Neal Adams, cartoonist who revived Batman and fought for creators’ rights, dies aged 80

Neal Adams, the legendary cartoonist who revived Batman and other superheroes with his photorealistic style and championed creators’ rights, has passed away. He was 80.

Adams died Thursday in New York from complications of sepsis, his wife, Marilyn Adams, told… The Hollywood Reporter

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Adams shocked the comic book world in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his toned and wiry take on heroes, first at DC with a character named Deadman, then at Marvel with X-Men and The Avengers, and then with his most enduring influence. , batman.

During his Batman run, Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil revolutionized the hero and the comics, bringing realism, kinetics and a sense of menace to their stories in the wake of the campy starring Adam West’ 60s ABC series and years when the hero was aimed at children’s readers.

He created new villains for the villain’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 the main protagonists in the trilogy of Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan.

The Batman run also revived some villains who had grown old, no more than the Joker, who became less comedic and more of the homicidal maniac that modern readers and moviegoers know and love, and who truly takes his place as the nemesis of the Caped Crusader.

“We have taken a bigger lead. We decided Joker was just a little crazy,” Adams told Abraham Reisman for a 2019 Vulture article claiming that without that classic story, 1973’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in Batman No. 251comics like The killer joke and renditions by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix would not exist.

“It was no secret that we were doing Batman well,” Adams said during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010. “It was as if the memory of DC Comics merged with the statements that both Denny and I made that we want it’s more realistic and grittier. And that’s how we remember – whether it was true or not – that Batman should be. And when we did it, everyone said, ‘Ah, that’s it. We don’t need comedy anymore.’”

Adams, also with O’Neil, came up with a then-controversial twist for Green Lantern/Green Arrow, tackling social issues such as drug addiction, racism and overpopulation and creating Green Lantern hero Jon Stewart, who was one of DC’s first Black icons. Their 1971 two-part story “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” remains a watermark in its evolution toward more mature readers.

It was at this creative peak in the mid-1970s that Adams stopped drawing for the Big Two, as DC and Marvel were known, and launched Continuity Studios, an artist studio that produced comics, commercial art, and storyboards, among other things. The comics department created indie characters such as Bucky O’Hare and Mrs. Mystic.

He also proved to be an influence on generations of artists, giving many a boost or breakthrough in the industry. He mentored Bill Sienkiewicz, who would sign an influential series Moon Knight and New Mutants, and Frank Miller, who would reinvent Batman more than a decade later with The Dark Knight returns.

“It wasn’t until I sat at tables at conventions next to the same people that I would see my father treated with such reverence that I understood: He was their father too,” his son Josh Adams said in a statement. THR† “Neal Adams’ most undeniable quality was the one I’d known about him all my life: he was a father. Not just my father, but a father to anyone who would get to know him.”

Adams also worked tirelessly to promote better working conditions and, radically at the time, creators’ rights, especially for their work. He recognized the value of creators early on and was a thorn in the side of publishers, who demanded compensation for themselves and others when their characters were adapted from the page.

He co-founded the Academy of Comic Book Arts with Stan Lee, hoping to create a union that would fight for benefits and property on behalf of writers and artists. Lee wanted an organization more like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the two broke up.

In the late 1970s, when a new federal labor law was enacted, Marvel and then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter circulated contracts stating that freelancers could not copyright their creations. As detailed in Reisman’s 2021 Lee biography, true believerAdams sent out a copy of the contract and scribbled on top of it: “Don’t sign this contract! You’re signing your life away!” While it caused a stir and awareness, the effort failed to have the intended effect as Marvel flexed its muscles and threatened anyone who tried to unite with the freelance resource drying up.

Adams had better luck taking on business leaders in two other areas. He helped change the practice of comic book publishers preserving or even shredding and discarding the original art by artists, and influenced companies to develop policies to return the art, something that allowed artists to enjoy a second stream of income. The biggest example: Marvel returned pages of art to Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men and Hulk.

He also turned out to be a champion of two writer-artists who laid the foundation for DC, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Upon learning of their plight — an incendiary factor was hearing they couldn’t attend a Broadway musical featuring the Man of Steel — he led a lobbying effort that eventually led to greater recognition for the pair, a maker tag in comics and other media to this day, plus a pension.

Neal Adams at work in the early 70s - Credit: Courtesy of the Adams Family

Neal Adams at work in the early 70s – Credit: Courtesy of the Adams Family

Thanks to the Adams family

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 on, and although he kept getting rejected by DC in the late 1950s, he did humorous jokes for Archie Comics. He also worked in commercial advertising and brought a comic book style to his endeavors, which would later influence his DC and Marvel work and help him stand out. Adams also worked on a daily comic strip with Ben Casey for several years in the 1960s.

Towards the end of the decade, he finally made it to DC, first with covers, then backup stories, and 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, earning him an Alley Award for “for the new perspective and dynamic vibrancy” he brought to the medium.

During Batman’s heyday, when Adams blew readers’ socks off on a monthly basis, he also caused a stir in DC offices with his art.

“In those days, if the work came in early enough, it might have been in production for three or four weeks in flat files before someone would actually pick it up and do the letter corrections,” recalled then-editor Paul Levitz at the 2010 Comic- Con panel. “The great books that would always come in, people would come and they would look at it. And if they would come to deliver their art, they would stop production, [saying,] “Do you have Neal’s last job?” or ‘Show me what’s in the’ Detective drawer.’ And that becomes a ‘Can you top this?’”

“My dad was a force,” said Josh Adams. “His career was marked by unparalleled artistic talent and an unwavering character that led him to constantly fight for his peers and those in need. He would become known in the comics industry as one of the most influential creators of all time, championing social rights and creators’ rights. When he saw a problem, he didn’t hesitate. What would be stories, told and retold of the battles he fought, was born of my father simply seeing something wrong while walking through the halls of Marvel or DC and immediately decided to do something about it.

The artist also understood the value of fan support and was a fixture on the convention scene, where he was sweet and cranky and a repository of comic book history who loved being a storyteller.

In addition to his wife of 45 years and Josh, there are two other sons, Jason and Joel, survivors; daughters Kris and Zeea; grandchildren Kelly, Kortney, Jade, Sebastian, Jane and Jaelyn; and great-grandson Maximus.

His three sons and Zeea work as cartoonists or fantasy artists.

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