Comic Book Artist / Writer / Legend
Artist of Green Lantern / Green Arrow (1970 - 1972)
Interview Part Five: Returning to Superman with Coming of the Supermen and also Neal Adams on Batman
Go to page one to read the interview from the beginning.
In the previous section Neal Adams talk about his work on the modern-day Robin Hood Green Arrow and his advice to the makers of the TV show Arrow. Now we turn to another classic comic book character, Superman. In February 2016, Neal Adams began a new comic book series Superman: The Coming of the Supermen.
Allen W. Wright: And you're doing Superman again. Well, I say again but aside from covers, a couple issues and Superman vs Muhammad Ali, this is one of the few times where you're doing an extended story with the character.
Neal Adams: Well, that Superman [in 1978's Superman vs. Muhammad Ali] I tried to follow a standard Superman to do that. The Superman I'm doing now is is a little different. Not that different, but a little different in that he's handsome enough to fall in love with and he's got enough anatomy to go around. And in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, it was, you know, Curt Swan's Superman a little trimmer but fine. [Curt Swan was the dominant Superman artist from the late 1950s until the mid-1980s.] This is similar. But it's how you remember Superman. Somehow I'm trying to do the Superman within your brain. You know, this really powerful Superman who is good-looking and got a curl on his forehead and s--t like that? That's the Superman I'm trying to do. Is that any different from Superman? I don't think so.
One of the things that people say is that I changed Batman and made him into the modern Batman. You know, the Dark Knight and the cape flowing. And all the other stuff. Trim and athletic. "I changed Batman." No, I didn't. I didn't change Batman at all. I just did the Batman that Jerry Robinson did, only I draw it better. [Jerry Robinson was an early ghost artist for Batman co-creator Bob Kane. Robinson created the Joker and Robin the Boy Wonder.] And that's all. I didn't change Batman at all. I even gave him later on the Batman symbol on his chest that didn't have the moon around it so it would make a target for people to shoot at. That was weird. Carmine did that, I think -- put the thing around. [When Batman was introduced in 1939, his chest symbol was a black bat. In 1964 artist Carmine Infantino put a yellow circle around the bat symbol. When Neal Adams revisited Batman in the 2010 series Batman Odyssey, he drew the character without the yellow circle.] "Carmine, it's a target. People are going to kill him." "No, they don't see it. Just cover it up with his cape." "No, it's yellow. Sorry, f---ing yellow." Really? If somebody wore something yellow, I would see it. Anyway, so I didn't really change Batman. I mean people give me an awful lot of credit for changing Batman. I didn't really change Batman at all. I made him what he was, only just a little better drawn.
Click here to listen to an audio clip of the following section.
So that's sort of what I'm doing with Superman now. I'm making Superman better. I'm not making him different. I'm not, you know, putting him in a t-shirt and jeans. He's wearing his Superman outfit. The belt is a little different because I think he needs a good belt. He's still wearing the trunks on the outside of the pants in my Superman. Got an S on his chest got a cape. It looks like Superman. And that's the Superman we know and love. And as far I'm concerned it's your Superman or my Superman, he's the Superman we've grown up with. And I like that character.
They keep on messing with him. You know they got a Superman in the movies that's got armour on. What does he need it for? He's the Man of Steel. Hello? Or in the comic books, he's got a collar? That goes up his neck, right? Sort of like a West Point collar? If Clark Kent puts his shirt on, don't you see that sticking above it? Really? And the sleeves come out and then they push past his wrists onto back of his hands, so Clark Kent not only can't roll up his sleeves, but when he reaches for something the Superman costume comes out. [The 2011 costume designed by Jim Lee.] You know, we were able to forgive that for a long time but now it's like ... whoa. Weird. And when Superman has to pee, is there a zipper in the front? I don't think so. I'm just saying. So I'm dealing with it, you know. I really don't swing at high balls. I swing at low balls. But I usually connect.
