Monday, February 26, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #26: Alan Davis

Artist Alan Davis was not one of 2000 AD's first wave of great British artists, and he'd already started making a name for himself elsewhere before getting work on the Galaxy's greatest comic. But he worked on two much-loved series for the weekly and - with Alan Moore - co-created one of 2000 AD's funniest strips. When I interviewed him for the original THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD features in 2002, the articles had already gone past his early contributions to the comic. So a fair chunk of what you're about to read is previously unseen material. Time's running out for the 28 Days of 2000 AD blogging project, so rather than split this interview into two halves, here's the whole thing in one monster posting. I started by asking Alan how he got from drawing Captain Britain for Marvel UK to the pages of 2000 AD...


It was Richard Burton who approached me. He’d seen the work on Captain Britain and asked me to try out for 2000 AD. In the office there was Richard, Steve and Robin Smith, who was the art editor.

Harry 20 on the High Rock was your first job for 2000 AD...

Originally I wasn’t meant to be doing it all. There was a guy called John Watkiss that had already been secured to do the story and I was only meant to be helping him out. The way that it worked was that when Richard had got me along to the 2000 AD offices, Steve [MacManus] wasn’t really too impressed with what I was doing. He didn’t really like the idea of having an American style artist for 2000 AD. So I was almost on probation, I suppose, in a way.

I was going to have to try to keep up with John Watkiss. As it turned out, John Watkiss dropped out and I was left to do the whole thing myself. That meant I was actually doing 36 pages of pencils and inks a month at that point, just to meet the deadlines because I was also doing Captain Britain and Marvelman at the same time.

[When did you sleep?] Not very often! It was just one of those things, it had to be done. It was my first job and I wanted to prove that I was reliable. Steve actually was very nice to me because I got the work in on time. He made sure I was paid on time and, in one case he actually paid me in advance, because it was coming up to Christmas. As it turned out, I was treated very well.

I used to send it down by Red Star from the local railway station. I didn’t have a day to spare to bring it down. I should say that it was a good time to work in comics. Robin Smith was incredibly helpful on the art side. Richard helped me over the bumpy part until I was accepted by Steve. From then on it was pretty much plain sailing. When I started working in comics I had no idea what I was doing. I was just having fun and a bit of extra money.

What do you remember most about Harry 20?

There’s a number of things. Shortly after I started working on it they told me I had to be on The Tube, the TV show on Channel 4. That was like a key moment of my life because I was just terrified of doing that. But I was forced to do it.

As the strip went, when I was given the work, it was like we don’t want you to do what you do, we want you to be more like this. But then as it went on…

Originally, I was meant to be doing the third and fourth episodes, and John Watkiss was meant to be working on the first and second. I’d finished the third one when Steve found out there was no work done on the first and second. So it was would you mind going back and starting like afresh. Get these two done, they’re more urgent. Then it was this guy will be doing the fourth and fifth. Then, it was no, he’s not doing that so go on. It was always a bit madcap.

The first episode I did wasn’t really the first episode I was working on. It was a learning experience but it was also coloured by the fact that it was my first real taste of deadline hell. But as the story went…

I remember there were a couple of things that really grated, because I was very much into science fiction. Having someone open their spacesuit in outer space and things like that… I would be constantly railing, saying you can’t do this. At one point Harry was meant to open his cell window and throw something into outer space! In another one he was supposed to have opened his spacesuit and slipped something inside while in outer space.

The one I couldn’t get them to change was the first time Harry escapes. He goes to an old module floating around Earth. He gets in and he opens his faceplate and puts on an oxygen mask, which is obviously something you couldn’t do. You’d be decompressed as soon as you opened your spacesuit. But that was in the script and it was the only way it could be done. That was the only one I wasn’t allowed to change.

Were you aware at the time that Harry 20 had been rewritten by Alan Grant?

I’d been told this but I looked at it and thought… Even at that time I was used to a higher standard of writing, and that’s not to criticise anyone involved. It was just that I was more used to new wave writers than old school writers. So I was constantly pulling things apart and seeing how they’d be in real life. Yes, but it’s action-packed. That was a minor thing, really..

Most of all, I was enjoying the fact I was working in comics. The work from 2000 was what allowed me to go fulltime. When I was working for Marvel UK, I was doing a regular job. The work from 2000 meant there was no way I could stay in a regular job. So there was also the added stress of thinking I’ve got to make this work. But, I’m sure that’s the same in any other job…

The next job you did for 2000 AD was a Time Twister written by Alan Moore, which introduced D.R. & Quinch – what can you recall about that?

What happened was Steve MacManus didn’t want Alan and I to work together. By that time we’d already got a reputation, working on Captain Britain and Marvelman. He didn’t like the idea of us having the triple, working for 2000 AD as well. Alan had come up with this thing for DR & Quinch which wasn’t really the way that it turned out in the end.

When I first started working at 2000 AD, I’d been categorised as a superhero artist. After doing Harry 20 I was categorised as a gritty, realistic artist. I really wanted to do something different, just to show that I could do it, pad out the portfolio. I liked the idea of doing something more cartoonish.

