Sunday, December 16, 2007

Neal Adams' Continuity Comics

Back in late 1984 Neal Adams created his independent comic publishing company, Continuity Comics, which only lasted until 1993 when the books were canceled during his infamous Rise of Magic cross-over series. His line dealt mainly with serious super-hero titles like, Armor, Crazyman, Megalith, ToyBoy, The Revengers, Cyberad, Hybrids, Shaman, Earth 4, and other characters that were all developed by Adams, not to mention his space exploring rabbit, Bucky O’Hare. But a hand full of these titles did achieve some small success, enough so, that three of his creations, Samuree, Knighthawk, and Valeria the She-Bat ended up being published by Acclaim’s Windjammer line. A few years earlier, Adams had developed Ms. Mystic for Pacific Comics, which was an attractive strip he drew, but none of his characters in their later Continuity incarnations lasted over twelve issues or so. The first problem was Adams’ publishing schedule on the titles were always dreadfully late, on average one to twenty-four weeks, and I believe a book or two went even a year without an issue! That alone would kill any comic company’s orders by the combined frustration of retailers and collectors going crazy just to get their issues. Second, there was almost no plot based stories, wooden dialogue, and very shaky character development, which added up to some pretty mediocre comics overall. Third, Adams as well as the other publishers like Marvel and DC at the time were caught up in the new comic speculators buying habits for those wild “variant covers” that bombarded the comic stands. Tyvex and die-cut covers were all the rage, as well as glow-in-the-dark, optic illusion, hologram, multiple image covers, pull-out posters, thermal images appearing from the heat of your hand, chrome or gold plated covers, sticker clues to complete pages inside, and of course bagged comics with trading cards, were just a few of the many gimmicks that were being promoted.

But for all the negative talk I’ve heard about these comics and their creator, one small factor remained in my mind and is the only redeeming factor for my money - the great artwork. Now, I always enjoyed Adams’ unique style (thought it seemed to be based much on Stan Drake to me) and fondly remember as a child drooling over Adams’ Batman covers in those plastic 3-packs DC produced in the early seventies. But I was surprised to see how a style that appears complex can be reproduced by so many people. Maybe his style is not so unique after all if any number of artists can create his look, and is that even a good thing to do in the first place?

I recently picked up an almost complete set of Continuity Comics and was shocked by the number of artists and inkers who could "ape" Adams' look, perhaps maybe as well as their mentor in Continuity’s "house style". Some artists are better at it than others, but I like Dan Barry, Vicente Alcazar, Mike Deodato Jr., Trevor Von Eedon, Ernesto Infante, Clark Hawbaker, Mark Texiera, Dave Hoover, Richard Bennett, Terry Shoemaker, Malcolm Davis, AndrĂ© Coates, Tom Grindberg, Bart Sears, Esteban Maroto, Michael Netzer, and Sal Velluto. That’s just seventeen guys, and I stopped counting , who have a good “feel” for Adams’ style, and some of these artists I’ve never even heard of. And there is even more wonderful artists that I have not listed. How did that happen? If you can draw like Neal Adams shouldn't you be able to work for Marvel, DC, or any other company today? But how could you not look like Neal’s work if you have a swipe file from all his prior works, to well, SWIPE from, which makes it look correct since they’re his poses. And to top if off, Adams did lay-outs and inked many, if not all, the faces and touched up most pages to give them his seal of approval. Other artists that I enjoyed, but worked rather in “Adams” spirit than a literal line rendering were Brian Apthorpe, Mark Beachum, Aron Weisenfeld, Walter McDaniels, Kevin Nowlan, and Michael Golden. A shorter list by far, however that may be a good thing, to illustrate a little different and stand out in this comic company.?

Perhaps is was the crisp work of the inkers who helped save the day, making all these pages work, like the talented Rudy Nebres, Ian Akin, Brian Garvey, Alberto Saichan, André Klasik, Del Barras, Art Nichols, Bill Sienkiewicz, Romeo Tanghal, and John Nyberg. Some wonderful artists themselves in their own right, combined with quite a pool of talent from all the creators mentioned above. At least the production values on the books were always very good, being printed in Canada on high quality paper stock. And over all these tales, Adams constructed the plots and left the writing chores up to the much overworked, Peter Stone.

Now, as mentioned, the stories were pretty thin all around and in the cross-over series Deathwatch 2000 they got down right “preachy” with Adams’ villains using attacks based on global warming from chlorofloro-carbons to destroy the ozone layer, or used overpopulation, pollution, radiation sickness, and manipulated mankind’s other self-inflicted destruction. Whatever that might be? Zany situations were really going on when you combined weird stellar characters, mix in some BEM aliens, a dash of robots and a pinch of hardware, and finally a huge gun toting talking dragon! But even with all that insanity, for some crazy reason I still found these books enjoyable. Looking to the letter pages and a couple web sites, maybe I wasn’t the only one that liked these titles. Armor appeared always to be hands-down the most popular of the heroes, but was still unable to “jump ship” to Windjammer. Perhaps some day these character will be resurrected so we can see how Neal Adams’ vision for Continuity Comics would have finally ended.


Beez said...

First off, cool blog. I'll be back.

Second, the issue of Neal Adams — a textbook example of style over substance. Adams was a spectacular and unique artist, his work redefining comic book art in the 1960s, but he has always been a horrible writer. I bought several of his Continuity comics in the early and mid-80s, enticed by Adams' amazing artwork, only to be left dumbfounded at the ridiculous dialogue and flimsy storylines.

