Kurtz & Adams Throwdown at the North Pole

Neal Adams is a comic book living legend. The artist has accumulated years of work on Batman, a classic run on "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" with Denny O'Neill, and numerous issues of "Deadman" to name just a few projects he's worked on in his decades in the comics industry. Beyond his work on the printed page, his Continuity Studios is currently producing the motion comics for Marvel. Adams has also been instrumental in the fight for creators rights, from his involvement in the movement that saw return of artwork by comics companies become the industry standard to working towards getting credit and financial renumeration for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster to fighting the Polish government for the return of the artwork of Dina Gottliebova-Babbit, it is inarguable that Neal Adams has has a wide and storied career.

Scott Kurtz is one of the most popular and prominent webcomics creators working today. The Eisner Award winning cartoonist has been writing and drawing his "Player vs Player" strip for over a decade, has numerous collections of the strip available in print through Image Comics and maintains an animated web series as well. Kurtz is also one of the most vocal proponents of webcomics as an artform and business model through his role one of the hosts of the Webcomics Weekly podcast and one of the authors of "How To Make Webcomics."

Holiday stories are a mainstay of PvP, and the last few years' of Christmas storylines have revolved around Scratch Fury, the pet cat of Skull the troll, who has made an enemy of Santa Claus. Last year, Santa sent the Jingle Force Five to destroy Scratch Fury. A furious battle ensued, injuries were dealt on both sides, and after the smoke subsided, Scratch pledged that he would have his revenge. Last week a YouTube video of Neal Adams drawing "PvP" was released that depicted the death of Santa, with Adams wondering aloud what exactly he'd gotten himself into. This week, CBR News found out.

Scott, you've been teasing that this year's Christmas strips are going to be huge and you've had to bring on other people to help with the story and art. Could you possibly introduce us to some of the fine folks involved with this year's holiday endeavor?

Scott Kurtz: Well, that's a bit of hyperbole. I could have just done it myself (and had planned to), but then suddenly this stuff with Neal presented, and we had this very serendipitous opportunity. So now we have me writing and drawing my parts. Neal drawing his parts and Neal's daughter Kris orchestrating. Then add on Neal's grand-daughter Kortney gathering all the material for her grandfather and explaining 10 years of "PvP" to him. On top of that, I handed off coloring chores to my winter intern, Mary Cagle. Mary is going to be starting school at SCAD this January, and her coloring is amazing. And how many college kids get to color Neal Adams art before they even start their sophomore year? So now, including me, we've got 5 people making this go.

When you MCed the Harvey Awards, you mentioned that meeting Neal Adams and his family was one of your favorite parts of the gig. At the time, did you have any plans or hopes that he might say yes to something like this?

Kurtz: No. I had no clue. I knew the family because Neal's son, Jason, comes by our booth every year at San Diego to buy something for his niece, Kortney. And so it was great to finally meet Korntey and her mom Kris and hear what a fan she was. Then you start putting it all together, who these people are. Jason is Neal's son. Kris is his daughter. Kortney is his granddaughter. So all these years, these wonderful people were connected to Neal and we knew them but didn't know the rest of the story.

Neal, your granddaughter is a big fan of Scott and the strip, but did you know who he was and what "PvP" was at the time?

Neal Adams: The comic biz has gotten so big, and includes so many areas, that even though at one time, I knew everybody on a first name basis, now, stuff is happening everywhere. I've seen "PvP" publications with Frank Cho covers, and I knew it was in the form of comic strips, which I, of course, am very aware of, and that somehow, this strip, PV something, was shown on the internet. I was nowhere near, fully aware of what it was exactly, and what a phenom it was. So, yes and no.

Scott, what made you approach Neal, and why do you think he said yes to doing something like this?

Kurtz: That was all Kortney. She made Neal promise years ago to do a cover for "PvP." And then they both forgot about it. At the Harveys, Kortney told me, "You know, he promised me he would draw a cover for you for free!" I went up to Neal the next day and laid it on thick. "You monster! How could you disappoint your own granddaughter that way?" So that got the ball rolling. I owe it all to Kortney.

