Tag Archives: Neal Adams

Bat crap crazy or just misunderstood?

Not long ago I mentioned that if a particular creator didn’t go bat crap crazy like Frank Miller, he should always be given the benefit of the doubt creatively.  That got me thinking about the various level of crazy in comics.  There is everything from the normal Human frailties like depression, so common in creative types to rabid nutbaggyness that only a special few endure.  Or are these people just misunderstood and disliked?

Al Capp as a younger, more likeable guy.

The classic comics equivalent to Miller’s increasingly extreme views was Al Capp.  Best known for the strip Lil’ Abner, Capp’s talent was matched only by his increasingly conservative and even hateful politics as he grew older.  He was universally loved as a cartoonist and nearly as disliked as a human being.  Deliberate clashes with people he viewed as liberal or too far left, sexual scandals (including criminal charges in Wisconsin), run ins with talk show hosts and even a confrontation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured on film from the “bed in for peace” ensured that anyone that knew more than just his professional work would find him hard to like.  In today’s media saturated environment it is unlikely he would have maintained his general popularity.  I am regularly reminded of him every time I drive in Arkansas.  In the largely nonexistent town of Marble Falls, stands the crumbling remains of Dogpatch USA, a failed theme park of his popular characters home.  Was he crazy?  I can’t really say, but he was clearly someone who was extreme and anti-social in many ways.  Extreme viewpoints are often branded as crazy to discount them, but Capp seemed to relish his status as a mean old man for much of his life.  Today his work is forgotten by all but serious admirers of comics and cartooning, which is unfortunate because he was a very talented man, just not a very nice one either.

On a sadder end of the spectrum was Wally Wood.  One of the finest illustrators in the medium, Wood suffered health issues that contributed to depression and alcoholism.  While never diagnosed with much of anything officially, many who knew him considered him a deeply troubled man.  Wood killed himself in 1981 after kidney failure and a stroke had left him severely limited.  One of the most admired names in comics and illustration, there are few in the industry that cannot claim some kind of influence by Wood on their work.

A stunning piece by Wood

General public perception weighs heavily in most creators life stories.  I doubt Frank Miller is anything more than poorly understood.  Like Capp before him, Miller’s opinions are not always popular, but they don’t make him crazy.  It is when the work is affected that fans look more harshly on the creator.  Holy Terror was just awful.  In every way it was just Miller venting fear and frustration.  This is nothing new in comics today since 9-11, but many creators have managed to do it so much better that Miller has begun to creep people out.

In a current context there is Rob Liefeld.  His recent tweets as he ran out the doors of DC in a huff are certainly adding fuel to the fire that there is something very off with Rob.  While you can debate the level of talent, I think anyone would have assumed he would always find work in comics based solely on his name, but the fervor with which he has burned bridges lately make many doubt his motives.  As of this writing he has tweeted that he is retired from comics.  For now sure, but he will be back, I’m sure.  The reasons for the departure are what have left many scratching their heads.

While there are many that question the sanity of Dave Sim, I have to say I am not one of them.  I question his give a damn.  I really don’t think he cares that much about what the world thinks of him and his lifestyle choices.  The religious stance he has taken in the last few years and his perceived misogynistic opinions have made him something of an outcast.  I think he prefers the solitude.  Based on his writings and interviews he has given, I think he would be fine having only the bare minimum contact with the rest of the world as long as he can still create comics and commune with his God.  Nothing wrong with that, if that is what fills your life and makes you content.  He is one that I met years ago at a signing.  His “rock star” attitude was not a nice thing.  I imagine he is a nicer and better person the way he is now.

Thanks to his interest in the “expanding earth” theory, Neal Adams is often branded as crazy, which bugs me.  Since when are contrary opinions and beliefs crazy?  At what point will we start considering anyone that believes in invisible sky Gods (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) crazy?  Having spoken to Mr. Adams at shows, he is in my opinion, no more or less crazy than any creative person I have met.  500 years ago, people who believed the Earth to be round were crazy.  While I don’t share Mr. Adams’ opinion on the formation of the Earth, and doubt that science will prove him correct, I don’t think calling someone crazy for believing in a theory is any better than calling them crazy for believing in a God.  His work in support of creators’ rights has earned him some enemies in the field, but I doubt anyone serious can fault him as a creator or a good person.