It may have been because I was at that point no longer a teenager who could easily dismiss plot and character development for a chance to marvel at Adams' fluid and muscular lines. I had matured to the point where I expected a more complex and challenging literary quality to the comics I was willing to shell out increasingly larger amounts of my cash.

I wasn't alone: The truly great comic books of that era — particularly the groundbreaking work of Frank Miller — strived for a more erudite flavor, appealing to an adult audience. While I think Adams may have had similar goals in mind, his deficiencies in the writing area never allowed his work to evolve beyond the purely visual into something with a little more heft.

What's so depressing about all this is that, had Adams recruited a writer of some substance to help him flesh out his ideas, he may have achieved true greatness rather than continuing to live on the laurels he had accrued for his work — done in collaboration with other gifted writers and editors — at DC and Marvel during the Silver Age of comics.

Instead, the Neal Adams story is sadly one of a glorious talent unrealized.

Dave Karlen said...

Bawana, thank you for your insightful and well articulated comments concerning Neal Adams, still one of our greatest comic artists in the field today.

ZAdams said...

Wow. You guys are pretty rough on my Dad. And what's worse, you're not giving credit where it's due. Those other artists you mention who, as you say, "ape" Dad's style, wouldn't have a style without Neal. You're really going to bash Dad 'cuz other people copy him? Really? Not to mention Frank Miller, a very good friend of Dad's, has himself credited much of his artistic ambition to Neal. Neal was an innovator when he first arrived on the comic scene. How many artists were drawing realistically before Neal? Many did after! So Continuity Comics didn't do so well. How many artists have created their own line of comics before Neal did? Of course many did after! Sure, a few of the other guys were more successful at it. So Neal's not the greatest writer, the concepts were good. The ideas of the characters, the ideas of the stories were viable.

This all is not even mentioning what Dad's done for comic creators rights and how he fought, and continues to fight for many brilliant creators that people like you have left fallen at the wayside! When another creative is in trouble, whether financially or legally, who's the first person called to come to their aid? Neal. I can't even count on my fingers and toes how many creatives Neal has taken under his wing, some of which (oddly like you guys) turn around and stab him in the back afterwards. And a rare few of even these guys come back to Neal for help and he (against all his family's protests) takes them back under his wing.

Maybe I'm not so articulate as you fellas, I'm not a writer, but Neal's done great things for the comic industry and artists as a whole, and to have some shmuck write "the Neal Adams story is sadly one of a glorious talent unrealized" just burns my biscuits! You have no idea who my father is. His story is far more colorful and fascinating than yours will ever hope to be. What have YOU done? Who knows YOUR name? Who owes their own brilliant career to your guidance and inspiration?


Beez said...

An understandable reaction to criticism of one's dad, ZAdams, but an overreaction nonethless.

As an artist, Neal Adams has few if any peers. I remember as a kid being mesmerized by his DC work, to the degree that I made the statement — and make it again today — that he is one of the greatest pencil artists of all time. His work with Denny O'Neil on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series still blows me away — it's stupendous, revolutionary, incredible ... orgasmic, even!

However, as a writer, he never reached the same heights, and that is my central point. Many, many times I wished, as a comic-book aficionado, that he'd just stuck to bringing other writers' words to glorious life. But his output in the '80s and since seems to belie an insistence that he was capable of recreating the unspeakable grooviness of the 1960s and '70s on his own.

Again, an unstandable desire, but the evidence, in my mind, doesn't bear it out. Sometimes I wonder if he wasn't trying too hard to compete with Jack Kirby in that regard, but sadly, it just wasn't in his wheelhouse.

What I know of his efforts to help comic-book artists and writers win creative rights to their work appears noble, if simultaneously self-serving: A rising tide floats all boats, so to speak.

As to your loaded question about what I have done to earn the right to judge your father's work, I can say only that, in my youth, I spent many a hard-earned dollar buying comic books drawn and/or written by Neal Adams, many of which I still own today. That, I believe, gives me the right to form and express an opinion about the quality of his work.

And so here it is again, in a nutshell: Neal Adams at his best was a brilliant, divinely gifted artist, but a mediocre wordsmith.

Unknown said...

Welcome to the internet. I totally back ZA Adams here. It may be true that Neal's writing ability is nowhere near his artistic but there's a lot more to life than writing and drawing. Neal has proven to be one of comicdom's giants and that has to do with who he is as a person as much as how much he revolutionized comic art. One flaw does not a legend dismiss, so one can criticize his writing til they're blue in the face. Measured against his enormous contributions both politically and aesthetically, that becomes a moot point. The truth is if you were lucky enough to be in the same room as Neal and his colleagues you'd have been slapped down before you could even make such a comment by everyone else in the room out of their sheer respect for Neal. Without the internet that comment would remain an opinion in someone's head because life has a pecking order and you need to earn the right to be in "that room" with Neal and those who have earned their position. Neal certainly isn't the only artist who draws better than he writes. 80% of the industry's filled with them! So while there's truth to the initial comment, why not pick on someone who hasn't redefined the medium or fought for artist's rights and won, or been the mentor of hundreds. I too stopped reading comics in the '80s because most of it was unreadable to me. And I would love to imagine what could have been if Neal had instead teamed with a remarkably talented writer, but achievement stands for something and Neal has earned his place in the pantheon of greats. Mick Jagger isn't any less an icon because his solo albums fall short of the Stones' work. At least the Queen didn't think so.