her shaved head, a litter of empty beer cans surrounding her, gun at her side and graffited tank parked upside down in the ravine above her head while a caption reads: "What's bald, and smelly, snogs kangaroos, wears shoes that don't fit and a bra that's too tight, (and knickers that could use a good wash) smokes, drinks and fights too much for her own good, and at this very moment in time has a mega hangover?... You guessed it."
Case Two: "Sam!" Tank Girl shouts. She has just pulled the girl from the decidedly vaginal apparatus of a long cylindrical torture chamber slowly filling with water. Having fought through any number of dangers in her quest to deliver the child from this technological womb into the world, she kneels, hugging the small figure in faded prison clothes resembling pyjamas tightly, her face abeam with maternal joy.
Of all the transmutations that occur in the translation of comic book to film which are played out in the movie "Tank Girl," none seem quite as blatant, quite as sore-thumbish, as the insertion of the mother-child configuration into the storyline, and the resulting alteration of a brassy, irreverent, outrageously outspoken, authority flaunting loner with a tank to a brassy, irreverent, outrageously outspoken, authority flaunting mother figure with a tank, whose quest for her symbolic child becomes the driving force behind the movie's narrative.
And this shift's obtrusive and somewhat jarring nature seems symptomatic of some overall loss, an edge of subversive quirkiness, or perhaps, rather, quirky subversiveness inherent in the comic, which is blunted, if not altogether ground away in the film, in spite of director Rachel Tallalay's best efforts to capture the style, if not the precise flavor, of the comic book. Accounting for this loss necessitates not so much an examination of the sometimes differing narrative mechanics of comic book and film, but rather a consideration of material concerns, and the differing economic circumstances under which each has been produced.
The comic feature Tank Girl itself was drawn and written by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin in 1990 for the inaugural issue of a new magazine, Deadline, which was intended to be a forum for new comic talent. Deadline , asserting its alliance to Generation X with the subtitle "The Style Mag for Underachievers," was proclaimed by its publishers Brett Ewins and Tom Astor as an underground publication "designed to be a forum for the wild, wacky and hitherto unpublishable." Featuring artists who had, at most, one or two previous publications to their names, Deadline's original press run was 500 copies, runs on subsequent issues creeping up to 1000, an expansion which was primarily facilitated by the success of Tank Girl. Despite this boost, the magazine was out of business within two years of its inception, while its former feature, Tank Girl, continues its phenomenal success.
The heroine of Hewlett and Martin's strip, Tank Girl, is not a superhero. She has no special powers other than an early training with the Australian SAS and a tank. The comic is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a choice prompted mostly, the authors noted in an interview, because they didn't like drawing a lot of buildings. Tank Girl's preoccupations in life center around sex, drinking and pointless violence, while being sent on the occasional mission to deliver things like the Presidental colostomy bag. In other issues, she makes a deal with Satan for three wishes (which include an enormous can of beer, an appearance on the Dame Edna show and as her last wish, to circumvent Satan's retribution by having him turn into British fundraiser Jimmy Savilles) and is summoned by Australian aborigines as the spirit Tanicha, "the spirit of youth and life and wisdom," to wreak havoc on the white men stealing their land.
Stylistically, the comic, which describes itself in one self-referential strip as "a state of the art comic for the post-literate generation," is postmodern, even in the most Jamesonian sense, in its heavy use of pastiche and its fascination with consumer culture while realizing its own position within that culture as an object with exchange value. Some strips are left unfinished or include inexplicable elements and in-jokes. Panels are often laid out in ways which violate comic traditions, such as overlapping panels, odd insets, or breakage. The majority of the opening credits include a suggested soundtrack, such as the theme from White Horses or the Bay City Rollers. Both the character of Tank Girl and the writers often address the reader directly in the most metafictional of fashions, poking fun at traditional images of the average comic book reader as a pubescent male in search of titillation. In one issue the bare-chested Tank Girl thwarts those readers' desires by affixing "censored" stickers over each breast and finally defeating a villain by ripping off the stickers and thus bedazzling him into stupefication while the authors snicker via a sidebar, "What you might call a breast hanger".
