Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Incredible Graphic Arts of Neal Adams

Neal Adams (born June 12, 1941, Governors Island, Manhattan, New York) is an American comic book and commercial artist known for helping to create some of the definitive modern imagery of the DC Comics characters Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow; as the co-founder of the graphic design studio Continuity Associates; and as a creators-rights advocate who helped secure a pension and recognition for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Adams was inducted into the Eisner Award's Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Harvey Awards' Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1999.

Turning to comic books, Adams found work at Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazines, under editor Archie Goodwin. 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 and Goodwin quickly collaborated on two more stories, in Eerie #9 (May 1967) and Creepy #15 (June 1967), and Adams as well reapproached DC Comics.

With DC war comics stalwart Joe Kubert now concentrating on the comic strip The Green Berets, Adams saw an opening:

“ I really didn’t like most of the comics [at DC] but I did like war comics, ... so I thought, 'You know, now that Joe is not working there, they've got Russ Heath and they are plugging other people in where Joe used to be. Maybe I could kind of shift into a Joe Kubert kind of thing and do some war comics, and kind of bash them out [quickly]'. ... So I went over to see [DC war-comics editor] Bob Kanigher and I showed him my stuff, and I did have that feeling that they were missing Joe — a guy who could draw and do that rough, action stuff. So he gave me some work". ”

Adams made his DC debut as penciler-inker of the 8½-page story "It's My Turn to Die", written by Howard Liss, in the anthology series Our Army at War #182 (July 1967). He did a smattering of additional horror and war stories, respectively, for the two publishers, and then, after being turned down by DC's Batman editor Julius Schwartz, approached fellow DC editor Murray Boltinoff in the hopes of drawing for Boltinoff's Batman team-up title The Brave and the Bold.[11] Boltinoff instead assigned him the cover of The Adventures of Bob Hope #106 (Sept. 1967) and its 23-page story "Badgers [sic] Baby Brother — Beastley", written by Arnold Drake. It became the first of a slew of stories and covers Adams would draw for that series and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, two licensed titles starring fictional versions of the TV, film and nightclub comics.

During this period near the end of the industry revival historians call the Silver Age of comic books, Adams was soon assigned his first superhero covers, illustrating that of the Superman flagship Action Comics #356 (Nov. 1967) and the same month's Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #79 (Nov. 1967), featuring Superman and a mysterious new costumed character, Titanman. Also that month, Adams drew his first superhero story, teaming with writer Gardner Fox on the lighthearted backup feature "The Elongated Man" in Detective Comics #369, the flagship Batman title. Shortly afterward, he drew Batman himself, along with the supernatural superhero the Spectre, on the cover of The Brave and the Bold #75 (Jan. 1968) — the first published instance of Adams' work on what would become two of his signature comics characters.

Another, his breakout character, was the supernatural hero Deadman, who had debuted in DC's Strange Adventures #205 (Nov. 1967). Adams succeeded co-creator artist Carmine Infantino with the following issue's 17-page story "An Eye for an Eye", written by Arnold Drake, with George Roussos inking Adams' pencils. Adams went on to draw both the covers and stories for issues 207-216 (Dec. 1967 - Feb. 1969), and taking over the scripting with #212 (June 1968). The series became a fan sensation, winning many awards and being almost immediately inducted into the Alley Award Hall of Fame, with Adams himself receiving a special award "for the new perspective and dynamic vibrance he has brought to the field of comic art".

Adams concurrently drew covers and stories for The Spectre #2-5 (Feb.-Aug. 1968), also writing the latter two issues, and became DC's primary cover artist well into the 1970s. Adams recalled that Infantino "was appointed art director, and decided I was going to be his spark plug. I also thought it was a good idea, and was promised a number of things which were never fulfilled. But I thought it would be an adventure anyway, so I knuckled down to things like "Deadman", The Spectre and whatever odd things would come my way. I was also doing large amounts of covers".

Adams' art style, honed in advertising and in the photorealistic school of dramatic-serial comics strips, marked a signal change from most comics art to that time. Comics writer and columnist Steve Grant wrote in 2009 that,

“ 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. Despite vastly different styles, both favored designs that drew on depth of focus and angularity that put the reader in the center of the action while slightly disorienting them to increase the tension, and placed special emphasis on lighting and body language as emotion cues. Not that these things were unknown in comics by any stretch, but publishers traditionally deemphasized them. [As well, b]oth were hugely influential on how a new generation of artists thought about what comics should look like, though Adams was arguably more influential; his approach was more visceral and, more importantly, he ran a studio in Manhattan [Continuity Associates] where many young artists started their professional careers. ”

First Marvel Comics work

X-Men #63 (Dec. 1969). Cover art by Adams and Tom Palmer.While continuing to freelance for DC, Adams in 1969 also began freelancing for Marvel Comics, where he penciled several issues of the mutant-superhero team title X-Men and one story for a horror anthology title. Such freelancing across the two leading companies was rare at the time; most DC creators who did so worked pseudonymously. Adams recalled in 1976:

“ The first time I got away from DC was when I went to Marvel to do the X-Men. It didn't stop me from working at DC; they were a little annoyed at me, but that was a calculated plan. ... If people saw that I would do such a thing, then other people might do it. Beyond that, it seemed like working for Marvel might be an interesting thing to do. It was, as matter of fact. I enjoyed working on the X-Men. [The company was] more friendly, a lot more real and I found myself delighting in the company of Herb Trimpe, John Romita and Marie Severin. I found them to be people who were not as oppressed as the people at National [i.e., DC Comics] were. ”

He teamed with writer Roy Thomas on X-Men, then on the verge of cancellation, starting with issue #56 (May 1969). Adams penciled and colored, paired for the first time with inker Tom Palmer, with whom he would collaborate on several acclaimed Marvel comics; the duo's work here netted them 1969 Alley Awards for Best Pencil Artist and Best Inking Artist, respectively. (Thomas won that year for Best Writer.) Though the team failed to save the title, which ended its initial run with #66 (Dec. 1969), the collaboration here and on the "Kree-Skrull War" arc of The Avengers #93-97 (Nov. 1971 - May 1972) produced what comics historians regard as some of Marvel's creative highlights of the era.[23] Adams also wrote and penciled the horror story "One Hungers" in Tower of Shadows #2 (Dec. 1969), and co-wrote with Thomas, but did not draw, another in Chamber of Darkness #2 (Dec. 1969).

