If you came here from the Interviews in Sherwood section, you might notice that you’ve strayed a bit from the familiar greenwood paths of Barnsdale and Sherwood. Instead this interview deals with the hero of Star City (or sometimes Seattle or Starling City) – Oliver Queen aka Green Arrow, the modern-day Robin Hood from DC Comics. Neal Adams, the subject of this interview, revitalized the character in 1969 and was the artist of some of the most critically-acclaimed comic books of all time. I hope you’ll stick around to learn more.
Born in 1941, Neal Adams is one of the most celebrated artists in comic book history. He illustrated the newspaper comic strip Ben Casey from 1962-1966). In 1967, Adams started working for DC Comics (officially known as National Periodical Publications) with his art appearing on many covers. He also won industry awards for the ghostly superhero feature Deadman appearing in Strange Adventures both as artist (from #206) and writer (from #212).
In The Brave and the Bold #79 (cover dated Sept. 1968) Neal Adams drew a team-up adventure between Batman and Deadman. Adams remained on The Brave and the Bold for the next several issues, drawing Batman’s team-ups with a number of guest heroes. Adams shifted the look of Batman away from the once-popular campy TV series starring Adam West into a more realistic and moody style. For example, he would take scenes written to occur during the day and change them to nighttime to re-establish Batman’s role as a creature of the night. Those subtle changes appealed to fans. In The Brave and the Bold #85 (September 1969) Adams also redesigned the costume of the largely ignored Green Arrow.
Adams moved from the team-up book to draw Batman in Detective Comics, beginning with #395 (January 1970). The issue was written by Denny O’Neil who would become Adams most frequent collaborator for the next few years. Adams (partnered with writers Denny O’Neil, Frank Robbins and Len Wein among others) drew several fondly remembered issues of both Batman and Detective Comics. More film and TV depictions of Batman continue to call back to Adams’ time on the comic. For example, Adams and O’Neil introduced the arch-villain Ra’s al Ghul in Batman #232 (June 1971), who was then played by David Warner in the popular 1992 animated series, by both Ken Watanabe and Liam Neeson in the 2005 film Batman Begins and by Matt Nable in the third season of Arrow.
Also, beginning with issue 76 (April 1970), O’Neil and Adams took over the failing Green Lantern comic book, rebranding it as “Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow”. They used the comic to explore many of the political issues in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their work garnered both industry awards and attention from the mainstream press.
While drawing some of the most acclaimed DC Comics, Adams also worked on popular runs at rival Marvel Comics including The X-Men in 1969 and The Avengers in 1971-2. He was among the first creators to work at both companies simultaneously without employing a pseudonym.
In 1971 Neal Adams co-founded Continuity Graphics Associates (now Continuity Studios) an art and illustration studio that provides storyboards, animatics, computer graphics, conceptual designs and motion comics for a variety of customers. He is also a champion of creator rights and was instrumental in restoring full credit to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and insuring they would receive a pension for their contributions.
In recent years, Adams has returned to some of his most popular comics characters with Batman: Odyssey (2010-12), The First X-Men (2012-13) and Superman: The Coming of the Supermen (beginning February 2016).
This interview was conducted by phone on February 7, 2016.
Green Arrow is a comic book superhero from the company most commonly called DC Comics. (It’s had various official names over the years, but the DC logo has consistently appeared on the cover.) Green Arrow fights crime with a bow and arrow, although his “trick arrows” often have special gimmicks to make them strictly non-lethal (although some comics and TV shows have depicted Green Arrow as a killer).
1941 was the “Golden Age of Comics”. Superman had first appeared in 1938 and several dozen colourful costumed characters were introduced to capitalize on that success. Writer Mort Weisinger and artist George Papp introduced Green Arrow in More Fun Comics #73 (cover date: November 1941). He may have worn a Robin Hood-style costume, but Green Arrow most closely resembled DC’s popular Batman character. Batman was secretly millionaire Bruce Wayne. Green Arrow was secretly millionaire Oliver Queen. Bruce Wayne’s ward Dick Grayson was Batman’s kid sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder. Oliver Queen’s ward Roy Harper was Green Arrow’s kid sidekick Speedy. The similarities didn’t stop there.
Although Green Arrow was the cover-featured character in More Fun Comics for a time, he did not achieve the breakout success of other heroes. However, he was a supporting feature in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics, which were headlined by Superman (or Superboy, his teenaged version) and Batman. So while most superhero characters stopped being published in the late 1940s, Green Arrow’s features continued an unbroken run into the superhero revival of the 1960s. However, by the mid-1960s Green Arrow only regularly appeared as a member of the superhero team the Justice League of America.
