NEAL ADAMS AT DRAGONCON
During my last visit to DragonCon, I got to sit in on a G&A with comic book artist, writer and legend, Neal Adams. I got to ask a few questions with the other fans, and generally had a great time listening to the man tell tales about his life in the industry. He’s an intimidating guy, but I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for the world. He’s like that gruff grandpa or uncle that can scare the heck out of you and can be one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, all at the same time.
When it all starts, Neal walks out and greets the crowd, and after sitting down, promptly suggests: “I say we all take a group nap”.
*the crowd laughs and approves of his suggestion
Then is immediately says: “Let me start by saying that I had nothing to do with that Green Lantern movie. Not that I didn’t do something that they could have grabbed from the Green Lantern comic books and put in the movie, but they didn’t. The next time they make a Green Lantern movie, it better have Denny’s and my stuff, and it better have John Stewart, goddammit.”
Q: Could you tell us what it was like revitalizing the character of Batman with Denny O’Neal and Julie Schwartz?
A: No, no. Just Neal. Denny came later. Julie was later … I’m going to tell you the story … I’m going to tell you this story because I’ve told it in the last three weeks, three times and each time the story is getting sharper and sharper, but a little more fanciful. So, as this story goes on it’s going to get a little more fanciful.
It starts out realistically enough. I went into Julie Schwartz’s office. … I said “Julie! I’d like to do Batman!”
Julie says “Get the hell out of my office.”
A month later I go back to his office. “I’d like to do some Batman stories, Julie.”
Julie says “Get the hell out of my office.”
So, I went down the hall to Murray Boltinoff’s office. Murray Boltinoff was doing a thing called The Brave and the Bold. … I asked Murray: “Can I do Brave and the Bold?”
Murray says “Ya! Come on in!”
So, I started doing The Brave and the Bold for Murray. And of course Batman was in there. And he said, “Anything you wanna change?”
I said, “No, no. Just let me do the stories at night, where Batman SHOULD be.”
He said “Great, whatever you wanna do”.
I talk to Bob Haney, and we get along great. I started doing The Brave and the Bold stories, and they were pretty popular, everybody seemed to love them.
One day I come into DC Comics, about three or four months later. – And this is where the fantasy comes in – *describing a meeting with Julie Schwartz* – So all the lights are out and I don’t know what’s going on. So, I go down the hall and there’s an exit sign. And it’s red. And you ever seen an exit sign when all the other lights are out, so everything is red?
And there was this hairy guy at the end of the hall, holding papers in his hands and moving side to side.
(N): “Hi Julie!”
(J): “I have letters here”.
(N): “What do they say Julie?”
(J): “The say how come the only BATMAN at DC Comics is in The Brave and the Bold?”
(N): “Oh… Uhm… probably because it’s true.”
(J): “How come you think you know what Batman oughta be and we don’t?”
(N): “Uh… I don’t think it’s me, Julie. I think it’s me and every kid in America knows what Batman oughta be.”…
(N): “Do I get to do Batman for you Julie?”
(J): “Yes! Now!”
So, I started to draw Batman. I was given Denny O’Neil. Because Denny O’Neil used to be a reporter… so he would write more realistically. The stories wouldn’t be about clowns all of the time. They would be about people. I thought that was a good idea. So I started doing Batman for Julie Schwartz and I had Denny O’Neil as my writer, and we did pretty good stuff.
Q: So, in terms of your character creation process – you created Ra’s Al Ghul, Man-Bat, John Stewart. So tell us a bit about the creation of these characters.
A: So, Ra’s Al Ghul.
So, I go to Julie Schwartz and say “Julie! So, we’re either gonna go to clowns again, or we need a character” “You know how Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty? We need a Professor Moriarty. We need a really good villain who is as smart as Batman and as capable as Batman.”
So I came in a couple weeks later and Julie says: “Ra’s Al Ghul!”
(Neal): “What does that mean?”
(Julie): “The Head of the Demon! It’s Arabic. That’s your new Moriarty!”
(N): “What’s he like?”
(J): “He’s bad! He wants to rule the world!”
