Anyone who really knows their comics should recognize the name Neal Adams. He has been responsible for some of the most iconic art in DC Comics history, including characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow.
I recently had the chance to talk with Mr. Adams about his life and career. Check out the interview below:
DC COMICS NEWS: First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Why don’t you start off by telling our audience a little bit about yourself. Where you’re from, what got you into comics, that sort of thing.
NEAL ADAMS: I’m from New York. I was born on an island in the middle of the East River on Governor’s Island, it was an army base, and I am an army brat. And so I don’t really have a home, as much as I am an American and America is my home.
What got me into comics was that somebody paid me money. Isn’t that pretty much the same way with everybody?
DCN: No one who knows anything about comics can deny the fact that you are a living legend. You have, no doubt, inspired many young artists the world over. But who were some of your idols growing up? Who inspired you?
NA: Legend-smegend, we’re all legends in our own mind, I just don’t have a lot of room for the legend because I have a big family that takes up all my time and concentration and none of them would be stupid enough to call me a legend.
As far as the people I admire, anyone whose work I notice of being a certain quality. I particularly admire someone who can do better then I can. Those people I both hate and admire, like Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Stewart Immonen, and maybe Mort Drucker. The illustrators that I love and am jealous of are almost endless, starting with Norman Rockwell driving frantically through Drew Strusen, Bob Peake, and ending in a firey crash with Alfonse Mucha.
DCN: You’ve been attached to several iconic storylines for DC Comics over the years, including the infamous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 where it’s revealed that Speedy is a junkie. I know there was controversy about the imagery used, which resulted in the issue not being approved by the Comics Code Authority. Tell us a little about the decision to forgo the code and publish the issue as intended.
NA: The series was not infamous in any way, it may be famous for being topical and mildly revolutionary. The Green Arrow/Speedy drug addiction story was a direct attack on the comics code, but done in a friendly way.
The fact of the matter is, it was Stan Lee introducing drugs in the form of pills taken by Harry Osbourn that created the confrontation between the comics code and Marvel comics. After Stan Lee had appealed to his uncle Martin Goodman, the publisher, he ran that Spiderman title without the Comics Code seal and managed to scoop us here at DC, my editor, and I by dealing with a drug addiction problem before we got our chance, in spite of the fact that my heroin addicted Speedy cover was sitting on my editors desk for two months before Stan’s decision.
When Stan Lee’s Spiderman book appeared without a seal and without comment from anyone on Earth that’s when the spit hit the fan. The comic book industry had outgrown the Comic Code and they didn’t even know it and though we did it first, Stan Lee scooped us.
DCN: It was your work with Denny O’Neil on those Green Lantern/Green Arrow books that got me hooked on comic books. But this wasn’t your first collaboration with Dennis O’Neil, as you helped revitalize the Batman character with him. What was it like bringing the darkness back to the Dark Knight?
NA: Let’s correct history a little bit here, my first work on Batman was in a comic book called Brave and Bold, in which Batman was teamed up in each issue with another DC superhero. Aquaman, Deadman, Sgt. Rock, Teen Titans, etc., etc. Those books were written by Bob Haney, who was a yoemen writer for DC comics for many years. His work was really second to none to DC Comics, and he gets far less credit then he deserves.
I had tried to get Batman stories for Julius Schwartz who repeatedly kicked me out of his office, and so I went to Murray Boltinoff who was editing Brave and Bold and since I was not allowed to do either Batman or Detective I asked if I could do Brave and Bold. Murray was delighted. I had done work with him in the past, and he asked if there was anything about the book I wanted to change? I asked for two things: 1) That the stories only happened at night, and 2) That Batman never walked into the room by coming in the door, but rather through the window or secret entrance of some sort. Outside of that Bob Haney and I were off to the races. Months later when Julie Schwartz discovered that people were writing him letters that said the only DC Batman was in Brave and Bold he finally, tracked me down and insisted I come and work on the Batman titles. I couldn’t bring Bob Haney along with me because he was still working on Brave and Bold, and so I was introduced to Denny O’ Neil who had been in face, a newspaper writer and I guess that experience made his writing a bit more gritty then the average comic book writer. So Denny and I began our collaboration, and I would have to say it was one of the greatest collaborations in comic book history, but I do have to remind everyone that it did start with Bob Haney lest we forget.
DCN: You helped create characters such as Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul, and even revived other characters like Two-Face and The Joker. We’ve seen all of these characters outside of the comics, whether in film or on TV. What has been your favorite interpretation, if any, of some of these key characters you helped establish?
