Neal Adams, legendary comic book artist who revitalized Batman, dies at 80
Neal Adams, the legendary comic book artist who reinvigorated Batman and other superheroes with his photorealistic stylings and championed the rights of creators, has died. He was 80. He Adams died Thursday in New York of complications from sepsis, his wife, Marilyn Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter. He jolted the world of comic books in the late 1960s and early ’70s with his toned and sinewy take on heroes, first at DC with a character named Deadman, then at Marvel with the X-Men and the Avengers, then back at DC with his most lasting influence, Batman.
During his Batman run, Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil brought a revolutionary change to the hero and the comics, delivering realism, kineticism, and a sense of menace to their storytelling in the wake of the campy Adam West-starring ’60s ABC series and years of the hero being aimed at kiddie readers.
Adams created new villains for the rogue’s gallery — the Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul as well as the latter’s daughter, Talia, who became Batman’s lover. The father and daughter, played by Liam Neeson and Marion Cotillard, were key characters in the trilogy of Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan. The Batman run also revived some villains who had grown stale, none more so than the Joker, who became less comical and more the homicidal maniac that modern readers and moviegoers know and love, truly taking his place as the Caped Crusader’s archnemesis.
“We took a harder edge. We decided that Joker was just a little crazy,” Adams told Abraham Reisman for a 2019 Vulture article that made the case that without that classic story, 1973’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in Batman No. 251, comics such as The Killing Joke and portrayals by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Joaquin Phoenix would not exist.
Adams, also with O’Neil, came up with a then-controversial turn for Green Lantern/Green Arrow that tackled social issues such as drug addiction, racism, and overpopulation and introduced the Green Lantern hero John Stewart, who became one of DC’s first Black icons.
Their 1971 two-part story “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” remains an important milestone in comics’ evolution toward attracting more mature readers.
Adams also proved to be an influence on generations of artists, giving many a boost or break into the industry. He acted as a mentor to Bill Sienkiewicz, who would draw an influential run of Moon Knight and New Mutants, and Frank Miller, who would go on to reinvent Batman himself with The Dark Knight Returns.“It wasn’t until I sat at tables at conventions next to the same people I would watch treat my father with such reverence that I understood: He was their father, too,” his son Josh Adams said in a statement to THR. “Neal Adams’ most undeniable quality was the one I had known about him my entire life: He was a father. Not just my father, but a father to all that would get to know him.”
Adams helped change the practice of comic book publishers keeping the original art by artists or even shredding and tossing it, influencing companies to establish policies of returning the art, something that allowed artists to enjoy a second income stream.
Adams helped change the practice of comic book publishers keeping the original art by artists or even shredding and tossing it, influencing companies to establish policies of returning the art, something that allowed artists to enjoy a second income stream. The biggest case in point: Marvel returned pages of art to Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men and Hulk. He also proved to be a champion of two writer-artists who laid the foundation for DC, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. When he learned of their plight — one inciting factor was hearing that they could not attend a Broadway musical featuring the Man of Steel — he led a lobbying effort that eventually led to greater recognition for the pair, a creator tag in comics and other media that continues to this day, plus a pension.
Adams was born in New York City on June 15, 1941, and attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan. He set his sights on comic books early, and while he kept getting rejected from DC in the late ’50s, he did humor gags for Archie Comics. He also worked in commercial advertising, bringing a comics art style to his efforts, which would later influence his DC and Marvel work and help him stand out. Adams also worked for several years in the ’60s on a daily comic strip featuring Ben Casey.
By the end of the decade, he finally landed at DC, at first doing covers, then back-up stories, then finally the main stories. When he was assigned Deadman in the title Strange Adventures, he had pretty much established his style, and it was only a matter of time before the industry noticed. Deadman became a surprise hit and earned him an Alley Award for “the new perspective and dynamic vibrance” he brought to the medium.
During the Batman heyday, when Adams was blowing readers’ socks off on a monthly basis, he also was causing a stir in the DC offices with his art.
