Comic book legend Neal Adams, known for his artistic style that brought realism to the world of superheroes as well as being a champion for creators’ rights, passed away in New York City on April 28, 2022.
According to his daughter, Kristine Stone Adams, the cause of his death was complications of sepsis.
“He was a master at every facet of art — his range of expressions, the dramatic use of lighting and shadowing, the seemingly facile command of anatomy and, of course, the trademark finger-pointed-in-your-face foreshortening was all just unbelievably next level,” Jim Lee, the chief creative officer and publisher of DC Comics, wrote in an Instagram post celebrating the life of Neal Adams.
Following Adam West’s campy portrayal of the World’s Greatest Detective in the 60s, Adams in partnership with writer Denny O’Neil brought Batman back to his darker origins towards the end of the decade in 1969. Two years later, the creative team created Ra’s Al Ghul, a new Batman villain that threatened the world on a more global scale with admirable goals of helping the planet though at the unfortunate cost of human lives. This character would go on to be portrayed by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins (2005).
Along the way, Neal and O’Neil collaborated on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series that centered on the titular heroes traveling across the United States tackling real world issues such as racism, greed, poverty, and drug abuse. During this time, John Stewart, the first Black Green Lantern, was introduced by the pair.
To the benefit of artistic talents in the industry, Adams made it a standard practice for artists to have their original artwork returned by the publishers, creating a financial opportunity for them to sell to fans and collectors.
The creators of Superman, writer Jerry Siegal and artist Joe Shuster, had sold their rights to the character in 1938 for $130 and unfortunately faced poverty later in life. As Superman’s popularity grew and deepened in the pockets of DC Comics, when Siegal and Shuster tried to claim a share they were stripped of credit and denied any further work. However, Adams was a major supporter and joined the successful publicity campaign to bring the two of them recognition of their work, health benefits, and a significant annuity.
“He was the teacher who encouraged more than a handful of people who became the leading lights of the next generation of the field, including Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz and Denys Cowan,” Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics, said on the phone to George Gene Gustines for The New York Times.
In communication with DC Comics, people who worked with him closely and knew him well shared words in their remembrance of Neal Adams.
Paul Levitz recognized Adams impact on characters, style, storytelling, and influencing new talent.
“Neal Adams revitalized key characters, set stylistic and storytelling models, introduced a bevy of brilliant young talents to our pages, argued with us as our conscience, and drew some of the most iconic images of the 20th Century,” Levitz said.
Artist and writer Frank Miller noted the respect across generations that Adams facilitated.
“Neal changed the game. He made himself a bridge between generations. He forced the industry to pay tribute to his elders and taught my generation to respect ourselves,” Miller said.
Artist Bill Sienkiewicz recalled their many conversations about penciling and inking comic books.
“Neal and I would have countless discussions about his pencils and what he felt inkers did or did not do to capture what he wanted. Most of the time, he liked what I did. But when I was `off,’ he would not hesitate to call me to discuss what I’d done—or failed to do. To be honest, I loved these conversations, which almost had the opposite intended effect. I’d think, ‘How can I mess up the inks in just the right way so Neal and I will [be] able to talk for a few more hours?’ In fairness, he also called when he really liked something, too, so I didn’t have to resort to any nefarious inking screw-ups. I just like to think he enjoyed shooting the #@&% and talking [about] art with a friend. Gonna miss those talks,” Sienkiewicz said.
Artist and co-founder of Milestone Media Denys Cowan remembers Adams fondly, even as a parental figure for him as a young teen entering the industry.
“My boss passed away today, and has gone on to join the ancestors. Neal was like a father to me on so many levels. He (and really the whole family) took me into Continuity when I was 16 years old as an intern in high school. Neal, and that whole experience, taught me so much about comics, drawing—life, really. I owe him and the family a debt that can never be repaid,” Cowan said.
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