Focus on the Artist: Neal Adams

Neal Adams (Image from Wikipedia)

It’s been a long time coming, and I haven’t written a commentary on Artists in a while, so what better way than getting back on the saddle than choosing Master Neal Adams.

First thing first: The hard data, and you can get most of the facts in wikipedia, DOB etc…

I will try to focus on my impressions on how relevant his achievements are as a whole, and why you, the reader, should care about his life and body of work.

Although most of you know Neal as the most influential illustrator of Batman in the 70’s and a great force behind his revival, and lately his work on Batman Odyssey, Mr. Adams is a complex figure worth studying and that brings great rewards to those who get to know him, both in person or whether knowing him only by his work.

Neal Adams is a poor man’s DaVinci. He may have not been famous for his war-machines, sculptures and for mastering different arts, but like the master from the renaissance, he has mad a huge impact in the world of comics not only for his art, but for his social involvement.

Going over many of his interview, Neal explains how he grew up relatively poor in New York City, and how he had been bitten by the art bug, the one that made him study art-books on his own time, and practice drawing, practice practice and practice, in the back of newspapers, in butcher’s paper wrappings, in flyers and leaflets, and any surface where he could practice.

Whether Neal Adams was born with talent for drawing or not that is irrelevant, because he is now shy about letting you know the amount of work he put into getting good.

That is partially the amazing story behind this artist. His perseverance, and his panache for calling a spade a spade.

He worked at his craft from a very young age, and before he turned 21 he was knocking at the door of DC studios, where he was told that the comic book market was imploding, and artists had no where to go.

He went on to do Archie comics, with Bat Masterson and Howard Nostrand, mainly doing backgrounds and exposure work. He then took work in advertising, while keeping an eye on the comic strip business.

Among his inspiration with illustrators, Neal Adams lists Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs and Al Parker, and he worked at at developing an amazing illustration portfolio. And while exploring new techniques as a marketing artist, he explored a ton of techniques, some involving tracing with the intent of rendering the most realistic work possible.

Neal was offered a chance to return to comics on very comfortable terms when he was given the newspaper strip Ben Casey. He stayed on it for 3 1/2 years of considerable success.

Comics historian Maurice Horn said the strip “did not shrink from tackling controversial problems, such as heroin addiction, illegitimate pregnancy, and attempted suicide. These were usually treated in soap opera fashion … but there was also a touch of toughness to the proceedings, well rendered by Adams in a forceful, direct style that exuded realism and tension and accorded well with the overall tone of the strip”

Neal Adams stated: “We ended the strip under mutual agreement. I wasn’t happy working on the strip nor was I happy giving up a third of the money to [the TV series’ producer, Bing Crosby Productions. The strip I should have been making twelve hundred [dollars] a week from was making me three hundred to three-fifty a week. On top of that, I was not able to express myself artistically when I wanted to.”

Then there is the incident of his portfolio being stolen while looking for work amongst different agencies, and feeling like 8 months of work went down the drain.

Adams got back into the comic field by working for Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror-comics magazines. Adams debuted there as penciler and inker of writer Goodwin’s eight-page anthological story “Curse of the Vampire” in Creepy #14 (April 1967).

He was offered a comic in DC taking setting in the Vietnam war, which he vehemently opposed, and he passed the offer onto Joe Kubert, who made history on his own merits in the belic front.

Then there is the story of how he was turned down for Batman by then editor Julius Schwartz, but got approached by fellow DC editor Murray Boltinoff for drawing Batman team-up title The Brave and the Bold. Although Boltinoff gave him a brief assigned doing  The Adventures of Jerry Lewis  and The Adventures of Bob Hope, two licensed titles starring fictional versions of the TV, film and nightclub comedians.

He then spent sometime doing some amazing covers for Superman, Batman, etc… and had a breakthrough moment with Deadman.

Comics writer and columnist Steve Grant wrote in 2009:

“Jim Steranko at Marvel and Neal Adams were the most prominent new artists of the late ’60s to enter a field that had been relatively hostile to new artists … and breaths of modernism, referencing advertising art and pop art as much as comics.”

And then came history. Neal Adams started working for Marvel WHILE working for DC! And got to keep his real name!!!!
In 1969 he also began penciled several issues of the mutant-superhero team title X-Men and one story for a horror anthology title.

While doing work for The Brave and the Bold he got approached by Julius Schwartz asking him why all this letters where pouring in asking DC why the REAL batman could only be found in The Brave and the Bold?

This got Adams his chance to remake Batman’s history with his run together with Dennis O’Neil, and introduced Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul to the mithos.

He continue to brake ground with his run on Green Lantern, when he did the first NON COMIC-CODE approve issue in recent memory by running a cautionary tale on drug addiction.

Also, he championed creator’s rights and retributions. He was the starter of the trend of getting the original artwork returned to the artist, instead of doing like Marvel (and DC) where doing of giving the originals as tips to the delivery boys.