As you’ll read in the interview below, Neal Adams redesigned Green Arrow’s costume in 1969 to highlight his Robin Hood traits. Justice League of America writer Denny O’Neil continued this trend by having an evil businessman frame and bankrupt Green Arrow’s alter ego Oliver Queen. He was no longer a billionaire like Batman, but instead had developed an interest in the plight of the downtrodden.
Green Arrow was made the co-star of the Green Lantern comic in issue 76. Green Lantern was Hal Jordan, a test pilot who was recruited for an outer space police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. Each member of the Corps was assigned to protect a sector of space. The Green Lanterns used “power rings” which enabled the wearer to fly, form solid objects out of green energy and perform other great feats. Green Lantern was essentially a cop. Green Arrow had been re-positioned as a socialist rebel. Through their unlikely friendship these two heroes explored the political issues of the time.
The original Green Lantern / Green Arrow run (issues 76 -87. 89) may have been brief, but they are some of the most-reprinted comics of all time. (The paperback reprints of the 1990s labelled this run as “Hard-Traveling Heroes”, a phrase that fans continue to use.) Green Arrow was rescued from obscurity and starting in the 1980s was the solo feature in his own comic books. He is also the lead character in the TV show Arrow which began in 2012 and stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen.
AWW: So, where to start, maybe we should start with Green Arrow since that’s sort of the Robin Hood connection and you helped re-design his image by giving him that goatee in The Brave and the Bold (issue 85).
NA: Well, that’s true. I was doing a series of comic books called Brave and the Bold, and I was told that the next character we were going to team up with Batman was Green Arrow. And of all the characters that I was teaming him up with, I kind of rebelled at that because as I told my editor Murray Boltinoff outside of the fact that he’s just a copy of Batman he’s a dull and boring character. And so Murray said “Well, you want to change him?” Ha, well sure. I said let’s try to get him away from what he was and see what we can do. So, my writer, Bob Haney, gave us the opportunity to change him to the extent we changed his costume. But you know, that was enough for me.
I realized that if Green Arrow was going to get away from being an imitation Batman – you know he had an Arrowcar, he had Speedy [Green Arrow’s sidekick] and of course he had those seats in the Arrowcar that would launch himself up two storeys and land safely and not smear himself all over the roof of a small building. If we could get rid of that stuff and basically turn him into a modern-day Robin Hood, then well, you know it’s one thing to be an imitation Robin Hood which isn’t kind of bad, but a bad thing to be an imitation Batman.
He was blond-haired so that gave me the opportunity to give him a blond beard. I made his outfit be a little bit more of an archer’s outfit that I gave him leather protectors on his arms, I gave him a triple quiver so that it would mould to his back. Of course, the question of whether or not old archers ever used the quiver on their back has been brought into question currently, because it doesn’t make any sense. You can’t really move around with a quiver on your back. But I did. You know, I’ve had some experience with archery.
So, I made a character that I felt was more of a modern-day Robin Hood and that is what Green Arrow became.
AWW: And when you did that, what was the reaction? I know even before the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series that look was picked up for a few issues of Justice League by writer Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin was the artist. Is that something that the Justice League editor Julie Schwartz talked about with you when you changed the look?
NA: No, not really. Essentially it was very clear that that character in Brave and the Bold was something that everybody liked. They just loved the character. I mean it was what are we going to do with this character? We have him, he hasn’t got a book,you know, let’s use him somewhere. So Julie tried to use him, and then when the opportunity came for me to do the Green Lantern book which was on the verge of cancellation, Julie came up with the idea of teaming him up with Green Arrow. Which seemed to be a stupid idea at the time, I mean Green Lantern and Green Arrow that’s kind of silly when you think about it. Yet it actually turned into a really good story.
He [Green Arrow] had lost his fortune, so he was kind of living on the edge of civilization in Harlem or close to Harlem. He was like, you know, Robin Hood in the woods. Made a lot of sense to me, and I liked the character. I liked the juxtaposition of himself against Green Lantern. But really it all came about because people just loved the look of the character. It struck that chord.