"Tank Girl" made Deadline magazine an immediate hit, and received significant press and media attention. While the comic appealed to the core of comics readers, principally males in their late teens, at the same time young women were quick to identify with Tank Girl's aggressive, irreverent attitude and her blatant humor and sexuality. Tank Girl T-shirts sprang up swiftly, including one celebrating the 1990 Lesbian and Gay Pride March. In 1991 Wrangler Jeans approached Deadline in order to use Tank Girl in a series of press ads. A number of British rock bands, including Blur, the Senseless Things, Carter USM, Curve and Teenage Fanclub, were influenced by Tank Girl while returning the favor. Their albums featured songs inspired by Tank Girl and in return, Hewlett and Martin gave the bands mention in the comic strip. The band logos often appeared in the comic itself while Hewlett's artwork was employed in their record covers. One all-girl band, Fuzzbox, dressed as Tank Girl for publicity shots, appearing in torn jeans, their heads shaved, and clutching semi-automatic weapons. Sarah Stockbridge, a model, approached Deadline asking if she could be Tank Girl. The resulting photographs cropped up in a flurry of magazines which included Elle, Select and The Face. Vogue used Tank Girl , citing her image as a crucial influence on what the editors labelled "Bad Girl Fashion," which included partially shaven heads, multiple body piercings, and tattoos.
Penguin bought the British rights to collect the Tank Girl strips in a book while Dark Horse Comics acquired the American rights to both Tank Girl and Deadline. Director Rachel Tallalay was sent the Dark Horse Tank Girl anthology for Christmas by her stepdaughter and was immediately smitten by the heroine's brassy nature. Tallalay, one of Hollywood's few female directors, had begun her career as a production assistant on John Water's "Polyester." Subsequently she produced "Hairspray" and "Cry Baby" for Waters. Her directorial debut was a futile attempt to kill off Wes Craven's multiply-lived creation in "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," after which she went on to direct the techno-thriller, "Ghost in the Machine."
The later publicity campaign for the cinematic version of "Tank Girl" involved a certain amount of hoopla which celebrated the comic in a somewhat backhanded way, making it seem some sort of cultural icon rescued from postmodern aborigines in order to be brought to America, and always emphasizing the charm the character herself held for these celebrants, ignoring the actual writing and art of the comic. In an interview with Vox magazine, Tallalay said: "I looked at that image of 'TANK GIRL' and thought, 'wow, she's so far beyond everything...beyond fashion, beyond the future.' She was sexy and tough, just so compelling and different from anything you see out there. I thought she was totally outrageous and really original. . . . The challenge, I thought, was to keep the essence of the outlaw comic strip and translate it into a character that had elements of being a real person, so she could remain psychotic and crazed and still have the essence that made her charming and funny." (52)
It took Talalay a year to acquire the movie rights to Tank Girl, after which she began approaching studios about making the picture. "I'd go in and make a pitch and say I want to make "La Femme Nikita " meets "Mad Max" . . . That was the original pitch; now it's "Road Runner" meets "Ren and Stimpy" meets "Wayne's World." (Vox 53) A flurry of interviews appeared at the time of the movie's release, always centering on the character and her dangerous appeal for women. In one, Lori Petty confessed that although she loved the character, she found herself slipping into it at "inappropriate" times, such as shopping expeditions. Over and over, the publicity surrounding the movie hammers home the point that Tank Girl was someone women could admire, that she was wild and free and strong and decidedly subversive.
But the fact of the matter is that the film is/was not entirely motivated by a burning zeal to bring Tank Girl's exemplary shaven head in front of the camera in order to inspire the masses, but like any other studio film, selected for studio appeal. "Tank Girl" was produced by Richard Lewis, Pen Densham and John Watson under United Artist's Trilogy Entertainment group name and the companybegan preproduction on the "Tank Girl" in January, 1994. Trilogy had earned a reputation for making big, event action movies such as "Backdraft" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." "Tank Girl" offered them the opportunity to blend action, comedy and what they labelled cutting-edge music. On an interview appearing on the "Tank Girl" web page, Lewis said: "We've been typecast as always doing 'boys and their toys' movies. They've done extraordinarily well and I'm very happy, but I wanted to broaden the spectrum of what we do. I thought this material would give us the opportunity to do that. Rachel brought her experience in the horror/cult genre market of films, which I think allowed us to push the edgier aspects of 'Tank Girl.' Yet the movie also required enormous action sequences, with which we've had ample practice." "Tank Girl", it might be noted, was one of a cluster of female action films that came out around the same time, including " Bad Girls," "Blue Steel," "The Next Karate Kid," "Pirates," and "The River Wild." Hollywood had noted the feminist market, and while leery of the label, it was eager for the cash women might be willing to fork out in order to see female heroes on the screen.
