Neal Adams—02/19/05—Batman comics

/content/interviews/70/3.jpgNeal Adams has been an artist for half a century, and although his art has appeared in many contexts, he is best known as a comic-book artist. Adams's collaborations with writer Dennis O'Neil in the pages of Batman are legendary (as a team, they created Ra's Al Ghul). The team's Green Lantern—Green Arrow series is also well-known. Adams has also been strongly associated with the characters of the Spectre, Deadman, and the X-Men. Adams's own Continuity Studios is today a premiere advertising firm, and his work continues to be in hot demand in the comic-book world. For more on Neal Adams (and his remarkable scientific crusade), check out Neal's website. Neal graciously submitted to my battery of questions during the 2005 WonderCon in San Francisco, CA.

G: You famously battled DC Comics for the proper compensation of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. How do you rate the state of artists' rights in comics today?

NA: Well, obviously they're better. Ha ha! Because usually I win. So I've had—I wouldn't call them battles. I would call them friendly confrontations. And I think that I just have the ability to be more friendly than they do, and so after a while, they end up agreeing with me. Whether I'm right or wrong. So things are a lot better. I mean, when I began in comic books, artwork was not being returned to the artist. There were no royalties. There was very little respect for the artist, and some artists didn't even sign their names. We've changed all that. And rates are high. You can actually make a living and support a family and draw comic books, which was something that you couldn't easily do before that. So yeah, things are great! They're amazingly great. The business may be on the verge of collapsing, but essentially the creatives are being treated much better than they used to be.

G: On that subject, since Volume 2 of the Batman Illustrated series, how complete is your creative control over these collections?

NA: My creative control is zero. I have to go and beg for any input at all. I had to ask to recolor the books and to do any work on it. And I had to appeal, I guess, to the money interests at DC Comics that if in fact I did this work, extra work, for free, that people might buy more copies, and they'd make more money. Which is the good appeal—

G: Which version of Batman lived most prominently in your imagination before you took on the character?

NA: I think that I—I don't think anybody's. I think it was a coalescence of all the people who did Batman. But not the later artists, not the '50s stuff. It was the early—I guess late '40s, early '50s, where Dick Sprang and all those guys, Jerry Robinson, were doing Batman. Later on, when the imitat—or Bob Kane "ghosts" and Carmine [Infantino] did it, I really didn't feel that that was Batman, but that was the campy time, when they were doing the TV show. That really wasn't anything that intrigued me. It seemed, in fact, anti-Batman.

G: Dick Giordano's another legend in Batman history. How do you see his contribution to the character and to you personally?

NA: Well, Dick Giordano, as you know, was my partner. And my associate and an inker and, at times, editor. So my feeling about Dick is personal. I don't comment on Dick's stuff professionally, except to say that if he was good enough to ink me, I must have liked his work quite a bit. And on a personal basis, I love him. I think he's a great guy. He's the best.

G: Can you describe the nature of your collaboration with Denny O'Neil? It seems you were more than just his artist and perhaps he was more than just your writer.

NA: No, in fact, I think that that would be the proper definition. He was my writer, and I was his artist. We—the difference that might have existed was: when you get to work with somebody and you find it easy to work with them, then you can take certain shortcuts that you might not otherwise take. And Denny seemed to feel that he was able to do that because he knew that I would understand what it was that he wanted. So he really spent less time on the description, and more time on—he just gave me a brief description—and more time on the dialoguing, so I think I probably got the best dialogue out of Denny that you could get. So I think in that way we got the best out of each other.

G: How did Ra's Al Ghul come into being, and how did you help to formulate that character?

