At San Diego Comic Con 2018, Alex Grand and Bill Field were fortunate enough to interview the master comic book Illustrator himself, Neal Adams. We discussed various topics of his career comic and commercial art from his graduation from the New York School of Industrial Art 1959 to his time at the Howard Nostrand Studio, DC Comics, Continuity Studios of the 70s and 80s and beyond. Here is the transcript.
Bill Field: We haven’t mentioned yet, this is Neal Adams that you’re listening to, ladies and gentlemen.
Neal Adams: Who’s that, everybody knows that. No. I’m pretty recognized.
Bill Field: Oh, yes. You are, very recognizable.
Alex Grand: Neal, I want to ask you more about when you first got out of the School of Industrial Arts, is that where you graduated from?
Neal Adams: Very good. You’ve done your research.
Alex Grand: Yes. I think one of the rumors out there is that the first panel of yours that was published was in Adventures of the Fly 4. There was a transformative box of Tommy turning into the fly. Was that your piece?
Neal Adams: Not originally. It was drawn originally by Jack Kirby. And they liked mine better as a sample, and they cut it out of my page with a razor and then glued it over Jack Kirby’s page, Jack Kirby’s panel. They paid me for a third of a page, about $12.50.
Alex Grand: So you did get paid for that panel then?
Neal Adams: Oh, yeah,straight up guys, those guys at Archie.
Alex Grand: So after that, you assisted Howard Nostrand, for was it Bat Masterson? Was that the strip?
Neal Adams: Bat Masterson, based on the television series. Yeah. Yeah.
Alex Grand: How was working with Howard Nostrand?
Neal Adams: Howard Nostrand used to work for a studio called Alexander Chates Studios which was an advertising studio, and they had people like Bob Peak and a lot of other people there. Then they sort of discovered, which you can’t actually say, but that whether or not the people who ran the agency were taking maybe a little bit more money than they should. Anyway, the artists kind of blew up and they all left, all at the same time. And Chates Studio just went bye-bye. All the artists split up and the question was where are they going to go. So four guys went to an apartment on I think 50th street. They rented this apartment and set up studio there. They would be partners. So one of them was Howard Nostrand, one of them was Elmer Wexler, and then there were two retouch guys, photo retouch.
Neal Adams: What was great about that was I got to go into a studio with two retouch guys, Elmer Wexler, and Howard Nostrand, each of which had different skills. So here I am just turning 18 and I’m in a studio with four professional artists, all each one had different skills, so it was like the greatest thing in the world.
Alex Grand: And then after that you did Ben Casey. It was a syndicated TV show at the time?
Neal Adams: Not after that, I had about 14 decades between that and Ben Casey. It seemed like only a couple years, but it was … I learned a lot. I mean, first of all, I only did Bat Masterson for three and a half months, even though it seemed like an eternity, ’cause I worked every day very, very hard. But Howard taught me a lot about commercial art and introduced me to people along the way that I could go to with my freelance portfolio and get work. I also got advice from Elmer Wexler who basically was a ex-marine, very hard knuckled guy and didn’t take any shit from anybody, and was the opposite of Howard Nostrand. So Elmer taught me how to be a professional. The retouch guys taught me how to have a sense of humor because they had … they were Spanish. One guys was Spanish and he would walk around the studio singing the song Besame Mucho, except he sang it Besame Curro.
Alex Grand: That’s great, that’s funny.
Neal Adams: So I was thrown into a really great bunch of guys. From there I thought I would aim high and I would go to the place that Elmer Wexler worked at, which … not worked at, did work for Johnstone and Cushing. Johnstone and Cushing did advertising art for Boys Life magazine, the newspapers and whatever. They also paid about four to six times as much as the comic book company. So here I was still 18 years old, going to Johnstone and Cushing, proving myself at Johnstone and Cushing, now making more than any comic book artist in the world, practically, or certainly in America. So I would get 200 or $400 a page and they got 40 or $50 a page. I could support a family and I did have a family. But I was very competitive, and being competitive, I really got good, fast. Because I was competitive and because I was pretty smart, I knew how to lay things out, I knew how to structure things, I knew how to write, I know how to put words together, so they had me writing, and designing, and drawing for everybody else. So I became in effect, top dog.
