Super Types

May 17, 2010

Those Who Came Before: Neal Adams

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Written by: Eli
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This time around we’re featuring Neal Adams, one of the great illustrators of our time. Adams has many impressive accomplishments on his resumé. From fantastic runs on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Batman, X-Men, and Deadman, to crusading for creator’s rights, to exploring the mysteries of our expanding universe, and much, much more. He is a veritable renaissance man.

Early Life

Neal Adams was born in 1941, in Manhattan, New York, where he attended The School of Industrial Arts, as it was then called. Students who’ve taken the school’s classes on comics since then have Adams and his buddies to thank for the opportunity. When he arrived in the late fifties, they were teaching cartooning, but not comics. They had made a decision not to include comics in the curriculum. This was due to the sad state of the industry, and the belief that comics were a dying medium. At that time, Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America, even circulated the rumor that he was a bookie, so as to keep people from finding out that he worked in comics. Adams and some friends made it known to school faculty that they did in fact want to pursue comics as a profession. The next year, the school changed the Cartooning class, to Cartooning and Comic Books. Nice work indeed. It’s a good thing they made the change, since several future comic creators would later attend the school.

The school’s list of alumni reads like a who’s who of 20th century art and literature. They turned out plenty of comic book talent as well, such as John Romita, Dick Giordano, Art Spiegelman, and Frank Brunner, among others. They’re definitely in good company.

His Career Begins

The year 1959 saw Adams freshly graduated from high school and looking for work in the comic business. He wound up at Archie Comics, trying to land a job with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. He was interested in the Fly, and the Shield, and he left some samples of the Fly for Simon to look at. That didn’t pan out at first. Simon advised the 17 year old Adams to find another career, however, it wasn’t due to a lack of talent. Simon, believing he was doing Adams a favor, encouraged him to pursue something else, stating that comics would be a waste of his time and talent. How many of you are glad that advice was ignored? Yeah, me too.

Getting published and paid

Shortly after receiving that potentially disheartening advice from Joe Simon, some of the other guys at Archie Comics gave him a shot in Archie’s Joke Book. He got paid $32.50 a page, and with that his professional career began. His first work however, was one of those samples of the Fly he had dropped off earlier. Apparently, one of the staff artists had drawn a panel that was no good. Someone came across Adams’ sample, which included a panel featuring just what they needed to replace, and that became his first work. It was published in Adventures of the Fly #4, January 1960.

Neal Adams and Batman

Batman is Sherlock Holmes training for the Olympics.

Neal Adams

There are a great many folks who consider Neal Adams’ Batman to be the definitive Dark Knight. I’d say those people have chosen wisely. Remember the campy days of Batman… Ka-Pow! Well, all of that is ancient history now. Adams is one of the people instrumental in turning Batman into the dark avenger of the night that we all know and love, and have no problem taking seriously. He thought it was ridiculous to have Batman running around Gotham in costume during daylight hours. I couldn’t agree more.

In the late sixties, after getting some work at DC Comics, Adams asked Julie Schwartz, editor in charge of the main Batman titles, for a shot at Gotham’s hero. He was flatly refused with a “Get the h*** out of my office.” So, one quick stroll down the hall to Murray Boltinoff’s office, and he was given the OK to do Batman stories in The Brave and the Bold. His Batman was an immediate success, and the fan letters to DC made that abundantly clear.

Julie Schwartz, the same man who’d refused him a chance to do Batman a couple months earlier, was now asking him to take over the regular Batman title. Apparently, the fans said that the only Batman at DC Comics was in The Brave and the Bold — Neal Adams’ Batman. There’s an exchange between those two that I just love.

Schwartz asked, “What makes you think you know how to do Batman?”

Adams replied with, “Julie, its not me who knows how to do Batman, its me and every kid in America who knows what Batman ought to be.”

I think every comic reader has felt like that at one time or another, whether with Batman or some other character.

Schwartz asked Adams if he’d like to work with Denny O’Neil on Batman, and together they turned out some of the best Batman stories ever done.

Adams’ run on Batman is currently being republished in hardcover format, and later this summer you can look for a new mini-series which Adams both writes and draws titled, Batman Odyssey!

Other works

Neal Adams has had quite a long and successful career. There’s just way too much to list it all here. Nonetheless, the man has had some great runs.

His time on X-Men helped that team along at a time when the book was in danger of being canceled. During those first 10 or so issues that he did, beginning in the spring of 1969, the title began to rebound. He also gave us some great characters, like Havok and Sauron.

Relevant comics. That’s what Adams and Denny O’Neil’s work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow in the early seventies was labeled as. Beginning in 1970, they handled many issues that troubled America at the time: drugs, racism, pollution, and more. Their work won awards and acclaim. This type of content, once strictly forbidden by the Comics Code Authority, was now being thrust into the private lives of our two green heroes.

Adams found success with other characters as well. His Strange Adventures #207 cover won him an Alley Award for best cover. He’s won tons of others since then, including being inducted into the Eisner Awards Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Harvey Awards’ Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1999. However, his career is still going, even now, 50 years since it began.

