Neal Adams was easily one of the most important and influential artists in comic book history. I know this because he told me that himself when we met a few years ago. From anyone else it would have sounded arrogant. From him it was simply a statement of fact. I had told my students much the same thing about him just a few weeks earlier.
For a list of his credits and achievements there are many online resources, so I won’t take up space repeating them here. I want to talk about meeting him. He was one of the first comics artists whose style I was able to recognize when I was young, and one of the first artists I was a big fan of. A few years ago he flew into Pittsburgh to appear at a convention and to do a signing at Phantom of the Attic Comics in Oakland. I had the privilege of picking him and his wife Marilyn up at the airport. I’ve met a lot of big names in the industry in my life, I’ve interviewed Stan Lee, but I felt a little nervous. He was one of my first heroes. I didn’t want to just gush my fanboy geekdom all over him immediately. We had a lovely conversation about Pittsburgh as we drove back into town.
Neal Adams was a larger than life character in real life. He was loud, and opinionated, and obviously felt pretty good about himself. But this was all expressed in an open and friendly manner. He was a sideshow barker – he had actually been one of these at some point in his life – and carried that demeanor with him. He was knowledgeable and passionate and talented, and as far as I could see while he was at the store, genuinely kind to everyone he met. Before the signing was over I got something signed, an art book of his I have had since I was an early teen, and got to do my fanboy gushing. I then drove him and Marilyn to their motel.
Neal had some pretty out-there ideas about the world. Hollow earth and expanding planets, and a bunch of frankly crazy sounding nonsense. You can find videos and posts about this if you look. I was treated to some of his rambling theories while we drove. I don’t believe the things he did, but it was entertaining to hear first hand. I was also treated to a rant about how all hotels should have Thomas’s English Muffins instead of any other brand. Honestly that may be my favorite moment, just because it was so very human.
So RIP, Neal Adams. Thank you for Batman and the X-Men that you gave us. Thank you for Ms. Mystic and Skateboy. Thank you for your tireless work for creators rights. Thank you for opening up a world of art and story to this young mind.
I hope Heaven has Thomas’ English Muffins. If not, I’m sure you’ll tell them about it.
|Neal Adams with the Phantom crew|
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