Neal Adams: I did that for several years for Boys Life magazine, and for advertise for Chip Martin College Reporter which was for the telephone company, I did it for a rifle company, Savage Rifles, I did ads for syntax dye, air conditioners, just so much, really, so much stuff that it was a career. I also did outside of Johnstone and Cushing, some illustration work for the newspapers and for color. I also met a guy that I did movie posters for. Here I am, 18 years old going on 19, doing movie posters and illustration work, and whatever came along I got to do. I didn’t actually do comic books until I did the syndicated strip for three and a half years, then I fell backward into comic books.
Neal Adams: So my travel to comic books is a backward, back assed travel into a medium that I thought was, at that time, inferior to all other mediums.
Alex Grand: So you brought a lot of experience, advertising, design, strips, and then your training.
Neal Adams: Right, and illustration. Painter, I was a painter and illustrator, so that when I came to comic books, they thought I fell from the sky. They had no idea, who was this guy, how can he do all this stuff. I also started off as a big foot guy. A big foot guy is a guy who, well, okay … we have in the business a thing called big foot and little foot. Big foot is cartooning, ’cause you have little characters with big feet and big hands. Little foot is superheroes. They have big giant bodies and little tiny feet. Haven’t you noticed that?
Alex Grand: I think Alex Toth mentioned that all the time. I always think of him as soon as I hear the big foot, little foot.
Neal Adams: Space ghost with the little tiny feet.
Alex Grand: That’s true, especially in the 90’s. The feet got really small in the 90’s.
Neal Adams: Pretty damn small now. You look at Jim Lee and all those guys, it’s got some little tiny feet down there. Sometimes you don’t even see those feet. They’re hidden in the mist.
Alex Grand: Okay, so after the Ben Casey strip and now it’s around 1967-ish or so, was Carmine Infantino … did he open the door for you to come in or were you already there? I know you were talking to Murray Boltinoff and Kanigher.
Neal Adams: Carmine Infantino didn’t have the door to open. He worked at DC Comics as a freelancer. What he was trying to do at the time that I showed up was, that he was trying to become an art director for DC or Marvel. He was playing each one against each other. So when I came in, I had nothing to do with Carmine. He was just that guy sitting in the corner. The bald guy with the cigars who looked like, I don’t know, Edward G. Robinson, only big. I think his illegitimate son.
Alex Grand: Oh, okay, interesting.
Neal Adams: He just looked like him. Anyway, so I first went to Bob Kanigher who did the war stories and that’s how I got into DC Comics. I went from Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella over at Warren, where I worked too hard for doing a story, to Bob Kanigher. But Carmine Infantino saw the advantage of taking credit for having discovered me.
Alex Grand: I see.
Neal Adams: Now, it was a little odd to use the word discover since I had had a syndicated strip, I did advertising, I did all this other stuff.
Alex Grand: You had already done a lot of the classy stuff first.
Neal Adams: If anything, I discovered DC Comics and to my chagrin, I liked it. I’m embarrassed to say that even though I was just there temporarily, because until I could solid myself up with a strip, or illustration work, or advertising work, I intended to leave as soon as I could. I just sort of fell in love with it and comic books to me is, in a weird way, the best medium of all. The rates were terrible, the attitudes were terrible, they didn’t have contracts, they were operating in the dark ages, they were total assholes, but the medium is just too good to not appreciate and understand and it’s just fantastic. It certainly it’s own … feeds all the computer games, it feeds all the television shows, and the movies. We are the starting point of every bit of graphics that are out there across the world. Hundreds of millions and billions of dollars are spent on comic book movies.
Neal Adams: I mean, you can go to a movie and you can say, you sit there and say well, thank God it’s not based on a comic book and you’ll discover it’s based on … it says graphic novel by so and so, and so and so. It’s amazing. It’s like, how do you say it, it’s a predigested story, a predigested concept, which is better than somebody sitting and writing a script. It’s already been digested. People like it.
Alex Grand: So your involvement in the war stories is interesting because you did turn down the Green Beret’s newspaper strip. It was offered to you, right?
Neal Adams: Well, it was offered to me in a weird way, because Elliot Caplin had the right to do it, and he was looking for an artist and I was doing Ben Casey at the time, and I couldn’t really do it. Not that I wanted to do it, but I was able to recommend Joe Kubert to do it and he did it for, I don’t know, three and a half, four years. It was a very happy time for Joe, because every comic book artist wants to have a syndicated strip. The fact that I got mine so young made me a little bit spoiled, but Joe had waited decades to get a strip and so he got the Green Beret.
