Neal Adams

posted 7.21.2010

He’s back.

A few words about Neal Adams. When I first trotted my works around New York City, back in the Seventies, I naturally sought out the top Master of comics art at the time: Neal Adams.

I didn’t have to search far. He was listed in the phone book.

Turns out he ran a company called Continuity Associates. Continuity mostly offered its customers commercial work, functioning as sort of a half-way house for comics artists like Larry Hama, Mike Nasser, and Carl Potts, who needed to knock out the slapdash, sweatshop-style artwork of advertising (or, more accurately, pre-advertising artwork, drawn just to convince a commercial client to put the real-life version of the stuff in front of a camera and shoot the crap and put us all out of our misery).

But, for us, the commercial jobs paid the rent while they went about keeping the faith alive, across the block at DC and Marvel, drawing superb comics for slave wages. These artists were overqualified for the job, but it paid the rent, and life isn’t always fair.

So there I was, sitting in my ratty tenement apartment, a kid from the sticks, dialing one of those old rotary phones and asking for Neal Adams.

And there he was. My first call to the place, and Neal himself took the call. His voice relaxed, like he’d had the conversation a hundred times before, he asked me if I could come by his office in twenty minutes. I could, to say the least. I swallowed the last of my morning coffee and ran, ratty portfolio in hand, to meet the Master.

He ripped me to pieces.

Please let me put all this in context. I was a wannabe comic-book artist from the wilds (actually, dairy farms) of Vermont. As corny as it sounds, my portfolio (two sheets of black polyester over cardboard, standard issue for wannabes), was held together with bailing twine. Yeah, that’s right. Bailing twine.

I’d stolen the twine, back in Vermont, from kind farmer Mr. Granger, who’d been generous enough to hire me to bind hay for his cows. Sweaty work, and not the kind that prepares you for big city life.

I wasn’t exactly street-smart. And I was meeting Neal Adams.

The first thing Master Adams did was duck back and away, cocking his head as I opened my portfolio too quickly, almost clipping his nose. Then he looked at my precious samples of comic-book work, and, with a smile and a few well-chosen words, sent my soul screaming into hell.

I couldn’t draw, said he, his words as clipped as they were genial in tone. Where was the anatomy? What was this room? A tenement, you say? You call this a tenement? What tells me it’s a tenement? Where are the pipes on the walls? Where are the security bars on the windows? Why am I even looking at this?

Get lost. Go back to—where is it, Vermont? Go back to Vermont and pump gas. You’ll never make it in comics. You’re no damn good.

This and worse Neal Adams said to me, time and again, but I kept pestering him with new samples, ever hopeful.

But I learned, very quickly, never to feel sorry for myself.

That’s the thing about Neal Adams. If I showed a trace of self-pity, he’d dismiss it without a thought. His kind—and that includes Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and my own father, God rest his soul, none of these men had a nanosecond’s patience with self-pity. May we learn from them. Self-pity is for losers.

And every damn time Neal Adams looked at my stuff, he’d give with an impatient chunk of advice, sometimes even throwing a sheet of tracing paper over my tortured sheets of Bristol, showing me fundaments of composition, showing me, with no sign of effort on his part, how to make any scene roar with drama.

And, for all these hard-to-take lessons, he never asked me for a damn thing in return.

I kept coming back, with new pages. That much, he grudgingly respected.

At last he relented, saw something good in my storytelling—“You still can’t draw”—and got me my first job at Gold Key Comics.

In all the years, the decades, that have slipped away, I’ve wondered at Neal’s superhuman energy. He fought so damn hard for Siegel & Schuster, for Kirby, for all of us—it’s not a stretch to say that his gut-testing efforts have made possible a comics industry that thrives on good works, and rewards the same.

More on this could be written—hell, a book could be written—on what Neal Adams has done, not just to make the world of comics more than just a place where the best can survive, but one ready for new creations to thrive.

But Neal Adams is, first and always, an artist.

I’ve studied his strange masterpieces, like the much-unappreciated SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMED ALI, and all the while, I’ve waited for his return.

Well, here it is. BATMAN:ODYSSEY offers us Neal Adams at his vibrant best. Soak it up.

He’s taking us to school. One more time.

May he never stop.