Neal Adams obituary | Comics and graphic novels


In the period following the explosion started by Marvel Comics in the 1960s and accelerated by the campy Batman TV series mid-decade, Neal Adams, who died at age 80 of complications from sepsis, was one of the greatest, and probably most influential, artists in comics. Adams played a pivotal role in redesigning characters, including Marvel’s X-Men and, for rival DC Comics, the Spectre, Deadman and, most importantly, the Batman.

It also made changes to business practices, including earning artists the right to their original artwork and securing long-delayed credit and compensation in the 1980s for the creators of Superman. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

“He reinvented the look of comic book pages and characters,” said writer Neil Gaiman. “He was the reason I drew Batman in every school notebook.” Adams combined the powerful dynamism and expressionistic movement of Marvel’s early masters, Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, Captain America) and Steve Ditko (Spider Man, Doctor Strange). But his work, influenced by the limitations of daily four-panel comic strips and glossy advertisements, also displayed the more romantic appeal typically offered by less dramatic artists. His characters could be as brawny as Frank Frazetta’s barbarians and as appealing as Alex Raymond’s everyday comic strips, but they hovered through the panels, every move telling the story – he was always cinematically aware of the viewer’s place. off the page.

Adams in his office at Continuity Studios, 2008. Photograph: Nicholas Roberts/AFP/Getty Images

Adams knew early on that he wanted to draw comics. He was born on Governors Island, New York, where his father, Frank, was stationed in the United States Army. He grew up on bases, including in Germany, but his father was not very involved in his upbringing. His mother, Liliane, worked in a shoe factory and for the national telephone company, and ran a boarding house. When his father left, Neal worked on the Coney Island boardwalk near their home to help his mother.

He went to the School of Industrial Art (now High School of Art and Design) in Manhattan, graduating in 1959, then sent his work to DC, which rejected it. When he brought it to Archie Comics, editor Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America) told him not to waste his life on the business. Nonetheless, Adams drew sample pages for Archie’s fledgling superhero, the Fly, and some of the work was used. He was hired, but to draw comic book fillers for Archie’s Joke Book.

After that he assisted Howard Nostrand, drawing mostly backgrounds on his daily newspaper strip, Bat Masterson, then working in advertising before getting his own strip in 1962: Ben Casey – as Masterson based on a serial hit television. It lasted until 1966. Although daily comics tend to be soap operas, Casey, about a hospital surgeon, tackled contemporary issues.

In 1967, he began drawing stories for Creepy and Eerie, black-and-white magazines mimicking EC horror comics from the 1950s. When DC Joe Kubert began drawing the daily Tales of the Green Beret comic, Adams was hired to replace him on DC’s war comics, but soon found himself working on Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope comics.

But his spectacular cover for The Brave and the Bold featuring Batman and the Specter led to more superhero work, including a standout Deadman sequence. Deadman had been co-created by Carmine Infantino, who was now DC’s publisher. He called Adams his “spark plug”.

Adams is working on a piece about artist Dina Babbitt, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Adams is working on a piece about artist Dina Babbitt, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photograph: Nicholas Roberts/AFP/Getty Images

This may explain why Adams was one of the few people to work for DC and Marvel simultaneously. In 1969, he and Marvel writer Roy Thomas attempted to revive the failed X-Men book. Their run only lasted nine issues before cancellation, but they brought back Professor X, and when the series was revived in 1975, theirs was the pattern it followed. Adams, Thomas and inker Tom Palmer took The Avengers to new heights with the Kree-Skrull War series (1971-72).

But her key partnership happened in DC, with the writer Dennis O’Neil, with whom he had also worked at Marvel. They “recaptured” Camp’s Batman from the TV series “Pow! Pan!” characterization, creating more realism and more menace, and helping to bring relevance back to the DC line. Their new personas, particularly the villainous Fu Manchu, Ra’s Al Ghul, who first appeared in 1971, and his femme fatale daughter Talia, and their 1973 recreation of the Joker as a psychopathic killer, set the bar for future reinterpretations.

They also remade the awkward pairing of Green Lantern and Green Arrow with a story arc including the discovery that Arrow’s sidekick Speedy had gone junkie. As well as having contemporary resonance, it was arguably the first comic storyline to examine the now-familiar paradox of superheroes’ inability to truly change the world.

Dissatisfied with the artistic and economic constraints of comics, Adams and the DC artist and publisher Dick Giordano formed their own studio, Continuity Associates, in 1978. His last story for DC was one of his favorites, Superman vs Muhammad Ali (1978), with its famous cover featuring dozens of celebrities (and colleagues) at ringside.

His company took on new directions, primarily providing storyboards for films, but also in animation, game design, computer graphics and advertising. Adams could be a tough teacher, but he was also a supportive resource, whose broad respect in the field opened doors for newcomers. Artists gathered around Continuity Associates have also packaged comics for major corporations; they were known as Crusty Bunkers. One of the most famous bunkers, Denis Cowancalled Adams his “second dad”.

Adams himself illustrated books and worked for new independent publishers. For years he fought against big business to establish copyright for artists; in 1987 he won a court ruling that denied copyright but required the return of the original art. Alongside the artist of the golden age jerry robinson and attorney Ed Priess, he earned recognition and royalties from Siegel, Shuster, and their DC families just as the Superman franchise was getting huge.

In 2005, he returned to comics, later writing and drawing the miniseries Batman: Odyssey (2010) for DC and The First X-Men (2013) for Marvel. In 2008 Adams worked with the David S Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Washington, lobbying the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum to return Dina BabbittOriginal artwork by , drawn to illustrate Dr. Josef Mengele’s racial theories in order to save herself and her daughter from the gas chambers. He illustrated, with Kubert, a six-page history on Babbitt, with a foreword by Stan Lee; two years later, he illustrated and narrated a Disney series, They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust.

Adams is survived by his second wife, Marilyn, whom he married in 1987, and their son, Josh, as well as his daughters, Kris and Zeea, and sons, Joel and Jason, from his first marriage, with Cory Adams, a comic book colorist. , which ended in divorce.

Neal Adams, artist, born June 15, 1941; died on April 28, 2022


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