The movie is a substantially more straightforward narrative than the comic, and in fact goes back to show the origins of the heroine. It is set in the year 2033, after an ecological cataclysm has devastated the land, leaving water the single scarcest and most valuable resource. The heroine, played by Lori Petty, who had previously appeared in "A League of Their Own," "Point Break," and "Free Willy," is Rebecca Buck, who only acquires the tank that will provide her name halfway through the film. Her adopted family, the Renegades, is destroyed in a raid by the goons of the Department of Water. She is captured and taken to work in their dust mines, under the watchful eye of Kesslee, played by Malcolm McDowell. When she escapes, she takes with her a fellow prisoner, Naomi Watts, who becomes Jet Girl. The two discover that one of the other Renegades, a young girl named Sam, has also sold to a large house of ill repute called Liquid Silver. They raid the place and rescue Sam in a bizarre sequence involving a mass Cole Porter number and cameos by Ann Magnuson and Iggy Pop, only to have Sam snatched away from them by the Department of Water. They recruit a group of half-men, half-kangaroos called the Rippers, whose leader, Booga, is played by rapper Ice-T. Together, they raid the department, rescue Sam and defeat Kesslee. The movie closes with an animated sequence of Tank Girl and Booga water-skiing. The screenplay, written by Tedi Sarafian, was his first major film. Befitting a film with a comic book heritage, several animated sequences punctuate the film, as designed by Colossal's Mike Smith of "Natural Born Killers" and MTV's "Liquid Television" fame. Comic book panels created by Jamie Hewlett also serve as visual narration and punctuation throughout the film, sometimes spinning in front of the camera, or making some other motion intended to emphasize to the viewer that they are seeing an animated comic book.
One of the most obvious ways in which the movie tries to maintain its comic book style is through the costuming. Petty employs twenty-seven costume changes throughout the course of the film, occasionally switching costume or eye color from brown to blue in the middle of a sequence. The costumer was Arianne Phillips, who had already done the costuming for yet another comic-book adaptation, "The Crow." Phillips was already a Tank Girl fan, and employed a wide variety of objects in creating Tank Girl's costumes, trying to create a scavenged from post-environmental disaster look. Clothes were created from almost anything that might be left over. Socks became arm bands, bicycle reflectors became jewelry, recycled baby doll faces knee pads. Petty wears tranquility beads designed from anti-depressant pills, e.g. a Prozac necklace. Phillips said of working to create the costumes: ". . . the great thing about the Tank Girl character is that anything goes, but it has to have attitude." (UA press kit)
This transformation of everyday objects into objects of adornment, things to be looked at, is a symbolic violation of the social order, although a move that had already been made by the punk movement, as Dick Hebdige notes. What Hebdige labelled a challenge to cultural hegemony on the part of the punk movement becomes here a commercial strategy, and the nature of the co-optation was made clear when Phillips' efforts were used to create a line of clothing in the Tank Girl style.
The costumes themselves are made an explicit part of the narrative when, upon trying to infiltrate Liquid Silver, Tank Girl finds herself in a futuristic fitting room when a computer hologram instructs her on the "Liquid Silver look." In hyper-fast motion, Tank Girl careens around the room, trying on countless outfits, and eventually piecing together a look in direct opposition to the hologram's model. Clearly, the film wishes to issue a challenge to the patriarchal notions of what it means to look like a woman in this society, but the shift into highspeed at the same time moves the action into the realm of the comic, rescinding its challenge at the same moment it makes it.
