Neal Adams: Renaissance Man Part IV
At the beginning of the Renaissance, artists were also scientists and philosophers. Legendary artist Neal Adams is reviving that tradition. He took time away from his work at Continuity Studios to talk to SBC about his work on Batman, his career and how the universe works.
Problem Solving and Sketchbooks: Part Four (of Five)
To read Part One click HERE.
To read Part Two click HERE.
To read Part Three click HERE.
To read Part Four click HERE
To read Part Five click HERE.
OFFENBERGER: You also have this Science Project going on.
ADAMS: Science Project isn’t exactly a science project as much as it is a 40-year-old burden that I have to disabuse myself of very soon. Because I think it is a very successful theory of everything. They talk about science as the theory of everything, how it all works. I think I have figured it out.
OFFENBERGER: I have seen some of the pages you have on line, and I assume you are going to publish at some point.
ADAMS: Yes, as I said, I think I have figured it all out. I think I have figured out how the universe works. It seems like an awful big thing to say, so I don’t really dwell on it a lot. It’s one of those problems that somebody had to figure out and I am probably wrong. The chances that I could be right are hardly any, but if I am, it’s figured out. Then we work from there. I invite questions, always. People think of me as sort of “fireman artist,” like I’ll smash through the door, pull the people out of the fire, and draw comic books in my spare time. I guess I’m part that, but I am [also] sort of a geek. I am one of those guys who is interested in hydrogen power. All kinds of things nobody else is interested in. Comparative religion and physics — those are two subjects that will clear a room faster then any two that I can think of. Oh, you want to talk about comparative religion? Oops, I have to go into the next room.
OFFENBERGER: Comparative religion is a lot of fun if you are talking to someone of a different religion and you can compare and contrast.
ADAMS: Comparative religion is a lot of fun if you address the history or how we got to where we are today. And if there is a possibility for truth to cause us to be more free than we are, or whether all the lies will continue, and that we will be oppressed by the religion that we have to live through for as long as man exists on the Earth. The answer is that I know there is a lot of truth to the study of religion. People are too bored to talk about it. It is a hard thing to talk about. Maybe if I prove it is possible to show how the universe works, maybe people will be interested in the religion, or maybe they will stone me when I’m an old man.
OFFENBERGER: You also have a Blood graphic novel in the works.
ADAMS: Much more interesting. A lot of it is shooting, killing and punching.
OFFENBERGER: Who is going to publish that?
ADAMS: Probably us, probably Continuity.
OFFENBERGER: When can we expect to see that?
ADAMS: I don’t know, because it’s a continued story. Since I am on the first book, I wouldn’t want to publish it until I had the third book done. Probably four books in all, so I am working on it. And I might do a Batman.
ADAMS: We are talking about it.
OFFENBERGER: That’s interesting. I am sure everyone would like to see that. Is this something that Continuity would package for DC?
ADAMS: They seem to trust me, you know. Maybe me and Frank Miller will work on it together.
OFFENBERGER: Interesting, is this connected to DC All Stars, or is this something different?
ADAMS: This would be a separate story.
OFFENBERGER: How far along is this?
ADAMS: Just the talking stage.
OFFENBERGER: This is certainly something everyone would look forward to.
ADAMS: Yeah, I think so. Let me tell you a story. I am at the San Diego convention talking to this guy who is a zoologist. I am talking about my science project. I am talking about how the universe is created. We are having a very good conversation because this guy is a zoologist and there are comic book fans standing around, some of them understanding, some of them wondering, “What the hell are they are talking about this science crap for, when they want to talk about Batman.” I am having this conversation with this zoologist and I am trying to make some points to him. I say, “Why don’t I just give you the theory from the point of view of zoology because you are interested.” He says, “Yes, I am.” I said, “We will just talk zoology as related to evolution of plants and animals on the planet.”