NA: Okay, let’s straighten out the record before we begin. I created Man-Bat completely out of whole cloth. His name, his personification and his story.
I did not completely create Ra’s Al Ghul but worked in partnership with Julius Schwartz and Denny O’Neil. Julie came up with the name. I came up with the look and Denny the story. As far as interpretations of these characters, outside of the animated cartoons, I don’t think we’ve seen the best Ra’s Al Ghul yet. We certainly haven’t seen Man-Bat in film. Two-Face seems much like a ping pong ball, batted around by everyone and settling on no one. Tommy Lee Jones was the best look, but that movie was way over the top and hurt the characterization.
You’re going to hate me for this next one. But in spite of the fact that I did like Heath Ledger, I found the character to be too loopy and he just didn’t look like the Joker to me. Or to put it another way, I think there are many interpretations of the character and many of them can be valid and possibly even great, but I haven’t seen the Joker yet and I would love to see him.
DCN: I know you were instrumental in getting Siegel and Shuster the recognition they deserved for creating the most iconic superhero of all time, Superman. Can you share with us how you got involved with that and what it took to succeed in the end.
NA: I can share it but it would take too long. It’s a book-length story.
I didn’t “participate”. I did the whole thing.
Does that sound like ego? It’s not. But I offered my help to Siegel and Shuster. I reached out to everyone in the comic business and no one was willing to help. They all turned their backs. It was a “Bad Day At Blackrock.” Jerry and Joe had hidden themselves away for 15 years and finally had revealed their plight. I offered to help and began a three month long battle that ended happily and elevated my blood pressure for a few weeks. I was helped in the end by Jerry Robinson, past President of the Cartoonists Society who brought the full weight of the Cartoonists Society to bear at the end of the battle.
The amazing thing is that no single act by Warners benefited so much from losing a battle as did this turning point in the recognition of creatives by Warner Bros and DC Comics. Jerry and Joe are taken care of and Warner’s got bragging rights. A happy result for everyone. Why the hell did they give me such a hard time along the way?
DCN: Last year you worked on a 6-issue miniseries titled Superman: The Coming of the Supermen. You were also quoted as saying it “really brings Superman back to his roots — back to the old days of his initial creation when Siegel and Shuster were still writing and drawing him.” What is it about Superman, and specifically that era, that appeals to you?
NA: Superman, as I understand it, is not a god. He’s a part of a civilization that evolved under extreme conditions and in order to survive had to evolve supers powers in a super gravity. Tremendously powerful but not a god. He cannot fly into a sun without dying. He cannot talk in space. He is, in some ways, a human with super-powers. That’s the way Jerry and Joe envisioned him. He is not magical and he is limited. Batman and Superman are the Alpha and Omega of comic books. Batman is not super. Superman is probably the most powerful in comics but he is not a god, whatever that is. And the real solid comic book industry of superheroes lies between these two. Gods are magic and lie outside the norm, just like magic.
But, to reveal something that has not been easily seen in these books, one has to read the last page of the sixth book very carefully. That I believe is the future of Superman.
DCN: Is there anything you’re currently working on that you can share with us? Anything you want to promote?
NA: Absolutely. I want everyone to pay very careful attention to the upcoming Deadman series. It does what the original series does, and focuses on Deadman. This is not the ongoing adventures of Deadman. This is the story of Deadman. That is, it is about Deadman. Not other characters. This character is dead and that is a hell of a position to find yourself in and that is what made the original series interesting.
Some things we don’t know about Deadman. He doesn’t just have one brother. He has another brother and a sister and oh, by the way, both his parents are still alive and they own their own circus. (No elephants of course). Another thing you don’t know and only I know up to now is that Deadman’s death was not a random killing, but a purposeful murder. For a reason. Actually for multiple reasons. And Nanda Parbat is not only a real place, Ra’s Al Ghul is a real person and his connection to Deadman is epic.
DCN: And lastly, what advice would you give to any aspiring comic book writers and artists trying to break into the business?
NA: I would suggest you learn to write and draw. To explain, writing and drawing comic books is not just having a good time it’s learning and studying and taking classes. It’s not just a sort of a bunch of kids from the lower east side pretending to draw comic books. Your competition is all the best artists of the whole world, all of whom have decided to write and draw comic books.
I want to say a special thank you to Mr. Neal Adams for taking the time to talk with me and for all his great contributions to the comics world.