Then there is Steve Ditko.  Is wanting to be left alone and not in the public eye crazy?  Again as with Adams, I think the political and social views he once spoke of have condemned him to a degree.  Since he has not been a public figure and avoided interviews for the last 40+ years, Ditko has added to the mystery surrounding himself and added fuel to the fires of speculation.

A Chaykin B&W piece

I have even heard people call Howard Chaykin crazy.  I have begun to believe that just not following the mainstream is what gets many of these creators the looney label.  I have never met Chaykin, but I would love to get that chance.  There are few creators in the industry today as vibrant and creative, and I bet he is just a hoot to talk to.

It is amazing what one overblown story can do to a creator’s reputation as a person.  Mike Grell has never really been able to escape the gun on the table incident from his days doing books at First comics.  The story has been so over reported and so miss-represented that many seem afraid of him at cons.  This is the view that seemed to be in the line I was standing in at a con a couple of years ago, waiting for him to sign a book.  While it was only a small group, can it really be just an isolated opinion?  Having spoken to him, he is just a guy.  He likes or liked guns.  That is really all anyone should take from the story.  He was a very nice fellow and not all that scary.  Quite a small guy compared to what I had expected too.

There is also someone who has developed quite an odd reputation since his death.  William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, had an interesting outlook and an even more interesting home life.  He lived with his wife AND his mistress and the children by each.  Crazy?  Well, who knows, but it is interesting to me how he is spoken of almost entirely in the context of his marriage now, rather than his professional work.

I’m sure there are some I am missing.  If you think of any, speak up!  It might be fun to start a little debate here.

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Fish Schticks—Aquaman vol 1 The Trench review

Aquaman vol 1 The Trench (Hardcover)

DC Comics 2012

144 pages $22

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an Aquaman fan.  The bulk of my experience with the character comes from Super Friends, and I have had little desire to get more acquainted.  Even with that caveat, I have to say that thinking of the character ever having humor in his book was not something that came to mind easily.  Any time I have checked in on him by flipping through one of the 6 previous volumes of his adventures, dour is the only word I would have chosen to describe what I saw.  The only story I have read completely that used him at all was Brightest Day, and even there, he was not a happy camper.  So when I heard that the first few issues of the New 52 version of the character’s eponymous book had a fair bit of humor, I was intrigued.  I did notget these when they came out, but went back and grabbed the first 2 issues.  I liked them enough to get the HC (collecting the first 6 issues) and I can say that this is a pretty fun, and funny book.

Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have put out quite a book and it stands out as one of the best of the New 52.  Johns affection for the character comes through in his writing.  While there is action the real treat here is the tongue in cheek humor.  He gently pokes fun at the clichés that everyone thought were part and parcel of the King of Atlantis.  From the moment he sits down in a seafood restaurant and orders the fish-n-chips you know this will not be a book to play it safe with the character.  The constant references to his girlfriend and partner Mera as Aquawoman are giggle inducing at times, and make her interesting, where before she was nothing but a plot hammer.  This book does have the same problem as most of the other New 52 collections in that it reads like the first arc and a half rather than something complete.  From a story point, the first arc by itself in most of these books would have been a letdown.  Adding the first part of the next arc (as an intro, interlude or teaser), feels as much like bonus material as the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” tease intended to get the reader to come back for the next book.  It is not a great tactic in my mind, but it seems to be working for DC.  The real test will be how well volume 2 of all these do.

Reis and Prado team up here to make a VERY nice looking book.  The production value in the line and color is particularly stunning.  There are the hero shots of the 2 main characters that are simply dazzling to look at.  The color, leaping off the page at times, creates a powerful fantasy feel that cannot be understated.  My only complaint here is there is sometimes too much going on.  You cannot always make out what each panel contains.  Part of this is art style and part is storytelling experience.  It takes the master storytellers in this medium years, even decades to become masters.  Only then is the storytelling sense developed enough to create truly great panel to panel storytelling.  Eisner, Miller, Byrne, Sim, Wagner ,Kurtzman, Adams, Kirby and Ditko are examples of the greats.  Nothing against the art team on this book, but they are not there yet.  They are also victims of the current attitude in comics that more is better.  Jim Lee and the Image style popularized this and it has been a huge influence on comics for two decades.  Cramming a panel with piles of needless and sometimes distracting detail to make the book look more complex or intense is just how you sell books these days.  Don’t get me wrong, this can make for some very pretty comics.  This style is very well suited to digital where you are best only viewing a panel at a time, but as a page at a time read in print, it does not work as well.  It can be too much for the eye to sort through easily.  This changes the flow of the book and can really lessen the dramatic impact.  The masters at controlling pace (Neal Adams and Dave Sim are good examples) can force you to speed up or slow down according to the demands of the story.  There is only one pace here and in most other modern comics, and the art is not always going to mesh with those same story demands.

