I called comic book legend Neal Adams at his studio, in the middle of New York’s recent blizzard. Knowing Adams’ keen nontraditional views on geology and physics, I wondered if he’d have any interesting viewpoints on local weather conditions. He had.
He talked me through how weather travel along preset electromagnetic pathways around the Earth but the violent storms can alter those pathways. And how electromagnetic pulses generated by one extreme weather event happening in one place will subtly shift the magnetic compass so that similar events will occur there again and again. Which is why the East Coast has been suffering of late. He emphasised it was a vague theory and he couldn’t say for sure, but it was a good start.
Neal is travelling to the UK for the London Super Comic Con with his family and is planning to spend a little time here. It’s not his first time in London, however, and he had rather strong memories about what happened last time, thirty-two years ago.
He hung out with the Forbidden Planet owners as Neal put it “when they were all still friends,” found himself invited to the pub with a bunch of other comic creators but rather than knocking back the drinks, he found himself up the stairs of a pub in what he could only describe as a union meeting, crammed with British writers and artists all talking about the evils of UK comics publisher IPC. And they wondered if Neal might say a few words. At which point he was handed a glass of wine. And realised that he’d basically been press-ganged into speaking at the event, based on his reputation as a fighter of creator rights in the US.
He heard how IPC would drop pay rates, wouldn’t return art and wouldn’t credit properly, but was an unassailable monolith. By his second glass, Neal had found the words to say. “You’re about to be free. Fuck that shit, get free of England, go the the United States Of America. France. Italy, Germany, Japan… but the best will be the USA” He’d seen their work, he told them that American editors would snap it out of their hands. They’d give them work, treat them like human beings.”
A number of people talked to him afterwards and ended up doing just that.
He’s not planning any similar moments of revolution this time, however. “I think I’ve done my job.”
He believes that the world of illustration has gone and that what work remains has been inherited by the comic book artist. And that this is a vindication for everything he believes. “I was right!” How the modern marketplace encourages everyone to lie about their success to each othr but that no one really cares. How The New York Times bestseller list can be topped with only 10,000 sales, but that this is a means to an end, a way to “just to bullshit their way through” to turning that into 100,000 sales on the internet.
He’s equally frank about his recent return to comics with Batman Odyssey, First X-Men, Blood and more.How badly Batman Oddyssey was received, but also how well First X-Men went down. And how he’s in discussion with DC Comics over a new project. “I’m a businessman. And I see DC as another business.”
He talked about his time working with then-President of DC, Jenette Khan, to ensure that the writer made comparable rates to an artist on a comic book, when pay deals and royalties were being rewritten in the seventies, arguing that both the artist and the writer sell the cover, and should be treated equally. And that he’s proud when people ask about that, they are told “Neal did it.” And when artists complain that they are writers are being paid disproportionately, they are also told “that it’s Neal’s fault”.
But where is his current work for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse heading? He tells me that this is only the start, and that he is looking at the full blown return of Continuity Comics as a publisher.
He remembers how the speculator market got out of hand and saw people order copies of his comics that they could never sell. That he was too involved in the business side and not in the actual creation of the comics. This time however, his daughter will handle the publishing allowing Neal Adams to create new comics with other people.
And now he’s coming to London for “circus time” as he put it. That’s what he tells people as conventions approach “the circus has come to town” and that’s how he feels it should be promoted. “It’s a pretty joyous thing” and he’s seen the growth of comic conventions as a new way for small publishers to operate entirely separately from distributors, selling from show to show and building a fanbase that way. “Diamond’s strangehold has gone” as he put it.
And as we’ve seen through his long career, Adams has always been adept at getting out of many such grips around him…