Steve didn’t want DR & Quinch to be done cartoonish because they already had Sam Slade, Ace Trucking and something else that were all in a cartoon style. He really wanted DR & Quinch to be gritty and realistic and that was why I was put on to it. If you look, you can see that the first issue of DR & Quinch is drawing more rendered than the later ones.

[Future Shock: The hyper-historic headbang] That one I was given because it had already been given to three other artists who, according to Steve, couldn’t make nor tail of it. Since it had been commissioned, he said see if you want to have a crack at this and see if you can make it work.

DR & Quinch were brought for further stories, which were published in early 1984. Were you in favour of reviving them?

I obviously loved drawing them. When you’ve designed a character, it almost like flows off the end of the pen. It doesn’t take… It was maybe the fastest work I ever drew, DR & Quinch, because it didn’t take any real concentration in being consistent, drawing real people or anything like that. It was just drawing ugly Disney characters, Leo Baxendale approach, throwing stuff down. Anything you did was alright.

In an interview with the Comics Journal in 1990, Alan Moore says you and he both put a lot of nice work into Dr & Quinch and some of it is amusing. What’s your favourite of the DR & Quinch stories?

I don’t really know if I’d say I got a favourite story. There’s certain incidents that… When you’re drawing something that makes you laugh yourself as you do it. I think thing I did that was when I had Quinch break the fourth wall, when he looks out at the readers and raises his eyebrow. I should say the reason why was I thought DR & Quinch was meant to be like Animal House. I didn’t know anything about OC & Stiggs, which was where Alan was getting his inspiration from. In the Animal House movie, there’s a scene where the John Belushi character looks out at the camera and raises his eyebrows. I started doing that sort of thing in DR & Quinch and that made me laugh – the absurdity of the eye contact with these crazy characters. I think all in all, it was just completely wacky, the dafter things you could do, the better.

[Mind the oranges, Marlon.] Alan didn’t know what he was going to write there. When he did it, he said it was blank blank oranges blank. I’ve got the original script and in it he says I’ll figure it out what this means later on.

Alan also expresses misgivings that DR & Quinch makes violence funny, which he doesn’t think is right. How do you feel about that?

After working on DR & Quinch with Alan, I went back to it to do DR & Quinch’s Agony Page. That I got more reaction from people who couldn’t believe I’d basically been involved in a story where they skin cats. A few people I know are cat lovers and they were appalled that I would take any part in something like this. I just thought it’s funny. It is comedy violence and to a degree, it’s no more violent than any other things but there’s more of a point to it. I mean, other cartoons. Other cartoons you’ll have pointless violence.

DR & Quinch – I always thought there was a real sensibility to it but at the time we were doing it, it was around the same time The Young Ones were on TV. I don’t know, maybe I don’t intellectualise things enough. I just enjoy it!

Three years later DR & Quinch returned for DR & Quinch’s Agony Page – how did that come about?

I think it was originally meant to be a page of text with spot illustrations. I said I wasn’t really interested in that. I wouldn’t mind doing them as stories. I think what happened was Jamie Delano had written the first page as three separate letters being responded to, which would just be like floating heads and lots of text. I took each letter and made it into a story. Basically using the response as the basis for a more narrative flow.

I can’t really remember how it started, other than that. Why it was Jamie or anything else, I just can’t remember.

After nine Agony Pages the idea was dropped – do you know why?

I think that part of the problem was that Jamie wasn’t very happy with the fact that I’d taken this thing and gone the other way. My primary interest in comics is storytelling. It’s not the art, it’s not the writing, it’s the story. Something that’s just a text page with spot illustrations doesn’t really interest me. So I think we were at odds on that and I wasn’t really prepared to carry on without, because then I would have been getting rid of him (Jamie). That was more why it finished, rather than it not being popular.

[First writing and drawing example?] I’ve always done it. Harry 20 – I actually virtually rewrote the last two episodes to try and make them work, because I thought they were nonsensical. I argued the odds over different things.

I think the first thing I queried was on the very first issue, the way the High Rock was meant to work. I’d been given a text description of how the High Rock looked, how it operated. When I read it I thought this just doesn’t sound logical. So I actually made a model of it, bits of cardboard stuck together, just to prove that it wouldn’t work. That was the first time something got changed.

After that I was always trying to prove things. By the end of it, Steve pretty much let me change whatever it was. That was right from the start. Story has always been the most important thing to me. If I can’t suspend my own disbelief, how can I expect anyone else to?

The last story you drew for 2000 AD was a Judge Dredd story called Bat Mugger. According to legend, this was meant to be a dry run for a Judge Dredd and Batman crossover book – myth or reality?

I’d been asked to do the Judgement on Gotham book for DC. The Bat Mugger was really just a warm-up. It’s not really a dry run. It was just you’re sitting talking to people about doing a project together for DC and they say well, would you like to do a little one for 2000 AD? Get used to drawing the character. That’s how it came about…

Finally, what’s your favourite work from all that you’ve done for 2000 AD?

I honestly hate everything I’ve ever done. Once I’ve done it, I just see all the faults. I don’t like looking back at old work too much. I just hope one day I think I’ll figure out how to do it. There’s always room for improvement.

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