Pipeline, Issue #459


Art Adams is good.

I believe I just opened up this week's column with the single most non-controversial statement since man developed language, looked up around noonish, and declared the sky to be blue.

Art Adams has a bit of the enigma in him, though. I defy you to name his defining run on a comic book. There isn't one. I think LONGSHOT is his single longest run on anything. You could argue for JONNI FUTURE, but that was only eight pages a month (or so), and he didn't even complete that. He did three memorable issues of FANTASTIC FOUR, some X-MEN annuals, a few spare MONKEYMAN & O'BRIEN books, a couple GEN13 and DANGER GIRL specials, and -- ?!? Not much.

He's a king of covers, and the financials probably work out better for him than way. Even if he only drew one cover a week, he could lead a good life. Publishers pay better rates for covers than interior pages, and his original art commands a huge price on the open market.

I love his work, but it confounds me that I can't easily define it. I can't point to a "Legends" trade paperback series from Marvel on a given series. (LONGSHOT isn't even in print at this point, I don't think.) His work is spread across so many companies -- Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and some defunct ones like Comico -- that it would be difficult to put together an authoritative collection of his work, if someone wanted to.

So what are we to make of the artist?

Arthur Adams is the subject of TwoMorrows' sixth MODERN MASTERS volume -- a series that's previously included the likes of Bruce Timm, Alan Davis, and Kevin Nowlan. The series features lots of black and white art adorning career-spanning interviews with some of the most popular and artful creators in comics today. They're generally light and breezy books, but entertaining and non-threatening in their own way. Occasionally, they'll feature some behind the scenes drama you didn't know existed. Don't buy the books looking for "Lying In The Gutters"-level gossip, though. These are friendlier books, not controversial.

I looked to the book to help explain Arthur Adams to me. He's not that prolific an interview subject, after all. He's kept something of a lower profile than a man who is held in such high regard would usually be allowed to have. To that end, the book helped fill in a lot of the gaps. Adams is honest, even when it might be embarrassing to admit his career missteps. He knows his weaknesses (timeliness and anatomy, for two) and isn't afraid to admit them. He does so in a lighthearted way, but you can tell it's the kind of thing that weighs on him.

At the same time, he isn't obsessive over all of it. His career has spanned just over two decades now, but he's forgotten a lot of the details of the first decade. When pushed for details in the interview, he's often apologetic that he doesn't know it all, and author George Khoury often steps in to fill in certain facts. This isn't unique to Adams, at all. More often than not, it's the fans who remember more about a creator's career than the creator. It's just interesting to see what feels important enough to a person to get them to remember it long after the events happened.

The book covers everything you're likely to remember as highlights of Adams' career, starting at LONGSHOT and GUMBY, and working up the ranks to X-MEN ANNUALs, FANTASTIC FOUR, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and right up through his most recent work on THE AUTHORITY and JONNI FUTURE. Most of the book is spent on the earlier works, I'd think, as it's vastly more interesting to read about an artist just finding his way and bumbling through an industry that's new to him. You won't get any pointed barbs aimed at any creators or editors, but there are some interesting anecdotes along the way. For example, Adams touches on his decision to join the "Legend" line at Dark Horse over the Image Comics line, mostly out of generational differences.

The book has a chunky section of black and white art in the back, reproducing a variety of layouts, covers, interior art, and commissioned sketches. Some of them are insanely detailed pieces, either crowded with Marvel characters or textured details on the hides of dinosaurs or large gorillas. Seeing the art from an early-90s Marvel Universe trading card featuring Quasar now, though, I can see where Adams had issues with anatomy in his earlier years. There's a leg there that's horribly out of proportion to the body. But that's quickly forgotten when you see what else he's capable of, even on the very next page.

The text in the book is errorless, which is nice for a change. Even in the most well meaning publications, spelling or grammar issues inevitably pop up. They don't in this book. Credit to both Khoury and editor Eric Nolen-Weathington for that.

The only complaint I'd have about the book is the choices of accompanying art with the text. There are a couple of examples in the book where the art that Adams is specifically talking about in the text is shown many chapters before or after it's referenced.

Those are minor quibbles in an otherwise fun read, though. Now I want to go pull out all of the comics Adams has done that are in my collection. Unfortunately, they're spread so thin that it would take me forever to find them all. I picked up the LONGSHOT trade paperback at the Chicago convention last summer that I haven't read yet. Perhaps that'll fill the need for now.

MODERN MASTERS: ARTHUR ADAMS is available in stores today for just $15.