Alex Grand: Some have thought because DC had such tight control, and there’s only certain numbers that when Joe went over there it made it an opening? Or would you have just gotten in anyway?
Neal Adams: DC Comics had no control or lack of control. They were just a bunch of guys walking around, banging into the walls. They had no idea what they were doing. It just suited Bob Kanigher to have another Joe Kubert walk in the door, because they had lost Joe Kubert, and Mort Drucker had gone to Mad Magazine. So who did he have left? He had Russ Heath, and Russ Andrew, and Jack Abel, and people … you know, very minor lights, maybe except for Russ Heath. Russ Heath is still fantastic. To have me walk in there and to be able to give him something imitating or like Joe Kubert was a big deal for him. So that made my way in, but that soon ended. Julius Schwartz got his hands on me.
Alex Grand: And that’s essentially what a lot of people know, as far as fans, is a lot of your DC work and Marvel work in the late 60’s and beyond, into Muhammad Ali and Superman. I’m going to have Bill ask this area of questions.
Bill Field: We’re in somewhat of a golden era for you, because we’re coming into Batman, we’re coming into Deadman, we’re coming into Green …
Neal Adams: When you’re saying golden era, I think I created the golden era. There’s nothing about when I was Batman or those other things that made it golden, believe me. It was a crappy business. They didn’t have contracts, they didn’t return the original art. The golden era came as a result of what I did. It didn’t come with it, or in any way with it. What it was, was Marvel Comics was doing better stuff than DC Comics. DC Comics needed something to combat Marvel and what they needed, they didn’t realize they needed, they needed to have new artists, they needed to have new writers. Even though Carmine’s job was to get new artists and writers, he didn’t know how to do it, nor did the editors. But I did. I hid them out and hid them in a room, so I allowed them, I would feed them to the editors.
Neal Adams: So I made more of a contribution there than the drawing. Yes, the drawing was new and different, and it was more illustrative and had better anatomy and all the rest of it, but that was really only part of it. We got guys like Wrights in, and guys like Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman, and Howard Chaykin, and all these guys would basically hide out in my room or in the coffee room. I’d be able to introduce them to the editors and the editors would go, “Why am I looking at this guy’s stuff?” Well, you got back up stories. You’re doing the House of Mystery, let’s stick a guy in there, somebody new. So they had to learn how to reintroduce new people. They hadn’t hired anybody new in 10 years. I was the first. The last guy that was hired was working in production and his name was Mort Drucker, and he went over to Mad Magazine and was so glad to get out of there, he just stayed away. So it was a primitive kind of place.
Neal Adams: Even when I was doing Batman, they didn’t what the … If I walk in and say, “You know, Batman’s supposed to be a realistic, and a creature of the night, and jump out at guys and scare them.” And that’s like a big surprise, that’s wrong. That’s not the way you … anybody knows that. Anybody … it seemed like a surprise to them. I don’t know how.
Bill Field: So then you went into socially relevant stories with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, something that wasn’t …
Neal Adams: Well, we made an impact with Batman and the impact was to bring reality to it.
Bill Field: Yes.
Neal Adams: So bringing reality to Batman inspired all the artists around me to do the same thing. It also inspired the writers to a certain extent. It also inspired the editors. One of the best artists at DC Comics was Gil Kane. Gil Kane and I were friends, good friends, and Gil had decided for whatever reason to go and do a project outside of DC Comics. That means that he no longer did Green Lantern.
Alex Grand: His Name is Savage?
Neal Adams: Yeah, I think it did. So it’s probably his … and he based it on Lee Marvin as the-
Alex Grand: On the cover
Neal Adams: Yeah, that’s very interesting. Anyway, so he went off and he did, and he decided to do that and you have this problem of who’s going to do Green Lantern. Anybody that did Green Lantern after Gil, who knew a lot of anatomy, who could draw … he was really ahead of everybody at DC except for say, Joe Kubert, so anybody that did Green Lantern really did a not very good job. It’s not a criticism of a person as much as a reality. Gil was that good. So I asked Julie Schwartz if I could do Green Lantern for a couple of issues and Julie said, “No, we’re going to cancel the book.” No, you shouldn’t cancel the book. It’s Green Lantern. Well, it’s not selling. Well, let me do a couple of issues. So Julie had the big idea of jumping in on this modernizing things a little bit, and he was always forward thinking. He used to represent science fiction writers.