Now you know you have to understand that I cheated. I didn’t create a great new character that everybody immediately related to. I essentially created a modern Robin Hood and everyone relates to Robin Hood. What’s the difference? He’s got a little mask on his face. Big deal. He’s a modern-day Robin Hood. So, everybody had that picture in their mind. They did not have the old Green [Arrow] picture in their mind – that guy with the green outfit and the Arrowcar and the rest of that. Robin Hood is part of myth. To create a modern-day Robin Hood was so clear and obvious. Also to create, I mean I know you must have seen the Errol Flynn movie a dozen times or more, but this idea of the smiling outlaw with a grin on his puss and defying everybody was very attractive to me, and was attractive to everybody. I mean you know we’re waiting on the TV show [Arrow] for that guy to crack a smile once in a while. And he is actually starting to do it. I think that we're discovering that he possibly could be -- in fact I don't think I'm spilling the beans, but that character played by that actor is going to be in some other show as a kind of a guest and he's going to have the beard.
[Stephen Amell's Green Arrow appeared in the February 25, 2016 episode of the spinoff series DC's Legends of Tomorrow. The heroes of the spin-off are time travellers and they encounter Green Arrow thirty years in the future, by which time he has grown a comic book styled beard.]
AWW: It's always strange to me now when they go back and do a Green Arrow without the beard, even though that's how he was for nearly the first 30 years of his career. The look you gave him is so iconic and the one they always go back to.
NA: But it's really a rip-off of Errol Flynn to be perfectly honest. I mean it's not Errol Flynn in that I kind of modelled him after a little bit after myself and I have a little bit of a square, kind of Irish face, and Errol Flynn has a little bit more of a Nordic long face, but so what? You know, it's still that smiling, devil-may-care character. Thar's what Green Arrow is. Of course on the show he cares about everybody and he takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. But think every once in a while we see that smile blossom forth and I think we're going to see a slightly different character.
AWW: Something else I always liked with what you did with him, besides the smiling, is he had an anger -- a different kind of anger than Batman's anger.
NA: Well, it's a very emotional and loud anger. He lets you know pretty much. Batman seethes and is quiet and goes about his business. But Green Arrow, he just lets you know.
AWW: Growing up in the 70s, and little after your run, but having seen all the things that called back to it, he's a very distinctive character. He looked unlike any other superhero in comics, he had the relationship with Black Canary that was unlike any superhero.
NA: Let's be honest, he's not really a superhero per se. He's a hero. He doesn't have any superpowers, he wasn't bitten by a radioactive sparrow or anything. He just depends on himself. He's an independent character. So, I would call him a hero rather than a superhero. I mean we're so used to calling these characters superheroes these days. But one of the reasons he was such a good character and remains a good character is that he is not a superhero. He's a hero.
AWW: Besides Errol Flynn was there any Howard Pyle in that look? I think of that just because Pyle's Robin Hood was blond too.
NA: I only found out about Pyle later to be perfectly honest. I did not get to see those illustrations -- I wish I had, although I doubt it would have made that much of a difference. But looking at Howard Pyle's stuff, no matter what is always a good thing. Essentially I just said I want to change the character, I want to make him a modern-day Robin Hood. How simple a concept is that? It's as simple as can be.
AWW: Also the shape of his face was different than most superheroes.
NA: Yeah, I would say that, but I do that with heroes in general. I'm really not happy with these bulky heroes. I like athletic heroes who are able to jump and run and do things. Some of these heroes I can't imagine them running down a block without being winded. They seem so bulky.
Go to the Next Section to learn about Neal Adams confronting the Comics Code and pushing the envelope with controversial Green Lantern / Green Arrow storylines.
Below a 1971 DC Comics house ad showing how successful the new Green Arrow was.
This is only the first page in a multi-part interview.
Proceed to page 2 and you'll learn about the show's writers, many of whom were blacklisted in Hollywood. And you'll learn about the themes and content of the main episodes.
PART 2 - Challenging the Comics Code Authority (the drug issues)
PART 3 - Creating John Stewart, Arrow as "The Neal Adams Show" and how to pronounce Ra's al Ghul
PART 4 - Revisiting Classic Covers, Hoods vs. Hats, Green Arrow and Killing, the creation of Merlyn and Ra's al Ghul
PART 5 - Returning to Superman with Coming of the Supermen and also Neal Adams on Batman
PART 6 - Neal Adams on superhero movies, comics as art and conclusion, Links and Order Neal Adams and Green Arrow products
Interview text, © Allen W. Wright, 2022.
Illustrations from Green Lantern / Green Arrow, Batman, The Brave and the Bold, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, Strange Adventures (Deadman) and Superman vs. Muhammad Ali by Neal Adams, © DC Comics, used without permission as fair use for criticism and review
Illustrations from X-Men and The Fantastic Four/ © Marvel Comics, used without permission as fair use for criticism and review
Pictures from the TV series Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow © Warner Brothers Entertainment (Characters owned by DC Comics), used without permission as fair use for criticism and review