Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spotlight On: Neal Adams

Neal Adams (NOT from Phoenix Con)
Karen: Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to the Phoenix Comic Con and I had the chance to meet legendary comics artist Neal Adams. Everyone here knows of my fondness (OK, obsession) with the Kree-Skrull War and a big part of that was Adams' exceptional, dramatic artwork. As some of the earliest comics I was exposed to, it set a high bar for all that came to follow. I was lucky to come across Adams at a slow period; he was sketching and no one else was really around. They were running a pretty sweet deal at his booth: buy 3 prints for $50 and Neal would sign all of them. There were so many great prints to choose from, I had a hard time making up my mind; most were DC characters, a lot of Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern drawings. There were a handful of Marvel characters, but I didn't find them appealing. But I was almost knocked out by a couple of great Bruce Lee prints, especially one depicting the martial arts master from Enter the Dragon. I scooped up that one and a couple of Batman prints and went over to Adams. 

Karen: Adams was friendly. He shook my hand and we chatted a bit as he signed the prints. He even personalized them. I've added a photo of them to this post. I told him how much I enjoyed his work on Avengers and he said thanks, then said I should be reading Batman:Odyssey. I had to politely say I wasn't really reading new comics and he said I should be, because he was back. I laughed and smiled and thanked him again. Later, my husband and I ran into a friend and he saw the Adams prints and asked, "Oh boy, Adams, did he even smile at you?" He'd had a bad experience with Adams before and was surprised when I told him how pleasant he'd been. But he was fine with me and I was glad to have met the man and gotten some very nice prints signed by him. In my book, he's still one of the best comics artists of all time.

Karen: Adams is a controversial figure in many ways, partly for his role in trying to organize the industry, and also for his theories about the Earth,  but leaving that aside, let's just talk about the man's work: when I think of Adams, the words that come to mind are realistic, cinematic, stylistic, dramatic. Long before Alex Ross, Adams brought a sense of realism to comics. Not only his figures and faces but his backgrounds were firmly entrenched in the real world. His storytelling style embraced risk taking, with unusual angles and panel layouts, all done in order to achieve the most dramatic effect. He was actively involved in the plotting of most of the titles he worked on, and in some cases, came up with the stories himself.  He worked for DC and Marvel at the same time, something no one had done, openly, before. He's touched a lot of favorite characters: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the X-Men, the Avengers. He's also taught a large number of artists who have been a part of the industry, and he's been emulated by countless numbers of pros and would-be pros. And of course, he's still active today.

Karen: Some of my own favorite work by Adams (besides the K-S War) would include his Batman efforts, particularly the Bat and the Demon (which we reviewed starting here), his X-Men work with Roy Thomas, and I'm also fond of his covers for Adventure Comics featuring the Legion back in the late 60s.

Karen: Now it's your turn. What do you have to say about the prolific Mr. Adams?


Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting to realize that it took this long for a spotlight on Adams to appear on this blog.

Anyway, despite how easily one can make fun of some of Adams' less stellar projects like Ms. Mystic, Skateman or even the more recent Batman Odyssey, I have nothing but the highest praise for him. He is simply one of the greatest comics artists, not only in terms of his lovely style and design and storytelling sense, but also in terms of his immense influence on all artists since.
He was one of the first comics artists whose name I learned to recognize, and he was initially my favorite - even though he had pretty much stopped drawing any actual stories by the time I had started reading comics at around the midpoint of the 1970s. But he was still doing lots of covers, and I was exposed to his work in the occasional reprinted work. I also remember thinking back then how lucky those slightly older comics fans were, because they had been able to pull those Adams-penciled issues of X-men, Avengers, or Green Lantern cheaply off of the spinner racks.

Thanks for sharing the story, Karen, and the photo of your prints. All excellent choices - I like the Bruce Lee one in particular.

Doug said...

Our "Spotlight On" feature is admittedly a weird bird. I can't recall who the first creator was to be featured (Joe Sinnott or Rich Buckler, maybe?), but everyone knows we've discussed a ton of creators. Adams himself has been tagged almost 40 times on this blog, so we certainly haven't denied him his due. John Buscema has thus far been tagged in 69 posts, but has yet to have the "Spotlight" fall on him. I think we all know how good he was.

I actually passed on the chance to talk to Adams at the 2012 WizardWorld Chicago. At that point I'd not yet purchased anything with his work in it, and I didn't want to dedicate any of my budget to buying prints from him (although, as Edo said, those are some very nice pieces that Karen bought), wanting to focus on BAB-centric tpbs. It's a regret, and had I to do it over again I certainly would have at least stopped at his table to thank him. Hopefully at some future point I'll have the opportunity to make amends.


david_b said...

