We were lucky to be received at Continuity Studios by Mr. Neal Adams for an interview. He donated us his time and he spent two hours to tell us stories; because, as he told us, he loves to tell stories, to write stories, to draw stories…
[…] You worked in advertising. You worked as an illustrator.
Well, first of all you can say that advertising could be very unsatisfying comparing to what I just said, all the story…
After you started to work at DC Comics they started you to do covers. How what you did in previous years affect your way of drawing covers?
I was successful doing covers because I would read the story and I would withdraw the idea from the story to exemplify the story. It was like Norman Rockwell doing the covers for the Saturday Evening Post. I remember one of the first cover I did I had a Superman sitting in a courtroom and sitting in a witness chair and a little girl standing on the floor and the judges looking at the young girl and she was pointing to Superman and saying “that man killed my father”. Wow! That’s pretty dramatic. And the idea of the book, yes it was dramatic, maybe not quite as dramatic as that particular illustration but the idea was to take what’s in the story and rather than try to impress people with good art, which I tried to have as much as possible, you impress people with the concept of the story.
That’s also the same as a book. If you are a good enough artist you’ll never sacrifice a good piece of art for the sake of telling a story because you will always find a way to make it artistically interesting. Nowadays most covers in comics have iconic nature and I have a very difficult time doing covers that are like that. So I tried to hide the ideas within the idea so even the editor doesn’t even know what I am doing.
I read that they (DC editors) simply didn’t tell you that covers were really goods for them and they were successful . They just told you to do another one.
Yes, like I was stupid. Do not let him know that he is making money for us. Well, I’ll tell you what the success of my covers was due to and significant at all. And it is something that has to do with the business of comic books that has nothing to do with this interview but I’ll tell it to you
In those days comic books were distributed through a local national distributors there were 410 of them and they were all over the country and what would happen when I came into the field and Jim Steranko came into the field and some other people came to the field, Bernie Wrightson as this new flood of new artists came in. Collectors around the country would drive their vans up to the local distributor which as I said there were 410.
They Would drive their vans up to the back of the local distributor and the local distributor would have the latest comic book table and they would go in and buy them for three and four cents (ten cents comics) from the distributor and the distributor would count them as being destroyed, not sold.
Those people take those comic books and take them to a motel or someplace and sell them to fans in the area who couldn’t buy them on the newsstand because they were not distributed and so the companies would say “I don’t understand it Green Lantern & Green Arrow is so popular but sales are bad and yet somehow when Neal would do a cover sales will go up 10% . How is that? How is that possible? The way was possible was the same people who would buy these comic books out of the back of each distributors and sell them for five dollars or whatever, first of all all those same people became the comic book store owners and what would happen was they would buy a Jim Steranko comic book, a Neal Adams comic book a Barry Smith comic book, a Bernie Wrightson comic book but if I did the cover they wouldn’t buy So that went to normal sales which broke went up 10% so I am just to give you an idea pick any comic book that you consider to be iconic of that time like the Joker holding Batman on the playing cards for example I signed at this last convention, NY convention I must have signed one or two hundreds of them in mint condition. Which was clearly kept in boxes and plastic envelopes on somebody shelf until the time came that you could take that comic book out of there and sell it for $140. And Neal Adams was signing at your convention.
It’s a very strange business. It’s called collector’s market. That whole concept began the comic book store concept that’s were Forbidden Planet comes from that’s where all these comic book stores come from…
Let’s go to your latest works; you get back to Marvel and DC with important characters (Batman e X-Men). They are top characters. How this happen?
Well, we have been through a recession, perhaps you noticed it. During this recession my Studio (Continuity) has had a great difficulty financially. Well it was since Bush… oh my God… have to apologize to the world for George Bush. He was a horrible guy and if you ever think that Americans are smarter than anybody else just have to go look at the fact that they elected him second time. It was insane. He was selling the country… It’s thought to travel and all you do is apologizing for Bush he is such a f*cking a**hole… anyway so what happened was because of this situation with the economy… advertising agencies started to decide to take all their works inside and not feed it to freelancers on the outside. So we had a much harder time when that happens; I had to cut my budget in half, 50% easily in order to survive. It occurred to me that while this was happening comic books were doing better so I had, as a businessman, to balance, well what I said at the beginning before I kind of dropped out of comic books but I finish Superman versus Mohamed Ali and then I backed away, even I published it, I said one time it’s going to get better and I’ll come back.
All the stuff that I’ve been trying to teach you guys you finally learn and I’ll come back and what happened was that yes things did get better things also got worse in advertising and so I realize well you know how was my career before was: I did comic books I did advertising and in between I did comic books. That’s a good formula and since comc books were getting better why don’t I feel in the slow periods with doing comic books and probably I’ll be paid more than other people now because…
I think without probably…
…because things have changed. So, I know how to do business and I’ve actually always know how to do business since I was a teenager but when I came back I did better business with the comic book Companies so I was paid more. On the other hand it in order to pay me more that had to give me titles that were worth more and of course you know they know underneath it all no matter how badly they treated me and whatever their attitude was you know Batman Odyssey will stay on the newsstand for years.
There’s no question that it’ll constantly going to be reprinted and reprinted so they gonna make a lot of money so that they may have not have supported it very much but in fact it’ll do well. And this (he points to first issue of “The X-Men”) is a retelling all of the beginning of the X-Men that is something that never existed before so that’s a new idea for Marvel Comics. I tend to have good ideas.
It is more easy to work with good ideas.
