Showing posts with label ARTIST Neal Adams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ARTIST Neal Adams. Show all posts

23 February 2014

Neal Adams on Robinson’s Robin

In the third part of Kevin Smith’s podcast interview with artist Neal Adams, Smith asks whom Adams sees as the creator of Batman. Earlier in the conversation Adams mentioned both Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and he didn’t evince a lot of respect for either man. Rather, he says, he sees Batman as a collective creation, not any one person’s character.

But Adams goes on to say:
I think of Robin as Jerry Robinson’s, for sure. That bouncy…Robin that I put in Batman: Odyssey. Like, I have Man-Bat right at the beginning of the story. . . . Man-Bat comes into the cave and just grabs Robin and starts flipping him up into the rafters. And so they fight up in the rafters, but while they’re fighting Robin is talking to Batman, and Batman is talking to Robin.

And for Robin, that’s great. First of all, he’s hearing from his mentor,…and yet he’s flying around in the top of the cave…with Man-Bat, and they’re spinning on stuff and doing all this shit. That’s Jerry Robinson’s Robin to me. He doesn’t stand there and have a conversation, boy, if he can be up in the rafters and spinning around. That’s Robin. And I love that Robin.
That said, Adams dressed the Dick Grayson in Batman: Odyssey in the costume he’d designed for Tim Drake back in 1989 or so, rather than in Robinson’s costume. There are limits, after all. Or maybe royalties.

Adams and Robinson were both crusaders during the 1970s fight for creators’ rights. In the middle third of Smith’s interview Adams described how they teamed up to win recognition and pensions for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as shown above. (Robinson is on the right, pre-toupée. Adams is the young man.) So I suspect Adams saw Robinson as standing out from the collective a bit.

13 August 2012

Batman Goes Goth (Again)

I’ve written before about how the Batman: From the ’30s to the ’70s collection was my first sustained exposure to superhero comics. And a selective exposure it was, I’ve since realized.

E. Nelson Bridwell’s introduction described the “New Look” and television-show period of Batman comics (1964-68), but the anthology omitted nearly all stories from those years. Its 1960s section showcased the Caped Crusader’s science-fiction adventures at the start of that decade. That section included three of the seven tales that ever featured Betty Kane as Bat-Girl, leaving me with an outsized impression of her place in the overall saga.

Bridwell presented the 1970s as “the reappeance of the dark, avening figure of mystery called The Batman!!” That section started with “One Bullet Too Many” from December 1969, which showed Dick Grayson heading off to college and Bruce Wayne using forensic science to solve a murder mystery with no costumed criminals. Bruce and Alfred also moved into the headquarters of the Wayne Foundation, beginning a period of overt social activism that would culminate in a brief appointment to the US Senate. The 1970s Batman comics thus promised to become more deeply rooted in the real world.

Yet that section of the book also included the highly regarded “Secret of the Waiting Graves,” by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams; “Man or Bat?” introducing Man-Bat, by Frank Robbins and Adams; and “The Demon of Gothos Mansion,” by O’Neil and Irv Novick. Those are all Gothic tales of monsters, ghosts, and other spooky things. Though Man-Bat is a creation of science gone wrong, the other two tales clearly rest on the supernatural.

Which left little me confused. If the Batman comics had redeemed themselves from camp by returning him to his roots as a crime-solving detective, why was this volume showing me ghost stories? Mysteries are all about ratiocination, but the “Waiting Graves” and “Gothos Mansion” stories end with Batman realizing the limits of his deductive powers to make sense of the world.

I’ve since learned that Batman’s roots lie just as deep in Gothic horror as in detective stories. Bruce Wayne is dressed as a giant bat, after all. Among the character’s earliest adventures were fights against vampires, monsters, and other supernatural creatures. Those villains flourished again in the 1970s, and in 1982 Gerry Conway even brought the vampirical Monk and Dala from 1939 back to life. But I still prefer the detective stories.

26 December 2009

When Superman Was a Leftist, part 2

Scripter Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams are often credited with bringing socially-conscious political themes into superhero comics (or at least into DC Comics’ magazines) with their Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of the early 1970s. But in this conversation for The Comics Journal, O’Neil noted an important forerunner:

I will disabuse anybody of the notion that Neal and I were the first. There are some Superman stories that are socially conscious — in the way that Warner Bros. movies were back then. . . .

…the last year I had an editorial job, I was living here in Nyack and it’s an hour and 15 minute drive [to New York City], so I listened to a lot of old radio shows and the Superman radio show was remarkable. The writer in me responded to it: “Wow! They establish everything you need to know every day without slowing down the story.” There were also a number of them that were really socially conscious.