We had a long conversation. It lasted about two hours. At the end of the two hours, the guy says, “Very interesting, very simulating, I am very fascinated by this whole project. Fantastic.” [Then] he says, “I have one question. Do you ever think you are going to do Batman again?” I could understand exactly where the guy was coming from.
Personally I like this science shit if it’s new and interesting, but new things don’t happen every day. Usually you don’t understand them. They are hard to understand. But the advantage of having a comic book artist do it is that I can explain it in English.
OFFENBERGER: That makes it much easier.
ADAMS: Much better.
OFFENBERGER: And there are cartoons to go with it on the website.
ADAMS: Yeah, exactly.
OFFENBERGER: You have the Neal Adams sketchbook out and Monsters…
ADAMS: Which sketchbook are you talking about?
OFFENBERGER: There is a new one out from Vanguard.
ADAMS: Not a new one, the regular one is just a reprinting. We also did another sketchbook that is just a sketchbook. It’s called the Savage Sketchbook. It’s the kind of sketches that are done at conventions; it’s a collection of sketches. Only, we decided to go back and pull out a lot of old sketches and things that are connected to jobs and such. Actually a super sketchbook and we are selling it for $20 bucks at conventions, like the other ones. We are going to go through Diamond to sell it, because it really turned out to be a nifty thing. As much as we have been talking about doing a bunch of Neal Adams books, fancy books, things we have done in the past, blah, blah, blah, which would all be very nice, I find them a little poofy. It would be nice, I feel, since I work on so many things, to do a series of sketchbooks. Like one on girls.
Every once in a while I have done some pretty sexy looking girls; but also girls that are efficient and good at what they do. Like say, Samuree. She doesn’t have big breasts, but she certainly has great legs and a great ass, and she kicks the shit out of everything. I would prefer to have a character like that. We could put the big breasts on the other characters. I like those kinds of characters with a slightly different turn. And men, we can do one on muscles, guys that have more muscles than Fred. Science Fiction, a sketchbook on science fiction. Projects we have done like Warp and various things. We are embarking on doing a series of sketchbooks that people really seem to like. They love the Savage Sketchbook. I think that is something that is going to be coming up in the next year that is going to be very strong for us. Just at that convention, and to Bud Plant, we sold 500 already total of the Savage Sketchbook. Although I have a feeling that once we go into the Diamond Order pack it’s going to take off.
OFFENBERGER: That will get you better distribution, but can't fans get it form your website?
ADAMS: They can get it on the website. Every order that comes in from fans includes the Sketchbook. It’s $30 bucks on the site. But at cons we sell it for $20 dollars. People like to peel that $20.00 bill and get something worthwhile and they do it at the conventions all the time. It may not seem it, but it has become a new force in the business, to do sketchbooks. It’s like oh, by the way this is something I can actually put on my bookshelf and it looks good. It’s not just something I feel like buying for myself, it’s a cool little thing. And so we are doing sketchbooks. We found out from the Monsters book — with Frankenstein, Dracula and the Werewolf — in the back there are sketches from the different movies I worked on and in some ways that turned out to be the favorite thing in that book. It’s kind of nice to have that available to fans. People sort of wonder what Neal does all the time. What does he do between the stuff he talks about? There is this big space of time.
OFFENBERGER: I thought it was commercial work.
ADAMS: Some of it is commercial work, but some of it is quite far ranging. And it’s nice to know what some artists are doing. I like to see what story boards Bernie Wrightson is working on. I like to see what commercial stuff Adam Hughes is doing, besides his regular stuff — it’s got to be sexy, it’s got to be cute; he’s that way. It’s a short form communication, sketchbooks of an artist you like, what they do besides the regular stuff, the stuff you don’t get to see. It’s cool. It’s one of the things we are doing.
OFFENBERGER: Lately we have been seeing more of your artwork, the Neal Adams Sketchbook and Neal Adams’ Monster came out from Vanguard, Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams came out from DC, you did the cover for One Small Voice at Aardwolf, and at Marvel you did a cover for Captain Marvel and the Avengers. Is this the kind of stuff we are going to see more of?