NA: It was decided between Julie Schwartz and Denny O'Neil that they would create a new villain, who would be less of a "gag character" with a costume and more of a regular person. When I got the description of the character, I realized I was in a pickle because, in a way, they had gone in the opposite direction. In their effort to avoid costume villains, they had just given me a man. So now I was caught between "Do I just do a businessman who looks slightly," you know, "like an Arab? Or do I create a costumed villain? I can't do that. So what if I find someplace in between that: somebody who is so characteristic that when you see him, you step—do that step back you do when like if Sean Connery entered the room. Or Yul Brynner or somebody that—who's that imposing. So I had to put together on a much more subtle basis a character that would give you that impression. If I said to you, "Ra's Al Ghul has no eyebrows," you would say, "No, he has eyebrows, doesn't he?" And I would say, "No. If you look at the first Ra's Al Ghul, and any interpretation I did, he has no eyebrows." Other people have drawn him and put eyebrows on him. Doesn't make any sense to me because one of the things about him is that he has no eyebrows. He also has a very thick brow. He has a receding forehead. And he has kind of a Boris Karloff, mildly cadaverous face. All the elements that I put together: the way he dressed, the way he acted, the way his hair was, everything about him turned him into a unique character. That's why he's so memorable. I just stepped slightly over the line. And stayed there. And that's what made him. Otherwise, he really, I think, would just have been a guy. And that's not what I was looking for. I also think that the interpretation inspired Denny to do more with the character. It's not like it was necessarily intended to be an ongoing character or a strong character, but once the interpretation was there, suddenly it became something more to write to, y'know?

G: You also initiated the character of Man-Bat.

NA: Yes.

G: How much of Frank Robbins's first story came from your brainstorm?

NA: So when Frank Robbins was in a story meeting with Julie Schwartz, Frank Robbins didn't have a story. I had already written a synopsis for Man-Bat, and because I was kind of a fan of Frank Robbins, and I saw they were in a—and they were going nowhere, and they asked me if I had a story idea, I said, "Well, sure, I actually do have a good story idea." They said, "What?" I said, "Man-Bat." And Julie Schwartz laughed at me, as if I was an idiot. And I said, "I'll tell you what, Julie. If Marvel Comics decides to do Man-Bat, and they have the right to do it, DC Comics is screwed. This is a terrific idea. I'm not going to take it over there, but I'm telling you, sooner or later, it's going to occur to somebody at Marvel: 'Hey, why don't we do a Man-Bat?' And that'll be it. "Alright, let's do the story." So I started to go over the story, and then I pulled out the synopsis, and I gave it to Frank Robbins. And that's what he did it from. So it's all my story: hundred percent. With Frank's grateful thanks. And if he were here, he'd tell you so. [Ed. Robbins died in November of 1994, at the age of 77.]

G: One of the intriguing revelations in your intros to the Batman books is that you see the character as a physically conditioned Ted Danson: the height and the wry smile. Can you describe how your Batman evolved from a generic-looking hero to what many consider the definitive Batman?

NA: I don't think that he did. I think that he was always the guy that I think is Batman. I never considered him to be anything less. I just drew him the way I assumed everybody else did. And, you know, as it turns out, that's exactly how everybody else thought about it. So I think when you hit a chord, you're not really doing anything new, you're simply striking the chord that everybody else is attuned to.

G: Yeah.

NA: So—.

G: But during the '50s and '60s, he was a lot lighter—.

NA: I think he wasn't striking that chord! (Laughs.)

G: And since then—

NA: You know, when you have a guy walking in his underwear on the street in the middle of the day, and kids go, [whiny kid voice] "Mommy! It's a man in a grey costume—."

/content/interviews/70/4.jpgG: I think, really, you set the stage for how everybody sees Batman since, really.

NA: Yeah.

G: 'Cause it refined what Bob Kane and Bill Finger had, too. Your version was different from them, as well.

NA: Not really.

G: No?

NA: It's that—most of those guys couldn't draw that well. But as well as they could draw, they drew this nifty Batman, within the framework of their style and their abilities. I happen to be a slightly better, more accomplished artist. So I would tend to draw a more finished piece. Not because—not because I'm better but because that's what I do. So it's just what they did brought forward, and I just left out the stuff in the middle. The crap. (Laughs.)

G: Christopher Nolan's out there giving you credit, as you're due, as his inspiration for the new Batman Begins film.

NA: For what?

G: For being one of the primary inspirations for his conception of Batman Begins. Do you have any thoughts about that film? Not having seen it, of course.

