What I thought of 21st Century Tank Girl #1

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A couple of decades ago Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett drew his last Tank Girl strip, not to mention pretty much exited mainstream comics (Hewlett had also worked for DC Comics as well as in Deadline, the magazine where Tank Girl first appeared in the late 80’s) for the world of being Damon Albarn’s mate, and eventually the co-creator of the vastly popular ‘cartoon’ band, Gorillaz.

It’s hard now to describe the impact Deadline had in the late 80’s as comics are so ubiquitous these days, but then this was new, and unlike a lot of material coming out now people were prepared to take risks. And a female lead in a British comic series was a massive fuck-off risk but the late 80’s and early 90’s was a golden age for British comics with not only Deadline, but Crisis, Toxic!, and Revolver being just some of the comics that tried to break the mold. It was Tank Girl though that lived on past the demise of the scene back then as co-creator Alan Martin took the strip to US publishers like DC Comics and Dark Horse for the odd mini-series but nothing came near to the Martin/Hewlett strips.

It’s now 2015 and all us Bright Young Things that were involved in the beating heart of the British comics scene then are older, perhaps grayer and larger, but there’s no escaping the fact that for a number of years Tank Girl was the biggest character in British comics.The stories were often stream of consciousness efforts riddled with pop culture references, but unlike the habit of hipsters dropping a reference into a comic (or song, film, etc) to look cool and relevant, Martin and Hewlett would drop in anything that they liked, even Kylie Minogue who at that point was hardly beloved of the Cool Police.

This is a 4-issue mini-series from Titan Comics that doesn’t just feature the original creators, but guest ones including the vastly underrated Philip Bond, another Deadline contributor. Hewlett only draws the one story, Space is Ace, that tries to recapture that glorious ‘fuck you’ attitude of the old strips but it quickly becomes clear this is an exercise in nostalgia.

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This isn’t all bad, but it feels laboured, and when an obvious visual gag pays off it’s not a grin but a sigh passing across my lips. The humour struggles which is a pity as Hewlett turns in some fantastic art in this story that at times does recapture the attitude of 25 years ago.

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As a package it’s all right. It’s a diversion into the past but it’s not ever convincing, mainly because it’s created by a bunch of middle aged men whose angry phase passed some time ago and this is an approximation of that phase. As for the non Hewlett material, it’s not especially very good, especially The Running Man spoof that feels like a rejected 2000AD strip from 1993.

I wish I could be in my early 20’s shagging, drinking and not giving a fuck but that’s gone, and although I try to pretend I can still do all that I have to admit I’m not up to that in the intensity I used to get up to so at best, I can only have an approximation of my former glories, just exactly like this comic.

Sadly this promises more than it delivers but for a bit it does give a jolt of thrills for a second, but afterwards you’ll feel tired and little bit sad that things really were better back in the day but you can’t ever really go back.

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I Wanna Live Like Common People-Glastonbury 1995

I’ve already outlined the tale of Glastonbury 1993 and how that affected me, so let’s go diving right into 1995’s festival after a quick outline of the horrible failure that was Glastonbury 1994.

The plan for 1994 was to share a stall with the Deadline crowd, which meant Comics and CD’s (who I was still associated with even though I’d moved back to Leicester from Bristol) would share the space, so we’d put up the basic capital and they’d give us a load of creators doing stuff at at the festival. This would ideally have seen people like Jamie Hewlett  drawing Tank Girl  at the festival and all manner of frankly mental ideas while we sold comics and we all made loads of money as Deadline had a great mix of comics and music.

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Unfortunately what happened was that the Tank Girl film happened which meant everyone related to Deadline and Jamie Hewlett especially got a mountain of cash which he spent on an ice-cream van. The idea went quickly down the bog, and I was stuck with a week to go before the festival and no ticket, so like 1992, I managed to blag in using the cunning technique of walking right through the main gates behind a Channel 4 truck as it was the first year the festival was televised to a national audience.

Like 1992, I don’t remember much. I dropped a pill in Leicester and came up on Saturday. Everything else was blurry, and I had to leave very early on the Sunday to get back to Leicester to work. A pattern however had been set with me having one shite year, then a great year so I left 94’s festival hoping for 95 to be great.