I have a Superman cover right in front of me where I have Superman holding Luthor and Darkseid apart and they are trying to kill each other and Luthor is heavy. He looks like Luthor. I remember Luthor - he was chunky and had that thick neck and jowls. And he wasn't handsome and attractive. And he was bald. I have a scene where Luthor's trying to take blood from these different Supermen, and Superman is destroying his machinery and s--t, and telling him there are certain things he can't do. Luthor says "I'm going to sue you", and Superman says "I got a paper trail on you that's as long as my arm, and if anybody's going to do any suing, I'm going to sue you." And then Luthor says "You know, I really hate your hair." [Laughs]
AWW: When does that come out?
NA: The first issue comes out this month [February 2016]. And it's got a boy and his dog. There's a little Muslim, Arab kid -- "A Muslim, Arab kid? Neal! What are you doing?" Maybe Superman's going to adopt him. The kid doesn't have any fun, and they don't like his dog where he lives.
AWW: I guess today no one would give you the trouble like they did back in the early 70s?
NA: Oh, they give me trouble. Are you kidding? I did a cover a few years ago where I had Superman in front of this Muslim kid and his dog, and there's a bomb going off right behind Superman and he's shielding the kid with his cape and himself. And it's a cover, right? And I submitted it to DC Comics because I thought it would be easy to write a story for it, and they didn't reject it, but they didn't accept it. You know what I mean? "Oh, this is good. I don't know if we can use this. Maybe later. Umm, we'll talk about it later." [Laughs] So I made it the theme of the story. Ah, s--t. [Laughs again]
AWW: I'm looking forward to that.
NA: Me too. I'm having a great time. I got Kalibak, I got all the characters, Granny Goodness.
[Characters by artist/writer Jack Kirby, For those who don't know, Jack Kirby had a long career in comic books. He's best known for his Marvel Comics worked where he co-created (with Joe Simon) Captain America in 1941 and in the 1960s with Stan Lee co-created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Avengers. He illustrated Green Arrow in the late 1950s, drawing the story revamped Green Arrow's origin to the Robinson Crusoe-like story still used today. In late 1970 Kirby left Marvel for DC Comics once again and created a sci-fi mythology across four different comic book series. These comics featured the struggle of the heroic New Gods from the planet New Genesis against the evil tyrant Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips. Kirby first introduced these characters in an issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Darkseid and his henchmen, including his son Kalibak and Granny Goodness, have often been incorporated into the Superman storyline by later writers and artists.]
AWW: Are you doing them in Neal Adams style or a fusion with Jack Kirby?
NA: Well, when I do Jack Kirby's stuff I tried to thrown as much of Jack Kirby. Okay, let's be honest between you and me and the fencepost. Jack wasn't what you call a draftsman. Not really a good drawer-er-er. You know what I'm saying? He was a great comic book artist, a great creator, did lots of stuff fantastically well, but it took somebody like [inker] Joe Sinnott to clean it up and make it a little less, you know, teeth looking like giant Chiclets and s--t like that. So, if I do it, the question is what then do I do with Jack Kirby's stuff. Well, I find excuses to do more Jack Kirby when I'm doing Jack Kirby stuff than other guys do. Other guys clean it up and the make it, you know, more brilliantine. I try to make it as Jack Kirby as I can. And so I'm having the damnest time doing Kalibak and all these characters. And they look like Jack Kirby. You would say if you look at it, you'd say well, you know, maybe a little better drawn, but it's Kirby. It's Kirby's characters. That's the goal I'm trying to do. You know, we always kind of like Jack when the stuff is drawn a little bit better, and it's a little bit neater and a little bit cleaner -- and it gets a chance to slow down and maybe not do maybe five pages a day and can do two to three pages a day. And he can put more into them.
So I'm trying to do the best of Kirby and not the least of Kirby, but I'm keeping the Kirby. I'm not changing the costumes, I'm not changing the faces, as soon as you see Granny Goodness you say "Oh, it's Granny Goodness." "It's Kalibak, jumping out of the Boom Tube right in your face." And the costumes are the same. I'm keeping everything the same. I'm too lazy to change it anyway. Too many guys are changing the stuff when they don't need to change it. Obviously he had reasons to doing the costumes the way he did. So why screw with them? I keep them. It's Kirby. It's my turn on Kirby and it's only a matter of draftsmanship. It's not a matter of not doing an homage. It's all homagey. It's homagey everywhere. I got Darkseid right here screaming at Luthor. And Luthor is Curt Swan's Luthor and Darkseid is Jack Kirby's Darkseid. Never the twain shall meet. It's just that muscles are in the right place a little bit more, know what I mean?
