The rock 'n' roller in me loves reunion stories. Cynics may decry them as middle-aged musicians having prolonged mid-life crises, or shameless attempts at topping up their pension funds, but when a band I loved as a youth reforms, it tends to bring a big wet sentimental tear to my eye. So, when Alan Martin told me he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the anthology "21st Century Tank Girl," which includes a strip illustrated by original Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett, I was beaming.
The book will also feature comics illustrated by another six artists, both familiar and new to Tank Girl readers, including Phillip Bond, Jim Mahfood and Warwick Johnson Cadwell. Hewlett's contribution to the 100-page, album-sized, hardback book constitutes Hewlett's first real comic book work in 15 years, and his first return to the iconic character since 1996 -- a big deal for those of us who had our minds blown by his generation-defining contributions to the artform in the late '80s/early '90s.
We spoke with Martin about the launch of the campaign, the important of honest incentives/rewards and getting the band back together for another Tank Girl adventure.
CBR News: I've been thinking about this news in terms of recent band reformations, like the Pixies, the Stone Roses, or the Jesus and Mary Chain. The cynic in me always wants to dismiss these things as just money-making exercises (the Sex Pistols even called their reunion tour Filthy Lucre), but I reckon we're suckers for them because they represent a chance to remember our youth fondly. Where do you stand on this matter?
Alan Martin: Me and Tank Girl have been back in each other's lives for more than seven years now, which makes this less of a reformation for me. I guess I'm like the member of the band that carried on gigging under the original banner, long after the singer or lead guitarist had left for a successful solo career. That seems like a noble pursuit to me, carrying on against all odds because you love something so much. Or because you have no idea of how to do anything else!
As for Filthy Lucre, we're gonna need to get severely over-funded before I make any real money out of it, and Jamie is doing it for the love of it. I've budgeted for some realistic page rates for the rest of the artists, as Tank Girl has traditionally been quite a tight-arsed gig. Our funding goal is pretty high, but I wanted to do a proper job on the book, make a high quality product, get it printed in Britain, print a shed-load of copies, and originate 100 top-notch pages from scratch, with no reprint material or anything that's been seen on the internet or anywhere else before.
As you said, Jamie Hewlett's back. What on Earth did it take to get him drawing comics again?
This isn't a sudden thing; he's been thinking about it for a long time, it's been a regular topic of conversation over the years. Comics were Jamie's first love, and the thing that got him into drawing in the first place, so it was inevitable that he'd arrive back where he started at some point in time. I think he's interested to see how the last decade of animation, record sleeves, toy design and video direction will have altered his approach to drawing comics. I know I am.
How does it feel when an old mate goes off and becomes a bona fide pop star, anyway? The Gorillaz were great, but I always preferred The Unpopulars, myself.
That was always gonna be Jamie's destiny. When he was a teenager, it was quite obvious -- all the Rik Mayall impressions, appearing on "Hey Look, That's Me!", always flashing his knob about -- he's a confident and entertaining personality. So it didn't come as any surprise when he spilled out of the UK comics scene and started projecting his drawings, fifty foot high, onto some of the most famous musicians in the world. It all seemed perfectly natural to me.
Of course, The Unpopulars should've been huge.
Some of your other collaborators on "21st Century Tank Girl" will be relatively unknown to our readers. Can you introduce them?
Philip Bond is already known to a lot of you. I met him at high school when we were thirteen, then we met Jamie at art college and became a gang, all going on to work on "Deadline Magazine" together. So it's great to have him back on board -- that really is like getting the band back together.
Warwick made a big splash last year with "Solid State Tank Girl." Jamie is wild about him, he understands how much hard work goes into making your drawings look so free, it ain't easy to draw like a mad man. Warwick's use of composition always blows me away. I think he's the Van Gogh of comics, I only hope that he gets discovered for the genius he is within his own lifetime.
Jim Mahfood did the "Everybody Loves Tank Girl" book with me in 2012, he's got something completely different going on -- so much detail, incredibly tight but still crazy, and drenched in LA cool, a great antidote to the Hollywoodness of the Tank Girl movie.
I've always been a fan of Jonathan Edwards' work. He used to do stuff for "Deadline" and had a regular page in the "Tank Girl Magazine" we did with Manga. He was even slated as being the next Tank Girl artist back in 1996, but the whole Deadline empire imploded and he never got the chance to start. His caricatures are spot on, so expect a few cameos by long-gone '70s pop stars or hackneyed British B-list actors.
Brett Parson and Craig Knowles are both new to Tank Girl. I made contact with them through Facebook and Instagram after seeing their renditions of Tank Girl and being blown away. I can't wait for people to see what they can do with Tank Girl -- they're kinda like our secret weapon.
The success of a Kickstarter campaign often relies on the quality of the incentives. What are you offering?
I don't want to give too much away, because it's an entertaining read to go through all the pledge levels on the Kickstarter page. Our main focus is to give true value for money, and in our lower levels we are asking no more than what the product would be worth if we took it to market, sometimes less. There's a lot of misconception about what Kickstarter actually is; I have many internet-savvy friends who've never looked at the site, they think it's about buying shares or donating to worthy causes. I like to look at it as simply pre-ordering products, and that product happening because you believed in it. If there's anyone out there that's never explored it, go and take a look. It's exciting and inspiring.
Our star item is the book itself, which will be an A4-sized, 100-page, hardback book, with a cover drawn by Jamie. There will be an alternate cover, also drawn by Jamie, which will only be available through the Kickstarter drive, and that will be presented as a wrap-round dustcover. When the Kickstarter is over, the dustcover comes off -- this will be your only chance to get the book in this form!
We'll be offering the full gamut of novelty goods, including badges, prints, sew-on patches, a Booga beachball and Jet Girl Jelly Beans. You'll be able to get yourself immortalized on a plant pot, beer bottle or t-shirt in one of the stories. Plus, you can appear as a named character and get yourself brutally killed by Tank Girl in ridiculous circumstances.
There'll be several opportunities to own a piece of Jamie's artwork, including the original art for the dustcover. Some will be relatively cheap, some damned expensive.
The top-dollar rewards will involve a lot of love and hard work from me, but I think they're worth the price.
One thing we're not doing is a digital release with the Kickstarter. This project is about the physical book. I don't think it would work so well as a PDF or as something you can download onto your phone, because it's not a traditional graphic novel -- it's more of a conceptual piece. There will be a digital version somewhere down the line, but we need orders for physical books to make the numbers work.
And what about your upcoming gig at the British Library that Jamie's done that jaw-dropping poster for? I'm presuming you've stocked up on dry ice and cherry bombs.
As much as I'd love to do a song-and-dance cabaret routine with Jamie, I think this is gonna be more of a sit-down-and-chat type of affair, with Paul Gravett in the roll of Michael Parkinson. It will be interesting to see what comes up. We've never done anything quite so serious for Tank Girl before, and we haven't been interviewed as a duo since before the movie came out.
I love the part of the Tank Girl process that is like a cottage industry these days. This book seems, in its way, like an extension of the same impulse that the poster magazines you produce come from.
This is what I love to do. I love small press, I love fanzines, I love independent record labels. This was where we started back at college, doing our own fanzine, "Atom Tan," and selling it to friends in Worthing pubs and from a wobbly table at UKCAC. This is why crowdfunding is so exciting; it's like a little revolution every time someone gets funded to do their own music album or comic, bypassing agents and record labels and distributors. It's like being in the French resistance and taking on the might of the Nazis. My love of independent production started in the late seventies when I discovered Swell Maps -- they used to have a little icon of Troy Tempest from Stingray on their record sleeves, and underneath it was written "We're small enough to care."