Doug, Karen's post on Mr. Adams is turning my head back to seeing him in Chicago..

I've been buying up his GL, WF, and Superboy covers over the last year, quite spectacular.

Quite frankly, his best covers still leave me speechless, much like Steranko and the other greats.

Sometimes I like to put myself back in the young shoes of Silver Age youngsters, after seeing years of Cardy, Infantino and Swan, all of a sudden seeing these spectacular DC covers featuring Neal. It must have been like ol' Dorothy goin' B&W to Color in 'Oz'.

Just phenominal.

Doug, I still recall sharing that one of my first Batman comics was out of a '3 for 49cent' baggies and it was Batman 251..

Arguably the BEST Joker cover ever done, glad you shared getting that print of it months back.

Humanbelly said...

It's funny how so many of the great comic book artists have (and have very likely earned) reputations for having volatile or mercurial or anti-social personalities (absolute giants Kirby and Perez being exceptions at the polar opposite end of the scale, mind you)--- and then one has to remember: they're artists, of course! A hundred or two hundred years ago, these would have been the same guys living in a warehouse attic, starving, and shaking their fists at an uncaring world that dared to overlook their brilliance, etc, etc-- (Mind you, I'm not laying that bit of type-casting on Neal Adams' shoulders-- it's just that you could see a lot of these guys heading down that path in a society that didn't provide a viable market for their talents, as it were. . . ).

Overlooked little Adams gem: Conan the Barbarian #37. He does a very apt job w/ a lush jungle setting in what one assumes was a filler-issue, but turned out to be a rather memorable story.

Also: Wasn't Deadman largely associated w/ Adams, IIRC? Boy, would that feature have fared as well w/ any other artist at the helm? The extremely clean, super-hero look to it acted as a surprisingly good foil to what always seemed to me (even as a youngster) to be an awfully hokey, pseudo-mystical-gobbledygook premise.

Hmm- Karen, do you have any idea about whether these artists have to pay a royalty themselves when they sell their prints of licensed characters? Disney's been cracking down on that over on the Marvel side, hasn't it?


Edo Bosnar said...

What?! No spotlight on Big John? Or even Sal for that matter? What kind of Bronze Age blog is this?!
Heh, just kidding, Doug - I'm not faulting you or Karen, I just found it interesting. And I know Adams has been discussed here frequently in other contexts, as have both the Buscema brothers.
By the way, I just did a quite search through your archives, and to answer your question, the first spotlight post was on Frank Miller. Rich Buckler was far from the first: he only came up this January when I suggested him in one of those DIY posts.

Back to Adams: since Humanbelly mentioned overlooked gems, I think it's worth recalling those satirical pieces Adams drew for National Lampoon. I've read 2-3 of these, and would love it if somebody would put them all together in some kind of tpb or HC. That and those occasional stories he drew for the various Warren magazines in the 1970s.

J.A. Morris said...

In my book, Adams has never been topped. He's an artist I show off to non-comic fans to show them an example of great comic art. And I'll echo what david_b said about the other artists of the Silver Age. Adams brought a new level of quality to comic books and took DC Comics from the 1940s to the 1960s overnight.

I first discovered his work in this UK Annual that contained some of his X-men issues:

I'm not crazy about 'Batman Odyssey', but Adams doesn't owe us anything else.

Edo Bosnar said...

J.A., yes! I used to have that UK Annual (bought it for a few bucks in about 1981 together with the Capt. America UK annual that reprinted the 3 Steranko issues). That was my first glimpse into Adams' awesome work on the original X-men. Even though I now have the X-men Visionaries book that reprints all of the Adams issues, I still wish I had that annual.

Mike said...

So far everybody basically reflected my views about NA. One thing, it always bugs me when people say that Batman was goofy until Frank Miller's DK Returns -- that is nothing but uneducated tripe! (Note: I probably shoulda put this one down in the Pet Peeve post last week.)

1970's Batman by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams is THE definitive Batman, period. I go back to those books time and time again. Frank Miller openly admits his mentor was Neal Adams and gives him credit all the time. Wouldn't it be nice if people got informed before speaking? (btw, not this blog ... great articles and educated comments here -- that's why I participate. Plus I learn a lot too!)

Karen, count me jealous -- I keep checking cons driving distance from me looking for him to appear. One of these days I will get that chance to shake his hand and thank him too. And I love the Bruce Lee print -- awesome!

And J.A. put it perfectly ... Odyssey is not that good, but NA "doesn't owe us anything." Here's hoping that he teams up with O'Neil for a Batman or GL/GA book just one more time ... pleeeease.

david_b said...

