Anyone who follows comics even a little bit probably knows that Neal Adams died on the 28th of April. It’s not that surprising – Adams was 80, after all – but it’s still sad, as yet another link to our youth has been lost. Adams was a titan in comics, of course, and we thought we’d do a group post to tell a bit about our experiences with this brilliant artist.
Neal Adams was probably the most influential artist who ever worked in comics. And I can prove it! Here are the final two pages of Avengers #92, which was released in July of 1971:
Here are the first two pages of Avengers #93, released in August of 1971:
The first pages are drawn by Sal Buscema, who’s a perfectly fine comic book artist. The second two are, obviously, by Adams. This wasn’t Adams’s first work, of course, and it wasn’t the first time we’d see this kind of style in a superhero book, but because this story is the famous Kree-Skrull War, it’s a bit more high-profile. This is a huge paradigm shift in the way comics are drawn. Buscema is essentially drawing in the Kirby style, which is fine (Kirby probably being the second-most influential artist in comics history, unless you want to go with Eisner, to which I won’t object), and the Kirby style tends to go for bombastic representations of reality, which works very well in superhero comics, to be sure. Adams is very bombastic, of course, but he takes Buscema’s Kirby-esque square-jawed heroes and softens them just a bit, and his action is much more fluid than Buscema’s because his characters aren’t quite so angular. It’s a huge change, and Adams was leading the vanguard. Comics never looked back. Of course, there was (and still is) room in comics for the Kirby tree – I bought a comic recently that Ron Frenz drew in a very Kirby style, and Tom Scioli continues to do brilliant work – but Adams changed the way superhero comics were drawn. All of the artists who came before him – even the “realistic” artists who drew for EC in the 1950s – had an element of cartoonishness in their work. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s true. Adams believed that you could draw superheroes like regular people wearing costumes, and it worked. Superhero comics were never the same after he began drawing like that.
Adams was also at the forefront of digital coloring. He founded his own company, Continuity, in 1984, and began tinkering with comics restoration and alteration, and he pushed the industry forward that way, too. There were some fits and starts along the way – Adams, as most artists do, liked to futz with his own work, and occasionally, he made things worse – but in general, digital coloring has improved the quality of comics immeasurably. Adams was not only a pioneer in the way comics are drawn, but the way they’re colored, too.
Of course, no Adams retrospective would be complete without mentioning his work on Batman … Batman: Odyssey, that is!!!!! DC brought Adams back for this vanity project in 2010, when he was almost 70, and Adams showed those young pups a thing or two with this 13-issue series. Odyssey isn’t really that good, you understand … but it’s batshit insane, and it’s so much fun to read. Here are four pages of this opus, which I simply chose at random:
Believe me, it makes as much sense out of context as in, so don’t worry about it!
I never met Adams, so I can’t speak to the man himself. I’ll leave that to others here, if any of them ever had any interaction with him. I’ll just say that I knew about Adams before I even started collecting comics, thanks to my local library having collections of his Batman work back in the early to mid-1980s that I liked to read. I remember reading “The Secret of the Waiting Graves,” “Ghost of the Killer Skies,” “Half an Evil,” and, of course, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” back then, and they made such an impression on me that I can picture them all clearly just by hearing the names of the stories. So raise a glass to Neal Adams. We’ll never see anyone like him again!
I’ve never met Neal Adams either, nor will I bother talking about his outsized importance and influence on comics art in the US and beyond, or his advocacy for creators’ rights – because many people more knowledgeable about these topics have been doing so all over the internets for the past few days. I’ll just say that when I came into comics as a wee lad in the mid-1970s, Neal Adams was already legendary. He was among the first comics creators whose name I learned and whose art I could immediately recognize. Just seeing his art on a cover was enough to make me snap a comic book from the spinner rack without thinking about it. Like this one:
Also worth mentioning is the iconic cover art for the Tarzan paperbacks being published in the late 1970s. Marvel’s Tarzan comics at the time led me to the original books, and I was delighted that the covers featured these gorgeous paintings by none other than Adams:
To this day I don’t think there is any cover art for Tarzan books that even comes close to matching these (not even the perfectly fine covers by Boris Vallejo that appeared in that same late-’70s Ballantine edition of the books).
All of the above images and so many more are forever etched into my memory. So, rest in peace, Mr. Adams, and thanks so much for the beautiful art you’ve given us.
Neal Adams made Batman sexy.
I can’t speak to any personal interactions with the artist. I can only speak to how his work impacted me. I grew up in an era of incredible superhero comic book art, everyone from George Perez to Jim Aparo. But Adams was something different. Other artists made superheroes look handsome or pretty. Some of them also specialized in beautiful women in sexy poses. But drawing a handsome man is not the same as drawing a sexy man.
Neal Adams drew sexy men. This was almost shocking to me as a girl. Women were supposed to be sexy but men, they were stalwart and handsome and not seen at all through the female gaze. Adams obviously didn’t possess the female gaze but he obviously appreciated the male form. His Batman is lean and flexible, intense and dynamic. Not overmuscled–not even always six-pack abs–but full of definition. There are plenty of artists who draw men with muscles. But even now, only a few draw men as sexy. (In the 1970s/80s, I only saw Mike Grell and Marshall Rogers come close.)
Why is this important? I felt seen. I felt as if the art itself acknowledge that women were reading it, that men could be objects of lust, and that this was desirable, even. Heck, Adams even drew a sexy Dick Grayson. (Though, to be fair, Dick tends to bring this out in many artists, though Adams had the advantage of pixie-boot Robin.) Adams’ women were sexy too but that fit in with his style with the male characters. It made everyone sexy, rather than the unconscious message that the women were only in the comics *to be sexy* for men.
Adams did so much for comics. But this part of his contribution to art and the effect it had on female readers is underrated.
Neal Adams is one of those artists whose style I recognize instantly. My favorites tend to be more or less realistic, but with a certain stylization that makes them distinctive (John Byrne, Alan Davis), but Neal Adams looks like he’s actually sketching art; his human characters look like real people, not comic book characters. (Not that that’s a bad thing, but it makes him stand out.) Ironically, it’s his Sauron that I’m picturing as I type.
I love his X-Men stories and his Batman run. I love that he (apparently?) brought supervillains and the fantastic back to Batman! That’s what comics are for. At least, to me. (I’ve long wanted to write an article in defense of Batman: Odyssey. Maybe the time has come?)
I think his Joker is the definitive version for me.
His influence is all over the place, probably more than we’ll ever know; I’ve recently been rewatching BATTAS, and how many of those episodes are adapted from Neal Adams stories?
It’s a sad day for comics, and a sad week.
Of course, a week later, we lost George Pérez as well, which is also a bummer. Both Adams and Pérez were iconic artists, two of a handful of comics artists about which that could be said. It was a crappy week for comics fans, certainly. If you have any thoughts about either of them, share them below. I don’t know if we’ll get to do one of these for Pérez – people are busy, and life has a way of coming at you fast – so it might be a good place for it. Rest in peace, Neal and George. You brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.