My own memory of my first glimmering of social consciousness was hearing — as maybe a 6-year-old or 7-year-old — Superman on the radio telling me that the difference in skin color was only because of a chemical called melanin and people were all the same. I had never heard anything like that.
And that eye-opening fact eventually led to these famous panels from Green Lantern, #76. (When Superman Was a Leftist, Part 1.)

28 September 2009

Neal Adams and the New Fall Colors

Yesterday I showed the cover of DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, vol. 1. That frantic artwork isn’t the only new material created for this volume. Adams’s studio also extensively reworked the interior pages starting from his line art. I’d read fans’ debates over what changed from the initial publication in magazine form, but the whole point of comics is that artwork conveys information that words can’t, so I went looking for some actual visual examples.

The following are panels from a larger selection posted by AussieStu at these two pages. First, a look at Ralph and Sue Dibny from Adams’s first superhero assignment. The coloring is obviously improved from an aesthetic point of view. Ralph’s face stands out better from Sue’s sweater, as do other details. The background looks more realistic. Sue’s hair isn’t cut off by the word balloon at top.

Most significantly, modern digital coloring allows for the characters’ faces and other curved surfaces to be “modeled” with shadows and a gradation of flesh tones. Previously, comic-book coloring was basically paint by numbers. The draftsmanship of the time was designed around the limits of the coloring method.

Though Adams wasn’t involved in coloring his drawings then, he had strong feelings about the process. He recalled badgering DC into expanding its palette, for example. So he no doubt was delighted to have the chance to use more sophisticated methods (and, it’s clear from comments on his website, to have DC pay for the new work).

However, sometimes those revisions have come at a cost. Here’s another example from the same book, in a tale of Clark Kent babysitting. The coloring pops more, and the curves of the little boy’s body are softer. But in these panels we can see a bigger change, starting with the word balloons.

Perhaps because the collection has a smaller trim size than the original magazines, perhaps because fanboys’ eyes are aging, Adams’s studio appears to have scanned the lettering and reproduced it slightly bigger, relative to the panel size. That produced new, clumsier line breaks and spacing and, with long speeches, larger balloons. In this panel, the top balloon is so big that it’s crowded Adams’s artwork off the bottom of the panel.

Here’s another comparison from that Clark Kent story. The new coloring is more dramatic. The new lettering is more horsy. There are other changes evident in the DC Universe Illustrated volume. Some sound effects have obviously been recreated digitally. One tale features dinosaurs, and their skin looks like the modern conception of those animals; I suspect the original publication rendered them quite differently, according to the 1960s science.

In sum, this collection doesn’t show Neal Adams’s work as it originally appeared, in the form that made his reputation as a leading comic-book artist. But apparently it shows his artwork as he’d prefer it to be preserved. Which is the definitive version? Well, we can have that debate about lots of artists and writers.

Here are more eye-opening examples of comics that have been recolored:

27 September 2009

The Legend of Jericho and the Teen Titans

This is one of the more dramatic and less flattering Robin images of recent years, drawn specially for the cover of DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, vol. 1, the latest in a series of hardcover reprints of Adams’s artwork for DC Comics in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Earlier volumes covered Adams’s ground-breaking work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Deadman, and Batman (including the Batman/Teen Titans crossover, “Punish Not My Evil Son!”, a precursor to today’s storyline of Bruce Wayne suddenly acquiring a son of questionable morals).

In this volume DC leaves no barrel unscraped by assembling a miscellany of Adams’s superhero and war stories, including three issues from the Teen Titans in 1969. The story behind those issues is actually more interesting than the story they tell. The backstage drama appears in Adams’s introduction to this book and in the interviews in The Titans Companion, volume 1, by Glen Cadigan.

At the time, Adams was among the younger creators at DC Comics, pushing the company to make its magazines both technically better and more socially relevant. People came to see him as a mentor and advocate of a couple of even younger writers, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein.

In late 1968 they scripted an issue of Teen Titans that team introduced a not unsympathetic Soviet superhero—a daring move at the time. And they had an even more daring idea for their next assignment.

As Marv Wolfman told Cadigan:

We met with [editor] Dick Giordano, and told him our idea of a gang, a black super-hero, and of a fairly straightforward type of story, closer to what we were seeing in Spider-Man, but with the Teen Titans. We came up with a black character because DC didn't have any at the time. . . .

Dick liked the story concept, but knew that there could be some problems because of the time period, and brought us into Irwin Donenfeld’s [office], who I guess was the Vice-President; I forget the exact title. We met with Irwin for maybe fifteen minutes at most. Irwin said he really wanted us to try to do this, try to make it a multi-parter—which, in itself, was incredibly exciting—to really be powerful and very street and very authentic, and try to get down and dirty, get a lot grittier. . . .

