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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Comic book world loses another of the greats

Neal Adams has died.

In the pantheon of comic book greats and their accomplishments, Neal and his art stand alongside names like Kirby, Miller, Ditko, Kane, Lee, Kubert, and Frazetta. But when it came to pure, unadulterated love for the craft, a deep concern for creators and the joy of interacting with fans, Neal had few peers.

Neal Adams was a true superstar in the comics industry from the 1960’s through earlier this year and he was fixture at comic book conventions over the last several decades, always ready to meet a fan or to discuss the latest hot button topics in the comic book publishing industry.

Over the course of his career, Adams is widely recognized for revolutionizing the comic book industry with a realistic style that took two-dimensional characters and turned them into living, breathing superheroes. Perhaps best known for his collaborations with the legendary Jack Kirby, from his early work on the X-Men to landmark runs on Batman, Superman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and more, Adams changed the standard for art in comics and elevated the medium around him.

Without a doubt, Adams also was a multifaceted man who did much more than draw comics.

Over a career that spanned seven decades, he also fought for comic creator rights, he led an effort for the Auschwitz Museum to return paintings made by Holocaust survivor Dina Babbitt, he opened his own art studio and later a publishing house, he ran a comic book retail store with his son, and he even opined about the future of the planet, theorizing that Earth was physically expanding.

Notably, Adams made an early name for himself when he championed comic book artists’ rights in their own work. He even stridently supported Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their battle with DC Comics, which eventually led to a 1975 agreement in which Siegel and Shuster would receive credit and pensions.

Neal had tried to get DC to forgo its draconian contract with the creators, a fairly standard deal at the time, and provide them with reasonable royalties for all the later manifestations of ‘The Man of Steel.’ But DC wouldn’t budge, and the case ended up in court, where Siegel and Shuster lost. The contract held up.

Neal responded by taking the creators outside the courtroom, introducing them to the press, and telling the real story of what DC had done, essentially shaming publisher into righting the wrong.

He also leveraged his position for the comic book artists community at large.

For years, comic book publishers claimed ownership over the art and much of the art that was submitted for the production process simply ended up “missing.” Art would sit on the shelves at DC or Marvel Comics and people would walk off with it. Publishers even gave it away as gifts to visitors.

Neal enjoyed telling the story of how he one day went into the production office of DC Comics and seeing the paper cutter shredding pages, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The guy responded, “Well, we have to make room for other stuff so I’m shredding old pages.”

Neal demanded, “Don’t do that. I’m going to go talk to somebody.”

But when Neal started to walk out of the room, the guy continued to shred pages. Neal turned and said “I’m going to say this a different way. If you destroy another page while I’m gone, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

Neal’s efforts resulted in him eventually retaining the rights to his original art, a policy that spread throughout the industry. This made for a much more comfortable living for comic book artists who heretofore had rarely seen any real payoff for their hard work.

He would often tell new and aspiring artists that they had a responsibility to themselves to tell publishers, “You don’t own this artwork. You own the reproduction rights to it, but you don’t own the original.”

Quite simply, the comic book world would not have been the same without Neal Adams.

Neal passed away at the age of 80 from complications due to sepsis.

Why It Matters. I did not know Neal well, but I had the privilege of speaking with him numerous times over the last twenty years because we both attended San Diego Comic-Con on a regular basis and he usually set up his booths very near to several of my good friends. Neal was always bigger than life to those of us who grew up enjoying his work in comics we picked up at the local convenience store and then had a hard time accepting the reality of meeting him in person at the comics conventions. Nevertheless, he always welcomed fans with little regard for his reputation and seemed to love nothing better than talking with you about just about anything regardless of its relation to his art, superheroes, or the comic book publishing industry. On both a personal and a professional level, I will miss Neal very much.

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