Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Alan Davis, and the story is Part 5 of “Harry 20 on the High Rock” from 2000AD #291, which was published by Fleetway and is cover dated 11 November 1982. This scan is from the Harry 20 on the High Rock trade paperback, which was published by Rebellion in 2010. Enjoy!
“Harry 20 on the High Rock” is the story about Harry Thompson, an innocent man sent to the “High Rock,” a maximum security prison orbiting 100 miles above the Earth. Harry, of course, decides to break out. Gerry Finlay-Day’s story is okay – pretty standard stuff, but not terrible – and, of course, Davis’s art is excellent. He’s still rounding into form, but as we’ve seen over the past few days, he already shows a lot of the chops that he would continue to hone over the decades. I’m not going to show too much of this story (it’s only 5 pages long), but here are some of the cooler scenes.
This first scan shows how well black and white can work in a comic. A colorist would still retain the spot blacks obscuring so much of the page, but presumably the computers surrounding the warden would be different colored lights, and it wouldn’t look as sinister. Davis is good at using curves, too, which is probably why he’s so good at action. The way he makes the computer bank swell like a wave around the warden makes the warden seem less human – he’s sitting in a computer womb, almost, and it dampens his humanity and plays up his coldness. Had he been sitting at a flat desk, the effect wouldn’t have been the same. He’s surrounded by shadows, and we begin the panel with him, moving from him to Harry, who’s flanked by armored thugs who also look inhuman. This comes into play in Panel 3, when Harry is sitting between the warden and the guards. He’s bathed in light (it’s poorly lit, because the light is coming mostly from below him, but the light is spread evenly over his face, but we can forgive a bit of unreality) while the warden and the guards remain in shadow. Not too subtle, but not bad. Davis’s use of blacks also means he doesn’t use holding lines, which makes the division between the dark and light less crisp, making the scene a bit more disturbing. Davis is still using decisive lines, so this is a clear stylistic choice, and it works well.
This is another nicely constructed panel, as Harry gets bonked on the head when he tries to attack the warden. Davis begins with the guard in the upper left, and while the guard’s face is mostly obscured by his helmet, all we really need is the bared teeth to see how savage he is at that moment. The glow of his bopping stick comes from behind his head and leads us right to the back of Harry’s head, with the halo of sparks again subtly suggesting the persecution of an innocent man (Harry’s no Jesus, of course, but it’s still interesting to note the similarities, even if they’re unintentional). Davis does a nice job with Harry’s pained expression, as that sucker would hurt. The bopping stick leads us off the page, but notice that Davis places the warden in the panel, too, framing the right side of the panel so we’re sure to see him as we move across the scene. Notice, too, that Harry is once again surrounded, and once again mostly lit while the guard and warden remain in darkness. The panel is nice and balanced, too – note how the heads of the guard, Harry, and the warden form a diagonal, while Harry’s right arm and the bopping stick form another diagonal. The two lines meet right at Harry’s face, placing him in the crosshairs of the panel. It’s very nicely done.
As I’ve noted, Davis is one of the best superhero artists of all time partly because his pencil work is so fluid that he draws action very well. He also does nice reactions to that action, as we see here. Big Red One hits Harry, and Harry flies backward. First, Davis does a good job with Big Red One, as he’s bent the way you’d expect someone to be after they’ve thrown a backhanded punch. But Harry’s face is what makes the panel a good one, as Davis shows us very well what the face of someone who’s just been punched in the chin looks like (or at least what I imagine it looks like). More than that, Davis thinks about what would happen to a person’s hands and, more importantly, his clothes as a result of such a brutal blow. He draws Harry’s shirt billowing out away from his chest, and his belt flying free as Harry falls. Everything about Harry makes the attack feel real, because Davis is so good about drawing the effects of a big smash to the jaw. It’s a very good reason why Davis is so good at superhero comics – when you read his comics, you believe that the characters are actually feeling the violence inflicted on them.
Davis wasn’t done with 2000AD, as we’ll see tomorrow. He once again teamed up with the Mad Monk of Northampton, and the results were … hilarious. Come back and see what’s what! Or, if you choose, spend some time in the archives!