Yeah, the new Justice League just came out and the whole re-tooling of DC 52 has begun and the blogoverse is all a-twitter and a-tumblr with opinions. And I’ll be getting to that, I promise, but not today.
Today, I talk about something a lot more personal.
See, I’m going to a convention in Montreal in a few weeks, and my favorite living comic book creator, Neal Adams, is going to be there. I mentioned this to someone at a convention last weekend, and I swear to god, this fan said “You mean the guy who does Batman Odyssey?” Unfortunately, I had no pistol to whip this guy for thinking that was the whole of Adams’ career, but I do have a blog, and I fire back with the best ammunition I have available: Fifty caliber truth bombs.
For those who might mistakenly believe it’s all about the Odyssey, you’re overlooking a decades-spanning career in which Neal wrote and drew some of the most memorable comics of all time…
But forget about that…and forget about Neal creating or defining some of the most popular characters in the comics industry…
…and forget about how freaking BEAUTIFULLY Neal draws….
Forget all that. Here are…
THE TOP TEN REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE NEAL ADAMS.
10) He’s fought for creators’ rights his whole career.
Publishers didn’t give back art to their creators until the eighties – often destroying pages after they’d been printed or giving them away to fans as souvenirs. The scumbags in the corner offices always believed they owned the physical objects, when no legal or moral argument ever suggested they did. Neal was essential in the public fight with Marvel to get back artwork held illegally from Kirby which helped establish that original artwork is now returned to us all.
9) He put his foot up Warner Brothers’ ass for Jerry and Joe.
Back in the 70s, when Jerry Siegel tried one last time to sue for the rights to Superman and lost again, Neal Adams took it upon himself to champion their cause. He wrote articles for major publications, refused to work with certain companies, and created enough of a fuss that Warner Brothers was publicly shamed into tossing their forgotten creators a bone just before the Christopher Reeve movie came out. Siegel and Shuster both received credits on all Superman product from that time forward, and they were given a pension and full medical benefits from the giant corporation, primarily because it was suddenly too rat-bag awful for them not to. Neal was a big part of that public embarrassing of Warner Brothers, and his wagging finger of tut-tut helped make one of the WORST mistreatments of creators a little bit right.
8 – He was the first artist to move between Marvel and DC without using a pseudonym.
Guys like Gil Kane had to pretend to be “Scott Edward” when freelancing for more than one company before Neal defied the unwritten rule in the late 60s, working on X-Men and Deadman at the same time, and giving creators the dignity of their own name from that moment forward. Mike Esposito was “Mickey Demeo” when he freelanced at Marvel in the 60s, fearing he’d be fired by DC.
But Neal Adams was Neal Adams.
7) Neal Adams has theories about the nature of the Earth and basic physics that are unusual.
The Earth is constantly expanding, blowing up like a balloon, according to Neal, and it’s doing so by spontaneously creating matter at the core. Also, if you drain the Mediterranean, you’ll find the ruins of ancient civilizations. Sure, this is fringe stuff discredited by many in the scientific community, but Neal insists upon examining it, often at length if he corners you and you don’t have a weapon. He even has youtube videos explaining it. Watch.
Some people think this theory is kookoo for coco-puffs, but having talked to him about it once or twice, I think those conversations make Neal interesting. What’s wrong with looking for alternatives to the accepted way of thinking? Whether it’s right or not is almost irrelevant. What matters is that Mr. Adams is not just sitting around eating spray-on cheese and watching Dancing with the Stars. He gets big points for having a curious mind. And who knows…he might be right?
6) He Sometimes Refers to himself in the Third Person.
And he’s capable of doing it everyday conversation. There’s something wonderfully perfect about it. He’ll sometimes drop a sentence on you like, “Would you like to hear what Neal Adams thinks about that?”. It’s stunning the first time you hear him do it, but it grows on you. I did a Batman illustrators tour with Mr. Adams years back in France and Belgium, and learned that if you paid attention, he’d include this rhetorical flourish up to a dozen times a day when talking to the fans. Who does that? I think it’s magnificent.
Neal started up Continuity Associates before Jim Lee and Todd Macfarlane were gleams in a fanboy’s eye. It was a studio where comic book creators could work for commercial and movie storyboard jobs - high paying projects between DC and Marvel gigs – that eventually launched its own comic book imprint – “Continuity Comics”. They published creator-owned series outside the pre-existing system and it was run by, and for, creators. The biggest success was Bucky O’Hare, which I heard made a gob-bucket full of cash for Michael Golden and Larry Hama when it was turned into a TV series in the 80s. Golden wouldn’t have made that money at Marvel or DC back then, but he had Adams at his back. The only real differences between Image and Continuity was that Continuity came first, and the quality of the artwork at Neal’s company was better.