Alex Grand: With Mort Weisinger?
Neal Adams: Yeah, with Mort. The partners, the teenage partners of Ray Bradbury and a bunch of guys. Anyway, so he came up with the idea of putting Green Lantern and Green Arrow together. We had made a big hit with Green Arrow in Brave and Bold, and so he put Denny together with me and really came up with a new story line, and that was to pit these characters against one another. So now it became, what are we going to do with this. Well, since Denny O’Neil was a reporter, he was more interested in reality. Julie Schwartz, you know, if people say relevant comic books, it started the era of relevant comic books. Nobody really was concerned about doing relevant comic books. We’re interested in doing real comic books, and interesting comic books, and adding things to it. It’s the fact that Denny O’Neil was a radical Irish liberal, put him in a position to vent his spleen on Green Lantern and Green Arrow, and place these guys at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But they really weren’t. They were really on the same end, they were just different, not unlike Denny O’Neil and myself. You could call me Green Lantern, you could call him Green Arrow.
Alex Grand: That’s great.
Neal Adams: In a way.
Bill Field: I’ve never thought about that, but it’s absolutely true.
Neal Adams: In many ways it is. I’m not the guy that go … I believe in all the proper institutions and everything else, and I prefer to work through the institutions, and I make changes without marching the streets. Denny marches in the streets, and yells, and carries signs, and stuff like that. That doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with him, it simply means I would prefer to make the change rather than yell about it. So there’s the yellers and then there’s the doers. I’m the doer. It didn’t occur to us at the time that that was the case, but it sort of was. And maybe that’s why it made it good. Now everybody in the field said, “Oh, those guys are preaching, that’s all bull shit.” But as much as they said it, in their hearts, no, that’s not how they felt. They could see the reality of what we were doing and that it was a good idea, good direction. And you can tell, it’s basically colored everything in comic books since then. Things have gotten more real.
Bill Field: How did sales progress after you started doing that book?
Neal Adams: Well, if you’re doing a historical documentation on the sales, then you would actually have to know what sales are all about, and what is wrong with the sales in the news stand market, and you don’t. There’s no way to equate the sales of something that’s good with the actual selling and the sales results, because something else was going on. That led to the direct sales market, so there’s a very deep, solid core of misinformation that goes into the concept of understanding the sale of comic books. Because most good comic books didn’t sell well.
Alex Grand: And also, what some of the fans might not know is that, back then a distributor could actually keep some of them and then claim that they weren’t sold, and then sell it on the side. So a lot of things like that were going on too I think.
Neal Adams: They didn’t keep them, they sold them to teenagers who would come with their father’s station wagons and pick up Penthouse magazine, Playboy magazine, Conan, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Batman, Swamp Thing. They would pick the best stuff because they were fans. Well, when you’re a fan, you know more of what your audience is going to buy. So you know what to buy from the local distributor. There were 410 distributors back in those days, all around the country, so you had 410 opportunities for some guy in a town to go and take his father’s station wagon, and buy this stuff off the back of the distributor. The distributors and the publishers had instituted a concept, affidavit returns. Affidavit returns assumes the honesty of all parties, which is stupid.
Neal Adams: I mean, I can’t even imagine contemplating such an act. Before that they would strip the titles off a comic book, wrap them in a rubber band, and send them back to the publisher. Now they were having the distributor sign a piece of paper that he destroyed so many comic books. What could be stupider than that? So the publishers were getting lower and lower sales, comic books were supposedly being destroyed, and all of the country, teenagers and young adults were buying comic books, selling them to their friends for not 25 cents, but for a $1.50, $2, $5 and they were the beginning of the direct sales market. All those guys that dress regular and act regular, they’re all full of crap and they’re all basically a bunch, a den of thieves. That’s how our business started and you know what, lots of businesses started with a den of thieves. It’s just the way it is.
Alex Grand: So how would you contrast Green Lantern, Green Arrow, with Steve Ditko’s Hawk and Dove? It’s similar, but different.
Neal Adams: Golly, I would never think of that as a contrast. Hawk was a war monger and Dove was a peacenik. Green Arrow for example was not a peacenik, he was actually a radical liberal that also believed in non-violence. Green Lantern believed in non-violence but through authority. That’s the only difference. I mean, yeah, it’s very … I mean, I lived through the Hawk and Dove time and it was a very different time.
