I’m looking down the front of my pants and Neal Adams is watching me through a camera lens. It’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is what you think.
“Step back against the lamp,” he says. I step back. “Now raise your eyebrows like you’re trying to lift off the top of your head. Now say, ‘Ooo!'”
Ooo, I say.
Neal corrects me.
This is Continuity Studios, an airy, impressive compound of open-door editing suites and glass walls, sound stages and state-of-the-art CGI facilities where animatics and storyboards and, occasionally, comics are created. Neal is the ringmaster, surrounded by his staff of family and protégés?a talented team that deals with clients as diverse as Canon and Kodak and Alka Seltzer and General Mills. There’s even an occasional book cover, like the one I’m posing for.
“Ooo,” says Neal.
“Ooo,” I reply.
Of course there’s still Marvel and DC?work offers from those camps has never gone away. Neal was their top gun as far back as the mid-late 1960s and editors who weren’t even born then still clamor for his work. But it’s never pressured the man who was willing to bite the hand that fed him to rescue Siegel and Shuster from poverty. When something sticks in his craw, Neal speaks his mind.
Take his current bugaboo?Green Lantern.
“I’m just a little upset that DC doesn’t recognize that they have a valid character with a certain background,” he says. “When I worked on Green Lantern, the character and concept were intact.”
It’s no secret that the GL work Neal and partner Denny O’Neil did was groundbreaking; enshrined in the halls of legend among discerning readers. Recognizing this, DC has been reprinting the run in prestige hard covers that, though pricey, cost less than a very-fine copy of the originals. But the surprising thing, to some, is Neal’s current concern; that even three decades after his run on the book ended, he still gives a serious damn about the character and concept and (if I may) continuity.
But Neal does care. He cares a lot. And, to put things mildly, the state-of-the-art makes him wanna wommit.
“Green Lantern has become something of a joke,” Neal opines. “The original concept made sense. There’s an alien Green Lantern, Abin Sur?I guess he was an alien Arab?who crash lands on Earth and he is going to die, so he sends his ring out to find the most worthy person. The ring didn’t find Batman. It didn’t find Superman. It found Hal Jordan. Based on the judgments by these ancient ones, the most noble guy in the universe was Hal Jordan. As a reader, you could buy into that. It’s sensible that that guy might be a test pilot. And he’s a good guy?a solid guy. That Green Lantern would never do the things that the writers at DC have caused him to do?to go nuts, kill people, etc. It was a wrong direction. It was a mistake.”
Neal isn’t alone in his chagrin. The fans have spoken too and the nays have it. But Neal has always been above the cacophony of negativity. He’s got the cure right at the end of his pen.
“I think the editors at DC are starting to understand that all those things that happened to Hal Jordan have to be done away with,” he says. “And I have a story that will undo them. I don’t know if anybody else has come up with a viable idea, but mine is very simple. You can view a thing that happened from one point of view?for instance, if someone is attempting to rape a woman at knifepoint and another guy comes in and beats the shit out of him, a third-party will have different reactions to the outcome depending upon where he came into the story. If he only walks in at the end, he might perceive a homicidal maniac attacking another man. But if he came in earlier, he’d see a man preventing a woman from being raped.”
So, is there another way to view what happened to Green Lantern that changes things 100%? “I think there is,” says Neal. “Up until now, we’ve dealt with this bumbling Kyle Raynor, who is an idiot. We haven’t had Hal Jordan. So now fan reaction?which is gauged by sales?is forcing the editors to rethink what they’ve done with Green Lantern, and DC is returning Hal Jordan to the role in an initial mini-series. “I just have to believe that they’re not going to do it the right way,” Neal says. “I’d submitted an outline to DC, but they’ve ignored it so far, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Meanwhile, back at the Marvel ranch, Neal has some other fixes in mind. He’s submitted a script that re-examines “The Kree-Skrull War” (as originally told by Neal and Roy Thomas in the pages of Avengers #93-98). “Events happened between Roy and myself that caused me to back off half-way through than story arc,” Neal recalls. “Roy asked John Buscema to pencil some pages at the time?he was hoping to pressure me into going exclusive with Marvel. So I left the project, and I left Roy with what I thought was a good direction, but he wrapped it all up in one issue. That was not the way I would have done it. A lot was left out and I’d like to tell the true story.”
I make a mental note that it’s interesting that Neal would still care about this single, seemingly insignificant story so many years after the fact. But the answer is obvious: It’s really no different than Green Lantern. The man is just passionate about everything he touches. Always ways. You can see it on the page. And it was and is this precise quality?as much as any technique?that Neal’s many protégés have walked away with over the years.
“There’s a part of me that wants to write and draw comics, and another part that just wants to go off and make movies,” Neal says. “I think I have to serve both masters.” It’s true. The comics work never ends. He just turned out 14 pages of his new series Blood in two weeks. Comics are still important to Neal Adams.
“When I came to the industry in 1959, comics were regarded as no better than toilet paper. It was a dead zone. Nobody came in. Most guys my age were doing something else. People were fleeing comics?it was the worst possible time for comics and the books themselves were bad. They should not have survived. But they did because people are freaks. It was never intended to be a great medium. When I got in, no one recognized me as doing anything important. I would never have contemplated gaining recognition when I came in. I was just happy that somebody would give me money to draw pictures.”
“I guess I think more of comics than anyone I know,” he says in a quieter moment. “I’ve studied many, many things from art and history to science and religion and I’ve come to the conclusion that comics are more important than most people give them credit for. They are an evolutionary process that takes us from cave drawings to telling stories with pictures and words. They are important. It has nothing to do with the fact that I love to tell a story. That’s a universal trait. We all love to tell a story. And if we can, we love to illustrate a story. But just as the field of illustration is dying, comics are becoming more alive. They’re doing something. People of the same quality and ability as illustrators of old are now telling comic stories. It’s amazing the amount of material that’s coming out and the quality of the artists. It’s the most exciting time in history, and much of it is happening in comics.”
Ooo, I say.
Ah, says Neal.
© 2004 Clifford Meth
[Clifford reports that Aardwolf Publishing is almost out of the first print of “god’s 15 minutes” ? If you want one, visit www.aardwolfpublishing.com ]
© 2004, Clifford Meth