I should point out that at this point the festival was changing from the messy rabble of disorganisation it’d been since 1970 to a more modern version, but these years are the last of the real festival as it was and the start of the more commercial tourist years we see today. That isn’t to say Glastonbury now is crap, it’s not, but it’s lost a part of it’s soul but more about this some other time…..

Anyhow, 1995’s festival is coming up and The Stone Roses are headlining on the Saturday night. Britpop is everywhere, and yet again I don’t have a ticket. At this point I’m sharing a house in Leicester with a lad Joe who I’d met down the pub as you do which brings me to the evening we were sitting in another pub talking about Glastonbury a few weeks before with his girlfriend Denise (who I’d tried chatting up before Joe pulled her, but he used cunning tactics to deflect me elsewhere. Bastard!!).

I decided I wasn’t missing out and spent the night trying to convince them that not only would I be able to get us in for nothing, or next to nothing, but it’d be a piece of piss and we should do it! This was easier said than done as I didn’t have a clue how to do it as I was blagging it, but I needed a lift down so spent the next fortnight trying to talk them into it.

Then a week before the festival, The Stone Roses pulled out and were replaced by Pulp, who was all of our favourite band at the time and a plan was hatched. We’d go down after I finished work on the Thursday night, but as I was working in a nightclub called Mosquito Coast at the time, this meant leaving at around 2 or 3am. We didn’t have a tent either, but thankfully a friend Roz came through with a loan of hers,

We were sorted apart from the fact I knew Denise didn’t fancy it, and Joe was a flaky bastard at the best of times so the plan was doomed to failure.

Thursday came. I worked my shift, and bought a case or two of beers waiting for Joe and Denise to pull up outside. As 2.30am passed I thought ‘they’re not doing this are they?’, so I sat there looking glum with my bag all packed up ready to go then one of the doorstaff Rich, came in telling me there were two people in a car outside waiting for me who were Joe and Denise in her battered old motor. As I grabbed Rich to help me quickly load up the car with booze, I remembered (adrenaline kept me going)  that I’d smashed my right hand loading up the cellar that day with barrels of beers. In fact I’d smashed it amazingly badly, and my little finger and ring finger were utterly useless so I got some industrial tape and made a very dodgy splint with the help of Roz who had trained as a nurse.

So making sure we had beer, and Roz who was going to chuck us her tent on the way out of Leicester we were off. We dropped Roz home, grabbed her tent and Joe, Denise and myself sped off on a boiling hot summer’s night/morning to Glastonbury with only a few cases of beer, some changes of clothing, a tent and some Class A drugs taped to my leg as you do of course…

There was also a Best of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers tape, which we played all the way down. In fact I remember the sun coming up just as we passed Coventry singing My Ship Is Coming In very loudly with Joe and Denise as we were all massive Scott Walker fans and it helped hide the fact I had no bloody idea how to get in and I’d just sneaked some speed up my nose in order to stay awake as by now I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours while Joe and Denise had slept a bit before coming down.

I decided the best thing to do would be to cut through Bristol. I have no idea why as it’d have been easier to go straight down the M5, but I had this mad idea it’d be quicker so we promptly got into Bristol very early in the morning before getting lost on Park Street, and finally getting on the right road down.

As we got nearer the festival it dawned on me I’d better start working a way out to get in, but I still didn’t have a clue. I was utterly blagging it but I was sure my ship would eventually come in but as we got to the main entrance to the site itself we all shat ourselves and instead of turning left to go in, we drove straight on. And on, And on. Until we ended up in Glastonbury itself at what must have been around 5 or 6am.

And here we sat for a few minutes trying to work out a plan. This plan involved going to a supermarket to buy more beer and vodka, neck it and build up some Dutch Courage before getting back in the car and heading back to the festival site. It was at this point I realised I was still in my work clothes, so promptly changed in the middle of the street giving early morning commuters an eyeful before jumping in the car and heading back….

Which is when we got lost. Not slightly lost, but ending up in Cheddar type of lost. It’d also changed from a boiling hot day into heavy torrential rain which meant we couldn’t see the roads, and my navigation skills were rubbish by this point as I was wearing down. Somehow I managed to get us to Wells after working out I’d directed us in one huge loop when we came out of Glastonbury, so we decided to find the nearest petrol station, fill up, get directions and if it was still pissing it down by the time we got to the festival site, fuck the weekend off and just go back to Leicester as by now the three of us were pretty fed up with each other and my cunning plan wasn’t working.