AWW: That's one of the things you're famous for, the photorealistic style.
NA: I would say that I tip more toward Kirby in this because you do have to do some of these bold, slashy Jack Kirby lines, nice big blacks, clunky muscles and s--t, big chompers -- those big teeth that don't seem to fit into anybody's mouth. Yeah, I do that. But I know how to do that. You see, I started out as a cartoonist -- a big foot cartoonist. What they call big foot. Big foot is a cartoon, characters with big feet. A little foot artist is a person who draws like superheroes and they have little tiny feet. That's the difference between big foot and little foot. You just learned something. And I started out doing kind of big foot stuff. Sort of cartoony. And I liked doing that. But then I realized I could draw better so I started drawing realistic stuff, but I never lost the cartoony aspect of it. So I can bend toward cartoony, and Jack Kirby's stuff is a little bit more cartoony than my stuff, so I can just go there. It's not hardened. I don't have any religious beliefs in any of this bulls--t.
AWW: And with that cartoonist background you can adapt to Kirby better than other comic artists can.
NA: Oh sure. I've seen it. I see other people and they just can escape their own desire to change s--t. I don't have that desire. Like when I did Batman. You could say "What did you do to Batman?" "I didn't do anything." "Yeah, but it looked different." "Yeah, everybody who drew Batman looked different, didn't they? But it's still Batman." I'm not trying to make him bulky or anything. He just looks a little bit more athletic and his cape flows better, but it's still Batman. Everything's the same. I didn't change it at all. I'm not changing Superman. And I'm trying my damnest not to change Jack Kirby. Why should I change Jack Kirby? The other thing too is like you can sit around artists all the time and say "Boy, would I like to do Kirby." As soon as I would say I'm doing Jack Kirby "Can I ink some?" "Can I ink some?" "Are you doing those lines?" "Yeah, I'm doing those lines." "Oh really, can I ink some?" Because you look at that Kirby stuff and you go "Yeah, you don't even have to use a pen, you can use a big brush - plop - and blow in those lines. As soon as you say it, everyone wants to do those lines. Kirby lines. And Kirby energy. You know all those dots? Kirby energy! Sure, that's great. Kalibak is loaded with Kirby energy. It's coming out of that battle axe he has - choom! -- Kirby energy. I'm just having a great time. I'm keeping the faith with Jack. And I wish other people would too, you know. Maybe, we could get back to... You know, within everybody's style is the ability to do Jack Kirby's stuff. As long as you don't change it. You can do it in your own style but don't change it. Don't put a different outfit on the character because you happen to like that or you think you're a better artist or you know more than Jack Kirby knew. You don't know more than Jack Kirby knew. Don't put a skirt on this character that doesn't deserve a skirt. Don't change it. And people do.
I see it all the time. I don't know why. I have characters that I create that people change. And I'm like "Why did you change that? I don't understand." I'm not fighting for it. I'm just saying it's stupid. I create a character called Havok, right? So, I gave him a black costume that absorbed energy -- like they tell you there's black beyond black -- it has no highlights and no outlines, it's just black. And then he has this kind of device on his neck and on his head, where it's around his neck and goes up to his head and then he can use the jewel up there to absorb energy and feed it into his body. And then the black of his body is so black that you see this energy inside and then he can hurl the energy and aim it with this kind of laser thing. And the costume is made to that do. And the first thing people do when they start to the character is to change the costume. Why? Why put all kind of junky s--t on his costume how does he absorb this gamma ray energy in order to fire it out of his body? "Did you read the damned book? Hello?" "No, we're just more creative than you." "Well, you're stupid too." And then they always come back. They come back and "Oh well, we've made Havok the way he was." "Yeah, except you put those bands on his head so he's burning his head when he does the energy s--t." Not a good idea. But yeah, it kinda looks like Havok. Hello? I don't know why they do that.
The interview concludes in the next section as Neal Adams shares his thoughts on the recent superhero films and the subject of comic books as art.
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, also Darkseid drawn by Jack Kirby © 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