The music of the movie makes a similar move. Although the comic itself celebrated small, noncommercial bands, the movie soundtrack employed what might be labelled "mainstream alternative," the sort of music which is celebrated on the blatantly mainstream, commercially motivated medium of MTV, as being outside the norm. Singer Courtney Love, who fronts the influential alternative band Hole, signed on to "Tank Girl" as the Executive Soundtrack Coordinator, marking her first association with a motion picture. "I was looking for a creative outlet that didn't necessarily revolve around me or Hole," she explains. "Not only did this project lend itself to that desire, but it was a challenge the likes of which I had not previously undertaken. Ideologically, I felt a kinship with both the thematic content of the film as well as the vision of Rachel Talalay." (UA Tank Girl web page) Love and company generated a soundtrack which featured such bands and artists as Bjork, Hole, Portishead, Bush, Veruca Salt, Joan Jett, Paul Westerberg and Iggy Pop, among others. Additionally, punk rock impresarios Devo reunited just to contribute their music to "Tank Girl" and the percussion band and theatre troupe Stomp also lent their talents to the film. But none of the bands mentioned in the comic were employed for the movie, despite Hewlett and Martin's best attempts to get them involved. Yet again, the commercial impulses beneath the cinematic version dissolve all subversive influences from the comic.
To see this dissolution played out at its most blatant necessitates a return to an examination of the mother/child dynamic inserted in the movie. That it exists to counterbalance Tank Girl's outspoken sexuality is clear from the outset. In an early scene, Tank Girl and her boyfriend engage in a moment of sexual roleplay, as she pretends to be a sadistic raider who's caught him stealing water, forcing him to strip at gunpoint. But just as the last of the clothes come off and he shyly covers himself from her gaze, two children scamper onto the scene. "Ick," one says, "They're being weird again." And having achieved their purpose in disrupting the sexual moment, in which the traditional patterns of dominance have been threatened by Tank Girl's command of the situation, they run off to play elsewhere.
In Sylvia Harvey's essay, "Woman's Place: the absent family of film noir," she explores the concepts dealt with in the representation of the family in film noir, an exploration which sheds light on the intent behind the mechanism of the mother/child in "Tank Girl." The family symbolizes, for one, the concepts of reproduction and socialization as well as providing an acceptable location for a sexuality defined in purely heterosexual terms. This familization of Tank Girl's character serves to defuse any possible explosive relationship between Tank Girl and Jet Girl, rendering the moment when Tank Girl kisses her a comic feint to distress a male who is interested in Jet Girl. Moreover, Harvey notes, the representation of the family also serves to define romantic love: "Though so many movies go to extreme lengths to keep the two apart (a function of ideology working overtimeto conceal its contradictions) romantic love and the institution of the family are logically and inevitably linked." (24)
That Sam is intended to be the child to Tank Girl's doting mother is emphasized in the bordello scene, in which Sam's childish nature when she is bundled off to service a pervo patron, played by Iggy Pop, dressed in a schoolgirl's outfit complete with bobby socks and a lunchbox. Tank Girl saves Sam and asserts the norm in her indignant declaration to Iggy, "You should be ashamed! A little girl!"
The film constantly struggles with its sexuality, and this battle creates the bordello scene as the site of one of the film's oddest moments, in which Tank Girl exacts revenge on the madam by forcing her to sing "Let's Do It." Swept into frenzy by the song, the patrons and staff of Liquid Silver join in the number, which becomes a parody of older movie extravagantic song and dances, complete with camera shots from above watching the bodies of the dancers perform kaleidoscopic movements. The oddness of the moment is underscored as the camera cuts to a scene of Water Authority officials as they spy on Tank Girl. "What the hell is that?" an official demands, and his underling immediately replies, "Sounds like Cole Porter, sir." Although the song begins with the madam singing alone, Tank Girl seizes control of it, motioning for everyone to join in, taking command. But even as she gyrates in excess, the camera moves above her, looking down, reducing the women and their movements to mere patterns with its gaze. And though she pushes aside the male dancers in a move which seems to suggest her taking control of her sexuality, the fact remains that at the end of the song, she is still inextricably bound into the family relationship as Sam stands beside her onstage, gaily piping the refrain. The gratuitous oddness of the scene is one of the movie's main strategems in trying to recreate the essentials of the comic book in its style, including pop culture references such as the bust of Doris Day which Sam is carving for Tank Girl or the unnamed New Age-y woman who appears from nowhere in order to guide Tank Girl on her quest to find Sam.