Let's remember to rattle off favorite covers. Some favs in my collection are (or will be very soon are)...:

Superboy 160, Green Lantern 63, 76, 87 and 89, and of course, Batman 251.

Garett said...

Another "top comics artists" list came out last month, this time Top 50, and Adams clocked in at #2. He was #3 in that Atlas Top 100 artists list from several years back.

I loved the Green Lantern/Green Arrow reprints that came out in the early '80s, and picked up any Adams issues/covers I could get my hands on. He had a style that seemed futuristic, real and dynamic, with cool perspectives. I did buy Ms. Mystic when it came out! I wish he'd have put all his attention into making one great comic through the '80s, instead of spreading himself thin running the whole Continuity line. My favorite of his now is the Ra's Al Ghul story in Batman.

It would be great to see Adams team up with O'Neil again...Batman Odyssey could have been something spectacular with O'Neil guiding the story.

Adams' art style has changed. His figures look rougher hewn and less elegant than in his early days. I wonder if this is a natural progression, or the influence of the Image generation and their darker "extreme" attitude...or perhaps the edgier art of Bill Sienkiewicz coming back to influence his mentor? You can see it especially in the faces, the way he puts marks on them now instead of the clean lines of before.

Great Bruce Lee print, Karen!!

Here's that "Top 50 comic book artists of all time" list that just came out, starting with #50-41:
They don't seem to have links, but you can google for the rest of the list.

William Preston said...

I think my first exposure to Neal Adams was when I was ten years old and bought the first part of the Batman v. R'as al Ghul storyline. I had two of the three issues, missing the conclusion (I wasn't a comics-head at that point, and had no sense of when things came out). I bought that first issue at the Acme in Newtown, Pa. I loved that sequence, and still own it. I read it many times over the years, stunned by how different the art was from anything else I'd seen. (A Gil Kane Spiderman had a similar effect.) Most other work paled beside those issues.

Marc said...

Those prints are excellent, especially Bruce. (Lee that is)

I feel I was born too late, because I love Neal's work. By the time I got into comics it was the early 80s. I didn't discover his work until way later.

I echo what Mike said, he drew the definitive Batman for sure! It would be great to collect all of those old Batman issues, if it didn't cost a small fortune.

Doug said...

Marc, if possessing the Adams Batman issues is your goal (as opposed to actually having the comics), DC is now reprinting the fantastic "Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams" hardcovers as softcovers. While you can get the hardcovers for around $35 on Amazon, the tpbs are going for less than $15. It would be a wise investment if that's in your price range! I have the three hardcovers, and am never sorry that I bought them.


Fred W. Hill said...

My earliest exposure to Adams' art was on the Inhumans strip in Amazing Adventures, but at the time I was too young to really appreciate its uniqueness. Within the next couple of years, however, I read many references to his famed contributions to the Kree-Skrull arc in the Avengers that I was anxious to see it for myself, although it took about another 10 years for that, including paying $25.00 circa 1983, for a copy of Avengers #93,and, yeah, I thought it was pretty spectacular looking. Since then I've gotten many other samplings of his work, both for Marvel & DC, including several BatMans and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow reprints of the mid-80s. I also purchased Ms. Mystic when that came out, but while the art was still great, the story wasn't particularly memorable. One of those giants of the field despite the relative paucity of his output.

Anonymous said...

I always preferred the "realistic" style of art, so Adams has always been one of my favourites.

Mike W.

Marc said...

Thanks for the tip Doug. I may have to pick up some of those tpbs. I have found some good reader copies on ebay though. If you don't mind the comics not being in mint condition it's a great way to get old issues. I picked up the Kree/Skrull War in its entirety that way.

Anonymous said...

Hey William Preston!

Newtown, PA? Bucks County? You from there? I went to George School.

As for Adams, until recently I had one of those oversized comics collecting the original Ra's Al Ghul stories in Batman (I ended up gifting it to a friend who is a Batman fan), which may have been my first exposure to Adams until I got a chance to see reprints of the Avengers stuff.

I really admire his fighting for creator's rights.

William Preston said...

Yo, themiddlespaces!

Yep, that Newtown. I went to the public schools. When I was on the cross-country team in high school, we ran at George School for a couple of meets. What a great campus. I graduated from high school in 1980, having, I believe, never interacted with anyone from George School.


William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham said...

One of my early favorites....I got on board at the tail end of GL/GA, and of his Batman run, so I got to experience the Ra's al Ghul story, the Joker's Five-Way Revenge, and the werewolf story, but missed out on all of his Marvel works until much later. Like someone else pointed out here, he was was one of the first artists that I could identify just by seeing his work. Really nice prints!

William said...

