Interview - Neal Adams

Neal Adams is a legend in the industry and a talkative guy. We had a lot to discuss at NY Comic Con 2008. Enjoy.

Omnicomic: What got you into comics to start with? Was that always kind of your goal as an illustrator that that’s where you wanted to end up in your career?

Neal Adams: I wanted to be an artist, and I thought that transitioning from comic book artist to artist was a possible way to go. I mean, I went to art school, I learned to draw, and I wanted to make a living. Could I become an illustrator immediately? I didn’t think so, but I was interested in comics, so I thought maybe I could do comics and move towards illustration as I got better.

But unfortunately, I was wrong. It was actually easier to get into illustration than it was to get into comics. When I tried to get into comics, nobody was buying. There’s nobody that’s within five years my junior or five years my seniors in comics. Maybe seven years on either side. There’s a whole blank period that nobody got into comics.

Omnicomic: When you first started I believe you submitted stuff to DC, and they at first rejected you?

Neal Adams: Well they didn’t so much reject me as not see me. They didn’t let me get in past the receptionist. This guy named Bill Barry came out and looked at my stuff and hey it’s pretty good, but I can’t let you in. And I said I just want to show this stuff to an editor, take my chances. And he said no I’m not allowed to show anyone in. We’re not buying.

Omnicomic: Well a few years later you actually did get in. How did that break happen?

Neal Adams: I went to Archie Comics, because Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were doing a series of comic books over there (The Shield, The Fly) so I thought well maybe I could get in here. So I showed my samples there, but there was no one in the office from the Jack Kirby/Joe Simon side, it was just the Archie guys. So I showed my samples, then I did some more samples and then I was asked to do some Fly samples.

I took them up, left them there (no one was there to see me). So I went up there a third time with samples, and they put Joe Simon on the phone. And Joe Simon said kid I like your samples, but I’m going to do you the biggest favor in the world and I’m going to turn you down because you’re wasting your time doing comics. Comics will be dead in a couple years.

Omnicomic: What era was that? Late 60s?

Neal Adams: It was the 60s. And he said that I don’t realize it now, but he’s doing the biggest favor he could do me by turning me down. So I said thanks to him, and I guess the Archie guys felt so sorry for me, they asked if I wanted to do any tryout pages for Archie. So I did some samples for Archie, and after two sets of samples they had me doing Archie joke pages.

Then I got work as an assistant on a comic strip based on the old Bat Masterson TV series. And I learned a lot there, being in an art studio with a lot of art guys. Then I went to Johnstone and Cushing that did comics for advertising, and by that time I was so well trained that I took work away from everyone. Then I did a syndicated strip based on the Ben Casey TV series, which I did for three and a half years. Then I found myself at odds because I had at that point finally done my illustration portfolio. I took it to an advertising agency and left it with them; I came back to get it and it was gone.

Six months – gone. So I had to do something, and went to Warren who as beginning to do Creepy and Eerie, and I saw Archie Goodwin and he immediately accepted me. Then I went to DC Comics again, who were finally feeling the brunt of Marvel and were wondering what to do. So they saw me, and it wasn’t like I saw the superhero guys, rather Bob Kanigher who was in charge of war stories. And then I quickly worked my way into all the other stuff, and by that point I was so good and so professional.

Omnicomic: Is there anyone in your career you look back on and think I really enjoyed working with that company or that set of people?

Neal Adams: I like everybody. If there not nice, I’ll break their arm, or convince them to be nice. I don’t really take a lot of shit from people and I don’t have to. I try to be nice to people, and I don’t think its good to not be nice. I’ve had run-ins though. I’ll tell you a story.

I was doing some work for Bob Kanigher. Bob Kanigher was a notorious prick. So I did a story for him, and it was fine. So I brought another one in, and he began to criticize the art. So I said hold on just a second (no one was in the room at that time). I went over to the door, closed it and locked it. I sat down with him and said, OK, Bob I think we have to have an understanding. I’m the artist and you’re the writer. I don’t tell you how to write, you don’t tell me how to draw. Sound fair?

I think he was thinking about the locked door. I went and opened the locked door, and it was fine. We always were friendly after that, but sometimes you have to set the boundaries. I don’t really have a lot of trouble with people. If I do, I try and settle it immediately, if not I walk away.

Omnicomic: What do you think of the state of the industry where it seems like every comic is being made a movie? Like that’s the new trend to make the comic to make the movie.