All else being equal (and the above is a relatively minor quibble that separates the good books from the great ones), this is a fun and interesting read.  Aquaman, not so much rebooted as re-energized.  Aquaman is easily in the top 5 of the New 52 and well worth a look.


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X-Men The Hidden years TPB review

X-Men:  The Hidden Years

2012 Marvel Comics

328 pages  $35

The X-Men started by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in September 1963, the same month as The Avengers.  Things did not go well.  Kirby penciled the first dozen issues and slowly stepped aside in the months after that issue.  The book limped along for its entire run, published bi-monthly.  Some great artists followed like Werner Roth and Don Heck, until Neal Adams was given the art duties on the book with issue #56.  Adams was a relatively new artist, and it was felt that the book would soon be cancelled.  Writer Roy Thomas and Adams were on the book longer than anyone expected, but they could not make the book sell, and their run ended with #66.  The next issue started the reprints that continued until the “All- New, All Different” X-Men started up with new adventures in #94 (and Giant Size X-Men #1).

Fast forward to 1999.  The X-Men series no longer resembled anything from its heyday of the 70′ and 80’s.  Marvel had eaten all of its children in the name of the speculator market, destroying virtually all of its once great books.  The choice was made to try to recapture some of the old glories of the 80s.  They got John Byrne to take up the X-Men again.  This time he would write as well as draw, with the original inker of the Neal Adams stories, Tom Palmer along for the ride.  He would take up where the Thomas/Adams run left off.  The attempt was not to be just like the Adams stuff or his own prior run on the title, but to blend them and tell stories of the original team.

This trade collection reprints the first 12 issues (of a total of 22) and a teaser from  the then current book.  First off, the art is really very nice.  Byrne  uses a panel and page layout that is closer to Adams than his own, but inside those panels, it is very much Byrne.  Tom Palmer’s ink lines are just faintly reminiscent of his lines over Adams.  The art works very well, the issue that I have is with the story.  I have fond memories of reading the Thomas/Adams run a few years after they were new, but if I am honest, they have not aged well for me.  The thrill of reading them back them has not lasted into reading them in the last few years.  The feel of these collected stories is very much the same, they feel just like those older stories do now, forced and over dramatic.  Byrne is one of the old school of melodrama, classic comics at their best, but when he is at his best they feel fresh and modern while still holding the feel of the old nostalgia.  This is a book that feels very much like many of the 90s Marvel books;  forced.  Trying desperately to capture lightning in a bottle again and failing.  I do not blame Byrne, as his skill-set is on display for all to enjoy.  I just think it is poorly used.

If you remember the classic run, and can still read it and enjoy it for what it is rather than what you remember it as, then this is the collection for you.  If the books of the 1970s leave you cold, then I would give this one a miss.

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Must be something in the water.

The issue of creator’s rights has been a sacred subject for years.  Since the Siegel and Shuster fight in the 70’s, it has been a real issue for fans and creators alike.  Without getting specific about any one fight, it is clear that the issue is a tough one, and the farther away we get from the early battles, the more divisive it is.

Which is why I find it odd or maybe hypocritical that it does not get brought up much when it is creator vs. creator rather than creator vs. “Evil Corporation”.

There has been a lot of jerk-like behavior lately on the creative front.  Disputes of every kind have been cropping up.  Most like the above creator vs. “Evil Corporation” is Gary Friedrich vs. Marvel over the credit and money etc, involved in Ghost Rider.  Marvel has won both the original suit against then and their countersuit and now Friedrich is on the hook for $17,000 for money he made selling Ghost Rider prints.  Legally, Marvel is 100% in the right.  Based on what I have seen of this, it was the textbook definition of work for hire, and Marvel has every right to protect profits by preventing Friedrich from selling their prints.  (If they were original sketches by him or someone that gave him explicit permission to sell their work, this would be different).  But Marvel is just making an example of him, and being dicks in the process.  Friedrich can now no longer claim to be the creator of Ghost Rider for any kind of personal gain.  They didn’t even do that to Kirby!  With a movie coming out with the character, Marvel needs to back off if they want to save face, however since it is Disney, now really and truly protecting their house; they are likely to grind Friedrich into powder because they legally can.  They have ever legal right to do so.  But this is just piling on.