NA: The new film?

G: The new film.

NA: Who's Christopher Nolan?

G: He's the director of the new film.

NA: And he's—okay, fine. And he's giving me some credit?

G: Right.

NA: I think that's a good idea.

G: Right. (Laughs.)

NA: I think if I were him, I would probably do the same thing. And I appreciate it. I don't—I'll tell you what a creator doesn't like: when the time comes for a tip of the hat, when the tip of the hat doesn't come, it's a little annoying. And I have a very slow boiling point. I really don't get upset, but, you know, everybody's boiling point—it's sort of like on a thermometer: it just kind of rises, and I just never let mine get to the top. But as a matter of information, it is annoying to do work and not to be recognized for the work that you do. For—whether they do it for personal reasons or ego reasons or they do it for business reasons—"Don't give him recognition, 'cause we might have to pay him money!"—or whatever the reason, I don't believe that that's a really good idea. And it's very nice that he would do that, and proper—I'm looking forward to the possibility that that movie may be Neal Adams' Batman. I would really like to see that. 'Cause I keep on being asked, with the other movies, you know, "What do you think? What do you think?" by Warner's executives, and I tell 'em that, you know, that I think that they're nifty and good commercial products, but they're not Batman. I mean, nobody sneaks up behind Batman, hits him in the head. In my opinion. Nobody can sneak up behind me and hit me in the head. And if that can't happen to me, in spades, it can't happen to Batman. So I think Batman is a very different character.

/content/interviews/70/5.jpgG: Your Superman-Ali comic was a real labor of love for you. How did that comic come about, and why did it capture your imagination so much?

NA: I think the easy answer is—I could give you the glib answer, and the glib answer would be because everybody thought it was a stupid idea, therefore it was attractive to me. And there's a lot of truth in that. The other—the other is: you have to understand I'm a child of the '60s. I believe in all those things that happened in the '60s, of equality and all those things. I feel that I, as a child, was lied to by all of my society into believing that bigotry was the standard of America, and it was okay in any way. And for me, the shock of realizing that I was living in a bigoted society was so great that anything that I could do at any time to undo that concept, I would volunteer for because I felt I owed this personal debt to my own stupidity, that I grew up in this kind of ignorance. For me, Ali represents much more than a boxer. Ali represents a stance that a group of Americans took and that was appreciated more in the world than it was appreciated here in America. Let me tell you something about that comic book. It didn't do that well in America, but that comic book, around the world, sold like hotcakes. It was one of the most popular comic books in the world. I think if somebody ever did a historical review of it, they'd discover it probably was. The most popular comic book in the world. And I have more friends and people I know that—relative to that comic book than anything else. So for me, yeah, it was a labor of love, because I creatively got to do something, but it's also a labor of respect for Muhammad Ali, for what he did. Not just in the boxing ring, which is terrific, and I learned about boxing in order to do it, but for what he did in the world. Here's a guy who came up with a tremendous amount of ignorance, and on the other side of the tracks, to a certain extent. And fought his way into American culture and made a difference. Maybe as much as Martin Luther King, I'm willing to say; for young men at that time, standing up against the draft made a significant impact for African Americans, who were being drafted by the carloads to go off and fight a war that they didn't agree with. So, for me, Ali: tremendously significant.

G: Your success in comic books has fed into two other passions of yours: your company, Continuity, and your crusade to challenge many of the assumptions of science today. First, how did Continuity come into being, and where is it at today?

NA: Well, the way we started Continuity was I was working up at DC Comics, and I had managed to accomplish a lot of things, brought a lot of artists and writers in. And I was using a room up there, for my own purposes, while I was in town, and after a time, when things got rolling, the subtle hint was dropped to me—about a day before I realized I ought to get the hell out of there—that maybe I didn't have to work there anymore. It beat me to the punch—So I had to go have a studio in Manhattan, so I rented a space from a guy I knew, and the space was very big. And he was moving out of it very slowly. And I had no—it was too much space. So I decided to start a business. And that was it. I wish I could tell you a much more interesting story—Well, the company now is actually quite successful. We do—you know, we're a multi-million-dollar business. I say "multi" because it's more than one. Less than ten—We do what are called animatics for advertising agencies, storyboards and comps. We also do computer-generated, CGI commercials now. We have a commercial on the air for a company called Nasonex. It's the bee commercial. If you watch television at all, you see this commercial all the time. The bee is on a—above a flower, he sneezes, falls into another flower, goes in this window, gets this spray in his nose, and then that's—and the voice is Antonio Banderas. You don't care about that—it's comic books, right?