Some quick impressions of comics I read this week:

PAINKILLER JANE #1: I have to admit it: I haven't actually read this one yet. Every time I flip through it, I turn to a spread so incredibly dark that I can't see the art. Open up to the center spread of the book where the staples come through and you'll see what I mean. I don't want to work that hard to see the art, thanks.

NIGHTWING #118: Bruce Jones' Dick Grayson is completely unsympathetic One Year Later. Joe Dodd's art isn't very attractive, either. I think I'll pass.

As has been noted elsewhere, the "Next Issue" blurb at the end of the book gives away a key plot point that wasn't in evidence in the story this issue. It's one more reason why entertainment consumers should keep themselves in the dark as much as possible. I don't watch the coming attractions at the end of '24' or 'Lost.' Why ruin comics in the same way? Along those same lines, Marvel is now offering "Story So Far" pages in the middle of their PREVIEWS solicitations. If you're spoiler averse, these are obviously pages you should avoid like the plague, hoping only that the art doesn't give too much away.

SAVAGE DRAGON #124: I can deal with Erik Larsen's continuing learning process of coloring his own book and lettering it himself. It almost gives the book a cute retro-80s independent feel. I can deal with the experimentation of throwing oddball pages into the middle of his story.

But the multi-page political rant got old fast, and popped me right out of the story. It was very easy to skip over entire panels' worth of word balloons this month, because they added nothing to the story aside from giving their author a chance to vent.

On the other hand, the interstitial bits were cute.

This issue is due out this week, featuring a cool retro beat up comic cover look.

ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE: It's loud and bombastic and everything you'd want a summer blockbuster to be. Things happen for no good reason other than to tug at your heartstrings. Whole bits of business that you never knew existed in the Marvel universe are created to be destroyed. And Scott Kolins draws the heck out of it. His alien ships and massive scale carnage make for very pretty eye candy. This book may not be a great comic in and of itself, but should serve its purpose well. Hopefully, the follow-up mini-series will flesh things out appropriately.

The title font for the book and the sunburst yellow behind it remind me a little bit too much of the FARSCAPE logo, though.

TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD #16: This issue should draw more comic geeks into the series. If you're a comic book fan afraid of being caught reading a romance book, please give this one a chance. Yes, at the center of it you'll still get Tom and Lily being romantic and personable, but the trappings of Tom Beland's first professional appearance at a comics convention should be enough to grab a few new readers. Guest appearances by Jeff Smith, Frank Miller, and Kurt Busiek don't hurt, either.

Beland's art is as easy on the eyes as ever, but one bit of poor composition on the opening splash page makes him look like a vacationing Marvel Reaver. He looks like a torso sitting atop a luggage lower half. That's a minor quibble in what is otherwise a great book. (OK, one last quibble: Get a proofreader on the lettering!)

DAREDEVIL #83: It hasn't lost a step with the new creative team. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark have made the transition from the Bendis/Maleev era seamless. This is just as pretty and just as dramatic a book as it's been for the past five years. I have no complaints here.

GUN FU: SHOWGIRLS ARE FOREVER #1 was co-written by Dave Sim, but would have been ten times more effective had Sim lettered the book himself. Trying to convey his scripted accents with bold-faced computer fonts is a fool's game. Nice attempt, but tiring to read.

Aside from that, I enjoyed the book. It's just as light-hearted and adventurous as the previous GUN FU stories. If you liked those, you'd like this one.


  • Darwyn Cooke called MISTER O the best graphic novel of the year when he mentioned it at a Philadelphia Wizard World convention a couple of years ago. It's Lewis Trondheim's wordless gag book, each page being a 60-panel adventure of the title character trying to make his way across a chasm. He fails. Repeatedly.

    Now there's a sequel in MISTER I, in which the title character -- shaped as a different vowel this time -- goes in search of food. It's wordless, again, so there should be no problem translating it for the American market. Let's hope NBM does so soon.

  • For you finance-minded folks, you can now track Marvel's stock in Google's new Finance site. Have fun dragging the charts back and forth. . .
  • Oddball Comics finished its run on Comic Book Resources here last Friday. I encourage everyone to follow Scott Shaw! and his madball collection of crazy covers over to his own website, OddballComics.com. He's threatened to start it up on April 1st. Let's hope he makes good on that one!

  • I love a good conspiracy theory, which is why I like Chris Butcher's Marvel/Grant Morrison theory. I don't claim to know its veracity or anything, but I like the line of thought.

Next week: We begin the monthly tear through the PREVIEWS catalog. Plus, a little Broadway anecdote that relates back to comics.

The Pipeline message board is your source for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, too.

This week's podcast will show up over here this week. Last week's is forever posted over here.

Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you're at it, looking at each week's new DVD releases.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, Thursday Geek Talk, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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