A couple of weeks later we came back, and at that point Irwin had left and there was a new person in charge. Whatever the reasons were, because there are so many differences of opinions on this, the story got dropped. Whether it was actually because it was a bad story, or whether it was because of some other reasons, I don’t know.
Actually, the DC editorial team was aghast at what Wolfman and Wein had delivered. They were probably prepared for Jericho to be DC’s first black hero (as Marvel had already introduced Black Panther and Falcon), but the young writers had gone really “down and dirty.” Giordano recalled:
Len and Marv came back with a story that everyone but me, evidently, thought was too preachy in its approach to the race problem. Carmine [Infantino] brought the lettered pencils that he may have had on his desk to design a cover and threw it on my desk, rejecting it! It was already a tad late and there was no way of my replacing it on time. But for Neal Adams!
And Adams picks up the tale:
Not only was it a black character, but it was a black character who was very aggressively mouthing anti-white [dialogue]. Very, very aggressive black-oriented dialogue, right off the bat. . . .

I started to hear some really hostile reports relative to the script from Carmine. Everybody was just lit up, and I was worried about [them]. Here Len and Marv were trying to make it into the business, and they had just fried their own chicken. So I was concerned about them. I checked into it, and I asked if I could read the script. I thought, maybe just a little doctoring of the script could fix it.
Of course, since people perceived Adams as Wolfman and Wein’s sponsor, a bit of his own reputation was on the line. Here’s how he describes that moment in the DC Universe Illustrated volume:
Len and Marv appealed to me to step in. . . . I went in and made a case. The suits read the dialogue to me...aloud.

I said...just have Len and Marv modify the language.

They didn’t trust them to do it. I volunteered to do it.

They asked did I read the whole script?

I hadn’t. So I did.

Oh. Golly.

Yep, they had done it. It pushed so hard that DC wouldn’t abide it. No amount of dialogue doctoring would turn it around. Len and Marv were ahead of their time. DC wasn’t.
And the deadline for that multi-issue arc was getting tighter. Adams suggested that he could write a similar story without the racial angle, one which probably had to fit the announced title “Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho.” Infantino insisted that Adams needed to pencil the story himself in order to keep the magazine on schedule. The result is a crazy casserole of youth politics, giant robots (as shown at top), masked men, guest stars, crime bosses manipulated by interdimensional monsters, and more.

Adams wasn’t too pleased with his hurried work for Teen Titans, #20-22, in terms of writing or art, but felt that he’d helped preserve Wolfman and Wein’s careers. Giordano saw the whole thing as “my blunder,” and regretted that he and his fellow editors were ordered not to use those young writers. Wolfman recalled, “Len and I didn’t get work for almost two years from DC.”

At least that’s the legend of Jericho. Except that Wein told Cadigan that DC blackballed him and Wolfman over something else, which he didn’t specify:
It was nothing to do with that story. It had to do with an entirely different situation. . . . Something had happened that we were accused of which we were not responsible for. We were sort of blackballed there, and when it was eventually proven that someone else at the company, who had been there for many years, was responsible, they shame-facedly said, “We’re sorry. Never mind,” and we came back to work for them.
That discrepancy is a mystery for comics historians to solve.

In early 1970, longtime DC editor Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) introduced DC’s first black superhero, Mal Duncan, in the pages of Teen Titans. [ADDENDUM: More of that story, and editor Dick Giordano’s use of coloring to minimize complaints about an embrace between Mal and a white girl, at Comic Book Legends Revealed, #229.]

29 August 2009

Neal Adams’s Contract with Readers

Neal Adams was the most influential artist at DC Comics in the late 1960s, creating the template for subsequent depictions of Batman, among other jobs. He later designed the second Robin costume.

Here are some of Adams’s thoughts on storytelling from a sidebar in The Insider’s Guide to Creating Comics and Graphic Novels, by Andy Schmidt, editor at IDW and proprietor of Comics Experience.

With comic books there's a contract with readers. And it works like this:

I'm going to tell you a story. If you will be good enough to read my story, I will not trick you, I will not slow you down, I will not give you something that you don't understand. Unless, we agree at this time, it's time not to understand something but I'll explain it to you later on. But I won't keep you in the dark for so long that you get bored.

So if you take my hand and read my story, at the end it will have a good ending and you will be happy, and you will come back next time and read another story.
The last part being an essential aspect of serial storytelling: you gotta bring ’em back for the next installment.

03 May 2009

Robin Sits Out an Anti-Drug Campaign

In the early 1980s, the New Teen Titans was DC Comics's hottest magazine. It had characters in their late teens and very early twenties, and its creators--Marv Wolfman and George Pérez--were addressing serious issues like teenaged runaways.

