The Groundbreaking Neal Adams

A Pivotal Figure In The Medium

Roy Thomas thinks he's as good as the field ever saw. Joe Kubert admires Adams for sticking up for what he feels is right. Dan Jurgens once said, "I believe Neal's greatest contribution to the medium is that he raised the bar higher than any other artist ever, with the possible exception of Jack Kirby," while Jerry Ordway feels that Adams' attitudes influenced a generation of artists. And Brian Bolland once wrote a 15,000-word art school thesis on the man.

The artist who would go on to become a champion in his chosen field was born on June 6, 1941 in New York City. After attending Manhattan's School of Industrial Design, Neal Adams first broke into professionalism at the age of 18, by drawing various Archie comics titles, as well as assisting on the backgrounds of Howard Nostrand's short-lived strip, Bat Masterson. After working for a time at the Johnson and Cushing ad agency (the same company that had employed Dik Browne, Stan Drake, and Leonard Starr), his first major break occurred when he landed the assignment of drawing the syndicated Ben Casey strip, based on the popular TV series. The strip lasted a little over three years before folding. Adams, realizing that realistic strips were a dying genre, decided to attempt to break into advertising, but the new ambition was nipped in the bud when his advertising portfolio (the result of six months of work) was stolen. His next stop was at DC Comics, landing work on their Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis titles, as well as assignments for Bob Kanigher's war books.

In 1967 Adam's achieved a career breakthrough when he was given the assignment to illustrate Deadman, a title which would establish his growing reputation as a consummate craftsman. Written by Jack Miller, the series dealt with the story of Boston Brand, a murdered circus performer who must seek out his killer before gaining an eternal rest. In lesser hands the book might well have died not long after Boston did, but Adams's superlative work, combining beautifully detailed drawings and groundbreaking layouts, made Deadman come alive.

When Deadman finally ended in February 1969, another young innovator, Jim Steranko advised Adams to seek work at Marvel Comics. In order to prove himself, Adams asked to be given Marvel's worst selling title. Incredible as it may seem today, that title was The X-Men! At that time what would eventually become Marvel's most popular series was on the verge of being canceled, but, as Roy Thomas later recalled, "Neal Adams wanted to make his mark on comics." Even knowing that the book was slated for the axe, Adams poured out some of the finest innovative work of his career.

During this same period Adams was also continuing work at DC, and, under those circumstances, made another kind of innovation. With DC and Marvel being, in effect, the only game in town in those days, it was customary for powerless artists, fearing the blackball, to use pseudonyms when working for rival companies. Adams insisted on using his real name on The X-Men. Another innovation for freelancers was his successful lobbying for DC to drop the standard practice of destroying original art (gasp in horror, collectors!).

The X-Men's sales had increased during Adam's tenure on the title, but that fact was only discovered six months after it had been canceled. Adams branched out to doing work for Jim Warren's horror magazines, Creepy and Eerie, pushing the envelope further with his mastery of pencil renderings and wash drawings, most memorably for Harlan Ellison's Rock God (Creepy #20, 1970). During the early seventies he also teamed up with writer/editor Denny O'Neil to work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. The new series was a milestone in the growth of comic book sophistication, tackling issues (like racism and drug addiction) the medium had shied away from up until then. Unfortunately, Adams began missing deadlines (he was also working on Marvel's monthly Avengers book with Roy Thomas), and the series, now considered a classic, ended after a thirteen issue run.

1971 was also the year that Neal Adams went into partnership with Dick Giordano to found Continuity Studios, spending half his time working on advertising accounts, which paid the rent. (Advertising rates may have been higher but generally there was more aggravation. I was at one of the ad agencies that Adams worked for, and watched with amazement as one art director had Adams sweat through *nine* major revisions on one perfectly fine illustration.) The studio became a major rallying point and training field for newer, younger artists who benefited from Adams' advice and help. One newcomer who got his first job through Adams was none than Frank (Daredevil) Miller, and the list of talent he mentored through Continuity includes some of the leading lights of the industry.

Newcomers weren't the only ones to benefit from Adams' efforts. In 1978 he helped publicize the plight of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. The two creators of Superman were both living in poverty despite the fact that their creation was generating millions of dollars of income. Adams, then President of the Academy of Comic Book Arts, managed to generate enough sympathetic publicity for the time men that Time Warner finally granted them a decent lifelong annuity (the fact that the first Superman movie was about to debut in over 1000 movie theaters might've been a deciding factor).

Other Adams projects during the 1970s include working as art director for the Broadway s.f. play Warp, a stint on the syndicated strip Big Ben Bolt, and his personal favorite, illustrating the graphic novel Superman vs. Muhammad Ali ("I'm a big fan of Muhammad Ali. I feel very strongly that he made a big dent in an awful lot of prejudices.").

In these last two decades Adams has continued to work on a mixture of advertising and comics projects. Some of the latter include Pacific Comics' Ms. Mystic and a number of titles for his own line, Continuity Comics. As a craftsman and a storyteller, Neal Adams remains a major talent. He established new techniques and a higher standard of excellence, going on to become a catalyst for a whole new generation of comics artists.

--Steve Stiles