It was at this point we pulled into Wells in the sheeting rain and saw some poor hitch hiker in his yellow raincoat by the side of the road as we drove in, and I joked ‘bet you he’s working at the festival’ so Denise pulled over and asked him if he wanted a lift, which he did. We asked where he was going, and he said it was the festival so we gave him a lift as he could direct us from Wells to the site.

It was then he sussed we didn’t have tickets and were very, very lost. He then informed us he was one of the heads of security.

Bollocks.

Then he told us he could get us in, and not just get us in the festival but give us free passes, and get the car parked in Michael Eavis’s secure car park by the farmhouse. All he wanted was 30 quid a few lines of speed. A very reasonable price we thought if he was who he said he was and not an axe murderer, and we’d find out soon enough as we were at the festival site.

Lo and behold he pulled out his huge security pass and we sailed past police, security, and in fact everyone as we drove right into the secure car park by the farmhouse, and he did indeed give us three passes but advised us to use them only if needed. We were chuffed. I was chuffed. My blag had worked in spite of itself, so we chucked him some beers as well as the money and speed we’d given him.

It was the least we could do but he wasn’t finished with us yet. He actually helped us take our stuff to one of the campsites in front of the main stage and it was here he left us. The reason being that there’d been some robberies and a few muggings around the site the night before and he wanted to take us somewhere in the middle of it, but safe.

At this point the rain had stopped, the sun was back out and it was beginning to get very, very hot.

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We managed to struggle to put up Roz’s tent. Realised that three people in the tent would be cramped but fuck it. We were in & my blag worked. Even If I didn’t have a clue how it did.

As we set up, we had some young hippie girls give us hash cake, so we offered them vodka which they took and we settled down as we all chatted away about stuff as you do at festivals. You spend lots of time talking about stuff at festivals.

Eventually we realised it was early afternoon and this is where things get hazy and blur into one, which again, is something that happens at festivals, especially good ones. I know we saw The Prodigy. I know I spent a long time in the comedy tent hiding from the sun which had become so strong there was no escape. I was toasted that weekend, utterly broiled in the harsh sun as the site is actually a huge bowl and there’s little shade if you can’t get in a tent, not that you would stay in a tent long as it’d be far too hot to stay in one.

Also, the first day at a festival is always a blur plus I’d been awake for 36 hours and my body was on the verge of collapse, so were Joe and Denise and we crashed fairly early on the first night.

Only problem was three people sleeping in a tent really best for two at a push wasn’t fun, plus we’d spent nearly two days living in each others armpits, so the next morning after a bit of breakfast we decided to go our separate ways for a bit but meet up for PJ Harvey and of course, Pulp.

I wandered round for a bit, bumped into some friends from Bristol and Leicester. Had some cornflakes. Had some cider. Drank lots and lots of water, and slowly cooked in the sun which by now just didn’t care how hot it was. It was out to burn anything and anyone however we managed to get to the Saturday afternoons main even which was PJ Harvey.

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To be exact, PJ Harvey in a pink catsuit. Leaving aside the fact most males in the crowd were having their gob smacked for obvious reasons it was a simply great gig.I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone hold over 60,000 people in their hands as well as she did that afternoon.

After this I went back to the tent with Joe to meet Denise, and get some beers and food in preparation for Pulp. Joe and myself had also made a purchase of some acid from a Yardie after the PJ Harvey set.

This is where I have to make another point that although I say Glastonbury has lost a lot of it’s soul, it’s also lost the gangsters from Bristol, London and Manchester who would not only charge people to jump the fence, or sell drugs but fight over territory on the site. In 92 in my brief first Glastonbury I noticed there were areas off-limits after dark, and even in 95 when things were becoming more organised there were still areas far too dodgy to go in the dark. Of course tent thefts were common which they are still, but they don’t tend to get the mainstream coverage they used to because it doesn’t fit the nice media narrative that it’s a nice Guardian reading middle class jolly in a field, because middle class kids can’t possibly be thieving wee bastards.