One has to acknowledge, of course, in any sort of comparison of this nature that there are basic differences between comics and movies. Very little criticism focusses on the intersection of comic books and film, and what there is tends to go in one of two directions: either an examination of its material production and historical origins, such as Eric Smoodin's Animating Culture or an examination of the psychological dimensions of the hero, most of which seems to center around the Batman movie, such as David Leverantz's The Last Real Man in America: From Natty Bumpo to Batman or Duncan Petrie's "But What if Beauty is a Beast: Doubles, Transformations and the Fairy Tale Motifs in Batman Returns."
However, one of the most important of the differences between comic and film may be that of time. Comics are not bound to real time in the same way as movies, but allow the viewer to slip into a slow or fast motion without jarring them in the same way as in the cinema, enabling psychological effects to be modelled in a way they cannot be done in the film. Employed in the cinema, such techniques bring in a secondary strain of thought where the movie draws attention to what it's doing. In the comic book, the eye of the reader can move away from the action without the same interruption of intensity which occurs in a movie, and an alternation between close-up and farshot in rapid succession similarly can be undertaken without such an interruption. However, when highspeed sequences are used in the movie, as noted, they create a comic effect, an odd echo of Warner Brothers cartoons. And here the movie may be unintentionally going awry in its eager attempt to recreate the feel of the comic.
At the same time, the idea of sequential action similarly differentiates the two media. In sequential art like comic books, the artist must, from the outset, secure control of the reader's attention and dictate the sequence in which the reader follows the narrative. The most evident limitation (also a strength, on which the comic capitalizes) inherent in the form of the comic book is the tendency of a reader's eye to wander. There is no way an artist can prevent the reading of the first panel before the last. The turning of a page does enforce some control, but hardly as absolutely as a film. A commercial film requires a narrative structure, a logical progression from moment to moment, which can be flouted in the comic book. And certainly the comic itself does so, moving wildly from moment to moment, never necessarily in chronological order. Hence Tank Girl can be shown in the future in her existence as an aboriginal spirit before a move is made back to the present as she shoots a bounty hunter chasing her.
Yet the most important difference, and the one which explains precisely why the movie was unable to capture Tank Girl's subversive nature lies simply in the difference between the material conditions of production. The comic is intended for a small audience of consumers; the movie is a major studio production. One can afford to puzzle its audience; the other is driven by the need to please a large segment of the viewers.
The slapdash nature of Tank Girl's inception is symptomatic of many small press comic books. Artists Hewlett and Martin drifted through school before deciding to attend Worthing Art College. In their own words, they "were not dripping with qualifications, they just liked drawing (3 reasonable grade GCSEs will get you into art college). College was pretty dull and they spent most of their time reading comics. One day a man called Brett Ewins came in to give to give a lecture. The boys liked Brett, he was into comics as well." (H&M interview, UA web page)
Ewins was the man behind the classics British Sci-Fi, weekly 2000 AD (Judge Dredd) and weird strips such as Nemo and Bad Company. After his lecture, Hewlett and Martin showed Ewins a comic/fanzine they'd done called Atom Tan. In it Hewlett "had drawn a character called Tank Girl; he wasn't sure why, someone had given him a photo-copy of a tank... People liked Tank Girl. She was a mad surreal punky babe. Tank Girl kissed kangaroos and shot who she pleased. She was mad, bad and dangerous to know: soon she was really popular. This was new comic territory, none of your Captain Marvel or your cool hippy shit here. It was raw, edgy and the boys were having fun. Those years of day-dreaming and drawing had really paid off." (Tank Girl web page) Ewins encouraged the two artists to write an episode of Tank Girl for his upcoming project, Deadline. Somewhat ironically considering the magazine's name, the two procrastinated on their project and ended up finishing, or so they claim in interviews, at two in the morning the day before it was due. Some of their procrastination might be explained by the fact that they knew quite well the magazine might meet the fate of so many of its other small press fellows: going belly-up after the first issue. At any rate, much of the impetus behind the comic was not a desire to make it a commercial success, or at least such considerations bore much less weight than they would for the makers of the movie version.