Bill Field: So now forward to the early 70’s and Batman is taking a darker turn right after the Batman TV series. You actually grew Batman up quite a bit, because he had been taken down a peg or two to Juvenile camp kind of standards, and you brought it up and made it more cinematic, and probably fostered the way in for movies. Don’t you think?
Neal Adams: No. The Batman television show was a satire. It was never intended to be anything but a satire. It was a comedy. We watched it to laugh and that’s what we did. We laughed and it was great. I had a great deal of fun. I mean, it’s sort of like going to Saturday Night Live and doing superheroes. It was a comedy and anybody who might have thought for one minute that it was Batman and Robin, and not a satire of Batman and Robin, was out of their minds. And that they thought that may be the case at DC Comics, was an indication of how diluted they were by the success of the television show. They should have done a Batman and Robin satire book, and then a regular Batman and Robin book, but they didn’t. They kind of drifted Batman toward the television show.
Neal Adams: So now you have a guy in his underwear walking around in the day time, and nobody’s pointing at him saying, “Mommy, Mommy, that kid’s wearing his long underwear.” It was a stupid idea. So this character that I grew up with that was drawn by Jerry Robinson and all these other guys was not in the books anymore. So I asked, “Look, can I do Batman and Robin?” And Julie Schwartz said, “No, get the hell out of my office.” So I presented my case in enough ways that Julie actually went and changed the way they were doing Batman and Robin, relative to the licensing and everything else, so that it opened it up for me to do some Batman stories, which were successful because I worked with Denny O’Neil, because I was drawing a more realistic Batman, because the Batman I was drawing had real muscles, he had a cap that flowed rather than looked like a log out behind him. And people say, “Neal, you changed Batman.” I didn’t change Batman. I brought him back to what he was, everybody wanted to see. That’s what everybody loved about Batman.
Neal Adams: Yes, they loved the satire. You gotta give credit to the satirists it’s funny as hell, in so many ways. Even … Cesar Romero playing the Joker but refusing to shave his mustache is almost hysterically funny. It’s sort of like the latest Justice League movie where what’s his name gets his face pasted over and … because he doesn’t have … he refuses to take off the mustache? What the hell is wrong with you, buddy?
Alex Grand: That is a funny parallel and you’re totally right. Only in DC does this stuff happen.
Neal Adams: Idiotic. You added a scene at the beginning where they have somebody else’s face. If you want to hide it, take out that scene. You know, just don’t say anything.
Bill Field: I thought it was weird that they used Christopher Reeve’s face. No, I’m just joking.
Neal Adams: No.
Alex Grand: So, now when you were doing Deadman in the late 60’s and Steranko was doing Agents of Shield, and you guys I think exploded the illustration potential of comic books, it would seem like it was somewhat subdued before you guys, did you guys feed off each other? Did you guys vibe off each other at all?
Neal Adams: No, no, no, no. And the joke is that there’s some kind of an implication that Jim Steranko and I are alike, or we somehow made the same kind of impact. I was an illustrator who could draw comic books, I had a syndicated strip. He was a magician who loved Jack Kirby, and he was trying to idealize Jack Kirby and what he did, which he did. He never presents himself as an artist. He presents himself as an entertainer and he does graphics, and he does these … comes up with ideas and piles the ideas in, and adds that Jack Kirby sensibility. You’ll never see him focus on anatomy or any of that other stuff that you need. His direction, it’s almost like he’s a different type of creature. He’s a chimp and I’m a baboon. You know, we’re very, very different.
Alex Grand: Yeah, from a different angle.
Neal Adams: But at the same time, we weren’t afraid to do the thing that we wanted to do, and the door was open to go ahead and do it. So it wasn’t just us, I mean, there was Barry Smith, there was Bernie Wrightson, there was other people doing it. Somehow we were allied together. I don’t know how and I think it’s funny. I think Jim probably thinks it’s funny, has no idea why it happened. But it happens. You can’t argue with fans. They’re fans. They are the controller.
Alex Grand: So now let’s go into the 70’s and you’ve made a huge impact on Superhero fans at this point and in ’75, you and Jerry Robinson had some roles in getting Siegel and Shuster credit and a pension.
