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From A Library: Harry 20 On The High Rock

Written by Gerry Finley Day
Art by Alan Davis
(instalments from 2000 AD progs 287–307)

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the art of Alan Davis on this blog, so this book is an interesting collection of his early art, from back in 1982–1983. There is a particularly fascinating introduction by Davis himself, explaining it all: meeting 2000 AD editor Richard Burton in 1982, while Davis still had a regular day job in a factory and a small amount of experience on Captain Britain and Marvelman, so this was an opportunity for Davis to go full time. However, the job wasn’t one of the big strips, but as the role of back-up artist on a new strip, Harry 20 On The High Rock. All 21 episodes had already been written (Finley-Day had written full script but it had been reworked by somebody else), so Davis was assigned to draw episodes 3 and 4 but without seeing the finished art for episodes 1 and 2. Davis then talks about the problem with the design of the space prison and the problems with issues of the vacuum of space and trying to escape. However, it turned out that the original artist hadn’t done the first two episodes – delayed due to another job – so Davis had to do the first two episodes urgently with a launch date for the title that couldn’t be changed. He turned it around in a week and was then offered the job of the whole series because the original artist dropped out; Davis said yes, even though his regular commitment to Captain Britain and Marvelman meant he would have to draw 40 pages a month for 5 months. He didn’t know how insane a prospect that was, with only 18 months of part-time experience, so he readily admits that it was hard work and a steep learning curve.

It’s apparent that the artwork is early Davis and that is has been rushed in places – it’s not as polished and competent as what we think of as Davis’s style – but the basics are still evident at this point. His natural gift for storytelling is apparent, all his characters looks individual and easily recognisable, the action is dynamic and well choreographed, the camera angles and point of view in dialogue scenes keep the panels flowing without loss of clarity, and there is a strong sense of the cramped quality of a packed space prison. It’s the artwork of a talented artist in the early phase of his career.

I suppose I should mention something of the story: it’s 2060; 100 miles above earth, the High Rock is the top-security satellite prison, packed to capacity with 10,000 vicious criminals, to which Harry Thompson is sentenced to 20 years for supplying food to the people of the Equatorial Zone (this isn’t a crime but his punishment is to make a point). The High Rock is ran by Warden Worldwise, an eyepatch-wearing villain of a character, and controlled by his vicious guards; it is a hard and brutal place, with Harry vowing to escape, helped by his cell mates (Genghis Eighteen and Ben Ninety – the surname refers to the length of their sentence), while trying to avoid the violent guards and the hardened criminals, with some extra twists thrown in for good measure. It’s a classic 2000 AD concept: take a staple genre (the prison-escape film) and add a sci-fi twist. It’s well done, but for me it’s the art that stands out – seeing Davis on a non-superhero title, adding some grit to his style.

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