ADAMS: I don’t know. There are lots of good cover artists out there. I would tend to do a more storytelling cover, so I don’t know that I am happy with the stuff I have done so far. We have never closed our doors to doing covers; and it surprises people when they call and say I would love to have Neal do a cover and Kris, who handles the call, says, “If you can afford Neal, we would love to do it.”
How expensive is he? Well, he is not that expensive. Maybe it fits within your budget. The question is really one of confusion. I haven’t put out any vibes that I would like to do covers. On the other hand, I did the cover on the last Avengers. That was a significant and reasonable cover to do. Doing some cover on some second rate series isn’t something to have Neal do. I think you should save Neal for something cool. We are sort of letting the companies know, “If you are going to use Neal, why not use him for something significant.” I have a feeling they made a few more sales [on the last Avengers]. But Marvel has a lot of information to digest. They don’t react as fast as they used to. You know, when Stan was in charge he pretty much made the decisions.
OFFENBERGER: On your website you have a redesign for Batman. Is this something related to your Batman project at DC or was this all on your own?
ADAMS: That was me just messing around. I have had this stuff in my head for a while. I worry about people not solving problems that can be solved in a reasonable way. Like Robin. The problem with Robin came up when the movie company wanted to do Robin in the movies. So they said to DC, “We have to redesign Robin.” They couldn’t use Robin the way he was. And DC was stuck with the problem of what to do. So they called me — a very smart thing to do in my humble opinion — and they said, “Can you do some new designs for Robin?” I said, “Are you asking me to redesign Robin?” They said, “Yeah, we are asking you to redesign Robin.” I said fine and I started to work.
Then I heard through the grapevine that they asked 12 or so other people to redesign Robin. So I had my daughter, Kris, call DC and say, “This redesign thing is going to cost you some money if you want Neal to do it.” They said, “We want Neal to do it.” They ask how much money. She tells them. She said, “What’s happening now is, you’re casually asking Neal to redesign Robin, you’re not telling Neal why. We have a feeling something is going on. You’re not telling Neal it is important or that you’re getting other people to do redesigns, and that he is in competition with other people.” They said, “Oh, no, we don’t have to tell Neal that.” She said, “No you don’t, but on the other hand since Neal is going to win the competition, Neal is not going to sit there with the other 12 guys and just do designs until the cows come home. We are going to charge you professionally, the way we would do it for an advertising agency, if you want Neal to work on it.” They said, “Well, we want Neal to work on it.”
They wanted me to work on it because the film company was saying they would change it. So I started to submit some designs. The most important thing that I did was realize the character had to remain Robin, but had to be a new Robin, and there were some things that were really wrong. Like his legs were bare, that didn’t make any sense. He wore these little elf boots, that didn’t make any sense. His colors were too bright — yellow and red — and he was going to be out at night, it doesn’t make any sense.
So how do you solve all those problems and still not change Robin? Aren’t you talking about designing Batman Jr.? So I started to solve problems as much as I could. I didn’t care about what the others guys were doing. I have done this before on a professional basis. I have designed costumes for stage plays and other stuff. I was solving problems and applying them to a costume. They were just designing costumes. Which was fine, but that was not what the problem was. The problem was how do you make this Robin valid? Turn the boots into ninja boots, cover the legs, deepen the colors on the costume so they were more in [line] with the Batman, put packet things on the sleeves to carry weapons, redesign the mask, redesign various things. Anyway, after a few designs I came up with what I think is the key important design to the Robin costume, and that is that the cape is yellow on the inside and black on the outside.
OFFENBERGER: So that he blends in at night with Batman.