To place this particular moment of production within the overall history of comics, and allow for some contextual understanding of it, it is necessary to make some distinction between mainstream and alternative comics. The first main stream comic books appeared circa 1933, with Eastern Color Printing Company's production of Funnies on Parade. An initial run of ten thousand copies was produced and exhausted within a few weeks, setting off a boom in comic books which set the stage for year after year of comics as commercial enterprises. Alternative comics, on the other hand, did not appear on the scene until the mid-sixties and early seventies with the publication of underground comics. Unlike commercial comics, these originated entirely with the artist and were usually distributed through non-traditional channels, such as head shops, and sold exclusively to an adult audience. They dealt with personal and social issues which had previously not been considered the realm of comics and acquired the name "underground" from their association with the underground press and newspapers which first published the works of such artists as Robert Crumb, whose Zap Comix in February 1968 is generally considered the moment when underground comics came into their own, Gilbert Shelton, and Jay Lynch. Often their subject matter was tied to the underground and counterculture youth movement of the 1960s. Most of the early underground comics were published by loose collectives of artists and comic book fans. Their print runs were low, ranging from 500 to ten thousand copies, and distribution was erractic.
At the same time, the women's movement spawned a similar moment in comics. Lee Marr's It Ain't Me Babe, which took its name from California's pioneer feminist newspaper, appeared in 1970 as the first comic book created exclusively by women for women. Its success paved the way for a growing group of female and feminist artists, and Wimmen's Comix followed in 1972. The foundation of the movement included titles like Pudge Girl Blimp, Girl Fight, Pandora's Box, and Tits and Clits, all fairly well-distributed by underground comics standards (5000 copies was the norm) at the time. Simultaneously, the example of the American underground comics movement led French and Belgian cartoonists to form their own coalition and begin to self-publish such works as Metal Hurlant, (1973) a team effort of Phillipe Druillet, Jean Giraud, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Bernard Farkas, who wished to publish their own work without outside editorial interference The bandes dessinees focused on the idea of the comic book as an art form, and one in which ideas beyond those of superheroes or furry anthropomorphic animals could be explored. Their success led to an American spin-off, the "Adult Illustrated Fantasy" magazine, Heavy Metal, which appeared in 1977 and featured many of the bandes dessinee artists.
In the mid seventies and early eighties, independent writers and artists began to use direct sales in order to bypass the traditional mainstream publishers and self-publish their own books, a moment spawned in part by awareness of the comic book as a collectible/merchandisable entity. Comics such as Wendy Pini's Elfquest (1978) and Dave Sim's Cerebus (1979)were produced solely for the direct sales market; no attempt was made to make them available for newstands, the traditional outlet for mainstream comics. Initially there were only two direct sales distributors, Phil Seuling on the East Coast and Bud Plant on the West. As it became clear that direct sales were a viable economic option, more and more distributors sprang up, supplying a growing network of comic book stores. At the same time, the British version of underground comics appeared in what were labelled "stripzines," such as Ellipse and Fast Fiction, many of which found a market through the American distributors.
This second moment in the history of alternative comics is when women begin to infiltrate the comics industry in increasing numbers, such as Cat Yronwode, Roberta Gregory, and Mary Fleener. In an interview with Tammy Watson, marketing director for Fantagraphics Books, a forerunner in independent comic distribution, she noted "It's not just because the independents are choosing to publish more women. There's been a definite increase in self-publishing, with women bringing their own titles into comic book stores. There's also been an increase in compilation comics featuring many women artists, so an audience will be exposed to six to 10 artists at once." At the same time, gay and lesbian issues began to appear in the comics, including Alison Bechdell's Dykes to Watch Out For and Howard Cruse's anthology, Gay Comix, intended to provide a venue for gay and lesbian cartoonists.
The press runs of these comics remain small. In today's independent comic-publishers market, according to Matt Counts in Fantagraphics' accounting department, 3,000 issues sold constitutes a solid press run, while their biggest sellers Love & Rockets, Hate, and Eightball all sell around 35,000 per issue. It should be noted that some of the biggest sellers took years to get to that level: Love and Rockets began with a press run of 800. This is as opposed to mainstream comic book publishers such as Marvel Comics, where a run usually consists of 50 to 60 thousand copies, with major books like the X-Men going as high as 300,000, although the only comic aimed specifically at the female audience, Barbie, has hit, at its peak, a run of 32 thousand.