Anyhow, back to the dodgy acid. It was brown and Denise wisely chose to avoid taking it, though Joe and myself did as we went as near the front for Pulp as we could. Thing was it was a massive crowd as Pulp were near the top of the charts with Common People and their set was simply one of those festival moments that will live with everyone there because it was magnificent.

Only thing was the acid wasn’t working and we’d paid a fiver each. Or I thought the acid hadn’t kicked in until my legs started feeling weird as the lights kicked in during Common People, Pulp’s final song that night..

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As Pulp finished, so did my legs and I decided to take a little sit down as tens of thousands of people left the arena. I remember sitting them calmly grinning like a sweaty Jack Nicolson at the end of The Shining staring at the main stage for what seemed like hours, but must have only been 20 or 30 minutes before my brain told my legs to ‘get up’ and commanded me to find some water and drink as much as possible, which I did. This sorted my head together but I was still tripping harder than I could have expected and harder than I was prepared for in a field with 20,000 people. So I walked. As I walked someone said Portishead hadn’t been on due to Evan Dando running vastly late, and so I followed the crowds to the tent where Portishead were due to play.

I remember standing on a slope listening to Portishead’s music and slowly getting back in control of myself, and as they finished I was lucid enough to go for a late night wander which is a Glastonbury tradition I still do today. As the sun was coming up I made my way from the Stone Circle back to the tent to find no sign of Joe or Denise which was great as I had the tent to myself.

A few hours later Denise woke me up. They decided to sleep in the car as they’d also spent the night wandering around the site after Pulp, and Joe also suffered the pains of the Yardie acid.

After a chat swapping late night stories, we decided to wander around the site and get some breakfast, but the sun on the last day was again unforgiving and by now the site was baked into a giant dustbowl so dust was everywhere. But at least it wasn’t raining…

Again I don’t remember much of that last day. I tried to meet my mate John who was one of the lads who worked at Comic Showcase in London who was working at the circus field in a double decker bus. The three of us wandered around but I decided to head back to the tent  which meant I saw Page & Plant & The Bootleg Beatles.

It was around this time I realised I hadn’t had any alcohol since the incident with the acid the night before and in fact, it was probably a bloody bad idea considering the heat and the fact that I was losing a lot of fluid walking around. Only one way to cure this; more water and then beer!

That evening though was about the build up to The Cure and I spent the last evening of that year’s festival sitting on the slope looking down at the main stage watching the Cure play a blinding set. This night though I was only a bit drunk, no more drugs for me and anyhow, I’d used them all up the day before….

After this, I wandered off again in an attempt to see the end of Goldie, but failed so I just drifted wherever the crowds took me which meant I saw all the weird, wonderful and unplanned sights you don’t really see at Glastonbury anymore but we’d planned to leave early to get back to Leicester. I headed back to the tent to find it again empty, so assuming Joe and Denise decided again to kip in the car, I just laid down outside the tent and watched the stars. The sky in the country is a different thing from the city, but the sky over a Glastonbury Festival is an amazing site with all the spotlights, lasers and whatever else you can imagine. Eventually I crawled into the tent to get some sleep.

A few hours later Joe woke me up urgently as we’d all slept late, and they had kipped in the car so we needed to get going fast. We packed up the tent, legged it the relatively short distance to the secure carpark by the farmhouse, and sped out of the site only looking behind us with more than a few tears in our eyes once…

On the way back Joe got us lost, so we nearly ended up in Stoke, but we managed to get back to Leicester by early afternoon, so they dumped me off at the house while Joe and Denise went back to hers to tidy up and sleep.

I however couldn’t sleep, so I called Roz and arranged to go out that afternoon, and bumped into another friend Sarah in the pub, so after I updated the pair of them on the weekend we decided on that gloriously sunny Monday afternoon to for to the local Odeon to see the Tank Girl film.

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It’s still a film I love purely because I was still high from the wonderful weekend that was Glastonbury 1995, but as we left the cinema and headed back to the pub I knew I had to let the weekend end so I left Sarah and Roz, wandered home and slept 12 hours in a comfy bed after some of the best few days of my life.

The thing is though the genie was out the bottle. Channel 4’s coverage of Glastonbury had opened people’s eyes, especially as both years were dry years, and 95 was amazing in terms of weather and lineup. There hadn’t been a really wet festival in some years and people were used to the dry warm weather, and this was selling not just the festival but a lifestyle to people watching on television.