Neal Adams: It wasn’t me and Jerry Robinson. Jerry Robinson came in at the end and he helped me with a cartoon society. It was a long drawn out … it was about three and a half months of battling with DC Comics, but again, it’s a long story and if you start the story, you sure have to give the details and then the details become long and involved, and conversations on the phone, and screaming and yelling, and all the rest of that. It was a big fight. It’s as if you’re talking to a boxer and you’re talking about a match. You know, I could talk about the match, you may then question, “Well, where did you get the stamina to have the fight?” And I’m made for that. I’m made for that kind of a fight. You couldn’t find a better person to do it, because I’m a calm person, I don’t get riled, I don’t get upset, and I don’t lose. I’m not the type of person that loses.
Neal Adams: If you get into a fight with me, pretty much it’s going to go to the end, and you’re going to die. That’s just the way it’s going to be and I would not wish it on anybody else. I would not say, you know, “Too bad you couldn’t do that.” No, it’s not too bad because you know, you’ll get high blood pressure, you’ll get all bloody and stuff, but not me. That’s not going to happen to me, ’cause I don’t fade that way. I’m the right person.
Bill Field: Now, your boxing analogy gives me the perfect segue to 1978 and the wonderful Muhammad Ali versus Superman, a lot of people thought what the hell. And then they looked at the artwork and honestly, to me, it’s some of your best work.
Neal Adams: I think there are people who think that’s the best comic book ever done.
Bill Field: It was a shocker to me. I couldn’t wait to buy it, but it just blew me away. I was a fan of yours up to that point, but I became a real super fan after that. Some of the things you did with water, some of the things you did with shadow is just … never been equal.
Neal Adams: You have to remember that first of all, we lived in a bigoted country in those days. Second of all, we were fighting people in Asia that we shouldn’t be fighting and we were killing people. Third, we had a guy who was a world champion boxer who refused to go there, and refused to fight. He didn’t believe in it and there was no reason he should believe in it. So we lived in country where this kind of stuff was going on, lots of politics was going on, but if you had any understanding of the world, you knew that Ali was the champion of the world, even though he wasn’t a champion in America. So Julie Schwartz, who is your good old fashioned New York liberal Jew, is going to be the first one to step up and say, “Hey, we’re going to do this.”
Neal Adams: So it was his idea. It was his idea and he gave it to us to do, and I ended up writing most of it. In the end, wrote it all the way to the end and drew it, and I did it all the time knowing that people were going to love it. All around the world, it was going to really express DC Comics license throughout the world, because people would want to see this. A real live person with a comic book superhero. It’s just too irresistible, too wonderful. So I made it authentic. So if you read that book, you will find boxing moves that Ali did, you’ll find speeches that he did, you’ll find all kinds of stuff that’s real, and valid, and good stuff.
Bill Field: Did you talk to Muhammad Ali during this period or ever have any contact?
Neal Adams: No, he was busy. He has his own business. We didn’t talk until the end and it was down, and when it came out, when the book came out, he had won the championship for the third time, so he made a big … we did a news conference. I was there, Ali was there, all the attention went on Ali because he’s the champ, and they announced that … they talked about the third win, and they talked about the release of the comic book. So that helped the comic book sales like crazy. The legendary comic book. It’s beyond me at this point. It’s like, wow, that’s cool.
Alex Grand: That also coincided with the release of the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. Did you feel that Christopher Reeve … since you knew Superman better than a lot of people at the time, anatomy wise, did you feel Christopher Reeve was a good Superman?
Neal Adams: He was a great Superman. As far as everybody’s concerned, he was the best Superman. I don’t repeat things that other people don’t tell me, ’cause I don’t really have any opinions myself. Everybody will tell you Christoper Reeve was the best Superman and everything about him was wonderful.
Bill Field: Let’s fast forward a little bit longer into your continuity era and can you explain a little bit about what that was all about, why you went off and did it? I think we kind of know by some of the things you said.
Neal Adams: Well, I just decided that I would do my own comic books. I mean, there’s nothing that I’ve done in my career that didn’t advance the medium and I’m doing things now to advance the medium, but by publishing myself, it gave a certain credence to why don’t you do this kind of thing. Not a fan magazine, or just kind of crappy publishing, but number one ace comic book people doing their own comic books. Soon after that, or during that time, or after that, you got Image. So you got a major force doing their own comic books. Well, that is the wave of the future. From that you get Hellboy, from that you get all kinds of independent projects, from that you get, what’s going on with the English guy that he’s doing comic books with some of the best artists, Miller, Miller, Millar, however you pronounce it, and that’s no surprise.