4) In his glory days, he was movie-star handsome.
(And as he matures, he’s mature movie-star handsome, let’s not kid)
That might not be a reason for ME to love him, but can I get a shout out from the ladies? In an industry where most of us look more like Comic Book Guy that we’d like to admit, it was part of Neal’s mystique that he was a good looking dude the first time I ever saw him in person. He’s probably hung like a horse too, the bastard.
3) He wasn’t afraid to take any assignment when he was starting out.
That doesn’t seem like an important thing, but it is. It really is. Most artists nowadays have a high opinion of what they will or will not do. They’re sure they’re on a path to stardom and don’t want to stray from it. But Adams started off his career at Archie Comics because it was honest work.
It was experience, and it was a foot in the door. After Archie, Neal sharpened his skills doing the Ben Casey comic strip for a while, and when he became so good a draftsman that DC couldn’t turn him down, he finally got the assignments from DC editors he’d been waiting for.
I’ve known artists who turn down their first pro gig because they feel they know better than the editor about where their talents lie. Of course these Bob Hope covers and Jerry Lewis stories weren’t what Adams should have been doing at the time, but he patiently put in the effort, paid his dues, met his deadlines and showed off he was reliable. That’s what a man does when he goes to work. There’s as much inspiration from that as there is from his skills as an illustrator, and you whippersnappers can take that to the bank.
2 He made comics grow up.
In collaboration with Denny O’Neil, the pair took the moribund, Adam West inspired franchise that Batman had become, and revitalized it into the oh-so-cool Dark Knight character that he is today, with stories like Secret of the Waiting Graves, The Joker’s Five Way Revenge and all those marvelous Ra’s Al Ghul stories.
And when Wein and Cockrum hit gold with the stunningly popular All-New All-Different X-Men in the late 70s, it was the award winning and sophisticated Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run they were inspired by, not the more juvenile Lee/Kirby issues (as fun as those might be).
And O’Neil and Adams cemented their reputation as makers of comics for adults in these three panels from Green Lantern #76. Suddenly Goldface and The Lamplighter weren’t enough to keep the college kids reading.
1) He essentially invented the modern age of comics.
By using a swinging sixties commercial art style and the emerging sensibilities of TV storyboards instead of the illustration and cartooning forms that had been prevalent throughout the previous forty years, Neal single-handedly picked up the industry on his shoulders and put it back down someplace else…someplace that folks over 18 could relate to. It’s not like we didn’t have realistic illustrators before Neal (Alex Raymond and Hal Foster pre-date him by decades), but Neal played with the depth of field, the body language, the “camera” angles, and the basic layout of the page with figures breaking out of their panels, and imaginative design ideas like no one since Will Eisner.
Neal took up Eisner’s innovative page designs and ran off with them like an Olympic athlete. Along the way he inspired nearly everybody who followed him, and even a few who came before him, who started to adopt his exciting new style after they got a look at Neal. Look at Alex Ross, or Jim Lee, or Steve Epting, or anyone drawing comics who’s worth a damn, and you’ll find at least a hint of Adams’ layout rhythms, if not the illustration style itself. As much as we might all adore and respect all the giants of cartooning history, the comics of 2011 resemble Adams’ vision more than Kirby’s, Kurtzman’s or Eisner’s, and that’s a fact.
There you have it. If I haven’t convinced comics fans around the world that you owe Neal Adams a giant kiss and a humble thank you for his talent, his mind, his influence, and his generosity, then you may all leave the room and smack yourself with a horsehair brush. And if you come to the convention in Montreal head over to his table and thank him personally. You’ll tell your grandkids someday that you met the John Lennon of Comics, or the Mozart of Comics, or the Einstein of Comics…whatever metaphor you want.
Personally I like to think of him as the Neal Adams of comics.
Ty the Guy OUT!
Here now, your BONUS ADAMS COMICS MOMENT:
I’m lucky enough to own a few pieces of original Neal Adams artwork – a generous gift from Neal he kind of gave me when we did that European tour together ten years ago. However, on that tour, I picked up a special treasure from another member of the Adams clan: His son Josh was ten years old, at the time, (about the same age as my eldest son), and that delightful kid drew me a picture of Robin on the back of a beer coaster one evening, based on the animated style I was known for. It’s been up on a shelf next to my drawing table ever since. Nowadays Josh is working in the biz, drawing Doctor Who and Batman a bit. But I still have this early work, done when he was ten years old.