COMICS ART: In Appreciation of Neal Adams (1941-2022)

MICHAEL AUSTERLITZ: I'm a Batman fan; for some reason, I love almost every story written about the Dark Knight. Whether it's a detective-centric story, or one about Bruce's inner turmoil, or even when someone else (Dick Grayson) takes up the mantle, he's just my favorite. So when I discovered Neal Adams' Batman artwork, I was blown away. Specifically Batman #251: what a cover! I'll let the artists in the group discuss the technical nature of his work, but I was just blown away by it. Batman #227, 234, 244, just classic Neal covers. But, these aren't just art pieces, they're stories. When I opened up issue 251 and read that story by Denny O'Neil in collaboration by Adams, I was blown away; here was where the gritty, non-campy Batman came from. Before this, he was either a bored playboy or Adam West (and a bit inbetween with some weird and hilarious covers circa the '50s and '60s.) Then comes this story about Batman and Joker battling wits, and the dry humor was just perfect. I then delved more into Adams and O'Neil's Batman, and what a doozy! The stories were so good, the art so gritty and real. This bled over into Adams' work on other DC titles, and his creation of characters, including John Stewart and Ra's al Ghul.



But Neal Adams was so much more than a comic artist. He was an intelligent human being with compassion. He fought for creators' rights; he was a big reason Kirby got his artwork back, along with many other artists. He also had a huge hand in a book that I was lucky enough to purchase at its book launch, where Neal sat on a panel and answered one of my questions so matter-of-factly. We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust is a book about how comics told stories about the Holocaust before many other mediums did. And Adams had a hand in those comics, and eventually co-wrote this book with Rafael Medoff, edited by the affable and great Craig Yoe. It's such a visceral piece of work with rich storytelling and history. And at that panel I listened to a man speak who was so invested in this topic, someone who was thoughtful and whose intellect was a cut above. He signed my copy graciously and was a delight through the evening.



Neal Adams was as champion of art, of creators' rights, of doing what was right. He was one of those comic creators whose face you'd see and go, "I know that guy!" even if you didn't know his name. But let's be real: we all know his name. He'll be missed. Thank you Neal Adams for all you did, and for being such a cool and respectable human being.


 

IAN McMURRAY: Neal Adams broke a lot of preconceived notions I had as an adolescent comic reader, the most egregious one being that comic art was always improving. To my young eyes in the 1980s, old comics read like cave paintings. Art Adams and Marc Silvestri were cutting edge, and I struggled to read the '60s reprints that I came across. That is, until I found copies of X-Men Classics (not to be confused with the '80s reprint series, Classic X-Men). These books reprinted the already legendary Roy Thomas and Neal Adams run on The Uncanny X-Men. Rather than seeming primitive, I thought I was looking at the Leonardo Da Vinci of comics. His name stuck with me as one of the greats, and I have enjoyed his work whenever I saw it ever since.What really sticks out about his '60s and '70s work is how much he did his own thing. So many artists based their work on other comic artists, and while Adams obviously loved the medium, he came at it with his own artistic impulses. Nowhere does it stick out more than in the coloring of those X-Men books. While most comics had a set costume and flesh tone that was repeated from panel to panel throughout a book, Adams made color guides to give the book its own rhythm and tone. Monochromatic panels are dropped in, shadows are built using complementary tones, and highlights are added to evoke form. Adams cut no corners. And the effect on the reader, even 50 years later, is impressive. He took a printing form that was all about limitations, and he made it sing. Adams' art is a reminder that there will always be a world of creativity still waiting to be explored.


A finished Adams page from The Uncanny X-Men...

...along with one of Adams' original color guides as reprinted in X-Men Epic Collection 3

 

MACK JOHNSON: My first comic book had a Neal Adams cover, and I was instantly a fan for life. He was and still is my favorite comic book artist. Ever. No other artist has given me more joy or moments of awe than Neal Adams. I never tire of looking at his art and re-reading his stories; they never get old and look as fresh and revolutionary now as they did in his late 1960s/early 1970s peak of creative output. In my opinion, no one has yet to come close to equalling his realistic, powerful, in-your-face style of comic book storytelling.


An example of Adams' unconventional panel shapes and page designs

He was SO DIFFERENT from every other comic book artist at the time; while everyone else was a cartoonist, Neal was an illustrator with a realistic style. His page designs had unusual panel shapes and arrangements, with lots of tension-creating diagonals; there were no boring rectangular page grids with Neal. He used extreme foreshortening to make pointed fingers practically poke you in the nose, and unusual camera angles to keep the visuals off-balance and heighten the drama.


No comics artist pushed himself to use extreme foreshortening more often than Adams.

But there's one thing I didn't know how much I appreciated until I realized it decades later in retrospect; Neal rarely repeated himself. Sure, the finger pointing was done more than a few times, but never quite the same way twice. I'm referring more to body poses. Most comic book artists relied on stock running poses or flying poses, etc., but Neal always pushed himself to draw Batman running (or swinging on his Bat-rope) a different way every time, or make his cape flow like water differently, or how he never drew Superman or Green Lantern flying in the same pose twice. I am so grateful I finally got to meet Neal at DragonCon almost a decade ago now, and had him completely to myself for a good 10 minutes in a rare quiet time on Artists Row. I was so starstruck, I don't remember much of what we talked about, but I do remember he was very appreciative when I told him one of the things I admired most about him was that he didn't repeat himself.


On one page alone, Adams created three dramatically different Bat-rope views (Batman #245)

An iconic example of Adams' flair with Batman's expressive cape (Batman #251).

I didn't learn untiI I was an adult that Neal preferred to do the color guides of his covers and stories, and how much he worked with DC pre-press directors like Jack Adler to push the boundaries of what the down-and-dirty, pulp paper printing presses of the era could accomplish with color. Neal also brought a more sophisticated, more realistic color sense to comic books, with a moodier, subdued color palette. Discovering the "color" aspect of Adams' career made me appreciate him and his work even more.


A great example of the moodier, sophisticated Neal Adams color palette.

 

AUSTIN KEMP: As a wannabe academic and comics fan, I love Neal Adams. I wrote a graduate paper on the social commentary he and Denny O'Neil implanted in the now iconic Hard Traveling Heroes of the early 1970s. Adams managed to humble icons in his work with both Green Lantern and Green Arrow, chiding superhero politics just as much as the politics that surrounded himself. To this day, Hal Jordan's head hung in shame is just as powerful as anything Parallax could do.


Some of the most reproduced comic panels in history from Green Lantern #76.

My free time from this project saw me enthralled in more of Adams' work, namely Batman and Detective Comics. I gravitated towards the almost mythological portrayal of Batman, the man who never stops, who never sleeps, until he has vengeance. Even daring to maintain the blue apparel popularized by the campy Adam West show of the '60s (no shame), Adams staged epics with his art, lone individuals amidst the horizon with burning purpose. Neal Adams' art gives us a peek behind the masks, making superheroes more human, more like us. To some that may be terrifying. If Batman isn't there to defend the unseen, who will? If Superman isn't there to help others and stand up for what's right, who will? Adams shows us that we don't have to be that different from the heroes we love. Who will save the day after we close the comics and all that's left is the world around us?

Maybe we will.


The Batman rises from the dead at the end of the legendary Ra's al Ghul arc in Batman #244.



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