Continuity Studios

Adams formed this art and illustration studio in 1971, along with Dick Giordano. They found success supplying motion picture storyboards and doing advertising artwork. They’ve since branched out into several other areas of media. Have you seen the computer animated Nasonex Bee commercials? That’s one of theirs. They’ve also done comics, and have worked with some great talent over the years. This company is still in business today, and has kept Adams busy when he hasn’t been drawing for the Big Two.

Creators’ rights

Adams has made some real accomplishments in this area of the comic business. One practice in particular that he helped to end was that of destroying original artwork. While at DC Comics years ago, he noticed someone cutting up full page original artwork. This happened to all of the original submissions, done by any number of creators. Some who were in the employ of DC at the time. Some who are now legends. Nobody’s work was safe.

Here’s what was happening. Let’s say you’re an artist looking for work, you submit some of your work to DC for them to consider. So, you’ve sent in your art and now you wait. Well, in many cases, regardless of whether you got the chance to actually work for DC, you never saw that art again. Not only was it not returned to you, but it was destroyed, and then thrown away! This happened to some of the most talented artists to ever put pencil to paper. This is something that Neal Adams was determined to stop the moment he saw it happening.

Upon seeing this egregious destruction of original art, Adams made the guy with the scissors stop what he was doing. Then he marched into Carmine Infantino’s office to discuss this tradition. By the end of the day, DC was no longer cutting up original artwork. However, it took another seven years before they began to return the works to their creators.

During the seventies he sought to unionize comic writers and artists. His work contributed to many victories for creators, past, present, and future. In 1987 he won a battle with Marvel for the return of original artwork to both himself and Jack Kirby. Can you imagine, Marvel refusing to return original art to Kirby, who was instrumental in the company’s success! Just ridiculous.

Adams was vocal in the efforts to get DC to compensate Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He’s also campaigned for the original art of Dina Babbit to be returned to her by the government of Poland. She was forced to work as a painter to chronicle the horrible work of Dr. Mengele during WWII.

He has contributed money, time, effort, and put his neck out there for his fellow artists. The successes of all who have worked for creators’ rights have contributed to the advancement of comics in general.

The Universe

Adams has become interested in, studied, and advocates for the theory of a growing Earth. He’s written a book on it, and also has a youtube channel setup to explain and promote it. It is interesting stuff, as are his videos.

Artists are people who understand how things work.

Neal Adams

Renaissance Man?

I definitely think Neal Adams is a renaissance man. We’ve talked about plenty of things he’s accomplished and been involved in. The thing is though, he’s not finished yet. The man is approaching 70 years of age, and he’s still going strong. Take my advice, if you have the chance to meet him at a convention in your area, take it. There aren’t too many like him around anymore.

About Batman, I love him. He’s hands down one of the best characters in all of fiction. Ever. There are a few characters with which you identify a creator. With Batman, Adams is definitely one of them. For me, the only other creator that I would associate so closely with Batman is Kevin Conroy, who voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the nineties’ Batman: The Animated Series. Neal Adams has certainly earned a permanent spot as one of the legends of comics.

So, what do you think? Is Neal Adams’ Batman the best? Was his work on Green Lantern and Green Arrow as great as people say it was?


Neal Adams’ site |  YouTube channel

Eli Anthony



  1. Ken Meyer Jr.

    Without any chance of argument, Neal Adams is one of the best, most trailblazing, and intelligent artists comics have ever produced. There really was no one like him before he came along and of course there were many imitators afterwards. He also did some of the coolest costume designs ever (if I am correct in assuming he did Deadman, the Xmen when he took over – such as the Havoc costume, etc). And that is not even taking into account his integrity and desire to help out his fellow comic artists. He put his money where his mouth was…and his mouth was all over the place! There are only a few artists who you would labor through a crappy story just to see his art. Neal is one of those giants whose shoulders many of us stood upon.

  2. Billy

    His Batman is the best, hands down. I really liked the way he handled the X-Men as well. Good article Eli.

  3. Great write-up Eli!

    I’m in the process of collecting the HC reprints of Adams’ Batman run, and his GL/GA run with Denny O’Neil is one of my favorites in comics to this date. Amazing stuff.

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  5. There is a Neal Adams compilation book coming out soon and I’d say it’s a must have. Ken is right in saying that many fans picked up a book just to oggle his work and suffer through a crappy story because it was worth it!

    Batman Odyssey here I come!

  6. Eli

    I could write two or three more pieces on Adams and not cover everything he’s done, nor the creative breadth of the man. And Speech, I’m right there with you on Batman Odyssey.

    After taking a close look at Adams, I’ll be picking up some more of his work. Especially Batman, he was certainly right when he said that he knows what Batman should be.

  7. Ken Meyer Jr.

    I could selfishly add that in an installment of Ink Stains, Adams and sketches from his aborted WaRP play were featured…I think it was an issue of Infinity.

  8. Hate to say this, but Neal Adams was a total jerk when I met him at SDCC this year.

    It was my worst ever meeting of a creator whose work I idolized (see above comment).

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