“In those days, if the work came in early enough, it would sit in flat files in production for maybe three or four weeks before anyone would actually pick it up and do the lettering corrections,” then-editor Paul Levitz recalled at the 2010 Comic-Con panel. “The great books that would always come in, people would come and they would look at it. And when they would come in to deliver their art, they’d stop off in production, [saying,] ‘Do you have Neal’s last job?’ or ‘Let me see what’s in the Detective drawer.’ And that becomes a ‘Can you top this?’” The artist also understood the value of fan support and was a fixture on the convention scene, where he was lovable, cantankerous and a repository of comic book history who loved being a raconteur. In addition to his wife of 45 years and Josh, survivors include two other sons, Jason and Joel; daughters Kris and Zeea; grandchildren Kelly, Kortney, Jade, Sebastian, Jane, and Jaelyn; and great-grandson Maximus. His three sons and Zeea all work as artists in the comic book or fantasy field.
Why Nigerian comics are taking the world by storm
Over the past few years, Nigerian comic books have been making waves in the global comic book industry. From their unique storytelling style to their stunning artwork, are being celebrated for their authenticity. What’s the reason for this tour de force?
By Mariam Abdullahi
Nigerian comic books are breaking new ground in terms of representation. For years, the comic books available to readers have been dominated by Western superheroes, with little room for diversity. Nigerian comic books, on the other hand, showcase a wide range of characters, from traditional folklore heroes to contemporary superheroes. These characters are not only diverse in terms of race and ethnicity but also in terms of gender.
This diversity is refreshing and exciting, as it provides a space for underrepresented voices to be heard. One very good example is the YouNeek Universe’s array of titles, like ‘Malika’, ‘E.X.O’, and ‘Iyanu: Child of Wonder’ (currently being developed as an animated series for Cartoon Network). Most recently, Comic Republic was announced to have inked a deal with a major Hollywood production company to produce TV shows based on their line of comics.
There will be more international deals announced as they year goes on. After all, Nigerian comic books are celebrated for their unique storytelling style, known for their use of local languages, dialects, and colloquialisms. This approach not only adds authenticity to the stories but also creates a sense of familiarity for local audiences. Moreover, the use of folklore, mythology, and history provide a fresh perspective on African history and mythology.
They are also praised for their stunning artwork, with work by artists like Etubi Onucheyo, Jide Okonkwo, Mustapha Bulama, Kro Onimole, Chigozie Amadi, Bolaji Olaloye, Godwin Akpan, and many more. They are known for vibrant, colourful, and dynamic art styles, with visually stunning and unique styles that stand out.
For years, they have struggled to get their work recognized on a global scale, but thanks to tech and especially the internet, Nigerian creators now have an ever-widening platform to showcase their talents, and providing a space for them to tell their stories. These stunning comic books also play a vital role in promoting literacy and education. In a country where illiteracy rates are high, comic books provide an accessible and engaging way for people to learn.
Nigerian comic books and their creators often address social and political issues, making them an excellent tool for educating people on important issues. A couple of years ago, the works of writer/illustrator/cartoonist/editor Abdulkareem Baba Aminu were included in the award-winning anthology ‘The Most Important Comic Book On Earth’ alongside that of Alan Moore, John Wagner, Cara Delevingne, Charlie Adlard, and 300 other leading environmentalists, artists, authors, actors, filmmakers, and musicians.
Some Nigerian comic books are even available in local languages, making them accessible to a wider audience. There is also a number of publishers making giant strides, like Spoof!, Vortex, Epoch Comics, Comic Republic, and others. It’s safe to conclude that Nigerian comic books are changing the narrative of African storytelling, as attested to by the high quality of writers and creators, bringing out fresh and compelling stories, characters and concepts.
For too long, African stories have been told by outsiders. That is changing fast, with the rise in showcasing the richness and diversity of African cultures, challenging stereotypes, and promoting a more nuanced understanding of Africa. Overall, they are taking the world by storm for good reason, providing a space for underrepresented voices to be heard, promoting diversity, and showcasing Nigerian talent. As the global comic book industry continues to evolve, Nigerian comics are sure to play an increasingly important role in shaping its future.
Chris Ryall creating ‘Megalopolis’ graphic novel with Francis Ford Coppola
It caught many by surprise when it was announced at WonderCon that Image Comics imprint Syzygy will publish a graphic novel for director Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestating science fiction film ‘Megalopolis’. Chris Ryall, co-founder of Syzygy, will create the book with artist Jacob Phillips.
Ryall describes the project as being “very much its own thing” from the film.
The movie, which finished filming earlier this month, follows a woman who becomes torn between her father, the Mayor of New York, and her lover, an architect with visionary plans for the city.