It is, it’s true. Both of the ideas seem good and I have ideas for other stuff that will probably do with me. They paid me well and when I’m not doing that I’m doing advertising so my Studio is doing fine I’m also going to more Conventions because: 1) I figured out how to make money at Conventions and 2) I’m reintroducing myself to whole new generation…
Well, it’s like you had an hiatus on this big selling titles… but for people that are 40 or 50 you are an icon, so the fact you did start again to draw constantly…
…was a surprise.
I mean, we understand that the reason was not that you didn’t like to draw anymore.
No, I’ve always loved to do comics and everything I’ve done outside of the comic book was done with the same approach. If you look at my website and it isn’t a look at the things done you seen the amazing exhibit that we animated that is kind of comic books, we designed the amusement park rides… I’ve always done very very interesting stuff didn’t matter where I went or what I did. So taking time off from doing comic books to let the comic book industry catch up to me was very good because I was able to go off and do other things and now when I come back I bring all these other things back with me.
I didn’t know for a 15/20 years old comic book fan what means toi see your drawing. Probably it’s just like see another name, a new name… but for a 40 like me it is like coming back when we were ten. But these are brand new drawings… And Neal Adams is not old, it’s fresh like at seventies.
I get this.. this ambivalence with the fans that came up with my comics books because now first I started to it when I came when I started to come back I will get all the old comics, now I’m getting a mix I’m getting half new a new and old…
It’s like you froze for 20 years…
And I just stepped away but you see I come back into comic books with so many new things so many new directions so many things to try so many experiments to have.
So it it’s not like I haven’t been exercising through that time. I’m much stronger and much better in many ways that I was then. For example one thing people say I love your old covers… Wait a second, I’ve been doing some pretty good covers lately these alternate covers that I do for all these different kind of the first issue with the Superman that Quitely (All Star Superman n.1)
All your Continuity books covers, even if you made just the layouts inside…
What’s gonna happen is that we gonna bring our own characters back. I’m gonna become well-known enough very soon and is really happening again to then reintroduce our characters.
How did you came up with name “Continuity”?
Well, Dick Giordano was my partner at the time, liked him and we had to decide how to call the Company. And I thought about for a moment and I said Continuity, and Dick said why Continuity, very few people know the word continuity and I said well that’s now. Now they know what continuity is because we are here and everywhere. So it was it was a little bit of seeing into the future how word continuity will become… Because nobody had (that name) at that time nobody use this as a name but I thought this is gonna become big, continuity. And so everybody now wants the name. So Dick said: good reason, that’s good.
The truth is that I feel that the job of the artist is to sit on a cloud somewhere and to watch what’s going on and to go… if you guys keep doing that this is gonna happen if you don’t do that this…. I think it’s a really good job so I’m always able to see what’s coming next and understand what’s coming next. You can’t exactly predict zombies…
Well, everyone supposed that was an abused idea… I saw yesterday the first show of the third season…
You know why (they have success)? Because it’s Halloween.
The success is due because they (The Walking Dead) are telling you a story…
Well, people are always looking for some theme like that used in vampires and zombies stories.
When I did this Batman Odyssey and I did the Underworld where all the stuff is going on… do you know how big that’s gonna become? Get any idea?
There’s this thing called Hollow Earth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollow_Earth); and there are people that are like fans like geeks of Hollow Earth. Well, it’s like zombies; people go: “That Hollow Earth is ridiculous”, of course scientifically is totally insane. But to have a place for whole civilizations that have being developed and are coming out of the past and all the rest of the stuff… as a milieu for doing new stories… wow! it’s like an open book! It’s like incredible. And so I explored this Hollow Earth and it’s incredible. It’s going to be something it’s like the next thing after zombies I’m telling and it will be gigantic not because I think it’s wonderful I’m saying it’s gonna happen. It’s too good.
I’m telling you.
I am the guy who predicts the future. When I get into comics they said it won’t last for one year.
You see the Convention this weekend (Ny ComiCon)?150.000 people over the four days. It’s only gonna get bigger. There’s gonna be a comic book convention once a year in every city in the world.
You were talking of your beginning at Continuity with Dick Giordano, but firs you tried to do advertising at Continuity, not comic books… You issued comic books late in ’90. Then something went wrong.
What was wrong was the crazy collectors. Our business wasn’t doing well because I had a bad account and he was screwing up our business. Then we did a thing called Deathwatch 2000.
We sold 150,000 copies of every one of our titles for three months. I made a lot of money. But then what happened was that the collectors decided that if they save comic books in their garages that they will be able to sell them 10 years later for 10 times as much money. It swept the country somebody in every city is doing this. Comic books sold million copies; there’s one comic book that sold four million copies totally based on the impression that if you do this you gonna save you gonna make all this money.
So what happened was they were buying these comic books; that Image begins the guys leave and they go to Image, same thing happens for like for five months and then one Sunday somebody wakes up… wait a second, if I’m buying all these comic books and everybody else is buying all these comics books how we gonna make any money?
So that Monday they said f*ck this I’m not gonna do this anymore and all stopped. Bang like that! Comic bookstores had boxes of comic book selling for $.50 a piece…
So the store owners were cutting their orders and anything they could cut. I remember we were three months in advance; I had finished Deathwatch 2000 and I was moving to The Rise of Magic and they were cutting their orders.
And I go…. okay that’s enough for me I’m out I’m gone. Put my money in the Bank I’m out, I’m gone. So I stopped and a lot of people went bankrupt. Like the third of the stores went out of business, it was totally insane.
Also Marvel went bankrupt…
I know, I know. But I didn’t. Not me. I have things to do over here I can go ahead and do that; so I backed away and I saved our ass. It was a bad time.
And I also said at that time you know when things will get better we will come back.
END OF PART 2