Neal Adams: That’s no surprise because we did continuity comic books. Before that, it was minor artists, minor comic book people, or people who were unknown that managed to make their way through, but the majors didn’t quite do it. It sort of started with-
Bill Field: Cerebus?
Neal Adams: -no, no, because he was not a major known artist. That was a fringe guy who jumped in. Same thing with Elf Quest. But then you got Sergio Aragonés Groo and what’s the name of the company?
Bill Field: Epic.
Neal Adams: No, no. Groo and Jack Kirby’s-
Bill Field: Pacific.
Neal Adams: -Pacific Comics. They had a bunch of fans who could afford to pay professionals, and the professionals couldn’t believe that they were actually being paid better than they were being paid by Marvel and DC, and have their own rights. Those fans couldn’t believe that they were getting Jack Kirby, and Sergio Aragonés, and Neal Adams. It was a big shock to them. I had to convince Sergio and Jack Kirby that this was a valid thing, ’cause they couldn’t believe it. I mean, it was just a … so they’d call me they’d say, “Neal, what the hell is this? These guys saying I can keep my rights? That’s impossible!” No, no, it’s not impossible. I guarantee you, it’s fine. So you have now a new industry. An industry where independents are creating their own product and profiting by them. That’s a big deal, that’s a big deal.
Bill Field: Where are you now and what are you doing now, and where are you taking the medium in the future?
Neal Adams: I disappeared for three decades. You guys don’t know that. Think about it. The comic books that I did for other companies that I did interior pages, and did with Superman versus Muhammad Ali. That was it. Then I disappeared. Yes, I came back as a publisher, but that was me as a publisher doing covers supporting continuity comics. So I wasn’t doing comic books. I was doing advertising. I supported my family. We had a studio in New York, we billed $3 million a year on average, so I have the biggest studio of any comic book artist. We had more people working for us on a regular basis, more reps going out there, except it was for advertising. Nobody knew it because nobody communicates.
Neal Adams: So all these people in advertising knew that Neal Adams and nobody in comic books … everybody in comic books thought Neal Adams died.
Alex Grand: Went off the map.
Neal Adams: Yeah, went off the map. So those guys doing all the advertising stuff, if they would find out that I did comic books, they would freak out and go, “You do comic books? Really?” And then some little guy in the back room would go, “Yeah, that’s Neal Adams!” The guys who were in charge had no idea.
Alex Grand: I saw a commercial I think ’79 or ’80 and it was like a-
Neal Adams: The Nasonex bee, yeah.
Alex Grand: That was yours?
Neal Adams: And we’re not supposed to say this, but it was also Antonio Banderas’ voice. That was mine and that’s what put a few million dollars in the bank.
Alex Grand: That’s wonderful to hear. So that sounds like a whole another avenue of interest for people to explore your advertising career right there.
Neal Adams: But I encourage that also in artists. There’s no reason why artists shouldn’t work for Hollywood, shouldn’t work for advertising agencies, shouldn’t do … they have a right to make a living just like everybody else. They have to think about business, they have to think about their own opportunities, they have to think about basically their bottom line, and not worry about DC and Marvel, ’cause you know, who gives a crap about DC and Marvel when you come right down to it. If they own this stuff and they’re not sharing, to the degree that they’re not sharing, we don’t give a shit about them. To the degree that they share, then we care. Okay? And they do share a little bit, and we care to that extent. But if they don’t care more, basically the business is going to be all independents and DC and Marvel’s going to disappear. That’s their own … they’re making their own basket, or weaving their own basket, they’re going to have to live with the water that drains through.
Alex Grand: No, that’s wonderful. It seems like you have … that your confidence and balls of steel almost pushed and nudged other creators to kind of also grasp their creator rights. Seems like you’re a huge force for that.
Neal Adams: Eh, maybe.
Bill Field: It works for me.
Neal Adams: I’m down with that.
Bill Field: Well listen, thank you for giving us such a long interview. It’s been a true honor, thank you so much.
Alex Grand: Thank you, Neal, it’s been a wonderful time.
Neal Adams: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Bill Field: And we’ll keep watching for more Neal.
Neal Adams: Please, oh, you’re going to see lots more. We got a lot of plans. Take it easy guys.
Join us for more discussion at our Facebook group
check out our CBH documentary videos on our CBH Youtube Channel
get some historic comic book shirts, pillows, etc at CBH Merchandise
check out our Comic Book Historians Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google PlayerFM and Stitcher.
Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.