Neal Adams Dead at 80

Neal Adams Dead at 80

“Adams’ death was confirmed Friday by one of his sons, Josh, on social media. Adams’ wife, Marilyn Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter that her husband died in New York from sepsis complications. According to the social media posts, Adams died early Thursday; he was 80.”

Adams revolutionized comic book art in the 1970s, stressing anatomically correct designs in his work.  He is one of the few artists who can rightfully be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Gil Kane.  His work defined the 1970s era, although it is generally agreed his work peaked in the mid-sixties. 

His background in commercial advertising brought with it that industry’s emphasis on naturalism. He moved comic books away from simple grids to more complex designs that were built to grab the eye.  He could also capture and emphasize emotion.  His pictures stressed dynamic movement.  Here, his experimentalism works to emphasize this character falling. It strives to give you a sense of vertigo, thus accentuating the writer’s story.

It works great in that example.

However, Adams was frequently given to excesses that would result in narrative incoherence.

In this Deadman panel, you are hard-pressed to figure out what the hell is going on.

Another example of O’Neil’s art turning on the fog machine. It’s a distraction from the story and raises the unfortunate question of; did Neal Adams have a limited skillset?  

Was this a case of when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail?

Good luck deciphering that one.

Now, these are extreme examples of his failures, but they are there.  He created them.

His most disastrous comic book was the result of the inevitable failure of an artist who thinks he can be a writer too.  Skateman was legendarily terrible and by 1981 was declared to be the Worst Comic Book of All Time by Kitchen Sink.  A roller derby player is inspired by a Hispanic kid named “paco” to wrap a scarf around his head and fight crime with his skates.

However, all of the valedictories this weekend will barely touch on his artwork at all.  What they will be going on and on at great length over, is his team up with Dennis O’Neil on the Brave and Bold.  The praise of his life’s work as an artist will be all about his politics.  And in truth, there is no denying Adams and O’Neil were the guys that injected left-wing politics into American comic books. They were Silent Generation types themselves and the Boomers were entering the comic book field so their odious progressivism was going to come with them eventually.  But these two guys were the first to do it.  

They were patient Zero.


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