Tank Girl

In my last post, I discussed the panel “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy” that happened at this year’s virtual CoKoCon. Among the people on the panel with me were five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Linda D. Addison and Jenn Czep, the talented author of such books as Cloud to Cloud and Blackstrap’s Ecstacy: A Corsair Captain’s Log. Both mentioned Tank Girl as one of their favorite bad-ass women in speculative fiction. When authors of this caliber recommend something, I listen. I remember Tank Girl appearing on the shelves of comic shops I visited back in the early 1990s and I remember when the 1995 movie came out, but I hadn’t actually read the comic or seen the movie. Among other things, that was the period of my life when I was just getting started with my astronomy career and my first child was born in 1995. So, I decided to learn more about Tank Girl.

Tank Girl in comics and at the movies

Tank Girl started in 1988 as a comic created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, which appeared in Britain’s Deadline Magazine. Set in the near future, the action takes place in a post-Apocalyptic Australia. The title character not only drives a tank, but lives in it as well. Her boyfriend is a sentient kangaroo named Booga. Her closest friends are women called Jet Girl and Sub Girl. You can, no doubt, figure out their vehicles of choice. The stories are generally ribald adventures. One of my favorites involves Tank Girl being fed up with the bad beer foisted on her by some large corporation and decides to find and steal some good beer. She convinces Jet Girl and Sub Girl to go with her. They succeed only to wind up teetering on the edge of a cliff in the tank, in danger of falling over due to the weight of the beer cans. Of course Tank Girl and her friends decide to dispose of the beer by drinking it! The best way I can describe the Tank Girl comic is Mad Max meets Loony Tunes.

In the 1990s, MGM was scouting for a hip property to develop into a movie and they bought the rights to Tank Girl and gave it a pretty good budget. As the story goes, once they started seeing the movie, they got scared and insisted that it should have a tighter plot and that the crude humor should be scaled back. As such, the movie’s a classic case of a great comic watered down by studio interference. Despite that, the quirky charm of the Tank Girl character still comes through. Lori Petty who plays the title character bears an uncanny resemblance to her cartoon counterpart. Also, the sentient kangaroos were well realized as practical on-screen effects. What’s more, the soundtrack, supervised by Courtney Love, is excellent and features songs by Devo, Joan Jett, and Ice-T, who also played one of the kangaroos.

Tank Girl is a no-holds-barred, irreverent character. She’ll poke fun at almost everything and if she doesn’t like you she’ll straight-up maim you or kill you. I can see why she’s a favorite of authors like Jenn Czep and Linda Addison. When I think of characters like this, I tend to think of characters like Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters or Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. Men tend to get these wise-cracking, streetwise roles, so it was refreshing to see a woman in that kind of a part. There have been rumors that Margot Robbie would like to film a new Tank Girl movie. Hopefully she can make a version that captures even more of the comic’s unflagging spirit.

Bad-Ass Women

Late August through early October 2021 has proven to be a busy convention season for me. Most of the conventions have still been virtual, but I have cautiously returned to attending some in-person events. The first virtual convention I attended during this period was Bubonicon 52 Take 2 on August 20-21. Even if you missed it, they posted all of their panels on their YouTube channel in a playlist at: https://youtu.be/eIJoVSjxmlI.

Two weeks later on Labor Day weekend, I gave a science presentation and spoke on seven panels at the virtual CoKoCon. Sessions were held on Discord and Zoom. Unfortunately, these panels don’t seem to have been posted for later viewing, but the discussions were fun and lively. We discussed such topics as writing weird western fiction, keeping classic monsters fresh and new, and the differences between publishing in the small press and larger presses.

At both conventions, I was on a panel with a similar name. At CoKoCon, the panel was called “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” In that panel, the emphasis was largely on our favorite characters in the genres. At Bubonicon, the title was “Writing Bad-Ass Women” and the panel focused more on the process of writing strong women. The latter panel is available to watch here:

Most of us agreed that there haven’t been enough bad-ass women in science fiction and family, but that the situation is improving. As you can see, there were more men on the Bubonicon panel than women. Still, we all agreed that the process largely involves channeling those bad-ass women we have known in our lives and the ones we do admire in fiction and adapting those traits to our characters. At CoKoCon, I was the only man on the panel. Some of the favorite characters mentioned included Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, and Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

I think it should be clear from the list that bad-ass doesn’t always mean “kick-ass.” These women aren’t all characters who emphasize physical prowess. They’re smart characters who think through solutions. An interesting favorite character mentioned at CoKoCon was Tank Girl from the comics and movie of the same name. Although I knew of the character, I didn’t know much about her. I’ve since read some of the comics and watched the movie and may discuss her further in a future post, but among her striking characteristics were her fearlessness and irreverence.

One of the reasons I volunteered for these panels is that I believe in writing bad-ass women into my stories. Whether it’s Marcella and Jane in the Scarlet Order Vampire series, Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in the Clockwork Legion series, or Suki Mori and her daughter Suki Firebrandt Ellis in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I endeavor to model these characters on the many bad-ass women I’ve known and admired in real life. One area that was mentioned in both panels were the lack of older women mentor figures. A few were named and again, this is an area where improvement is beginning to happen. One of my favorite strong women leaders from my own fiction is Admiral Ayumba Mukombe in Firebrandt’s Legacy. After being on these panels, I’m certainly tempted to tell more of her story. You can learn more about Admiral Mukombe and the other characters from my fiction at http://davidleesummers.com/