Terrible news broke just as we were getting our weekend started on Friday: Neal Adams died.
The situation for me (and this blog) is rather similar to when Bernie Wrightson passed a few years ago: by the time I became a regular comics buyer in 1976, both Wrightson and Adams pretty much ceased to produce any new work for the comics industry. Post-1976, Adams did the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury circa ’78, then Ms. Mystic (plus a few other things) under his own Continuity banner in the early eighties, and then not a whole lot else. He actually did more mainstream comics work in the 2010s than he had in the two preceding decades (the 2000s and the 1990s).
Despite all this, Adams looms as such an immense figure in comics—particularly in superhero comics—that I could not let his passing go without a deeper discussion.
Neal Adams was one of the two geniuses (the other being Jim Steranko) of comic illustration to emerge during the 1960s. (Others may include Barry Windsor-Smith here as well, though I have not since I felt he didn’t really blossom until the Conan comic launched in 1970. So I would place Smith into the 70s wave of artists.) He pioneered the photorealist style that many would try to emulate afterward, but no one—and I mean NO ONE—could ever really begin to approach the heights Adams achieved. He and Steranko were the original “rock stars” of comics art.
Adams started at DC on the Jerry Lewis comic, believe it or not, as well as Bob Hope, along with a few horror and war stories. This was after Batman editor Julie Schwartz rejected him (again, believe it or not). Adams got around Schwartz by drawing Batman in the pages of The Brave and the Bold, a title edited by Murray Boltinoff. This would eventually lead to more assignments on the regular Batman books, along with Superman books, Deadman, Spectre, and Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
By ’69, Adams had also started freelancing for Marvel, working with Roy Thomas on both X-Men and the Kree-Skrull war in the pages of Avengers. It’s a testament to the value of his work that neither DC nor Marvel raised much fuss over Adams working for both companies, as they surely would have for lesser artists. Adams also did a ton of covers for DC during this time, which no doubt resulted in some good sales numbers for otherwise crappy comics. He may have literally kept DC in business with these covers.
Beyond his artistic achievements (which were many), Adams was also one of the original crusaders for creator rights. From Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to Dave Cockrum, he helped many artists get fair credit and compensation for their work. From any perspective, Adams was a true giant who left an enormous mark on the comics business.
R.I.P., Neal Adams.