As a result, the US Department of Education arranged with DC to use the Titans magazine in a drug awareness campaign. Each magazine would contain a very special letter from Nancy Reagan. Education Week announced the first magazine on 4 May 1983, and it was so popular (whether or not it was successful) that two more followed.

Within the DC universe, the Titans had a personal reason to fight illegal drugs. In 1971, Neal Adams and Dennis O'Neil had created a story in the pages of Green Lantern/Green Arrow about Green Arrow's kid sidekick, Speedy, having a heroin habit. A habit that he kicked in a mere two issues, but still it was groundbreaking. In fact, it was so radical that the character's addiction was never mentioned in the Teen Titans magazine of the time, where Speedy also appeared.

Wolfman, who had been an ambitious young writer back then, remembered that story when he and Pérez relaunched the Titans in 1980. Readers asked what had happened to Speedy, as well as to Aqualad, another founding member left out of the new lineup. In 1981, therefore, Wolfman and Carmine Infantino collaborated on a ten-page story called “Reunion,” published in the Best of DC, #18. This quick and rather empty superhero procedural showed Speedy and Aqualad returning to work with the Titans in fighting a drug ring. It established Speedy as a government agent with a special interest in stopping drugs because of his own past.

Thus, it was easy for Wolfman to motivate a series of three drug-awareness stories to be published with government support in 1983. Once again, Speedy returned to the Titans for help taking down drug dealers. The first very special issue had art by Pérez, the second (profiled at Polite Dissent) art by Ross Andru, and the third a script by Joey Cavalieri from Wolfman's plot and art by Adrian Gonzales.

The first issue actually has an interesting structure, profiling young addicts to examine why they got into drugs, and it has that gorgeous Pérez art. The third story shows the younger brother of an addict in the first starting to take drugs himself--implying that a visit from the Titans is actually quite ineffective at discouraging drug use.

In a 1987 interview, Pérez talked about the creation of these stories:

Unfortunately, with the drug books we were dealing with so many committees, it became a much more watered-down book than it was intended to be. Marv's research on real drugs was muted by a lot of editing down. They didn't want to cause blame here, they didn't want parents to feel intimidated there; a lot of groups were kind of cross-pressuring, until the book became a watered-down version of what it was originally intended to be. Had we produced the same story strictly as a DC book, I am sure it would have been a lot more potent--and probably a lot closer to reality than the book ended up being.
And even after those committees approved the scripts, that wasn't the end of the outside pressure on these magazines.

Each special issue had a sponsor that bought lots of copies for distribution to fourth-graders, thus subsidizing the project. Keebler paid for the first, IBM the second, and the American soft drink industry ("The only good white powder from Latin America is sugar!") the third.

And that's why none of these magazine featured Robin, the established leader of the Titans. DC Comics had already licensed exclusive commercial rights to that character to Nabisco. Robin therefore couldn't appear in a magazine associated with Keebler, a competing company.

So, in a last-minute change, the DC staff came up with...the Protector!
In an interview at Titans Tower, Pérez recalled how that worked:
Dave Manak--who was editing that book--whited out the entire costuming on Robin and drew this costume they quickly designed, and renamed him The Protector. So you have The Protector doing all the Robin-type things, like flying the T-jet, and giving all the orders--and who is this guy? Every single pose he's in, that was Robin in the original pose. Anyone who has the original artwork can see all the whiteout on that Protector figure and, if you hold it up to the light, you can see Robin's costume underneath.
Only later, for an edition of Who's Who in the DC Universe, did the company come up with a backstory for the mysterious Protector (curiously giving him the same first name as the boy who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin):
Young high school student Jason Hart watched helplessly as his young cousin, Ted, slowly became a drug addict. . . . He thought that if a family member couldn't talk to Ted, maybe a Batman-type super-hero could. He adopted the guise of the Protector, seeking to help his cousin.

The masquerade backfired, however, when, through a long chain of events, Jason had to pretend to actually be a super-hero, and actually protect his cousin from drug dealers who were looking to exploit Ted.
So far as I know, that "long chain of events" has never been told, and probably never figured out. That Who's Who entry (written after Dick Grayson had given up being Robin to become Nightwing) concludes: "When the story eventually broke, it came to the attention of Nightwing, who rewarded Jason with an honorary membership in the New Teen Titans, and an intensive training course."

The Protector also appeared in a New Teen Titans anti-drug commercial produced by Hanna-Barbara. He was last seen was in a crowd in Infinite Crisis, DC's big crossover event for 2005-06. Nobody knows if he survived. Then again, nobody cares.

But here's one way for the Protector to return. Obviously, he's into protection and public-service announcements. He's got a mostly purple costume with a big bright red triangle on the front. DC could use more gay heroes. I think the Protector's got a future talking to youth about safer sex. Give the character to Judd Winick, creator of Pedro and Me, and let's see what happens!