Neal, you have a lot of things going on, both on your own as an artist and through projects that your studio is involved with, like the motion comics for Marvel. What was it that made you interested in working on a project like this? 

Adams: I sometimes suspect that my children and grandchildren are in league with the devil, or perhaps it's with angels. I don't exactly know. But my granddaughter, Kortney, who is otherwise a sensible, stable, and liberal human being, has also been a fan of "PvP" for some time. She was the instigator, the touchstone, the amicus curiae, the Whitman's Sampler of this little plot. Upon meeting Scott, they conjured up the possibility that I would do a cover for this heretofore unknown quantity. Somehow, I dodged that bullet. I don't quite know how.

But then, somehow, the plan changed. I believe it happened at the Baltimore Con. And I think it happened during the Harvey Awards, though I'm not quite sure. Whatever it was, when I came away from the Baltimore Con, I had it firmly planted in my mind, that I was going to do this project. If you need more clarification that that, I for one do not have it. I also met Scott at that Con, and found him to be a thoroughly delightful and comfortably funny person. I like off-the-cuff humor, and that's something that Scott can do very well, as well as the planned stuff. 

Neal, you started in comic strips, if I'm not mistaken, doing backgrounds and assisting on "Bat Masterson" strips, and then drawing "Ben Casey" in the early-mid 60s. Is this the first comic strip you've worked on since then?

Adams: No. And I wouldn't exactly call this a comic strip, although it is in a strip format. It's a new kind of comic strip. More immediate, and in many ways more fun, because it is a mixed-media presentation. 

For myself, after "Ben Casey," I ghosted dailies for Stan Drake, "The Heart of Juliet Jones," Lou Fine on "Peter Scratch," Johnny Prentice on "Rip Kirby," and even Al Williamson on "Secret Agent X-9." I've done presentations in the comic strip format for tons of commercial clients along the way. This, however, is quite unique. 

Scott, you've written that this is "The final showdown between Scratch Fury and Santa Claus himself." Knowing Scratch Fury as we do, this suggests that either someone is going to die or Scratch will undergo a transformation that would cause his heart to grow three sizes that day. Most of us would bet on death. Any comment?

Kurtz: Scratch is one of those characters that has a really rabid fan following. They expect a certain level of ruthlessness. If I gave them anything less, I would probably be attacked at my next appearance. Bet on death.

On the subject of death, Neal, the YouTube video of you drawing "PvP" is entertaining, but I have to ask, do you fear becoming known as the cartoonist who killed Santa and having children burst out in tears when you walk past (even if only for a day, since everyone knows that no one in comics is ever truly dead)?

Adams: Yes, I was terrified of that.

"Mommy, mommy, it's the man who killed Santa Claus! Give me my gun."

Fair enough. On the YouTube clip, you were drawing Ben Casey for "PvP." Was it the first time you had drawn the character since you were worked on the strip more than forty years ago, and how easy or strange was that experience, coming back to a character that you drew every day for years?

Adams: It reminded me of an irony. When I was in High School, I had drawn a full-page parody, ala a very weird Mort Drucker, to try to get work at "Mad Magazine," called, as you might imagine, "Bent Casey." Scott brought back that old memory, anew. 

Last year's "PvP" strips with Jingle Force Five were fantastic. Scott, can you tease us a little as what we can look forward to this year?

Kurtz: Well, let's just say that Scratch gets in over his head. Things get out of hand fast. He's gotta think on his feet.

I did want to ask about the Davis and the Prairie dogs strips that have been running recently, which are a fabulous parody of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Are we going to see more of them, because I keep picturing Gordy the Prairie Dog screaming "Hula Hoops!"