ADAMS: That’s right. At the same time when he stands with his cape thrown back, it’s still yellow and he is still Robin; justifying the yellow cape. So he can actually be Robin, he can have the Red vest; he can have the yellow cape over his shoulders. So we have saved the Robin. That, of course, was the costume that the film company loved. They said, “This is terrific. This solves all of our problems. There were problems they didn’t explain to me, but they were problems I already know because I know this shit. I know this shit because I am supposed to be a professional. So, I had done it. Then they asked DC, “Could you have your designer go one step further? Have him give Robin a darker costume, closer to Batman’s costume.” So, I did. I created another Robin costume. Then I had Kris get on the phone with DC Comics and she said to them exactly what I am going to say to you. “Neal is going to send over a Robin costume. We recommend that you do not show it to the film company. You will sort of like it. It’s not Robin, it’s a dark costume. They will love it because they want a dark Robin. You have already shown them a successful Robin. If you show them this costume they will buy this costume and you will destroy your licensing for Robin forever. We are going to send it over, but we recommend that you do not show it to them. [Make up whatever excuses you can to not show it to them. You can say, ‘You know, we have gone far enough. We have changed the Robin costume enough. We have cooperated enough. We are not going to go any further we are not going to do any more designs.’ We recommend you not show it because it looks too good. Do not show it.”
I don’t think they did. I don’t think they showed it. I think they made the argument and they probably got it through, or they showed it and said, “You are going to destroy our licensing if you do this.” Whatever it is they decided to go with the one before that, with the black on the outside and the yellow on the inside, and that became the Robin costume. And they paid the price for it. Of course they used something I would do. I don’t think it is any kind of arrogance to say that if I do this professionally for other things I should know what I am doing, and I am the right person to go to. It is not meant as a criticism or slight to any of the other guys, because they were really not given the full information. They weren’t explained the problem, they were just saying give us a new Robin costume. So they filled the book with those Robin costumes, and you can see them, but it was not problem solving.
Anyway, that is the same thing that has happened with Batman. That’s the reason you see the thing on my site. Too many people are screwing around with the Batman costume; I am feeling that somebody’s going to come and mess with it too much. Already you have Batman going around with a garrison belt. A garrison belt was modern in 1935, probably 1921, instead of those little tubes at his waist, which clearly everyone recognizes as being useless. You can’t get a batarang out of a little tube. A garrison belt doesn’t work any better, in fact it throws you back in time. There has to be a design for a belt that includes all these things that is molded to the body and make sense. And people shouldn’t be screwing around with other designs. Especially when you come up with a garrison belt. So I thought, “Well if the least I do is get it out there, this is what my thinking is: Take it or leave it, or whatever you want to do. Because I am not making a big fuss of this, but there’s a direction you don’t want to go, a direction you guys have been going. Quit screwing around with this old fashioned stupid stuff. It’s got to be a good costume. If they decide they want to use it, they will pay for it, like sensible people and buy the new Batman costume. If not, at least whoever gets influenced by it will move in the right direction. I don’t want to see Batman destroyed, I have a vested interest at a fan level for that character to continue and to do well.
OFFENBERGER: What do you think was your best comic book work?
ADAMS: It’s not a good question because the answer is always, “I don’t have a favorite. Whatever I am working on is my favorite, blah, blah, blah.” I’ll be glad to say for the sake of saying it that the Superman vs. Mohammad Ali is my favorite comic book. Seventy-two pages of some of the best comic books I have ever seen. It ought to be reprinted, it’s a really terrific comic book. People used to laugh at it because it’s like Superman vs. Mohammad Ali; what is that? But it is probably one of the best and most read comic books around the world.
OFFENBERGER: I actually have a copy.
ADAMS: It’s got a lot of things in there. It reintroduces Superman and gets Superman beat up. It shows boxing technique. The idea of not falling down and not giving up and that there is more to this guy then just super powers, he’s got some guts. And it shows something about Mohammad Ali, and I feel sorry for America for not appreciating its black heroes. But, we are always a little behind everyone any way.
End of Part Four. Look for Part Five tomorrow.
To read Part One click HERE.
To read Part Two click HERE.
To read Part Three click HERE.
To read Part Four click HERE
To read Part Five click HERE.
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