Comic Book Artist / Writer / Legend
Artist of Green Lantern / Green Arrow (1970 - 1972)
Interview Part Four: Revisiting Classic Covers, Hoods vs. Hats, Green Arrow and Killing, the creation of Merlyn and Ra's al Ghul
Go to Part One to read the interview with legendary comic book artist Neal Adams from the beginning.
In the previous part Neal Adams discuss how characters from his Green Lantern / Green Arrow comics appear on the TV show arrow. This section begins with a discussion of his special tribute covers in February 2016 and leads to his ongoing dialogue with the makers of Arrow.
Allen W. Wright: In a way, you're revisiting several of the iconic covers of that era this month.
Neal Adams: They said "Neal, how would you like to do like 25 iconic covers of this famous artist who has done lots of covers for us?" I said "well, who's the artist?" They said "You." "No, no, that's stupid, you don't want to do that." They said "No, no, we want to do that" and they said "What we'll do is you'll pencil the covers and each one will be inked by somebody else." I said "Really?" "But no, you're not just going to do the covers, the characters on the covers are going to be different characters. So, you know, it's not the Joker holding a card with Batman on it, it's Black Manta holding Aquaman on a card. It's not going to be Superman throwing Batman off a building it's going to be Wonder Woman throwing Superman off a building for the Wonder Woman book." I said "You really want to do that?" They said "Yeah." I said "if you pay me, I'll do it." Not only that I realized as I got into it that they were the same compositions, I didn't have to create a new layout. I just skipped over the layout part and right to pencilling on the covers. So, I did pretty good for like that week and a half. And they got 25 or 28 covers, somethng like that. Pretty crazy. And lots of people - Kevin Nowlan inked three, [Brian] Bolland inked one, Jim Lee inked one, Frank Miller inked one, Walt Simonson inked one, Brent Anderson inked one. It's great. It looks fantastic. It seemed like a stupid idea. Sort of like Superman vs. Muhammad Ali seemed like a stupid idea. No, it's not. Apparently it's not. The first bunch of covers are in stores right now.
AWW: When you did the Green Arrow cover [homaging Green Lantern #76, but switching the position of the characters] you changed Green Arrow's hat, moved it away from the Robin Hood hat.
NA: That's actually kind of a backstory. You've watched the TV show and you've seen these hoods that the guys are wearing, right? Now if you were an archer and you wanted to shoot and you had a hood on and you turned your head to shoot, you wouldn't be able to see. You can't see with a hood on. Stupid. Just put your hand up to the side of your face and turn left. Your eye goes right to your hand. You have to really twist yourself around and yank the hood to be able to do that. It was a stupid idea to begin. It's a flavourful idea, because of hoodies now and all that stuff. But hoodies aren't like those hoods. Hoodies just go on your head. They don't stick out in front of your face or hide your face. So I've had kind of a running dialogue with the guys on the show, and I've admitted to them that you can't put a Robin Hood hat on Green Arrow because it just looks silly. So, the hoodie was sort of a -- I think Mike Grell came up with it.
AWW: In the Longbow Hunters. Apparently it was to keep the rain off in Seattle. [In the 1987 mini-series, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, writer/artist Mike Grell relocated Green Arrow from the fictional Star City to Seattle and changed his costume from Neal Adams' design.]
NA: He also did blousey sleeves on him. Blousey sleeves on a shirt, which is like ... ask an archer if he should wear blousy sleeves and shoot a bow. Not a good idea. Not a good idea. That's a very bad idea. Can you put a hood on? Mmmmm... not a good idea. These are not good ideas, but they're doing them in the show because that Green Arrow's the most lasting. But you can't go back to the Robin Hood thing but I had some exchanges with the fellas doing the show, and I said you know, there's certain Russian hats and German hats that look not like our baseball caps, but would make a very good hat, and if you put it on, you'd say that's a very interesting hat, it's a cap. You know, it's more like a German hat. Because it has a nice style to it. But it's not the Robin Hood hat, but then again it's not a hoodie. So, you might want to think about that. So, I put it on the drawing.
AWW: And that was a message.
NA: Hint, hint, hint.
AWW: I also understand with Arrow you had some issues with the first season with him killing people, which you and Denny O'Neil addressed in the issues with him accidentally killing someone at the very end of your run when you moved to Flash. [After the original Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, it moved to the Flash comic as a back-up feature. After a three-part story, it became a Green Lantern solo backup with Green Arrow as the back-up feature in Action Comics.]
NA: I don't think that was Denny. It was Len Wein, wasn't it?
AWW: The collected editions still credit it to Denny O'Neil.
NA: I don't know... I didn't like doing that. But he does it by accident right?
AWW: Yeah, his arm is injured.
NA: If I was Green Arrow, I wouldn't have done that. I wouldn't have taken the shot. Nor do I agree with it. But I did it because I'm a good guy. When I was at the San Diego Comic-Con, after the first season, the writers of the show came over to my table and introduced themselves. He said "I'm the head writer on the show". I said "cool", and he introduced the other two writers that were there. I said that's great. And he said "What do you think of the show?" I said "Well, so this is where I bulls--t you and tell you I love it, blah-blah-blah. He says "No, no, I really want -- " I said "Nah, you just want me to bulls--t you, right?" He said "No. What do you think?" I said "Okay, if you're really asking me I'm gonna tell you." He said "Yeah." I said "Green Arrow doesn't fire an arrow in someone's f---ing heart and kill them. Hello? Knock, knock. He's got these trick arrows that do this stuff. They don't have - for the most part - points. Well, you've got points on some if you want to pin somebody against the wall or cut a cable or something. But you don't kill people with the bow and arrow! That's like -- no! It's a no-no. We don't do that. It's wrong."
