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Wednesday February 25, 2009 10:47 am

An interview with Neal Adams




Posted by Todd Matthy Categories: Interviews

Neal Adams
With New York Comic Con having just passed earlier this month, I’ve decided to bring to you this gem from last year’s convention. Here is an interview I conducted with the legendary, Neal Adams. Unfortunately, I was not able to publish this interview until now. (I’m sorry, Neal) But, Neal is so interesting that an interview from last year is too good to let sit idle. So, without further ado, Neal Adams.

You led the fight for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to be given credit for the creation of Superman. What is your opinion on the ruling that they get fifty percent?
I think if we had done our copyright laws correctly, and rewrote them correctly we would not have to have gone through the process. It’s sad that we’ve had to and that it took a court to help this situation out. It’s the proper thing to do. It should’ve been done by contract, it should have been fair, it should have been equitable, and in the end I’m sorry to have seen it go so far. I just hope that the owners of Superman, Jerry’s wife and daughter and whoever’s related to Joe, think that DC Comics and Warner’s are good landlords of the character. It would be a shame for some third party to jump in and mess everything up.

So there’s a possibility that Marvel could publish Superman?
Isn’t that disturbing?

Do you think Warner should just pay the Siegel’s whatever they want?
You can’t just pay them “whatever”. First of all you have to have “whatever”. You have to sit down and figure out what portion of whatever you can afford to give away and still stay in business. I think that there is a number or a percentage that makes sense and should make sense to fair people. I just hope that the people that are involved are fair. Sometimes lawyer’s opinions of what is fair and regular peoples opinions of what’s fair are two entirely different things. I believe in fair-minded people getting together to work things out I think that’s the best way for things to happen. Sometimes when you call in a lawyer there is no sense of fairness at all it is just “what can I get” and that can destroy things. Things have started to shift the other way.  When I was fighting for Jerry and Joe, it was so far unbalanced against Jerry and Joe that it was a worthy fight. It was black and white. It’s not black and white anymore.   

What was college like for you?
I didn’t go to college.

Art school?
I went to an art high school, School of Industrial Arts. It was fifty percent academic and fifty percent vocational so I got art half the day. For me it was very good. It was a little hard to keep up on my favorite subject, science but I managed to keep up pretty good.

Were you reading comics then?
I’ve pretty much been reading comics all my life. But, not to the exclusion of anything else.

My next question is about your time working with Denny O’Neil. Denny was the first to bring social issues into comics. How did you feel when you got that first script to Green Lantern/Green Arrow, (issue 76), the issue with the immortal line, “I hear how hard you been working for the blue skins, and how you helped out the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bothered with…the black skins! How come? Answer me, Mr. Green Lantern?” Were you worried that some of the material would violate the comic’s code?
No. I would find it a little difficult to say that Denny and I were any different from that point of view. I did a lot of work for the National Lampoon, which is a little radical. I’ve always been involved in kind of radical things so Denny for me was someone who was, were not like minded but we’re sufficiently radical, to work well together.  Denny and I hardly ever agreed but there were things that, if you were a young -person in the sixties, knew to be wrong. Prejudice, union towns, the Chicago Seven trial, there were so many things so overtly wrong that unless you were a Yale Grad, or involved in the institution of White Anglo Saxon Protestant America, things were clearly wrong. So, if you scraped off the cream of wrong #### in America, that top ten percent, Denny and I were both in that area. So, anything that Denny would’ve written in that area was pretty much fine with me. He did do a thing on overpopulation, that was disturbing to me and I believed an incorrect direction to go.  That’s that over liberalizing point of view and I don’t agree with it. I think population has to be controlled but to radicalize it that much didn’t make a lot of sense to me. That would be the only time I disagreed with Denny’s point of view. The drug thing was something that I introduced but Denny was capable of going along with it very, very much. Both of us had been to phoenix houses and interviewed drug addicts. I was the president of a local association of a drug addiction institution in the Bronx. So we were both familiar with the problem and just as I jumped when Denny was doing some of the early writing, Denny jumped in on the drug addiction thing.

How does it make you feel to know that run is being taught in college classes?
I would assume it’s the correct thing to do. I’m not surprised; actually I’d be surprised if it’s not. I’m not a person who has a lot of patience with the shock of society moving forward. When it does I approve, when it doesn’t I’m disappointed. I’m much more shocked at having Bush as President (he was President at interview time) then Green Lantern/Green Arrow being used as a cultural model. I’m surprised they don’t use my “Son of God” stuff from National Lampoon.

Ra’s Al Ghul, I bet you get this all the time, how did you determine his design?
The idea really came from Julius Schwartz and his attitude was that realistically it would be very good for Batman to have a Luthor, (like Superman had) or a Moriarty (like Sherlock Holmes). Someone who was equal in not only temperament but also intelligence to be a villain to Batman. The Joker was insane; the question you then have to say is “is Batman insane?” They weren’t really doing the Joker at the time and when we brought him back he was a homicidal maniac. The question was, “can we come up with a good character?” Denny and Julie got their heads together and Julie named the character, Ra’s Al Ghul, the Demon’s Head. Denny wrote some stories. My problem was okay we agree that it ought to be a villain. We agree that it’s not a costume villain, and that his personage is devastating, what then as an artist do I do? I draw a guy.  So I realized that wasn’t what comics were all about. I had to draw a guy that would stop you. You would look at him and go ‘whoa’. But you couldn’t do an iron mask or all that weird #### you do in comics, it still had to be a real guy. So I kind of cast around to look at those things that would represent such a character; a cadaverous face with high cheek bones, a thick forehead (not like an idiot but a thick forehead that implied a certain intelligence), I decided to take the eyebrows off which artists constantly put back on. I don’t know why.

