A tough act for mortals to follow

As the bad girl of comic strips hits the big screen, Tank Girl's fans are buckling up their boots and donning their combat gear. Tamsin Blanchard reports

Tamsin Blanchard
Thursday 04 May 1995 23:02

The gun-touting woman is not Lori Petty, who plays Tank Girl in the movie of that name, which opens in the UK in June. Nor was the picture taken at the auditions for the part, held two years ago in London, that were nothing more than a publicity stunt.

This is Angela Salt, a Tank Girl fan who, after I turned my back for five minutes during this photo session, had managed to strap the contents of her flat and more on to herself and her toy gun in homage to the Tank One.

She does not usually dress quite like this, but give a girl a free rein and this is what happens. Take away a gadget or 20 and you will see Angela Salt, an illustrator who lives in the spirit of Tank Girl but does not usually have the opportunity to express her fantasies quite so literally.

Tank Girl is bad, sexy, wild and aggressive with a style all of her own. Her fans, 50 per cent of whom are female, have collectively decided they hate the film (even before seeing it), but love the character. While they might not be able to bounce around on a space hopper in the Australian outback, they can at least adopt her look.

Tank Girl stands alone on the comic-book shelves as the only girl whose wardrobe stretches beyond heavy-metal leather and a triple D-cup bra. The comic-strip bad girl, who is forever 23, is up there with the supermodels - a fashion icon with her own line in T-shirts and combat gear, as well as some steely, chunky boots made by Shellys. The Face recently voted her 28th in its list of the most fashionable things ever.

Since her creation in 1988, by the artist Jamie Hewlett and the writer Alan Martin, Tank Girl has "been through a dodgy hippy phase in 1990", worn baseball gear, acid-house bandanas, a tutu, flak jackets, ripped- up punk tights, frilly knickers, PVC, body armour, hip hop belts ... oh, and the meanest boots you've ever seen. She moves with the times, sometimes ahead of them. Her latest fixations are with racing driving symbols, fireproof suits, numbers and stars. Tank Girl has more inventive ideas for clothing in one month than most fashion designers have in a year.

"She wears things that are easy to draw - usually tight and figure-hugging," says Hewlett. She is the ultimate supermodel, as she can be drawn to look good in anything; her legs can be lengthened, her figure changed to fit the clothes.

Mere mortals cannot compete with Tank Girl - no one can look that cool in bovver boots, a flame-thrower, the odd Elastoplast, with a hairstyle that looks as if Booga, Tank Girl's dumb kangaroo friend, has been let loose on her with a blunt knife.

Mere mortals do try, however. Lookalike competitions are a regular feature of Deadline, the magazine that plays host to Tank Girl. And when Hewlett meets his creation walking down the street, his first reaction is to run.

It is not just the boots, shreds of army clothes, dog-tags and feisty attitude that fans try to imitate. When readers began wearing Tank Girl hairstyles in her early days, Hewlett started giving her "stupid hairstyles no one could really wear". One week she would have clumps of hair jutting out of a shaven head. Then she would dye it green and tie it into crazy bunches or have a Sonic the Hedgehog hairdo, shaven at the front, with a clump at the back so that she looked as if she had just walked out of an asylum.

In the movie, as in the comics, Tank Girl's hairstyle changes constantly. For a girl who is totally un-fashion conscious, Tank Girl sure spends a lot of time reinventing her look.

When the costume designer Arianne Phillips was commissioned to make Tank Girl come to life for the movie, her first and foremost concern was to be true to the comic.

"Jamie has such a sense of clothes anyway, the comics were a great resource to build on," she says.

A small number of pieces of clothing in the film were lifted directly from the comics: gloves with stars printed on them; T-shirts emblazoned with "Blow off" and "40-Watt Club" worn with blue and silver trousers; an Australian hat with corks - and the boots.

"Hell, she was probably born in those boots," says Phillips, "she certainly didn't go to Shellys to buy them."

The costume designer and Jamie Hewlett share something of an obsession with shoes. After days of selecting the quintessential boots from the comics, Phillips took sketches to her shoemaker and had four pairs made, two for Lori Petty and two for the stuntwoman. They cost $750 (£500) a pair. Then the boots had to go for a session of serious ageing. Tank Girl would have approved - her creator, who hates new clothes, admits to taking a hammer to any new boots he buys.

All of Tank Girl's clothes underwent heavy wear and tear - they were run over, sand-blasted, set upon with industrial welders - before they looked right.

Hewlett is pleased with Tank Girl's movie wardrobe, although Tank Girl fans have prejudged the film a stinker. As Phillips points out: "It's two different things, drawing something and making it come to life with an actor in the middle of summer in the Arizona desert."

Both Hewlett and Phillips would have liked to have been involved in the Tank Girl merchandise that MGM has produced to go with the movie, but were not consulted.

"They should have got Arianne to do it and then even I might have worn them," says Hewlett. The resulting Tank Girl clothes have completely lost the integrity that Phillips tried so hard to keep in the film. "It's completely naff," she says, "horrible!"

Another spin-off range, however, designed by the London-based T-shirt team Future Shooter, does have Hewlett's approval. Instead of taking Tank Girl images and reproducing them on T-shirts to sell at Virgin Megastore, Future Shooter met up with Hewlett and discussed racing numbers and American baseball shirts. In the merchandising of Tank Girl, her creator is trying his hand as a designer.

Paddy Barnes of Future Shooter - the company was chosen for the Tank Girl range because of its Trigger Happy T-shirts based on a tough girl character they invented - says: "Without knowing it, Jamie is actually a pretty talented designer - his ideas are strong and he's often way ahead of his time. He was drawing American sportswear, baseball tops and the combat look years ago."

The Future Shooter collection of printed T-shirts (long- and short-sleeved), combat skirts, shorts and waistcoats uses the comics for reference, rather than the movie. Graphics are lifted straight from the comic strips, and everything has to meet with the approval of Tank Girl's creator.

"We want to turn it into a proper brand and keep it going. The comic will hopefully remain underground for years to come," says Barnes.

Although Tank Girl has just gone into print in 13 different countries around the world, will be launching her own monthly magazine in June, and threatens to attract even more media coverage in the build-up to the premire of the film in June, Barnes is already working on the collection for next summer.

Whether Tank Girl is killed off by her own success or simply sits in her tank with a few crates of beer until the commotion dies down, one thing is sure: she has touched a nerve in women with attitude everywhere. Her rude, abrasive and inventive style will live on.

The Tank Girl range, by Future Shooter Group, is available from The Big Apple, 70 Neal Street WC2, Strip in Kensington Market, London W8; branches of Westworld at Bristol, Bath and Cardiff; Cult Clothing at Cheltenham, Cambridge and Birmingham. Prices from £16.50.

'Tank Girl' magazine, published by Manga, is out on 6 June, with a free Tank Girl tattoo; the film will be released on 16 June.

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