Neal Adams: Well I think that’s what everyone hopes. I think that the danger is that Hollywood is too dumb to recognize that it’s not a very good property. Or, they alter the property because it’s gotten a certain amount of sales. There’s a new one coming out based on a comic book miniseries where the guy is a natural assassin. Now I’ve seen the previews for Wanted, and as much as I like the artwork and writing in the book, I didn’t really like the tone in the book. It was about bad guys fighting bad guys, and in the previews I got the impression that the bad guys weren’t really bad guys but good guys acting as vigilantes.

Now morally, the comics are reprehensible to me, so when I heard they were making a movie out of it I was shocked. But then I saw the preview, I realized they took it and turned it into something else that people could take. Now, was that a comic book turned into a movie, or was that a theme that was adapted with parts taken out to make the movie? There seems to be like a cooking thing going on of properties and ideas where Hollywood comes in and likes some parts but not others. There’s a very good process there, and different people deal with it differently.

Something very good is going on, and its probably going to fail in some areas. Like look what happened with the first Hulk movie. What the hell was that? Let’ start a story in the middle, and the put a dark filter over the action scene at the end. Now, the new one is going to be better than the first, and it’s going to track. So there’s lessons that Hollywood can learn from comics.

We generally know how to tell a story. Its important to have a beginning, middle and end, and if you don’t like it don’t buy it. I think the basic idea is we’re cooking up a lot of different recipes for other people to pick and choose from.

Omnicomic: To what extent did you (when you were working at DC or Marvel) did you reach a point in your career where you could say to them this is the book I want to be working on? Would you say Batman is what I want to do, or did they say this is the book you’re going to work on.

Neal Adams: Well I’ll give you the Batman story. I was working on Deadman or Spectre…I don’t know what the hell I was doing. I went in to Julius Schwartz, and Batman was like the old TV show. I said I’d like to do a Batman story. He said get the fuck out my office. So I came back the next day, and said I was serious about doing the Batman story. And he said didn’t I tell you once you can’t do Batman.

Now, I think they had contractual obligations with Bob Kane, editorial instructions to go in this direction or that. So I went down the hall to Murry Boltinoff’s office, which was doing Brave and the Bold. I asked if I could work on Brave and the Bold, and he was delighted to have me work on it. Three months later, I went in to the DC office, and a lighting man had been there. And they turned off all the lights, so there was only a light on Julius Schwartz and he held up a whole bunch of letters.

He said Adams; how come I’m getting all these letters saying the only Batman is Brave and the Bold? He says come here. What makes you think you know what Batman should be? I said, its not me that knows what Batman should be. It’s me and every kid in America. I’m not doing anything special, just the Batman everyone wants to see. So he said you’re doing Batman now. So was I in charge? No, I wasn’t in charge, but you’ve got to work your little tricks.

Omnicomic: You were pretty instrumental in organizing artists. What kind of prompted you to say as artists we need more rights?

Neal Adams: If you walk in the door and someone hits you in the face with your fist, and someone asks you what happened, you say someone hit me in the face. It's not the same as someone looked at me funny. So when something is really really wrong, you can’t exactly miss it.

This is my example. I’m in DC Comics production and I’m drawing a cover of something. I look over to the side and there’s a cutting board, and there’s a guy cutting stuff up, and I see that there’s stuff falling to the garbage. I walk over and the guys slicing up original pages, and I said what are you doing. He said we’ve got to get rid of these because they’re clogging up the shelves. I say that’s original art, and he says yeah I’m the low man on the totem pole and every three months we cut them up. So I said to him I have to go and talk to someone about this, so while I do that you shouldn’t cut up any more originals.

He says I’ve got to get that done. I said, let me put it this way. I don’t want to hit you; you don’t want to cut up the originals until I come back. I went to the powers that be, and I convinced them not to cut originals or I’d leave. And so they decided they’d hold on to them and not destroy them anymore, and seven years later they started giving artwork back. And the week DC decided to do it, Marvel decided to do it, because anyone that would get their artwork back would work for that company. No matter who you talk to, the impression is there was some battle, and it was as simple as that. There was no hitting or anything.

And then the intervening seven years were conversations behind closed doors, why are you doing this, DC Comics attempted to sell some of those pages at conventions, and realized it’s a business they should go in to (but couldn’t for legal reasons). Omnicomic: What about your own studio? Any projects on the horizon? Neal Adams: Yeah I want to direct film. We are a commercial art studio, but what’s happening is we’re moving more towards viral advertising.

Omnicomic: Are you reading anything now?

Neal Adams: Everything. My son goes to the store, buys the good stuff and leaves the extra stuff out. We read them together.

Omnicomic: Thanks so much for your time.

Neal Adams: Sure.