(N): “Okay, what’s he look like?”
(J): “I don’t know! You’re the artist! Draw him.”
(N): “Okay… shit… Uh, Arab?”
(J): “Not necessarily”
So, I come up with a thick brow, like Jack Palance. But no eyebrows. A lot of artists draw him with eyebrows; he’s not supposed to have eyebrows. High cheekbones. But a thick brow makes him look Neanderthal. So, we’ll push his hairline back, give him a high forehead. All of us intelligent people have high foreheads. I’m definitely thinking Jack Palance. So, after a while, after about 370 sketches, we finally got Ra’s Al Ghul. That’s how Ra’s Al Ghul came to be.
So John Stewart – so I’m talking to Julie Schwartz –
(N): “So, Julie, I think we need an assistant to Green Lantern”.
(J): “What do you mean?”
(N): “Well, what happens if Green Lantern were to get shot or something? We need a second guy”.
(J): “We already have one. Guy Gardner.”
(N): “Okay here’s my suggestion. We hit him with a bus. Get rid of him. Let’s hit him with a bus, it’s a good way to get rid of someone, it’s not like subtle”.
(N): “We wanna get another guy. So, this purple guy comes to Earth. He’s got a ring. It goes around the Earth looking for the most worthy guy on Earth. It goes past Bruce Wayne, Superman, all the heroes on Earth and finds a test pilot. Goes for another round, and finds Guy Gardner, a white Anglo-Saxon gym teacher. Somehow he doesn’t impress me as the most worthy guy on Earth”.
So Neal suggests to Julie they bring in a minority. Julie suggest they make him Asian. (N): “You know for the first ten years or so, there was an Asian guy who was the assistant to Green Lantern, and they called him ‘Pieface’ (referring to Hal’s mechanic and friend Tom Kalmaku). I don’t think that made a big impression on the Asian culture in America”.
(J): “You want a black Green Lantern?”
(N): “Yeah… I’ll take an Asian guy if you want to fly in the face of ‘Pieface’. But I think it’s a good idea”
Neal explains that as a “New York liberal Jew” this appealed to Julie’s sensibilities and need to be the first person with any sort of innovative and forward-thinking idea.
(J): “Will you draw it?”
(N): “Well I think I’d better draw it because comic book artists don’t know how to draw black people, even black comic book artists. They draw them like white people.”
(J): “Alright you can draw it. But Denny’s gotta write it.”
Denny gives me the script. It’s a good script. The guy was an architect, out of work, in New York. Makes sense in the ‘60s that he hasn’t got a job because those were bad days. I said I like that. Good character. Guys name was Lincoln Washington.
So I went to Denny, and I said “Denny, uh, really? Lincoln Washington?!”
(Denny): “Not me! It’s not me! It’s Julie!”
I go down to Julie’s office because there’s gonna be some decent yelling.
(N): “Lincoln Washington, Julie!?”
(N): LINCOLN WASHINGTON!
(J): “I know lots of guys with names like that!”
(N): “Julie! That is a slave name Julie. You want to fill this office with letters from angry people, black, white… call him Lincoln Washington. But I’m not gonna draw the book.”
(J): “What’s your problem?!”
(N): “It’s a slave name Julie. A stupid slave name.”
(J): “What would you call him?!”
(N): “A name, Julie! Just a regular name! John Stewart!”
How would I know he’d become a late night comedian?
Q: Can you detail for us the backstory behind the idea to have Muhammad Ali fight… Superman… in space?
A: Just in case anybody doesn’t think I truly respect Julie Schwartz, my editor…it was Julie Schwartz who came up with that idea – Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. And while Everybody else was laughing, Julie turns to me and says “Are ya gonna laugh?” And I said “No Julie I think that’s a great idea. Real life hero and comic superhero together in one comic book. Terrific terrific idea.” And we did it. It was a tremendously wonderful experience and I think we produced the best comic book in a generation. And let me just say this, most nobody here understands… it was tough for Muhammad Ali. He got the championship ripped from him and he had to earn it back. He was a man you really had to respect if you had any brains at all. In America, there wasn’t a lot of respect for Muhammad Ali. He decided not to fight in Vietnam because he didn’t like the idea of killing people with different color skin than he had. He was a fighter, and he was tough, and he was the best. And in the end, the world read that comic more than America did. The world loved that comic book; they bought it like crazy.
