Rebellion has announced a new collection of The Stainless Steel Rat, 2000AD’s comic book adaptation of top SF novelist Harry Harrison’s fantastic classic pulp sci-fi novels. Alongside the 2000AD strips themselves, we’ve detailed more than one comic connection to the popular SF character below, with Michael Carroll, Alan Craddock and Dave McKean playing roles in his ongoing story!
Out of print for almost a decade, the new collection will include the three adaptations written by Kelvin Gosnell with art by Carlos Ezquerra between 1979 and 1985, and – for the first time – will feature the colour centre spreads as they originally appeared in 2000AD.
The Stainless Steel Rat, the creation of American author Harry Harrison, first appeared in 1961. In all, Harrison wrote 12 original novels starring “Slippery” Jim DiGriz, the charming con-man given a choice when the law finally catches up with him – join up or get sent down!
The last novel, The Stainless Steel Rat Returns, was published in 2010, shortly before Harrison’s death.
The character is hugely popular among fans of Harrison’s work, a novelist whose creative career began as a comics artist, partnered with Wallace Wood in the late 1940s and into the early 1950s, their work together including projects for EC. (Wood had a number of associates at the original Story-Art Studio circa 1949 starting with original partner Harry Harrison who Wood met at the Hogarth School, C&I, later SVA. Others in Wood’s studio included Sid Check, Roy Krenkel and Joe Orlando, who replaced Harrison as Wood’s partner).
Catch Me if You Can meets Star Wars, 2000AD’s landmark comic space opera series was a major hit in the early days of the Galaxy;’s Greatest Comic, its success helped in no small part by the extraordinary energy and humour of Ezquerra’s artwork, with the Spanish artist basing DiGriz’s likeness on the legendary actor James Coburn.
“The only one I took from a real person was James Coburn,” Carlos confirmed in an interview for the comic zine Dogbreath published in 2014, during discussion of the inspiration for characters he designed or co-created for comics. “I loved his look in The Magnificent Seven and I used it in ‘Major Eazy’ and specially in ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’”.
DiGriz is a guileful rogue who claims he turned to crime as a deliberate act of rebellion against the regimented and dull authoritarian society around him. Despite being an accomplished thief and master of disguise, he’s caught by the ruthless elite law-enforcement agency known as the Special Corps. Discovering that all the Corps’ top agents are reformed criminals, DiGriz is given a simple choice – join up or spend your life in jail!
Never quite able to suppress his urge for lawbreaking, DiGriz escapes from the Corps before meeting and falling in love with the psychotic Angelina – another master criminal, although she is a lot more murderous than the laid-back DiGriz!
Harrison, who lived in both Ireland and the UK for some time, recalled he came up for the idea of the Stainless Steel Rat while working at his typewriter in his New York apartment and spotting a mouse in the room.
Marvelling at its presence in the urban metropolis, he considered that note only will there be mice and rats in the cities of the future, “but there must be human beings who just don’t conform,” he recalled in an introduction to the character for 2000AD when the first story appeared, “people who are born into a society but aren’t too happy with it. People who like to live their own lives in their own way.
“Many times the way they want to live brings them into conflict with authority,” he continued. “Far too often they find the life that everyone else lives a little boring and would like a bit more excitement in it.
“What would a man be like in, this future world who did not like this world? A man who stepped outside of the rules of society and lived by his own rules? Well…”
“The whole thing came about by sheer luck and coincidence,” Kelvin Gosnell recalled of the character’s arrival in 2000AD in an interview in Beyond 2000AD. “I had always been a great fan of Harry’s work, particularly SSR. My involvement in 2000AD stemmed primarily from my enthusiasm for science fiction classics such as Harrison, Clarke, Asimov, Simak and other now forgotten greats like Kuttner and Cordwainer Smith.
“Once 2000AD was under way and successful, I had always wanted to get DiGriz in there but knew that IPC was so anal about rights and royalties that I stood little chance of doing so. However, I discovered that Carlos was a great fan of the Rat and, more importantly, that my managing editor was willing to help get a Harrison story into the book.”
It was Bob Bartholomew, who had edited both Eagle and Swift, where Harrison had written episodes of the time travel adventure “The Phantom Patrol”, who greased the wheels at IPC to secure management approval for the Stainless Steel Rat’s inclusion in 2000AD.
(“The Angry Planet”, Harrison’s first “Brett Million” strip for the British weekly Boys’ World, was largely based on his own SF novel Deathworld. Archivist Philip Rushton notes that apparently, he was paid the princely sum of one pound & five shillings each week for the rights, in addition to his regular scripting fee of fourteen guineas (£14.70 in modern money).
Comics editor Richard Burton recalls “The Stainless Steel Rat” was originally considered for Tornado comic, and become Tornado’s Dredd but as also noted in Beyond 2000AD, published by Hibernia Press, the title didn’t last long enough for that to happen.
