For many, a talent like Neal Adams may need no introduction. His iconic work on legendary DC comic runs for Batman and Green Arrow/Lantern in particular made him one of the godfathers of comic book artistry. But in today’s age of dark, gritty characters and even darker, grittier illustrations, it might not be instantly apparent just how transformative Adams’ work was when he burst onto the comics scene in the late sixties.
Style and Substance
His bold, challenging approach rejected the overtly ‘cartoonish’ style that had defined the medium since its earliest conceptions. Instead, Adams strove for photo-realism; these weren’t just heroes for a fantasy world, they were recognizably human, and firmly embedded in a world strikingly similar to our own. In comparison to the (nonetheless brilliant) work of illustrators like Curt Swan (above), Adams managed to add depth and textures that made stories feel more immediate, more relevant to the experiences of the reader.
And it didn’t stop there. In April 1970, the first issue of what would go on to become one of the defining comic arcs of the Silver Age was released, with Adams firmly at the helm. A collaboration with Dennis O’Neil (also a legend in his own right), The Green Lantern/ Green Arrow crossover “’In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night…” marked the industry’s first forays into making overtly political statements about the real world, about the America that the writers and illustrators lived and breathed, rather than imagined.
With a radicalized Green Arrow escorting the oblivious Green Lantern on a tour through America’s demons, every kind of social issue was up for debate; radicalization, racism, big government, drug addiction, to name a few. Not exactly Archie comics material. While these early attempts at social commentary lack the subtly, challenge and impact of more recent efforts like “V for Vendetta”, they nonetheless woke readers up to the fact that comics could be more than just a distraction from real life. They could change it.
Why So Serious?
Of course, not all Adams’ work was so politically motivated. Some of it was just plain great. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, for instance, have Adams to thank for the iconic villain R’as Al-Ghul, as well as the beginnings of the Joker’s rejuvenating metamorphosis from camp clown to ghoulish jester in Batman #251 “The Joker’s 5-Way Revenge“. Its final beach showdown was the first truly iconic toe-to-toe between these two antithetical characters, and would go on the establish the dynamic that would play out between them for the next four decades.
Having marked himself out at the beginning of his career with his revitalising work on Marvel’s X-Men run, Adams’ ability to redefine characters wouldn’t have come as a surprise to contemporary comic fans. He was a wunderkind like no other, and his work was in demand. Where many would have simply been happy enough to bask in the glow of this reputation, Adams instead went on to use this power for good, much like the heroes he crafted on the page.
The Brave and the Bold… Neal Adams
In the early 60s, the comics industry was pretty set in its ways. Artists were firmly at the bottom of the heirarchy, treated as little more than cheap ‘pens for hire’ whose contributions began and ended with $50/page. Rather than accepting this (unfair) status-quo, Adams decided to fight it.
He openly sought work from Marvel while still working on DC projects (something previously unheard of). He forced companies to work out contracts with him, rather than accepting a cheque and walking away. His personal decisions eventually became part of a wider struggle for creators rights, a cause that has now seen previously neglected comic heroes such as Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster receive long-overdue credit for their creative endeavors during the golden age of comics.
So where can we meet him?
So by this point I think you get the picture; Neal Adams is a pretty interesting guy. A bonafide legend of the industry, his influence and experiences over the past forty years have cemented his place in the history books. But he’s still an active participant in the comics industry, and will be attending London Super Comic Con at the Excel Centre on March 14-15.
Tickets for the convention are priced £26 for the weekend (alternative ticket packages available) and can be purchased here.
Find out more:
Neal Adams interviewed by Kevin Smith on SModcast