In 1978, Adams helped form the Comics Creators Guild, which over three dozen comic-book writers and artists joined.

Also, the whole ordeal of how Neal Adams was able to assist Superman creators Siegel and Shuster is totally worth reading:


And heroic efforts to give their due to the Kirby estate

 What is so noteworthy about Neal Adams?

Every artist should aspire to have a career as prolific and varied, dabbling on so many styles as Neal Adams.

From an artistic perspective, Neal brought the famed Photo Realistic style into fashion. Everybody back in the 70’s wanted to imitate Neal.

He made the characters act and express. Some even say his characters over-act.

Check out this wonderful illustration below.

Photographic realism? Check!

Amazing shadows?  Check!

Amazing angles?  Check

Expressive muscle definition? Check!

Over the top facial Expressions? Check!!!

Finally well drawn hands? Check!!!

He also took the trend of picking up a sunken title and infusing it with new life.

He did it with the Brave and the Bold (although it was not failing, sales went through the roof), he created a new canon for The Batman, he took Uncanny X-Men and made it great again.

Neal Adams is an amazing stylist. His latest fooray in the comic world brought us Batman:Odyssey, and critics in general labeled as a beautiful mess.
I had to concur with the most common complaint from the audience, that it was almost impossible to read till the end.

But the art was still amazing.

Neal Adams is above all a story teller. In person, if you get near him on a meet and greet, he will easily start chatting and telling you stories, as long as you know what to ask. He is an incredibly intelligent man (remember that comparison I made with Da-Vinci?) and well versed in a myriad of subjects.

Keep in mind he can be sarcastic. Sarcasm is natures way of letting smart people deal with annoying dumb people, without offending them directly, so he has to use it. I’ve always enjoyed sitting and listening in a panel where he is either hosting or invited, and I always leave having learned a bit more about the inner workings of the industry.

But, as many great storytellers, that doesn’t mean he gets to translate his passion into a marketable product. Neal Adams does wonders when he illustrates the stories of savvy scribes, but when he is left to his own devices to tell his own stories…well… Batman:Odyssey happens.

I caught him stating publicly a couple of times that comic book artists are by nature of their craft storytellers, and he assumes that skill is directly ported over to writing. After all, most of us learn to write very early on. Its drawing well that is hard!! So if you draw well, you must write amazingly well!!!

Similarly happened with his publishing company Continuity.

It was a dream come true if you wanted to read a ton of comics drawn in the style of Neal. Most alumni/collaborators at Continuity drew in a strong imitation style to Neal Adams.

But also, most of the stories were a bit lacking. Its hard to find the titles now, like Bucky O’Hare written by Larry Hama, Megalith, Samuree or Ms. Mystic, just to mention a few.

Samuree was a great action/cheesecake comic


Sadly, most titles did not make it past the 9th issue, partially because of of the comic book market imploding, partially because back in the 1990’s the market was not ready to have another house compete with the Big Two.

Neal Adams has become a strong defender of the Expanding Earth theory, and as far as theories goes, I don’t see why it should cause such a big stir like it does. I haven’t positioned myself on it, but it doesn’t shake my world one way or another, like some people seem to be bothered by it.

Lately you can find Neal Adams hitting the comic con circuit. His displays are usually well placed and flashy, but his prices are also pretty steep. I assume the man is building his nest egg, and getting ready to take it slow, so he is trying to cash it in as much as he can, but some of his signed prints will set you back a pretty penny.

I’ve seen him in his booth on shows done in the south of the US, and I’ve never seen his booths as full of people as I would’ve expected. But I assume that’s better for business. Less people who pay more money.

I assume this focus on profit came from those ASSMUNCHERS who go to cons to get signed items just to sell them on e-bay. They are really a bane to the comic fandom world. It must be really upsetting for so many artists to sign things out of the goodness of their hearts just to turn around and see it on e-bay going for what amounts to a small mortgage!!

I’ve always contended that most e-bay hawks are fairly easy to spot: They tend to be very aggressive, very demanding, and very annoying. They are manipulators who are after a quick buck, after all.

Anyway, hit youtube and check out the interviews of Neal Adams, and you won’t be sorry. A trove of info. We should be glad to have him around, since so many of the old masters are fading in recent decades.

Of course, he has a website where you can follow Neal, keep up with his comic con appearances, and buy his prints.

But the real question I posit is… Neal, when are you going to realize that most of us would LOOOOVE to read a graphic novel (drawn by you, of course) of your life and experiences????
I would suggest you get together with a writer to make sure Batman: Oddisey doesn’t happen again, or at least an editor to give you pointers on how to make sure that much coveted, much wanted graphic novel reaches fruition and becomes an icon every comic book lover keeps as the authoritative work on Neal Adams!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s