So he says "Next season, guess what?" I said "What?" "We're not going to kill anybody." "All right! All right! Good! Hey, reading the comic books!" He says "Yeah. We get it." I said "Cool." He said "Anything else?" I said "Well, you could put a smile on his face once in a while! Damnit." "Ah, I guess we'll lead up to that." He says "But you're going to see lots of characters you recognize coming aboard." I said "Oh really?" "Yeah." So, we've kind of kept up a little correspondence. I sent him some concepts and ideas. They ignore them.
AWW: Didn't you work on the issue of Justice League where they introduced Merlyn? You drew some of it along with Dick Dillin.
NA: I drew some of it and I introduced Merlyn. [The character has been adapted for the TV series as Malcolm Merlyn, the Dark Archer, played by John Barrowman.] That was like "Why are you guys asking me to do this?" "Well, because you've done Green Arrow, Green Lantern. Can you do this? We'd like you to introduce the character?" I said "So you think I'm going to do such a great job it's going to blow the comic book off the stands?" "Well, maybe." I think it's like one page. Maybe there are other pages, but there's one page where I introduce Merlyn. So essentially I created Merlyn in one page and they asked me to.
AWW: So, you designed the look of the character.
NA: That's right.
AWW: And he was tied in with the League of Assassins, which started with Deadman.
NA: Thank you for reading comic books, my friend! Yes indeed. That's where the League of Assassins began. I mean sure they began before that historically but that's where they were first introduced and I created those. Nanda Parbat, all that stuff. [Neal Adams drew the Deadman feature with the character's second appearance in Strange Adventures #206, cover-dated November 1967. He later took over writing, and what was originally called the Society of Assassins was introduced in Strange Adventures #215 in December 1968 along with the land Nanda Parbat. The characters were later tied in with Ra's al Ghul from Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams Batman comics and have been featured in the Arrow television series.]
Those guys must be reading my comic books pretty heavily. "Where are we going to put this?" "Nanda Parbat." "What is that?" "It's in the Himalayas." "That's cool. How are we going to get there?" "Doesn't matter. Teleport." "Up in the mountains, you know what we oughta have? We oughta have Green Arrow swordfight with Ra's al Ghul." "Swordfight?" "Yeah, on top of a mountain, we're not close enough to a desert. We have to put them on top of a mountain." "Green Arrow doesn't swordfight. He's got a bow and arrow." "Doesn't matter. Have them take their shirts off and fight. Just like in Batman." When that preview came on and they kept on showing the swordfight, I thought "Is everybody seeing this?" And they get it. And then I heard on an interview they had on the Internet with the writers there that "Of course we stole it! What do you think? The only thing was we were in Vancouver and couldn't get to a desert, or we would have shot it in a desert." But no, every bit was taken in that swordfight. [Arrow's swordfight in third season episode "The Climb" was heavily inspired by Batman's swordfight with Ra's al Ghul in Batman #244, cover dated September 1972 by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.]
AWW: Wasn't there a lot of talk when you did that originally in the comics about showing Batman's chest hair?
NA: Look it, I did the cover of that book and there are three things notable on that cover. First that he's got two pair of pants. One pair of pants on, and one hanging from the hand of Ra's al Ghul. Two pair of pants? How do you get two pair of pants? What was that? Now you've got to go to your collection and say "Really?" Yeah, we coloured his legs like pants because in order to take his pants off, you'd have to take his trunks off, and then he would be naked. See? And Julie said, "No, no, colour his legs grey." "Okay, I'll colour his legs grey, just to make you happy, Julie." The second thing was, he got matted hair all over his chest. Like crazy. And nipples. This is something you don't know, but that's the first time in comic books ever that nipples have appeared on a man.
NA: Yeah, historically. Now there may be some pretty obscure place where somebody put nipples but not that I know of. And guys that take their shirts off, they would be nippleless. "Superman, you have no nipples on. Okay, you're an alien, I get it." But no, no nipples and no chest hair. I mean, as far I know, I have nipples and chest hair. But that's the first time. People talk about the chest hair, it's the nipples. That's the thing. But it created a sensation. "Oh my God, can we do that?" "Why not, it's normal?" You know, it's a weird business to be in. And to do the s--t that you do because it's so crazy. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali? You can do that? Yes. Nipples? Holy cow, what kind of repressed, weird industry are we in?
AWW: Or back to the skin colour of John Stewart.
NA: Exactly. "Black people have dark skin?" "Yes, they have dark skin, and they have flat noses and their lips come out as far as their noses. That's the way Black people are. Hello?" That's the way it works. Black is beautiful, you ever hear that phrase? Well, there's a real reason for it being. They're different, but beautiful. And that's the whole point of the thing. Which they say "Their lips come out as far their noses?" "Yes, look at a profile. Almost every Black person you ever met. Except for those announcers on TV, where'd they come from? I have much too much fun doing this. They're about to change what is it, Scooby-Doo? Over at DC they have the license to it?
AWW: Yes, I think they've given Shaggy your Green Arrow beard.
NA: [Laughs] Jim Lee's got a cover in here, and I've got a cover in Scooby-Doo and everyone's going "what? That's not Scooby-Doo." "Yes, it is. It's Scooby-Doo, but realistic." I'm going to do a cover just to contribute to the insult.
Go to the Next Section to read about Neal Adams returning to Superman with his 2016 comic book series Superman: The Coming of Supermen. We also discuss his classic Batman comics.
Interview text, © Allen W. Wright, 2016.
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
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