TANK GIRL: CARIOCA Art by Mike McMahon Written by Alan C. Martin Tank Girl created by Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin Titan Books, £14.99/$19.95 US/$23.95 CAN (2012)
If you’re in the bag for Tank Girl you’ll like this. Or Mike McMahon. But later for Mike McMahon as I am old fashioned so it’s ladies first! Yes, Tank Girl; the one with a kangaroo for a boyfriend; the one that went on to become a film everyone pretends didn’t happen. Especially Ice-T, I imagine. "Pure self-indulgence" says writer Alan Martin in the introduction in a brave attempt to describe the crazed contents of this volume. The more humdrum description of the contents would be that it collects the 2011/12 mini series featuring the late ‘80s iconic female Brit comics character. Martin’s self-deprecating comment shouldn’t be taken as a demerit. Hasn't Tank Girl always been pure self-indulgence right from the off?
Now, I have to come clean here, and it’s to my terrible shame this, but; I was never all that bothered about Tank Girl. This was totally my fault for being too old when she arrived circa 1988. Poor planning on the part of my parents there. As it was, her almost totally nonsensically adventures seemed all style and not so hot on the substance. It was quite, quite lovely style though deriving as it did from co-creator Jamie Hewlett’s delicious designs. The stories just failed to set my po-faced world alight seeming to my humourless mind all sassy surface atop very little sense. Luckily, this core emptiness and surface challenge made Tank Girl ideal for co-option by the subculture of the time. Certainly no bad thing as that subculture was both highly inclusive and engaged in active reaction against the Thatcher government, particularly its intolerant and hypocritical Clause 28 (an attempt to curb the promotion of homosexuality. Because that’s the big problem with homosexuality isn’t it? It’s always being forced down your throat.) So, a bit more impact on the real world than most comical periodical characters and hence belated big props to Tank Girl from my sour faced self.
And here she is again, same as she ever was. And why the fuck not, cake shanks? That's part of the charm isn't it? The truculent resistance to change; to growth? Here's Tank Girl and she may be knocking on a bit but she's still got a young heart. Still impertinent, still insolent, still vulgar and still living in a world with a veneer of the fantastical but with her bovver boots firmly grounded in the mundane. In Carioca her barely linear adventures are sparked by a TV Game Show Host’s insult. This results in an act of violence which is absurdly out of all proportion, so much so even Tank Girl has a think about calming down a bit. Well, out of all proportion unless you have suffered through Take Me Out. (Christ, that thing; let's all pack up and go home. The human experiment is over.) Anyhoo, this feint at maturity lasts about as long as it does for a series of bizarre and wholly ridiculous assassins to arrive (i.e. not long) and it all ends in a fist fight with a hugely obese woman who is using children as slave labour to staff her brewery.
Not only that, no, it all takes place in Tank Girl World where an everyday British City is a few panels travel away from a wild west town which itself is a page away from a steaming jungle and everybody drinks, swears and smokes like kids in a nightclub. The title itself, Carioca, is itself taken from the nightclub where Martin had some good times when younger. (Maybe too many good times. As someone I knew liked to say.) Carioca is about, if it’s about anything (which I’m not sure it is; it's not a requirement), growing up; but not too much. Just a bit; enough that you can still hate everyone who ever slighted you in your formative years but still appreciate your friends. There is also a truly excellent joke about a lemming.
As you’ve probably gathered Carioca is an entertainingly ungainly thing. A thing at once both banal and bizarre. The successful visualisation of such a guttersnipe requires a very special artist indeed. Luckily Mike can rid that bike, no problems. Stabilisers will not be required. Mike McMahon; yes, the very same pictorial powerhouse we last encountered making Batman comics more visually interesting than they had any right to be. It’s been a few years since that Legends of The Dark Knight work and Mike McMahon's not one for setting his arse to laurels. So, like a good Artist would Mike McMahon’s changed it up a bit in the interim. Here his work is a lot more curved which brings a new dimension of depth. There’s a real roll and sweep to the lines and the world they make and everyone in it. A real sense that there’s a back to the image, although obviously there isn’t. Mike McMahon draws the most ridiculous things and he draws them in a way which accentuates the absurdity, but he draws them so convincingly that they become beautiful in their assurance. McMahon’s also done some absolutely droolsome colour work here. His palette really pops on the glossy paper and there’s a real lustre to even the khaki fatigues and boiler suits. His magnificent use of highlights brings further depth to the images until they don’t look like drawings but windows into another dimension. A dimension of lightly varnished plasticene caricatures both charming and unsettling in equal measure as they engage in their profanity studded comical violence.
Mostly though, I liked the curves. And with the curves come flow. The eye glides across these pages as though inertia’s been cancelled for the duration. It helps no end that being the perfectionist he is McMahon’s truly egalitarian in the attention he pays to his pages. There isn’t a single image on any of these pages which is dead or just a bridge between something more appealing to the artist. Every panel could be a splash page and every splash page is a beauty. Also, at the risk of sounding like a psychotic I’ve always found McMahon’s art to somehow convince my eye that the actual image its ingesting is bigger that the panel it occupies. I don’t know what the technical term for this is; delusion, probably. Yeah, yeah, whatever, blah di fucking blah, basically Mike McMahon can draw a giant Victoria sponge cake on the back of a lorry and you won't blink twice. Yeah, Tank Girl fans will be in hog Heaven here and the rest of us will be up there with them because, thanks to Mike McMahon, Carioca is VERY GOOD!
Mike McMahon is (and it bears repeating) – COMICS!!!