[edit] Green Lantern/Green Arrow and "relevant comics"

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (April 1970). Cover art by Adams.Continuing to work for DC Comics during this sojourn, while also contributing the occasional story to Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazines (including the Don Glut-scripted "Goddess from the Sea" in Vampirella #1, Sept. 1969), Adams had his first collaboration on Batman with writer Dennis O'Neil. The duo would later revitalize the character with a series of noteworthy stories reestablishing Batman's dark, brooding nature and taking the books away from the campy look and feel of the 1966-68 ABC TV series. For now, however, they would do only two stories, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves" in Detective Comics #395 (Jan. 1970) and "Paint a Picture of Peril" in issue #397 (March 1970), with a short Batman backup story, written by Mike Friedrich, coming in-between, in Batman #219 (Feb. 1970). Batman's enduring makeover would come later, after Adams and O'Neil's celebrated and, for the time, controversial revamping of the longstanding DC characters Green Lantern and Green Arrow.

Rechristening Green Lantern vol. 2 as Green Lantern/Green Arrow with issue #76 (April 1970), O'Neil and Adams teamed these two very different superheroes in a long story arc in which the characters undertook a social-commentary journey across America. A major exemplar of what the industry and the public at the time called "relevant comics", the landmark run began with the 23-page story "No Evil Shall Escape My Sight" and continued to " ...And through Him Save a World" in the series' finale, #89 (May 1972). Wrote historian Ron Goulart,

“ These angry issues deal with racism, overpopulation, pollution, and drug addiction. The drug abuse problem was dramatized in an unusual and unprecedented way by showing Green Arrow's heretofore clean-cut boy companion Speedy turning into a heroin addict. All this endeared DC to the dedicated college readers of the period and won awards for both artist and writer. Sales, however, weren't especially influenced by the praise, and by 1973 the crusading had ceased. I remember dropping in on [editor Julius] Schwartz about this time and asking him how relevance was doing. 'Relevance is dead', he informed me, not too cheerfully. ”

Continuity and creators' rights

Adams' pencil drawings on his later Batman stories were frequently inked by Dick Giordano, with whom Adams formed Continuity Associates, a company that primarily supplied storyboards for motion pictures. In the early 1970s, Adams was the art director, costume designer, as well as the poster/Playbill illustrator for Warp!, a science fiction stage play by Bury St. Edmund and Stuart Gordon that had had some cult success in Chicago, and which played on Broadway from Feb. 14-18, 1973, at the original Ambassador Theatre.

During the 1970s, Adams was politically active in the industry, and attempted to unionize its creative community. His efforts, along with precedents set by Atlas/Seaboard Comics' creator-friendly policies and other factors, helped lead to the modern industry's standard practice of returning original artwork to the artist, who can earn additional income from art sales to collectors. He won his battle in 1987, when Marvel returned original artwork to him and industry legend Jack Kirby, among others. Adams notably and vocally helped lead the lobbying efforts that resulted in Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster receiving decades-overdue credit and some financial remuneration from DC.

Part of his work in this regard resulted in the 1978 formation of the Comics Creators Guild, notable members of which included Adams, Terry Austin, Mike W. Barr, Cary Bates, Rick Bryant, Michael Catron, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Tony DeZuniga, Steve Ditko, Peter B. Gillis, Michael Golden, Archie Goodwin, Klaus Janson, Joe Jusko, Alan Kupperberg, Paul Levitz, Rick Marschall, Roger McKenzie, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Michael Netzer (Nasser), Martin Pasko, Carl Potts, Ralph Reese, Marshall Rogers, Josef Rubinstein, Jim Salicrup, James Sherman, Jim Shooter, Walt Simonson, Roger Slifer, Jim Starlin, Greg Theakston, Len Wein, Alan Weiss, Bob Wiacek, and Marv Wolfman.

Also during the 1970s, Adams illustrated paperback novels in the Tarzan series and did some film work. With the independent-comic publishing boom of the early 1980s, he began working for Pacific Comics (where he produced the poorly-received Skateman) and other publishers, and founded his own Continuity Comics as an off-shoot of Continuity Associates. His comic-book company's characters include Megalith, Bucky O'Hare, Skeleton Warriors, CyberRad, and Ms. Mystic.

In collaboration with Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Adams has championed an effort to get the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which is operated by the government of Poland, to return the original artwork of Dina Babbitt. In exchange for his sparing her mother and herself from the gas chambers, Babbitt worked as an illustrator for Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele who wanted detailed paintings to demonstrate his pseudoscientific theories about Gypsy racial inferiority. Using text from Medoff, Adams illustrated a six-page graphic documentary about Babbitt that was inked by Joe Kubert and contains an introduction by Stan Lee. However, Adams deemphasizes any comparison between the Babbitt case and his struggle for creator rights, saying that her situation was "tragic" and "an atrocity."

Of the thousands of drawings and paintings that Neal Adams has done, I was able to find 205 of for you to peruse. Enjoy

Glenn Buttkus