In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Behind each scene goes hours of preparation. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book and pop culture greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of the nerd world, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.
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Name: Neal Adams
Profession: Comic Book Artist
Notable Work: Batman, Green Lantern, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
“That’s the difference between DC and Marvel comics: all the characters at DC, because of their history, were all all sparkly-tooth Americans; they smiled, they had good jobs, they had secret identities. At Marvel, Jack [Kirby] convinced Stan [Lee] that the four characters who would go off into specae, be bombarded by cosmic rays, and come back as monsters. All [the Marvel stars] were essentially monsters turned into superheroes. Over at DC we had golden-toothed heroes. Even the new guys: test pilot, lab scientist. It’s still the difference between the two companies. When people talk about Spider-Man and his personality problems, it’s all part of the monster side of the superhero genre as opposed to DC. Batman is the closest to the Marvel characters that DC has.” – Neal Adams
Neal Adams is still a juggernaut in the comic book industry for nearly 60 years. The amazing artist may not have gotten to Batman until over thirty years into his inception, but he and Denny O’Neil’s portrayal has shaped the way the character has been portrayed since. His story started with being initially rejected when he tried to get with DC Comics. Adams ended up working at Johnstone & Cushing, doing comic book advertising (something he’s continued to do with his company Continuity Associates). After that, Adams found some work pencilling for Archie, then drew the Ben Casey comic strip with creator Jerry Capp, based off the medical drama TV series.
This experience, and his connections with Capp, helped serve him as ghost-artist for a few different series, including Peter Scratch, written by Jerry’s brother, Elliot Caplin. He was eventually offered a gig on The Green Berets, a war story, but turned the book down because it was set in Vietnam, during a time when he and many Americans were opposed to the war in Vietnam. This was more a political statement about the Vietnam War specifically, as Adams was a fan of war books, in general. A lot of DC’s books were war-related at the time, and it was something that Adams enjoyed. His gritty and rough action sequences made him a great fit.
From there, he did covers and mini-segments for various late Silver Age titles like Action Comics and Detective Comics, which gave him a reputation for doing a lot of covers. Eventually, he was given his first full superhero issue, World’s Finest #175. Adams was even asked to redraw a Teen Titans story, where creator Marv Wolfman was planning to create DC’s first black superhero, Jericho. The idea was shot down by Carmine Infantino, and Neal Adams came in to clear the air. DC was notoriously conservative at the time, whereas Marvel already several black superheroes. Adams decided to try his hand at Marvel, while still freelancing at DC. He found the company “more friendly, a lot more real” and enjoyed that they executives there “were not as oppressed as the people at National were.”
DC wasn’t about to let their All-Star walk to Marvel, so they gave Adams the opportunity to work with writer Denny O’Neil. The two would go on as one of the greatest tag teams in comic books. Their work on The Avengers, X-Men, Green Lantern, The Flash and, of course, Batman. Their portrayal of the Dark Knight made a sharp turn from light and campy to dark and grave. The Batman we know today is a direct descendant of the work those two men did.
One of my favorite stories they did was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow arc. After being the artist that gave Oliver Queen his patented facial hair, the superhero duo tackled real issues and ushered in an era of more humanizing characters. Drug addiction was explored in the shocking Green Lanern #85, where it was revealed that Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick) was a drug addict. Adams and O’Neil also wrote from everything from pollution to racism, making it a highly-relatable book – but not necessarily a high-selling book. After the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series was cut, Neal Adams moved onto some big projects. He worked on the very first inter-company book, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man in 1976. Another crossover of his that was very well-received was Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. The book took the hero out of the pages at put him against a real life icon, humanizing him even more, which is ironic for an alien. To really put him in the realm of real-life heroes, Adams gave the intricate cover a personal touch, including celebrities, superheroes and political figures adorning the background. The cover was so iconic that it was altered to include Michael Jordan vs. Muhammad Ali in 2000.
Following this book, Adams formed Continuity Comics, an independent publisher where he could really flex his creative muscle. The company lasted over a decade, and created dozens of titles. Having his own company meant that Adams and his team weren’t held back by censorship, so violence and eroticism were a staple in the series. Continuity also got caught up in the variant craze of the early 90’s, packaging issues with glow-in-the-dark, chrome-plated, and hologram covers. Some of the issues contained posters, trading cards or stickers. Awesome for fans, bad for business. Continuity didn’t make quite the splash some of the other independent published did in the 90’s, but it was still a dream come true for Adams.
Recently, Adams has been working on Batman mini-series. In 2011, he wrote and pencilled Batman: Odyssey, a twelve-issue run that took the Dark Knight back to his early 70’s roots. He also was featured in the newest Batman: Black & White, a compilation of short stories. Neal’s story was about an awesome-looking zombie Batman. It’s even getting its own Black and White statue.
Comic books aren’t Neal Adam’s only passion. He is also a huge science buff, and has a website and YouTube channel dedicated to his thoughts and research, attributed to the work of geologist Samuel Warren Carey and his theory of an expanding Earth. There’s some really heavy stuff in there, and even if you don’t agree with the theory, there’s some certified science in there, and it took Adams 30 years to grasp the concept on a scientific level. There’s a lot to learn from this man, at and away from the drawing table.
Neal Adams is a legend. He’s won multiple awards for his art, and has been inducted into the Will Eisner and Jack Kirby halls of fame. With Denny O’Neil, he helped create the modern ethos of Batman, and helped initiate comic books into the Bronze era. On top of all that, he’s a pretty swell guy! He’s been to every comic book convention we’ve attended, and he always has a great story to tell, not to mention one of the coolest merchandise tables of any artist attending. Lucky for us, Mile High Comics will be hosting a pre-Denver Comic Con party in just over a week, and Neal Adams will be there.
Join us tomorrow as we continue our countdown to Denver Comic Con with Star Trek: The Next Generation star and Fact or Fiction: Beyond Belief host, Jonathan Frakes.
All media belongs to Dell, DC Comics