The third moment of alternative comics has been a shift in commercial priorities as the mainstream publishers began to come to grips with the new material as it increased popularity, and commenced their efforts to firmly co-opt it back. Picking up on the path paved by many underground comic book publishers--like Fantagraphics in Milwaukee, Oregon; Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, Canada; and Last Gasp in San Francisco--established giants of the industry, like Marvel and DC, introduced works such as DC's Vertigo titles and Paradox line of fiction and nonfiction trade paperbacks that offered an alternative to the standard superhero slugfest.
Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of this transformation of comics from noncommercially motivated to money-making enterprise is Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Originally intended as a spoof of mainstream comic trends, particularly Marvel's fascination with adolescents scorned by the world for their mutant abilities, the comic was an oversized, black and white, selfpublished book with a print run of 3000. The book has spawned a two billion dollar (to date) global industry of movies, action figures and Saturday morning cartoons, and led to the commercial success of Laird and Eastman's company, Mirage Studios, which bought Heavy Metal in 1992. Graphic novels such as Frank Miller's Dark Knight and Alan Moore's Watchmen began to meander within the confines of the definition of literature as set forth by critics, and although Art Spigelmann's Maus was repeatedly asserted by reviewers to be anything but a comic book, its Pulitzer Prize marked a strong swing towards the acceptance of comic books as a form of literary art.
Tank Girl, the comic, can be placed within the second wave of alternative comics and the transformation which occurs in the shift from comic to movie is a playing out of the third moment. Perhaps most indicative of this are the versions of the comic which appears after the movie. The movie adaptation, published by Dark Horse Comics, follows the movie line for line, with no insertion of any non scripted material. The costumes are those of the movie, carefully recreated and following the same progression of shifts which the movie undertakes. Gone are the odd lay-outs, the meta-fictional address of the readers, the suggestions for soundtracks.. Even the art loses its nature
Tank Girl: Apocalypse, published by DC Comics as one of their Vertigo titles, is similarly muddily drawn and uninteresting. Hewlett and Martin having been discarded for house staff, the credits for issue 2, as a sample, list: Alan Grant, writer; Andy Pritchett, penciller; Philip Bond, inker for pages 1,2, 4-8; Phil Gascoine, inker for pages 3 and 9-24; Steve Whitaker, colorist; Ellie de Ville, letterer; Helen Craven, assistant editor; and Frank Wynne and Art Young, editors. And as though to emphasize the insertion of the maternal, one of the key plot elements of Tank Girl: Apocalypse is the discovery that Tank Girl is about to give birth to a new messiah, a discovery marked by Booga's rapturous cry "I'm gonna be a dad! Woo-woo-wooo!"
One of the most interesting phenomenon arising from Tank Girl are the plethora of pages on the World-Wide Web. Among these it is easy to separate the ones motivated by the comic from those created by the movie. Many of the ones celebrating the comic refer to the heroine as "Tank Grrl," making the link between her and the feminist oriented Riot Grrl movement overt, while the United Artist sponsored "Official Tank Girl Home Page" ignores any such associations, choosing to incorporate instead a down-loadable game in which the player shoots cans of beer at oncoming alien spacecraft, being rewarded for each direct hit with a snippet of publicity information about the movie. Interestingly enough, the UA page includes no links to fan pages, while each and every fanpage contains a link to its UA counterpart.
It is the absence of Tank Girl's maternity in the comic book which was one of the sources of the comic's greatest appeal to the culture which celebrated it initially, particularly in the fan web pages which paid tribute to a heroine they considered their own home grrl. Tank Girl was mean, she was nasty, she didn't care for anyone but herself, and she never considered the consequences of her actions on those around her. But it is this very appeal which constitutes a threat to the movie industry, and leads to its attempt to normalize the heroine by placing her within the family context. At the same time, her transformation is perhaps a natural one, and symptomatic of the shift in the commercial production of alternative comics as they grow closer and closer into a form which resembles that of mainstream comics.
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