josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | may 2017
Neal Adams is one of the most formidable and long lasting comic book artists and writers in the field, not only today, but for longer than most readers here have been alive.
Adams is a legend in the field for a damn good reason; he earned it. Starting back in the early 1960s he quickly established a name for himself with a gritty and yet distinctive style of art that was quite revolutionary for the time – a mixture of stark realism within the traditional comic book framework. Combined with this realism, Adams even broke the literal frames of comic books by pushing his art outside of the sectioned off areas of the page. He literally changed the game.
After making waves within the comic industry, Adams eventually started to change the very way we as an audience looked at superheroes. Having to (literally) beg to get to work on a Batman book, he would end up revitalizing the character and resuscitating Batman from the '60s schlock that the Adam West TV series had nearly doomed it too.
"I did Batman which was a better character when I left it than it was when I started it," says Adams.
The X-men were similarly faltering before Adams single handedly saved the book. Sales were so bad that, what is now a billion dollar franchise, was looking to be cast into the abyss.
"X-men, I guess I saved that book from cancellation."
He is not wrong. After Adams took the art chores, the sales rose and the aforementioned franchise was created.
By the time the 1970s arrived, Adams was starting to feel socially relevant with hard-hitting plots on racism, sexism and the Vietnam War along with drug abuse, sex and other traditionally taboo topics. The drug abuse was the one that really stuck with readers. The floundering Green Lantern comic book was facing low sales, so DC comics allowed it to take risks other books would not. Teaming with the liberal Green Arrow (the book now titled Green Lantern/Green Arrow) took on the social ills of the time and had the tenacity to break comic book taboos. The famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue 85 and 86 defied the comic book code and told an honest story of drug use among super heroes, not a made up drug but the real ravages of heroin, and this showed the real, dark side of things. These books are considered a dawning of a new age for comics.
Mainstream comic books were growing up.
Adams would continue this creativity with his own creator-owned comic book company, Continuity Comics, in the '80s with later incarnations in the '90s. Long a vocal supporter of creator's rights, Continuity Comics was quite a novel company with an eclectic lineup of titles to say the least.
Adams also branched out into magazines, which would be considered well outside the comic arena. “Playboy" and “National Lampoon" are two such places where he expanded his reach and his influence.
Says Adams: "I have an awful big footprint."
Still working today Adams loves his fans and makes a big deal about making sure he is not an elitist when it comes to acceptability. He recently held a signing at Powers Comics here in Green Bay with a fabulous turnout.
"The reason I come to these store signings in smaller towns is I try to find a store near the convention (C2E2 in Chicago). Now, Green Bay is a ways away but it's the best store in the area. We have been there before, it's a terrific store and it's run by terrific people."
Neal Adams is a huge name to come to Green Bay but he feels it is necessary to give every fan a chance.
"Going to New York or San Francisco is kind of impersonal," says Adams. “It's not very homey. I'm just a regular guy and I kind of like these things. The big conventions are okay, you learn to adapt, but I would rather go to a smaller comic book store and be with the folks."
Being that Adams is mostly known for his more mainstream work the likes of Batman or the X-men, I asked about the difference in the types of books he gets asked to sign between a larger convention versus a comic store signing.
"Superman vs Muhammad Ali when it was introduced everyone said it was a stupid idea and then turned out to be a legendary book. Everybody in America read and had and got it, and it's been printed in every free country in the world," says Adams. “That kind of a book you will see all the time. Sometimes someone will bring in a National Lampoon and that speaks to the personal taste of the person who is bringing that in."
With most people being unfamiliar with Adams' more outsider works, it is kind of a wonder when he gets one of those to sign. I, personally, brought him a National Lampoon and the other people in line were frankly shocked that Adams had work in it (the cover was a very provocative one).
"In my career I did a lot of different things, I didn't just do Batman and superheros, I did National Lampoon, I designed amusement park rides, I do stage design, I do national advertising ... I've had a wide ranging career. Parts of my career will appeal to different people in different ways. You get the intellectuals who read Green Lantern/Green Arrow, which broke a lot of doors down. National Lampoon was one step above that, where we offended as many people as we could offend on a monthly basis. I did some Archie comics, which offended no one."
National Lampoon is a magazine that set out to piss off every single person and special interest group there was and Adams played his part in that very well. Most of the work he did for the National Lampoon is so politically incorrect today that it would almost be considered hateful. In the context of the 1970s, though, it was really damn funny.
Today, Adams' fans range from all over the spectrum.
"I get wide variety of fans; I get old guys, I get the young guys, the in-betweens, the girls. Comic books are changing."
As the owner of his own publishing company Adams deals with every aspect of comic books, which makes all of his out of the genre ventures so amazing.
"There was a time when certain comic book publishers were forced out business," says Adam. “I just switched to advertising. I'm not a stupid business man."
His appearance at Powers Comics in Green Bay signals just how much has changed. Many comic veterans sequester themselves into only the biggest and largest venues while Adams wants to include everybody.
"I have connections to so many areas of the industry. I go to a comic book store, it's old-home-week.
"The first signature is free, after that it's $20 each. Photographs are free. We want to make it special for everyone so no one feels neglected."
See that happen at Comic Con.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.