All Neal Adams’ splash pages are displays of power, of narrative synthesis and of powerful marketing as never seen before. Nevertheless it’s not from there that someone can start to explain what it means, every time, to write the nine letters that form his name. No. Just take issue 86 of Green Lantern vol. 2. It’s not enough to say how much that comic has changed the rules of American comics’ game in terms of themes; drugs, racial integration, finally exposed in a brave way…
At page seventeen there is everything Neal Adams is: nine frames on three row and three columns, two symmetrical blocks and an asymmetry at the last row, to house a single caption.
The scene of the first night of Roy Harper, Speedy, without taking heroin. It’s 1971. Adams draws a man going cold turkey in a teenage comic book. Nine frames to portray what it means to go through those moments, to live with people like that in those moments.
Nine frames that don’t waste not even a ounce of the pain of reality.
Because that is Neal Adams.
Neal Adams succeeded in bringing the fictional world to a level even more close to what it is considered real. Starting from his more mature work, as Deadman, to the last Batman: Odyssey there’s not a single page where Adams did something wrong. Because, even if it was wrong, it’s become standard. No one else succeeded in changing the history of composition method as he did. Not even Kirby, because Kirby’s imagination exists only inside the King’s head, Neal’s is in our our imagination. Having the skills, everyone would draw what Neal drawn and still does.
Since that 1967’s Strange Adventures issue 205 on, Neal Adams draws superheroes not simply as he imagines them, but as we imagine them. He drew men in tights.
And still even the masters bow and repeat his lesson. Making a list could be depreciative: there’s no comics artist, in this world, that hasn’t spent hours looking into every frame of Adams’ work.
It is fashionable these days to say that the comic book artist from New York represents to DC what Steranko represents to Marvel. Not exactly. Steranko was one of the pioneers of the expressive language, stealing from Expressionism and Pop Art and he made those steps ahead that, after Kirby, few were able to do. But Steranko, when he shut his eyes, he had in mind the “Adamsian” superhero. Even Marvel had to adapt at his way of drawing; Byrne’s The Fantastic Four are Neal’s child. Adams later, as time passes by, will be able to integrate some of Byrne’s marks, showing his capacity to evolve taking from someone who inspired even. Something we can see even in music with King Crimson: pioneers in sound, used later by Nine Inch Nail and Tool too, and then smart in harvesting the sound’s evolutions of their “godchild” to readjust their way. So Adams became gentler as time passed by, maybe even less obscure.
Regarding ink we should make some remarks: as Kirby owes his greatness to the work made before by Joe Sinnot inside Marvel and Mike Royer inside DC, Adams owes some luck to the cohesion of the great work of Dick Giordano, often his comrade in the most successful runs. With Giordano he establishes a thin border between turning upside down the artistic complex and flattening. What lacks in Adam’s pencils, that ideal work even by themselves, Giordano brings in depth and reality. Adams drawing is so dynamic that Dick could concentrate on pure image definition and on the skill to represent the feelings of the characters with his dark tones, feeling that Adams expresses every time following the advice of the writers he works with.
Adams established standards that, except the intoxication by Liefeld when for five years doping entered even into comics, still continue to be considered the base, but not only, of superhero comics production.
Just now we can see a gradually contamination of the eastern mangaka masters, but it’s a reaction diametrically opposite to the lesson of the New York based artist, who introduced a “easy” dimension of realism into drawing that in itself firstly should run away from realism. “Easy” is used for a purpouse: there’s no heaviness in his lines, what he offers doesn’t bore. Adams sign slowly anticipates what any reader would imagine to see, at first sight in the exact way the reader expects it. Just to find the little tricks with whom he succeeded in redrawing what the reader, even if he was thinking about it, discovers again. There’s no banality in Adams’ visions. There’s simplicity. There isn’t inappropriateness, but constant news of something that can be read by everyone. There could be steps ahead about the layout or about the composition (J.H. Williams III) and about the dynamics, with a rediscovery of the kyrbian prospectives (Frank Quitely), but in the end you still keep watching with reverence and awe to Neal Adams. Always.
Since even Neal as Joe Kubert soiled drawings and introduced city and architecture inside him stories as a character, even before Frank Miller e Dean Motter, obviously following Will Eisner’s lesson. Bravely, he makes the city breath, bringing the superhero down to earth. For that reason he is so comfortable with Batman, where he could play in the same way Frank Miller did with Daredevil inside Marvel. Thinking well about it, beyond the mark, more sharply, how much does Klaus Janson owe to Dick Giordano? Someone who during the ‘90s could accept the Adams’ challenge, matching the taste for body builder bodies ala Image was Claudio Castellini, one of the first italians with Pino Rinaldi to be fascinated by the American master.
Adams in few years changes the concept of frame, breaking their rigid structure without letting it seem strained, obtaining new vital space for drawing. Initially he trespasses into white spaces, then he moves forward, transforming surroundings and architecture and then characters into frames inside frames. As if saying: “Why should I waste so much ink to drawn the dark parts of Batman’s cloak, when I can just draw inside it?”
So digressions, storytelling’ s dynamism are the most of the times confined into the narrative box, but they live a life independent from it, following schemes only apparently asymmetrical, when at the end all Adams’ production is marked by a consistent steadfastness in a constant becoming. A balance into composition that keeps bound his perfect drawings to the simple way of thinking of the average reader.