Kurtz: I'm so glad you liked that. I don't know if we'll see more of them again, but I do want to do more departures like that in "PvP" when the mood strikes. There are so many times that I get distracted and say "I wish I could do a strip about XY or Z, but I don't have the time, I gotta keep 'PvP' going." One day I was talking to the "Penny Arcade" guys and expressing this concern, and Mike said "Just do it in 'PvP.' Just do a week of that other thing. Put it on your very popular website and let everyone see it. Why not?" And so now I do Lolbat and Chipmunk parodies and whatever strikes me. I just take a week and do an aside. It's fun. It's creatively refreshing, and hopefully the fans like it.

Just to touch on other projects for a moment, Neal, I know you've handed in over 100 pages of pencils for "Batman Odyssey." How long is the story? Does the book have a release date from DC, and could you possibly tease us a little of what we expect from the book?

Adams: I can't give you a release date. But with over 100 pages, you can be sure they are figuring out the schedule. Inkers haven't been settled on yet. But I would be very happy to see Scott Williams inking 3 and or 4. Doing guest shots will be Joker, Deadman, Ras Al Ghul, Talia, (of course), Aquaman (a character I always, really loved) - he looks a little different - Riddler, Primus, and a bunch of others. But let me say this. This story is about Batman. It's his story, and his odyssey. And I'm not all together sure that he will survive it intact. 

Scott, you have a project coming out from Marvel - a backup story for "Avengers vs Agents of Atlas." How did you get the gig, who's drawing it and what did you think of the experience?

Kurtz: Oh yeah! I can talk about that now. So awesome! Nate Cosby got that ball rolling. I have never written for Marvel or DC before, despite it being a huge dream of mine. And I've never worked with an editor(s) before, which is a big nightmare of mine. But let me tell you, it was a breeze. They really we're hands off and told me to play and have fun and only asked for a couple tweaks. I can't wait to do it again. Please let me get to do it again. Zach Howard is drawing my story. I just "met" Zach over email, and his pencils are really awesome. I can't wait to see his work. We have to email back and forth this week to talk choreography of a fight scene I think.

Also, it's great to get to work on [Agents of] Atlas, because I met Jeff Parker through Mike Wieringo, Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau back whenthey all used to hang out at the bar after Baltimore and Heroes Cons. So It's so great to be able to call up Jeff and say, "Was this story okay?" and have him reply, "You knocked it out of the park." I remember when I first got to meet those guys and we all sketched silly drawings in each other's books over beers. I miss those times.

Neal, one of the big project you've been involved with in recent years is fighting for the return of Dina Gottliebova-Babbit's work to her. Ms. Gottliebova-Babbit sadly passed away earlier this year, but I know you're still fighting. Any developments on that front, because that would a be a great holiday gift to the world?

Adams: I would like to give the Curator of The Auschwitz Museum, Piotr Cywinski, credit for having the sensibility and intelligence to realize the truth in your words. So I will hope that he will, as I work to see that this is accomplished. I never give up.

Scott, on the subject of the holidays, people who read your blog have seen you mention your friend, Gary Arndt, who's traveling around the world and carrying a Skull plush figure. This year, you're selling a calendar of his photographs to help raise money for Passports with Purpose, which has teamed with American Assistance for Cambodia to build a school. How did this project happen?

Kurtz: Gary started his travel blog two years ago, and he's such an interesting guy. So many travel bloggers go places and say the same boring things. Gary goes to the Sydney Opera House and does a blog on how ugly it is when you actually get up close to it. Like it's made up of these nasty tiles that are breaking down and need to be fixed. Nobody ever says stuff like that.  I think what he's doing is brilliant.

I asked him to take the plush with him for selfish reasons. I wanted pictures. I just thought it would be cool. So now he's got two years of awesome pics and he mentioned Cambodia. He told me that the poor in America live like kings compared to these kids. So he asked if we could do a calendar and give all the proceeds to Passports with Purpose. They build schools there. Done and done. Let's do it.

So buy a calendar. We're trying to build a school.

Continuity Studios is currently trying to assemble a complete of Neal Adams' years on the "Ben Casey" comic strip in the hopes of releasing an eventual collection. They are asking for anyone with quality originals or reproductions, to please get in touch with Kris Stone at the Studios to arrange for them to get a copy of it.

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