Q: Another character your well known for having worked on is Dead Man. What can you tell us about him?
A: Well, actually there’s a funny story related to Dead Man. I’d rather tell you the story than tell you about the character.
I was doing Dead Man. And at the same time I was doing stories for National Lampoon. So, one night I get a call from two of the editors over at National Lampoon and they say “We’ve got this great, incredibly funny take on superheroes. It’s fantastic and we want you to draw it.”
(Neal): “Well I’ve already taken enough chances with you guys. Whaddya got?”
(Editors): “We’ve got this great character. K, listen to this! You won’t believe this! It’s a character we call… DEAD MAN! You get it? Like, he’s dead! He’s really dead! Like SUPER-man and BAT-man… he’s DEAD-Man, and he’s really dead! Get it?”
(N): “I get it. That’s funny.”
(E): “He’s really dead. And his nephew decides to make a hero out of him. So he dresses him in a costume, but he’s dead right?! So like thieves come out of a museum and this kid throws his uncle on top of them and catches them with his dead body!”
(N): “That’s pretty funny.”
(E): “We have this other scene where the bad guys are holding him in a room and they’ve got a gun to his head and they’re yelling at the cops ‘You come in here and we’re gonna blow this guys brains out’. And get it?! He’s dead! It’s funny!”
(E): “Don’t you think that’s funny? You don’t sound like you think it’s funny. I mean we were rolling on the floor. Really? You don’t think it’s funny? I think it’s a great idea. You don’t want to do it?”
(N): “Sure I wanna do it; I’ll do it. … Do you guys know that there’s a Dead Man?”
(N): “No, no, there’s a comic character called Dead Man.”
(E): “And is he dead?!”
(N): “Yeah! He’s dead!”
(E): “NO! HE’S DEAD?! Holy shit! Do you know who draws it and writes it?”
(N): “I do!”
So, I drew it. And that’s my Dead Man story.
Q: In terms of business at DC, since you’ve been present through many eras, what sort of changes have you been witness to and/or helped enable?
A: Well, I made them give all of our original artwork back. I made them give royalties to artists and writers. I made them print on better paper with better printing.
Q: Amongst all of your contributions to the comic book industry, what would you say you were the most proud of?
A: Batman: Odyssey (Maybe a bit of self-promotion, but I don’t think it was necessarily a serious answer because of his follow-up). … Well next to that is Superman VS Muhammad Ali. Up until Batman: Odyssey, it was Superman VS Muhammad Ali.
Q: If they were to make another Green Lantern movie, and were to feature John Stewart, do you have any actors in your mind that you would like to see play the part?
A: No. No. I would rather see an unknown get the part. I think it’s a competition, and guys should have to fight for the part and the best guy should win. I would like to see Hal Jordan AND John Stewart, to have him pass the baton, because I would think it would a sensitive issue NOT to have the two of them.
Q: What did you think of the last three Batman movies?
A: I think there are a lot of things that are wrong, but there were a lot of things that were right. We finally got Ra’s Al Ghul. So, I think they were doing good. The last one was … iffy. I mean ehh… I don’t know. I think they just went crazy. I mean Robin’s at the bridge trying to escape a fuckin’ nuclear holocaust. I don’t think he’s gonna. So, there were a lot of iffy things in that movie. And excuse me, and I understand that there are some people that might disagree with this, but Talia looked like a dog. I’m sorry. I’m sure this actress is very nice and all that. I mean Talia is supposed to be one of the most beautiful women on Earth. Nothing! I’m sorry. I’m probably wrong. But she looked like a dog. But wasn’t everybody surprised by Anne Hathaway. She was great. I don’t think she’s the best Catwoman, but she really surprised everybody.
Q: What do you think of Ben Affleck being cast as Batman?
A: He’ll be fine!