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Neal Adams Remembered – Globe of Books and Movies

Neal Adams, the legendary comic book artist who helped reinvent the art form in the 1960s and 1970s, died Thursday, April 28, 2022 from complications from sepsis. Adams was 80 years old and is survived by his wife Marilyn and their three sons, as well as a daughter from a previous marriage.

Born in New York in 1941, Adams grew up in a military family and traveled from one U.S. Army base to another across the country and into Germany. Interested in a career in illustration, he attended the prestigious School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, where he graduated in 1959. Adams first attempted to find freelance work with DC Comics, which turned him down. He found employment with Archie Comics, which used some panels he had drawn in the January 1960 issue of their superhero comic book Adventures of the Fly, depicting Adams’ first published work. He later wrote and drew comics for the company’s Archie’s Joke Book magazine.

Neal Adams, 2019, photo by Gage Skidmore.

Adams worked as an assistant to artist Howard Nostrand on his newspaper comic strip Bat Masterson for several months, gaining invaluable experience. He was freelancing for an advertising agency in 1962 when he got a job as a cartoon illustrator for the Ben Casey newspaper, a job he held for more than three years. When the Ben Casey run ended, Adams shopped around for his portfolio with various advertising agencies, but could not find any takers.

Adams decided to try getting into comics again and found work with Warren Publishing, illustrating stories in the company’s black-and-white horror titles Creepy and Eerie. Seeing an opportunity at DC Comics—one of the “Big Two” publishers along with Marvel in the mid-’60s—he got work drawing and inking stories for the company’s various war comics. However, his attempts to break into the top-grossing superhero books were continually stalled, and Adams made his bones drawing licensed celebrity comedy books like The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope.

One of Adams’ “Batman” covers.

Adams broke into superhero comics in 1967 when DC commissioned him to create covers for titles like Action Comics, The Specter and Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, which, in turn, led to led to jobs illustrating stories in titles like Detective and The Brave and the Bold and World’s Finest Comics which featured some of DC’s best characters. Adams’ commercial breakthrough came in late 1967 with the supernatural character Deadman, who appeared in the Strange Adventures comic book. Adams would illustrate the title for the next two years and begin writing the book in 1968, quickly becoming a fan favorite.

With the social unrest of the 1960s, popular culture was also turned upside down, and Adams’ realistic art style – informed by dramatic newspaper comics and publicity art – brought a new breath of modernism to what was becoming then an obsolete art form. Along with his Marvel Comics counterpart Jim Steranko, Adams picked up the baton from the previous generation of artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Joe Kubert and took comics to new heights of popularity. Adams continued to work as a freelancer for DC Comics well into the 1970s, while beginning work for Marvel Comics on the then-struggling X-Men comic book title with writer Roy Thomas.

neal adams
Green lantern and green arrow. Cover by Neal Adams.

Adams continued to freelance for Warren Publishing, Marvel, and DC, where he had the opportunity to work with writer Dennis O’Neil to revamp the character of Batman for the 1970s. He introduced several new characters in the Batman universe, including the evil Ra’s al Ghul and the tragic Man-Bat. But Adams built his legacy working with O’Neil on the new Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic. Adams updated the Green Arrow character with a new look and costume, and the two creators sent their superhero charges on a cross-country outreach trip across America. Tackling subjects as untouched (in comics) as racism, addiction, and the environment, Adams and O’Neil created what would become “relevant” comics, their work earning them several awards. and a dedicated college-age readership who appreciated their “adult” approach to comics.

However, “relevance” was not synonymous with sales, and by 1973 DC had canceled the title, with Adams moving away from comics and into commercial illustration. He continued to draw covers for titles like Justice League of America, Action Comics and House of Mystery as well as some stories for Superman and Teen Titans. Adams worked on the first crossover superhero crossover comic, 1976’s Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, and he drew the 1978 oversized comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, a personal favorite of his. Adams formed Continuity Associates with fellow DC artist Dick Giordano, the company primarily providing storyboards for the films. He also dabbled in acting, acting as art director and costume designer for director Stuart Gordon’s sci-fi play Warp!

Adams was a strong advocate for creators’ rights, working to organize the industry and co-founding the Comics Creators Guild in 1978 with three dozen other artists and writers. His efforts led to the current industry standard practice of returning original comic book artwork to the artist, who may supplement his income with the sale of artwork. He fought for Marvel Comics to return thousands of pages of art to industry legend Jack Kirby, a battle he won for all artists in 1987. Adams was also the loudest voice in DC Comics’ lobbying to give credit to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and helped win them both lifelong pensions, as both men were mired in poverty and poor health. His actions on behalf of his fellow creators have earned him a unique place of respect in the industry outside of his groundbreaking artwork.

Adams continued to freelance in comics well into the new century. He drew a story for the Giant-Size X-Men special in 2005 and provided artwork for the Young Avengers special in 2006. He returned to DC Comics in 2010 as an artist and writer for the Batman miniseries : Odyssey, and again in 2016. for the mini-series Superman: Coming of the Supermen. In 2020, Adams teamed up with writer Mark Waid for the four-part Marvel miniseries Fantastic Four: Antithesis. His last published work in comics was, fittingly, for DC and the Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul miniseries, which began in 2019 with the final issue published in 2021 due to Covid delays.

Throughout his career as a comic book artist, which spanned more than five decades, Neal Adams earned his share of accolades. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame at the Harvey Awards in 1999. In 2019, the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame at the Inkwell Awards honored him for his lifetime of creative achievement. He’s pen-and-inked a veritable “who’s who” of superheroes over the years, his transcendent talent bringing dynamism and new dimensions to the characters. He will be remembered as a trailblazer, not only for his electric art style, but also for his off-page work on behalf of his fellow creators.

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