Ryall, via Popverse, said Coppola pitched the project. “The exciting thing is that I’ve only worked directly with him on this,” he says. “This isn’t the kind of thing where he licensed out the material — the movie and the book are solely his. We spent a few hours in Atlanta last month talking about not only this graphic novel but the childhood comics he loved, and all the way along, he’s been permissive and encouraging in telling us to make the book very much its own thing. So it’s been a kind of stunning arrangement, to get to work directly with someone of his stature on something like this.”
Ryall added: “As a huge fan of not only Jacob’s color work on the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips graphic novels but certainly also the amazing art and colors on his ‘That Texas Blood’ series, getting to work with Jacob while he’s on such a creative roll is also a thrill. Gonna be fun to build this particular corner of Francis’s new city.”
The book, like the movie, does not have a release date yet.
GeekAfrique’s Best Comic Book of 2022: ‘New Masters’
‘New Masters’, by the Coker brothers, takes the reader into a future Nigeria which while dark, is filled with hope, powered by writing that’s masterful and art that’s gorgeously atmospheric, weaving one of the most compelling stories in graphic fiction this year.
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
As soon as the story opens with the following lines: ‘1124 Post Adventu, a few miles East of the Kainji Mines, deep into the Eko Exclusion Zone’, we meet Ola. The spunky tech-enhanced teen, accompanied by a droid called Àṣẹ, has slid down a cable to scavenge, but instead finds what could be a large deposit of raw Obsidium, a crucial mineral that has all kinds of individuals in hot pursuit. I immediately fell in love with the characters, a love which becomes absolute when the droid asks our heroine if she would like it to “Initiate the pick-race protocol”. How much more Nigerian could a comic book get? (Note for non-Nigerians: To ‘pick-race’ means to run away, or to flee a situation or an individual out of one’s league)
Ola soon tries to offload her precious find, and in the process, we meet some of the most colourful characters I’ve come across since the original Star Wars trilogy or Nnedi Okorafor’s spectacular ‘LaGuardia’ graphic novel. A shifty suya seller-cum-black market dealer, a high-powered committee consisting of humans and aliens, or a couple made up of a Yemi Alade-esque fashionista and a lover from literally another world. It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.
It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.
Also, what’s a futuristic yarn set in Nigeria without Lagos, the city we all love and hate in equal measure, or Tejuosho for that matter? That’s not to mention cameos by Hausa words like ‘Tozo’ when Ola barters for a bit of Suya at Yaba Market, or an earlier-mentioned exclamation of ‘Shaege’ (a corruption of the Hausa word for ‘bastard’, weirdly also used to denote chronic badassery). Then the cherry – or cherries – on this layered cake: Views of Eko City itself, as well as the slums of Makoko, still sinking even in this far-flung future.
This, the first story arc, is called ‘The Eye of Orunmila’ in reference to a massive status quo-changing trove of knowledge that will change the universe. It also appears to be the chief McGuffin of the story, driving the story forward so well that the following chapters almost have no choice but to follow suit. The writing by Shobo Coker, one half of the duo of Nigerian brothers who created this masterpiece, is deft in its delivery of character beats, and in its layering of fantastical sci-fi backdrops. The dialogue flows in such an organic way that one could easily forget he is reading a comic book. One word: Bravo.
The art is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium.
The art, by Shof Coker, is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated a la ‘Blade Runner’, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium, a la the production design of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ film. Even the lettering is kinetically charged, and is part of the artistry which graces the pages of this beautiful comic book. There also are locales that are as many as they are far-flung from each other and a distinct and deliberately-done combination of the familiar and the futuristic. One word: Bravo, also.
PR material says it is ‘A vision of West Africa under the thumb of alien colonizers’, wherein ‘A motley crew of outcasts find themselves caught up in a power struggle for control of an ancient artefact with immense power’. The comic book is also described as ‘A ground-breaking blend of science fiction, adventure, drama, and vibrant Afrofuturism’. I totally agree, even if the correct term is ‘Africanfuturism’, but that’s a fight for another day. With a handsome trade paperback edition out now, it is safe to declare this the most energetic debut of this year so far, and by far.
‘New Masters’ Vol. 1 trade paperback, published by Image Comics, is on sale now.