I came to comics the way many readers of my generation did: through movies. Sure, I had grown up on Archie and Riverdale gang, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and the rest of those classic kids comics available in the supermarket checkout line. But it was the movies of my youth that truly formed the nerd I am today.
I remember seeing Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns and having my mind blown. Seeing a woman behave badly and be scary was earth-shattering to my 8-year old mind. But when I was 11, a film came out that fundamentally changed who I was. Maybe I was the right age and it was the right time, that highly malleable moment right before puberty where your child mind is sussing out what kind of teen you want to be. Maybe it was because female heroines were few and far between (She-Ra, Princess Leia and Hilary Swank in The Next Karate Kid were the big players in my mind).
All I know is that when I walked into the theater to see 1995’s Tank Girl with my mother, my 11-year old brain was never the same. The film, directed by Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who, Supergirl), was a box office flop and a critical bomb. But in my mind, it was the greatest, most earth-shattering thing I had ever seen.
Lori Petty as Rebecca Buck aka Tank Girl simply blew my mind. I had never seen a women onscreen who looked like her, talked like her, or behaved like her. I felt exactly the way Rebecca felt when she saw her first tank: true love. Growing up in New Orleans, I had zero exposure or knowledge of the punk scene or anything anti-establishment, really. All the girls in my school liked girly things, like My Little Ponies and Barbies. I loved Ghostbusters and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they were always considered “boy’s things”.
Now, here was a girl, a woman, who loved to curse, drink, flirt, and above all kick some ass. I had simply never seen anyone like her. And I had NEVER seen a such a subtexually queer character either (is Tank Girl my queer root?). Once we left the theater, I dragged my mom to a local comic book shop where she bought me two thick Tank Girl trade paperbacks.
The comics, created by Jamie Hewlett and and Alan Martin, launched in 1988. To my delight, the comics were even filthier than the film: more sex, more violence, and absolutely zero fucks given by its characters. Rebecca Buck drove a tank, slept with a mutant kangaroo, and generally gave the finger to the establishment in a series of trippy, absurdist adventures.
In the Tank Girl comics, I discovered a whole new way of telling stories. Hewlett and Martin crafted zany, non-linear tales that criss-crossed genres, and defied most every storytelling tool. They were inspired by zine culture and the punk aesthetic to create a rambling (and sometimes incoherent) stream of consciousness story.
Tank Girl arrived on the scene at a pivotal moment in 90s girl power culture, alongside No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” and other female-fronted alt bands like Garbage, Hole, L7 and more (Courtney Love even produced the Tank Girl soundtrack). It cemented my love of the counter culture and taught me that it was not just okay to be different; it was bloody awesome.
Here’s to you, Tank Girl. My original woman with no fucks to give.
(image: Titan Comics)
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