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How Neal Adams Changed the Face of Comics – And Why He’s Not Done Yet

by  in Comic News Comment
How Neal Adams Changed the Face of Comics – And Why He’s Not Done Yet

Neal Adams is a controversial figure in the history of comics, but that doesn’t make him any less admired by fans and pros alike.

In addition to his unassailable resume of work, what has made him so beloved is the work he’s done for others and for the industry. Through Continuity Studios he’s hired and mentored dozens of creators, and continues to do so to this day. He was at the forefront of the movement that pushed DC Comics to return the artwork of artists and to pay royalties, and he was one of the people pushing for credit and a financial settlement with Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.

Adams’ reverence for Superman’s co-creators continues to this day, as evidenced by his statement that “my Superman is Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Superman” when discussing his just-completed miniseries “Superman: The Coming of the Supermen.”

In the course of our conversation — the second half of a wide-ranging discussion — Adams explained why his “favorite Kirby character is Kirby,” how “Superman vs Muhammed Ali” continues to be the comic book work that’s had the longest lasting, and most gratifying effect on his career, and the reason why he wears ties emblazoned with comic book and cartoon characters — especially when conducting business.

CBR News: Right now on the stands is “Superman: The Coming of the Supermen,” which you’ve finished.

Neal Adams: It was a lot of fun. People were criticizing my Superman for being, like, “my” Superman; meanwhile, in the movies they’re going further and further away from Superman. I don’t know. My Superman is Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Superman.

You used the New Gods in “Coming of the Supermen,” and you’re drawing “Kamandi.” Do you have a favorite Jack Kirby character?

They’re all great. My favorite Kirby character is Kirby, to be perfectly honest. Jack Kirby when he was finally let loose at Marvel. I think Stan [Lee]’s greatest achievement in life was unlocking the lock on Jack Kirby. Jack had been bumming around the comic book business for ages, doing Space Commandos and all these different types of characters, but when he finally got to Marvel and the padlock was opened, he started to do things like Thor, and then in the back of “Thor” he would tell “Tales of Asgard.” Who the hell could do that? Nobody. Stan had to play catch up, because Jack was throwing this at Stan. Just unbelievable stuff. Then, when he came over to DC, it was as if he had saved up all this creative incredibleness.

When Jack Kirby first did the Silver Surfer, you went, what? That is so dumb. You’re taking some guy in bathing trunks who surf on the beach at Malibu and turning him into this thing. That’s ridiculous. But it’s not. You just have to put a Jack Kirby hat on, and it becomes brilliant. The guy is brilliant. How does he think of this stuff? Who has all these technical journals with images of gears and shit that he’s able to do so well in these double-page spreads of machines that don’t exist? The crappy reproduction we had in comic books had only 62 lines per inch, so it had the worst reproduction in the world, and he did stuff that the comic book business didn’t deserve to have. Who would do that? Nobody. Nobody in the business did that. I don’t even know how he had time to do it. He would pencil six pages in a day. Nobody’s like that.

This is your second big Superman title — I saw the framed cover and the signed boxing gloves in the hall. “Superman vs Muhammad Ali” sounds like a crazy idea.

It was first proposed by Julie Schwartz and everybody laughed at it — including me.

But you made it work.

It’s a classic. You know how many black guys come up to me at comic book conventions holding this. Not just black guys, it represents so much to so many people, but black people in particular. This was printed by two companies, DC Comics and Whitman did another run of it. I don’t actually know how many they printed. In so many ways, it was significant –tremendously significant. We made a big splash around the world. It was Julie’s idea, and after I stopped laughing, I became very supportive of it. They were going to have Joe Kubert do it. They had Joe draw a cover, but the Ali people didn’t like it. They thought it was too crude and ugly. It wasn’t, it was just done in Joe’s style. I could do likenesses very well, so to keep what Joe did, I took the layout and I traced Superman and Ali and drew them in a more illustrative style, and then I had celebrities around the ring watching. If you go to the Joe Kubert School, you can see Joe’s cover that looks just like my cover, but in Joe’s style. I didn’t want that to get lost. At that time, I made sure everyone knew that.