1996 was to be a fallow year as the festival took a year off to let the land recover. It was to return in 1997, and I said to myself that I’d get a ticket for this one.

More about the run up to the 1997 festival and the events of the  1997 festival itself another time…..

Bitter Sweet Symphony part six/ The Great Bristol Comic Shop Wars

Go read the other parts of this series otherwise you might be a wee bit lost……

Part one. Part two. Part three. Part four. Part five.

We’re in the last two parts, both of which are relatively quick and to the point, so lets crack on…..

In early 1993 I moved down to Bristol to work at Comics and C.D’s on the Gloucester Road. The shop was owned by Chris Bacon and Maurice Pitman (known to most people as Marr) , who were a pair of characters I’d first encountered in my Neptune days through Neil Phipps who was a colleague there. Neil had worked for Chris when Chris owned a comic shop in Leicester which used to be in the underpass by the Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) around 1986. They ran a business selling comics mainly at comic marts like the Westminster comic mart which was utterly bloody massive in those pre-internet days when getting comics was a chore and a half, and they bought old stock from Neptune thanks to their connection with Neil.

After Neil left Neptune after a truly spectacular falling out with Geoff, I became Chris’s main contact there and continued to flog him whatever we were trying to clear, and when I left Neptune started helping Chris and Marr out at marts, not to mention travelling to Bristol to help tackle the massive amount of stock in Marr’s extension. In 1992 they decided to open up a shop in Bristol as Forever People on Park Street was really the only game in town. This didn’t cause any major problems as Chris and Marr were on good terms with Mike at Forever People plus Park Street and Gloucester Road had different types of shoppers compared with how things are today. If anything Comics and CD’s caused a little ripple at Plastic Wax but that passed, and they’re still around looking very much as they did back then.

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I moved down to Bristol around March 1993, and ended up having some great fun in the shop which was on Gloucester Road at a time when every shop on the road (which is one of the longest roads in the city) was an independent shop.

The shop was just past what is the Co-Op and is now a rather nice wee deli.

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I’ll go on about my time at the shop, the fun and games, more about Chris and Marr, that experience with half a roast chicken in a service station on the M4, late night drinking sessions and the fun and antics of 1993’s UKCAC, and of course the Vertigo signing session that spilled from the shop and cut a drunken swathe across Bristol before ending up with Jamie Hewlett drawing Tank Girl sketches for people at the Cadbury House pub.

The point is that things were again pretty cushy for me. Things were fun. Everything was shiny and fab! I was even at the shop when Chris bought Neptune’s remaining stock at a bailiff sale in Nottingham and we got their stuff from there to the shop, so all this stuff followed me around. In fact, when I moved back down to Bristol in 2000, some of it ended up in my garage in Clifton but I’m getting ahead of myself….

Then who should come lurching back into the picture waving at me but Mike Lake and Forbidden Planet….

As previously pointed out, FP were expanding across the UK in the wake of the success of sorts of FP Glasgow, and then opened in Cardiff, Nottingham and across the country but in a city where they had existing customers they were still avoiding opening. In Bristol they had not only us at Comics and CD’s, but Forever People who were one of the very first comic shops in the UK..

The attitude by now coming from FP was ‘fuck it’ so they opened in Bristol and promptly undercut both shops in the city. Comics and CD’s struggled on for a bit before Chris and Marr sold the shop to Mike Allwood who renamed it Area 51, which is still in Bristol, but a bit further up Gloucester Road in a much, much smaller shop.

Unlike the long, bloody and bitter war between AKA and FP in Glasgow, this was more of a  Audley Harrison-esque battle which was over before it really started. Chris and Marr retreated back into doing conventions and marts, not to mention selling wholesale to other dealers from the UK and US.

I moved back up to Leicester just before Christmas 1993, and that was the last I spent earning a living full-time in comics but would still continue to work for Chris and Marr for the rest of the 90’s up til the last major Bristol Comics Expo in 2008, though I did help Chris out at last years frankly disastrous Expo, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself…

The point is that the real world was trying to come crashing into my life and if there’s one thing about working in any part of the comics industry, you don’t interact with the real world much. Thankfully though working in the licensed trade is almost as unreal as comics but I really am bloody getting ahead of myself..

Next time: so what was the point of this series of blogs anyhow?