The Eccentric Genius and Extraordinary Career of Neal Adams
Neal Adams was born on this day in 1941; an artist, writer, editor, publisher and advocate whose work on such characters as Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, the X-Men and the Avengers was some of the most influential creative output of the 1960s and 1970s, and whose style more or less defined the period of comics history known as the Bronze Age.
After graduating from the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan in 1959, Adams went out looking for work in comics, hoping to gain employment at DC. Instead, he found himself drawing gag strips at Archie Comics. After some time there, Adams moved out of comics freelancing and into the world of commercial art, advertising, and syndicated comic strips, most notably the daily strip based on the TV medical drama Ben Casey.
When Adams returned to comics freelancing in the late '60s, his experience working in the photorealistic style called for by both advertising and a daily drama strip served him very well. There was nothing else like him in comics, and his style made a huge splash. Adams's experiences with commercial and pop art allowed him to bring in a different sort of focus that drew the viewer into the action, providing a disorienting sense of angular dynamism and a use of lighting and body language to evoke emotion that was unlike anything in the industry.
After a handful of stories and covers at DC Comics for such series as The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope, Adams had his first real breakout success in 1967 with the Deadman feature in Strange Adventures, which he would soon take over writing as well. Adams would take home a slew of awards for his work on this feature, and soon he would become one of the most respected artists in the industry.
Together with writer Roy Thomas, Adams would have an award-winning run on X-Men and go on to do the “The Kree-Skrull War,” one of the most influential Avengers stories of all time. With Denny O'Neil, he would reinvent Batman for a post-Adam West age and help usher in the Bronze Age of comics with their work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, which focused on real world issues including substance abuse, racism, and pollution.
If that weren't enough, at this time O'Neil and Adams would also collaborate on one of the best Superman stories of all time, Superman vs Muhammad Ali.
After this story, Adams went on to found Continuity Associates with Dick Giordano. Continuity was an art studio that used the comic book style in other venues, such as storyboarding, concept design, and art packaging. Artists who got their start at Continuity include Walter Simonson, Jim Starlin, Larry Hama, and Howard Chaykin. In the mid-80s, Continuity launched its own comics publishing company, which released such titles as Bucky O'Hare, Crazyman, and Ms. Mystic.
While he is best known for his work as an artist, his work as a creators' rights advocate is arguably equally important. In the 1970s, he fought vigorously to unionize comics' creative community, and ultimately was a co-founder of the Comics Creators Guild in 1978. Despite the Guild not being the success he hoped it would be, Adams' efforts largely ensured that publishers agreed to return original art pages to the artists who drew them, and he was at the forefront of the lobbying efforts that led to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster finally receiving credit for the creation of Superman. Outside of comics, he has been a vocal advocate for victims of the Holocaust.
Comics fans today might be familiar with Adams from his rather, shall we say, eccentric recent comics output and his, shall we say, slightly more eccentric ideas about science, but it is impossible to overstate his influence and importance over the last forty years of comics. Happy birthday, Mr. Adams. Here's to many more.