Tank Girl, the revered ‘punk rock’ comic that’s currently undergoing a revival and inspired the 90’s-est movie possible, is infuriating to me. Initially written by Alan Martin and drawn by Jamie Hewlett (better known as the designer of Gorillaz’ visual style), it has since been worked on by a host of writers and artists. The hype surrounding it would lead a person to believe that it’s a force for feminism, and a brilliant, subversive, empowering, punk rock comic. The problem is, though, that Tank Girl is none of these things, and, what’s more, is almost entirely unreadable. It’s lazily written, poorly composed, and appeals constantly to the lowest possible common denominator.
To get an idea of the insufferable hype surrounding this comic, consider that Grant Morrison endorsed it by saying, “8 out of 10 cat owners who expressed a preference chose Hewlett and Martin as the voodoo sex-gods of the nineties.” Then read this incredible Wired article from December, 1994 about the then-imminent Tank Girl movie.
Now, I don’t want to be spitting bile without supporting my arguments, so I’ll concentrate my fire a bit.
For one thing, none of the characters in Tank Girl have any real character traits or development beyond one or two dimensions. Tank Girl is stupid, rude, and violent, her kangaroo boyfriend, the oh-so-hilariously-named Booga, is sensitive and clueless, everyone else is violent and stupid. Essentially, you could switch Tank Girl’s dialogue with almost any other character’s dialogue and there would be no noticeable difference.
Now, someone reading this critique might say, “the point of Tank Girl is that it’s over the top and stupid! It’s hilarious! Don’t you get it?” People seem to like Tank Girl for its humor, but let me say now that if I ever meet someone who tells me that they love Tank Girl’s humor, I will immediately ignore any other value judgment they give.
The Tank Girl humor formula is this:
-Someone makes a statement or asks a question
-Someone else sidetracks the initial statement/question
-There’s a rebuttal
-There’s a nonsensical and/or childish exclamation
So, for instance:
“Does anyone know whose barby this is?”
“Who cares? Soon as we get there we’ll just kill everyone!”
“Wow, we just don’t care, do we?”
“That’s because we’re kangaroos……..”
“I’m a kangaroo!”
“What’s a barby”
(Tank Girl Issue 1, Panel 4)
The other staple of Tank Girl humor is immature exclamations and swearing. And fat jokes. Oh, man, the writers of Tank Girl love fat jokes. The evil kangaroos in the first issue shout, “Run like hell fat people! We’ve all got chocolate bars on our heads!” In Tank Girl Odyssey, Tank Girl tells a companion who was revealed to have been wearing a corset to hide his flaws, “You don’t think we want a fat old balding shitter like you hanging around us? So long, loser.” I could find other examples, but I’ll ask you to take my word for it because reading Tank Girl makes me upset.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that Tank Girl has the sense of humor of a mean, stupid, 14-year-old boy. It entirely lacks subtlety in any form. Here’s a page that’s earnestly meant to represent character development in Tank Girl:
What’s more, Tank Girl has some of the most obnoxious walls of text I’ve ever seen in a comic. This problem seems to lessen as the series continues, but those early issues are all but unreadable because of the insanely poor composition and walls of text. Glance at this page.
Jamie Hewlett’s art is one of the best parts of the comic, but that’s faint praise. He’s a competent artist, clearly heavily influenced by Los Bros, but with none of their restraint. Every drawing in Tank Girl is dialed up to 11, which could look good on a punk flyer, but gets really tiring to read over a full issue.
Andy Pritchett, who took over pencils for Tank Girl Odyssey, does a good job of aping Hewlett’s style, but only to a point. Some of his panel-to-panel transitions are mystifying. Take a look at these panels and tell me what the fuck happens to the beer she squeezed out of the can. Does she drink it? Does it fall on the floor? We’ll never know.
There are moments like this repeatedly throughout Tank Girl, where I would stop and say, “what the fuck just happened?” Pritchett is a competent artist, but pretty clearly limited and unedited. And only good at drawing his own characters, take a look at this page where he reveals his complete inability to draw real people:
Any guesses on who that last one is supposed to be? Give up? It’s Jim Morrison.
In conclusion, Tank Girl is a piece of shit comic with so few redeeming qualities as to render its continuing popularity inexcusable. Reading so much of it to write this review was a mistake.
And the revival? Behold a comic so unfunny that it would make Archie roll his eyes in apathetic disgust.
Click here for the Anniversary Index of Hate.