G: No, no. (Laughs.) I care. (Laughs.)

NA: So it's a commercial. So it's cool. I'm also doing a little directing. And advertising agencies are letting me do it, and we're talking about, "Well, why don't we take—roll all this stuff we have up into a ball and say, 'Why don't we make a film?" So now we're contemplating very serious about making a film. So we're—things are moving rather rapidly at old Continuity.

G: Your scientific pursuit is a big story waiting to happen. Can you attempt to summarize your take-all-comers challenge to the Pangea Theory?

NA: You're asking a lot in that question.

G: Yeah.

NA: I'll try to give you a short answer—In the history of the world, there are assumptions made by each advance in society, and, you know, we discover periodically that the world isn't flat, and then later on we discover that the world goes around the sun, rather than the sun going around the world. And each time we make these discoveries, we figure we know everything. And so we just go on, and nobody questions the assumptions that we make. And then those assumptions last for like—and so we have theories, and we present these theories—the assumptions—the theories that come up along the way very often—just like the flat world is and all the rest of it—can be wrong. One comes up that's wrong, and then the other assumptions are piled on top of it, then you get this whole panoply of theories all trying to justify that one bad theory. Like the Sun goes around the Earth. If that's basically wrong, everything that you learn from that point on is wrong. And so in science, we do this. We build these piles, these pyramids of poor theories that go up and up and up and up and get worse and worse. So now we have a whole stack of really bad theories. And as a viewer of science and the world and how things work, I became really bothered when the theories finally impacted on my brain, relative to the Pangea Theory. Pangea Theory drove me nuts. And if you heard the assumptions of the Pangea—. So anyway, the Pangea Theory was presented, and the concepts that Pangea Theory presented were nothing short of insane: that continents moved around on the surface of the planet as if they were floating in water, they crashed into one another and they made mountains, they randomly floated around. It was preposterous. It was just—and they all—they based it all on 1) that South America and Africa fit—seemed to fit together, and 2) they could prove that they fit together and they were once together. So once you had that, you go, "Well, then they must have been together, so in order for that to be—" and then they check the other continents, and they found that they fit together. They said, "Well, they all must have been one big, giant continent on one side of the Earth." The next logical step—an alternate step—would be "Well, what about if the Earth were smaller, and it grew, and all the cont—upper crust broke apart and just spread apart." That would be a much more sensible argument, except then you would have to say the Earth grew. Well, that was terrifying for these scientists. And there were some scientists that said, "No, the Earth grew, or expanded." And I realized they were right, this small group of scientists: it must have been that way. But they were geologists, and all they could do was defend this point of view from the point-of-view of geology, not of physics or nuclear physics or cosmology or paleontology. They only had geology to look at. They were right! Also, the Pangeists were right. All the continents were together and they broke apart. The only difference between that and the truth is all the continents were together and they broke apart, but that one continent wrapped around the whole world. It's the only difference. But to be able to defend that point of view, they would have to know all the other sciences. So what I did is I studied all the other sciences. 'Cause nobody can stop me. (Laughs.) It's like, "Don't let him read!" You can't do that. So if it's available for anybody to read, I can read it. If I have to go someplace special, I can go there; I have feet. And if it takes me three years to figure out a problem, I can take three years. I don't lose tenure, I don't lose—nobody can fire me, and nobody can frighten me. I'm not one of those people that is easily frightened or insulted out of doing something. In fact, probably marks my career that—(Both laugh.)—when you tell me something can't be done, I go ahead and do it.

G: Thank you very much for talking to me.

NA: Okay! My pleasure.