The goatee.
Those little Manchurian things. One of the things I recognized from my own youth is if you have a high forehead you tend to put your hair over your forehead because you feel you shouldn’t have a high forehead. Somebody whose well with himself and has a high forehead doesn’t mind exposing it because he thinks it represents a certain intelligence and doesn’t give a #### what people think. So, Ra’s Al Ghul would be a person who might have a high forehead and doesn’t care what people think. He is what he is. That was another good thing I think was part of the character. And certain little characteristics came together to create a presence that turned into a character, so you immediately know its Ra’s Al Ghul. And yet you weren’t doing anything more then a regular human.  There’s really nothing odd about him, he wasn’t the Martian Manhunter. That was my job and I think I did my job right.

What about Talia? Did you base her on anybody?
Just fantasies.

How did you feel about Ra’s portrayal in “Batman Begins”?
Well, I’d take his eyebrows off. I thought it was good. Size wise he was good. He had a Ra’s Al Ghul look. It’s sort of like, as a creator, I would prefer that an actor be created that would be my drawing. Knowing that’s not possible, they came to a very good close second. They did a good job.

How is your project with Frank Miller going?
I’m on the second graphic novel and I’m moving toward the third.

When will we see it?
I think probably as I finish the third, which should be in a couple of months, they’ll decide when to put it on the schedule.

Is it going to be like “All Star Batman” in tone? Or more serious?
More like “All Star Batman” I would say. Not quite as crude, but I think Frank may whip a little crudeness into it. I think my Batman is not quite so hard on Robin. He’s very serious and dealing with problems that affect him personally so it’s a much more personal Batman.  The characters I’m involved in take their stories much more personally and much more seriously. It’s not “here’s a case” it affectively deals directly with Batman. It’s stuff that goes on around him. It asks certain questions. Here’s one, who is doing more to help mankind, Batman or Bruce Wayne? Is Bruce Wayne doing more important things then Batman? It kind of turns what he’s doing as Batman into a hobby. If Bruce Wayne feeds a million people in Africa, how insignificant is what Batman is doing?

He keeps the streets safe.
He keeps the streets safe but he doesn’t save a million people who might be starving. Which is more important. If somebody doesn’t get mugged you train more cops. I’m not saying that one is more important. I think it’s a question that needs to be raised. That’s one of the things we deal with in the story.

What are you up to nowadays? I know your doing 3-D work with Continuity (publisher of Bucky O’Hare, Ms. Mystic etc.)
What were hoping to do very soon is a series of graphic novels with our old books and continue Rise of Magic, which we’d been working on in the background. We stopped it during the big comics crash but it’s a great project. We’re not anxious to do it unless we feel comfortable that the climate of comic books is sufficient to make it worthwhile financially. But it seems to be happening.

Do you do any movie or animation design work?
The Nasonex Bee stuff. We’re doing motion capture. I’m kind of doing a little top-secret project for the graphic novels, but I can’t talk about it.  It’s a video and it comes under the heading of viral advertising and promotion. So, were kind of moving into that area.

I know you probably get asked a lot about how long it takes you to do a page. So how long does it take you to do a panel?
I guess one-sixth of a page. It really has to do with what’s on a page. You can put a lot of crap on a page. Look at Bryan Hitch. How long does it take him to do a page? Some of those pages have so much. Some pages are fast some pages are slower.

What was it like designing theme park attractions? Was it hard?
For me, no because I’m a geek. I’m sort of an engineer, sort of a scientist, sort of a designer and I love to come up with ideas. When somebody comes up to me and says, “I don’t understand how we can do this, can you help me?” That’s my favorite thing to hear.

What rides have been produced?
The Terminator (T2) 3D ride, the Spider-Man ride, and lots of other rides that haven’t been done. I did a Batman ride for Six-Flags in Barcelona and they’re talking about bringing that into the United States. Outside of amusement parks I designed a manure converter, a factory that converts manure into CO2, methane, fertilizer, and water. It stops the manure from harming our environment and if you don’t do it cheaply, you don’t do it. But if you do it cheaply people can make money on it and clean up the environment. Funny thing about that. It’s not something comic people will be interested in.

Any advice for aspiring artists?
Study other things beside art. People in comic books are involved in many, many projects. I’m involved in the manure project. I’m involved in the Deana Babbit situation, which you can look up on the Internet. I design amusement park rides. I know engineering. I know science and sociology. To think of oneself simply as an artist, somebody who draws pictures, is really a very limited sort of thing, and you become able to do much less. Artists have to become the leaders in our system not politicians. It’s the creation process that artists have to be involved in. The creation process is not supposed to be a limited process, that’s the worst possible thing.

Once again, thank you Neal Adams for taking the time to speak with me at last year’s New York Comic Con. To check out Neal’s current projects go to www.nealadamsentertainment.com.

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