Three 2000AD adaptations were published in total, first reprinted in colour by Eagle Comics in 1985 and 1986, as a six-issue limited series, and last released as a trade paperback by Rebellion in 2010, paperback editions now commanding mad prices on some auction sites and AmazonUK.
The popular character and SF series also spawned a game book in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy series, called You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat, a board game, The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat, published in the late 1970s; and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World video game, a text-based adventure game developed by Mosaic Publishing for the Sinclair that did not, it appears, get the best of receptions, co-written by Harrison with programmer Sean O’Connell and released in 1984.
More recently, Obsidian’s RPG blockbuster The Outer Worlds – available for numerous game platforms – has included a Stainless Steel Rat side quest, although I have to confess I’m not completely clear as to whether or nit this is simply a nod of the hat to the character or some semi official tie-in.
Noting the Stainless Steel Rat’s enduring appeal on the official guide to the Stainless Steel Rat on the Harry Harrison web site, Paul Tomlinson, the author of Harry Harrison: An Annotated Bibliography, suggests his appeal is that he is not a perfect, whiter-than-white hero.
“He’s something of a contradiction,” he suggests, “a thief-turned-lawman – and this means that the distinction between hero and villain, good and evil, is not entirely clear cut: in the world of the Rat, there are good ‘thieves’ and evil ‘lawmen’, just as there are in the real world. It is not a person’s deeds which define them, but rather their intentions.
“While appearing to be a self-centred, reckless individual, the Rat’s actions reveal his strong sense of social responsibility. These are two sides of our own character which we strongly prize: we are proud of our individuality, but at the same time we are aware of our responsibility for others.”
• The new The Stainless Steel Rat 208-page paperback collection will retail at £24.99 and hit shelves and digital on 19th August 2021. A limited hardcover ‘Deluxe Edition’ will also be available to pre-order exclusively from the 2000AD webshop in the new year
The stories included in this collection:
• ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’ (2000 AD Progs 140–151, 1979-1980)
• ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World’ (2000 AD Progs 166–177, 1980)
• ‘The Stainless Steel Rat for President’ (2000 AD Progs 393–404, 1984-1985)
One of the contributors to the Harry Harrison – Official Site – launched 21 years ago – is none other than 2000AD strip writer Michael Carroll, also well known for his terrific guides to British comics over on Rusty Staples, and was good friend of Harrison’s
Did you know? The first appearance of The Stainless Steel Rat in Prog 140 was supposed to be preceded with a brief panel of explanation of who Jim was. As former Tharg Steve MacManus noted in his book, The Mighty One, an editorial error meant that the panel actually appeared at the end of the first episode, not the beginning. This prompted a letter to be printed in Prog 148 from Harry Harrison himself pointing out the error, for which he won £3…
• Buy Rebellion’s 2010 edition of The Stainless Steel Rat from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link – be warned, the paperback edition is ridiculously priced!)
You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat – Game Book
• You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat – Game Book (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)
Written by Harry Harrison, You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat, published by Panther Books in 1985, doesn’t actually allow the reader to take on the role of the Stainless Steel Rat, which is a little misleading! Artists on the project were Alan Craddock, Bryn Barnard and Dave McKean.
Over on his brilliant game book reference site, Demian Katz notes the book features no game system, though coin-flipping comes into play from time to time, and the challenge level is decidedly low, since it is actually impossible to fail the mission (though it requires some skill to avoid getting stuck going in circles!). There’s more detail about the book here on the same site, too.
The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat – Board Game
Published by Simultaneous Publications in 1981, designed by Greg Costikyan, one of the team behind the terrific RPG Paranoia, the game was first included in Ares Magazine #10, its original story and game idea the idea of Harry Harrison.
Primarily a solitaire game, two can play cooperatively, pitting Jim against a deadly maze, controlled by a computer programmed to kill.
#10 of the magazine included a short story by Harry Harrison. There are more details here on Grognordia
• Greg Costikyan has been creating games for a long time – more than 30 of them, in fact, from tabletop to PC, mobile and online – his official site is here
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World – Shards Software
A text/graphic adventure first published in 1984 by Mosaic Publishing, programmed by Shards Software, distributed by John Wiley & Sons and packaged in a VHS-sized box with a copy of the original novel). The game was re-released in 1987 by Alternative.
As Jim DiGriz you’re plunged into an alarming scenario when an evil creature called He is destroying the world by cutting off its past. Your mission is to defeat the menace, and a variety of hardware is left for you to use, including the mysterious Time Helix.
With thanks to Michael Carroll for some speedy updates and credit corrections; Alan Craddock; Allan Harvey for the titbit about Harrison’s partnership with Wallace “Wally” Wood; and Phil Rushton for the information on Brett Millions
The Stainless Steel Rat © Harry Harrison