Then there is Static Shock from the New 52.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this book has not been great, so much of what has been said publicly may be pointing the blame for a failing and now cancelled book.  John Rozum was the writer that decided to leave, citing the old chestnut “creative differences”.  He claims he was being pushed aside for Scott McDaniel and the editor to have greater story input.  They in their turn have said that they were just trying to make the best book possible, and they thought everyone involved was on board.  I think the only real jerk here is DC editorial for bringing on a very talented writer, known for odd, introspective and intelligent work to write something completely out of his wheel house.  Not that he couldn’t have done it, just that they didn’t want that.  If what you want is a book with all the hallmarks of “X”, you hire “X” or the nearest available equivalent.  You don’t get Shane Black or Paul Verhoven to write a screenplay adapting Pride & Prejudice, so why expect Rozum to write this book when he clearly had a different direction in mind?

Next up  is Robert Kirkman.  He has gotten his fair share of bad press lately and is rapidly on his way to becoming the Dave Sim of the 2010’s.  First he had a very public break with Rob Liefeld over The Infinite.  With very little actually done on the series they have cancelled it because they cannot agree on what sounds like some pretty simple stuff.  Again, I think that one party (Kirkman in this case) just did not adequately express what he was really looking for.  If you bring a guy like Liefeld onto a book, you are going to get some pretty specific things.  Like him or hate him, Rob’s stuff is very distinctive and has a very specific style that cannot be confused with anyone else’s.  Sounds to me like someone who is a little too full of his own success and thinks that he is infallible.  Because he and Rob were more or less equal partners in the book, it is easier to kill the book than buy out one partner.

In what sounds more like 2 people that really need a time out, Tony Moore is suing Kirkman over payments he says he is owed for The Walking Dead.  I’m sure there IS money there, but at issue are the terms of the contract that was signed between the two of them.  Sounds like Kirkman feels he more or less bought Moore out and owes him no further money.  Moore for his part states that the deal was pushed on him and misrepresented. To be blunt, much of what I have seen and heard from Kirkman himself in video posts, about his view of things in general, leads me to believe that he is being the jerk here.  This is strictly my impression on this, and is just my opinion.

Many people look at the original Image revolt of Lee, Larsen, McFarland etc, was about creator’s rights.  I’m sorry, but that really is oversimplifying it.  They wanted THEIR rights.  As they felt they were being denied.  Were they correct?  Probably.  Were they interested in improving things for ALL creators?  As a secondary objective, yes.  Did other creators benefit from their actions?  Eventually, yes.  Who gained the greatest benefit?  They did.  But ascribing this noble goal and lofty visions of equality is not correct.  In much the same way that Kirkman, Moore and even Alex De Campi and Jimmy Broxton/James Hodgkins (if you have not heard about the Kickstarter hassle on this one—look into it.  It is fascinating) all want their own rights protected, they will, at times damage other creators to get them.  It is all a long way from Neal Adams fighting for Jerry and Joe with DC over Superman.  Was Neal 100% right and pure in his motives?  I cannot say.  Surely he knew if he won, things would be better down the road for him and others, but I really don’t think that was the main motive.  There was a wrong, and he wanted his voice heard.

All creators have rights.  The trick is to know when those rights begin to trample on the same rights of others.  Let’s all keep that in mind before we run screaming into the hills in outrage.  Neal Adams is a legend in the industry.  And all legends, like everyone else I have mentioned here, is human.  They are not perfect, and sometimes they make questionable choices that are in their own interests only.  Other times they make altruistic choices with no clear benefit to themselves.  Putting on the blinder called creator’s rights, just does not allow you to get deep enough into the issue.  Look closer.  Look seriously and without undue passion.  Sometimes these are legal issues only, and others they are moral issues of right and wrong.  It is sad that the right and wrong are rarely decided fairly, and often we need to “think” solely with our emotions for the right side to win.  Just remember that in creator vs. creator, there really ARE two sides.

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