Karen, I too once met Neal Adams. It was at Megacon in Orlando, FL, and I found him to be quite pleasant as well. I had heard he could be a bit "standoffish" (let's say), but like you, I found him to be a pretty nice guy.

As for his artwork, there is no denying his importance as an artist and his huge influence on the medium, but he personally has never been one of my favorites. However, I'm not a big a fan of super realism in comics, so that's probably a big reason why.

I ordered a Neal Adams Batman trade today. Going to check it out and see if I can't gain some more appreciation for his style.

Garett said...

Hey William, I love "top artists" lists like this, even when I disagree with them! Well Byrne and Barry Smith were quite close in the rankings. I was happy that the list had a good representation of Bronze age artists, as opposed to the Atlas list that had more Golden age artists.

I think Red Nails is a masterpiece...I wonder sometimes if it's the greatest comic art ever! But outside that, I'm just a lukewarm Smith fan. I find his early stuff too Kirbyish, and the later stuff too delicate. But Red Nails hit the homerun.

Has BAB done a top artists poll, like the top superhero costumes?

Garett said...

Whoops--I responded to a comment that's now deleted, if anyone's confused! : )

Doug said...

Garett, it's probably about time for another bracketology, and comic artists would be a great subject. Stay tuned -- I think this would be a fun way to begin the summer.

And as to the deleted comment, that was all William. I have it in my email, and I thought it was insightful, not inciteful! Maybe he'll be back by and continue the conversation on the top 50 list.


Doug said...

Oh, and by the way -- Red Nails is incredible. Do you prefer the B&W or color versions? We'll have some B&W X-Men stories coming your way in the summer months, as you can see on our reading list on the sidebar.

And I got to thinking more about that bracketology. Since it's a foregone conclusion that Big John will win ;D , what's the point?

Running it like a Chicago election...


Kid said...

Adams is, of course, one of the greats, but I often found some of his figure-work on covers a little awkward. Take a look at Superman #233 - that right arm is just in the wrong place from the reader's point of view. (And sometimes he drew legs simply too long.)

But hey - nobody's perfect.

Karen said...

Late to the party, but it's been one of those days. I too was surprised we hadn't done a Spotlight feature on Adams before. But now, here it is.

I think along with the realism of his work I've always really loved his choice of camera angles, so to speak. Even in the meager examples I've shown below, in the X-Men and Inhumans pages, Adams has made some unusual choices for those pages, but they are very exciting and just burst with action.

As for my meeting with him, it must have taken me a good ten minutes to choose those three prints. There were about two dozen to choose from and narrowing it down to three wasn't easy. I almost grabbed a Superman print, but in the end, Batman won out. Adams offered to personalize each one, so I got one of the Batman prints signed to my husband, and one to me.

I've met a number of genre celebrities over the years and some have been very friendly, some have been nice but cool, and some have been outright jerks. What's funny is when you hear from someone else the exact opposite opinion about a certain celebrity! But I am sure that they have good days and bad days, like all of us. At least when I met him, Mr. Adams was in a good mood. And it felt satisfying to be able to thank him for his work and let him know how much I had appreciated it. For some reason, whenever I have been able to do that with someone whose work has touched me in some way, it sincerely affects me. So I'm very glad I had the chance to see him. And now I have some nice prints that I have to find some wall space for!

Rip Jagger said...

Like a tiny cadre of comic book artists, there is comics before and after him, but his work so utterly transformed the field that there is no ignoring it.

Adams was the harbinger of the next full generation who took comics to the next level. He seems not really to have been of that generation but he didn't fit into the old set either. He seemed to be in both groups.

I can still remember seeing his work for the first time in early issues of Strange Adventures. Deadman looked like no other comic book feature, it was clear this Neal Adams guy was different. Spectre #5 was a comic which rocked me.

His early work on Green Lantern, Batman, X-Men, Inhumans, and Avengers is some of the absolute best the field has ever seen.

Garett said...

Doug, a comic artists bracketology would be great!
I first read Red Nails in the '83 reprint, and that's still my favorite coloring.

William said...

Garett, you may have noticed I had deleted my original post before I saw that you had responded to it. After I posted it and read it, I thought that I came off a little unintentionally "snarky", and I didn't want to offend.

I didn't think that someone might have already seen it. Sorry that it makes it look like you are responding to a phantom question, not my intention. :)

Also, I really enjoy Top 10 lists and Polls as well. Sometimes even when I don't agree with them. (Which seems to be often, lol).

Garett said...

No problem, William, I was happy that someone looked at the link! It's good to have different opinions--and I was surprised Byrne wasn't in the top 10 too.

Anonymous said...

I kinda grew up with the goofy, cartoon version of Batman in the late 60's, but when I saw Adam's version... holy shit. Same with Green Arrow.

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