It was a good idea, but the question was, what was the story? Julie decided on some kind of invasion from outer space. Denny began the project, but he had too many other things to do and he couldn’t finish it. Julie called and said, “Denny’s off the book, you’re going to have to write it.” I used as much of Denny’s stuff as I could — he does a good job. I got to do things that I never thought I would get to do. I could beat the shit out of Superman. I can scream in space. I can reintroduce Superman as a character by giving his powers back. I can wax poetic. I can do funny lines, like the reason Superman is fighting in his costume is because the differences between Superman and Ali are so small, the aliens can’t tell them apart. We pulled Ali’s own words as much as we could. It was tremendously sincere project, and Julie was a gigantic pain in the ass about it, which I appreciated because he became a really good editor during that thing.

It was a very sincere project.

Every project I do is sincere. For that reason, I didn’t realize how significant it was. You cannot possibly know how significant it is, being white. It’s as simple as that. I have groups of black men and their kids, and they tell me, “I have that at home,” or they bring it and it’s been read a thousand times. It meant so much. John Stewart was significant, but Ali. Remember, America didn’t love Ali. Half of American hated Ali, but he was a hero to the world.

I don’t know if you know, Denny O’Neill and I both had to be approved by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. We had to go out to Chicago to the compound and sit and be observed by Elijah Muhammad, who didn’t actually talk to us. Apparently, he felt that we were not a danger to whatever the hell they were doing, and then we were dismissed and took the limo to the gate, which was two miles away. We found out later that we were approved. [Laughs]

That was a great project. The point of going to conventions is so people can bring their copies to me, to see the looks on their faces, how it means so much. I can’t even explain it. It’s emotional, it’s not intellectual. They don’t talk about Superman and Spider-Man or those other things, which were all very good. They remember Superman with a black eye, and Ali did it. [Laughs]

Another project form the past is being re-released soon, as Dark Horse has a collection of “Blood” coming out…

With an animated cover. Fully animated. I know I look like a fireman or a police man or whatever, but I really am a geek. I know the technology for lenticular lens work, and nobody takes advantage of the technology. The people who produce the technology sit in utter frustration that nobody takes advantage. What they do is, they have a picture, and it turns into another picture, but you can actually do full animation with a lenticular lens. You can do up to 32 frames of animation with a lenticular lens. That’s a lot of animation. Nobody does it. When I went to the lenticular lens guys, they thought they were selling me. I said, “Let me explain lenticular lens to you — this is why I want to do it.” We started to break it down into how many frames we could do, and they were just delighted that somebody understood. That’s the other thing — I went away [from comics], but I came back with more toys.

Today, you’re working on this advertising project involving meerkats.

This is for England. It’s for insurance, like how Geiko has a gecko. They’re tying them in with these Superman and Batman outfits. It’s the perfect job for me. We ask for a little extra money, and they get a special job. When you’re in favor, you get treated well, but I get treated especially well because then people get a benefit.

Do you have to fight for these jobs? Is this a challenge?

It’s a game I have to play. I try to walk between the raindrops. I’m a target, and I understand that. In my science stuff, I’m a target. In everything that I do, I’ve always been a target. I attract too much attention. It wasn’t my idea to do 28 covers as an homage to Neal Adams. [DC Comics] called me up and said, “We’d like you to do 28 covers as an homage to a great comic book artist. Sure, who? You.” I thought about it and I thought, “Well, who else has 28 covers?” It’s attention. I get that attention. I can’t stop doing it. I have fun doing it. Everything is new and crisp and wonderful.

My daughter battled DC Comics over our contract for nearly 3 years, back and forth with these lawyers. She would go to these meetings, and we finally ended up with a decent contract. The reason we got it was I said, “Look, I’ve taken the time to take care of everybody in the business. All the artwork is returned, everybody is getting royalties, we’ve got better reproduction, all the fights are mostly done, and now we’re talking about me. You put my name on the front of books and you don’t have that right. You have the right to reprint my stuff, but if you make a book, ‘Neal Adams Presents Batman,’ that’s my name. You can’t do that. I’m not going to sue you, but this is bullshit. Let’s straight talk. You’ve got characters that appear in movies that I created, and Paul Levitz came over and gave me a $100,000 dollar check out of courtesy.”

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