Jack Kirby Collector Edited by John Morrow Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.

Neal Adams Interview Excerpt

Interviewed & © by Jon B. Cooke

From Jack Kirby Collector #17

(Neal Adams is one of the most highly acclaimed artists in the history of comics, inspiring nearly as many imitators as Jack Kirby. Since starting at DC as an artist for Robert Kanigher's war books, Adams immediately rose to the top and became an instant fan favorite, drawing such classic series as The Spectre, Deadman, and the lauded Green Lantern/Green Arrow. His graphic redefinition of the campy Caped Crusader into The Batman, dark avenger of the night, remains the quintessential version that exists today. Between 1967 and '72, Adams was the house cover artist, working on - among virtually every other title published by the company - Kirby's Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen and the occasional Fourth World title. This interview was conducted by phone on September 2 and 3, 1997. Special thanks to Arlen Schumer for facilitating the conversation. These are just a few excerpts. The complete interview is in TJKC #17.)

Deadman © DC Comics, Inc. Art © Jack Kirby.
Jack took his turn at Neal's signature character, Deadman, in Forever People #10.

THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: Did you grow up reading Jack's work?

NEAL ADAMS: I guess everyone who read comic books more or less read Jack's work. I must admit that I wasn't a Jack Kirby fan as a kid. People seem to think there were the same number of Kirby fans in the '50s before Marvel as after Marvel, but in general, Jack Kirby worked for the secondary companies. I mean, he did Fighting American and worked for DC at various times, but essentially Jack was put into the same category as guys like Bob Powell - not necessarily the mainstream of comic book guys like Alex Toth, Kubert, and the DC guys. He was sort of a "B" brand. When I grew up, as much as I bought comic books and recognized Kirby's stuff once in awhile, I really wasn't a fan.

I got to be a fan later on - boy, a big fan when I realized what was under all that! In Jack's early stuff - and even later on - Jack had a style that was just a little bit crude. He always had people with big teeth, screaming and yelling; drawings that you weren't used to seeing in the other comic books which were much more sedate, much more heroic and much more pretty-boy. Jack's stuff came off as a little bit odd.

TJKC: Would you say you were a big comics fan?

NEAL: I don't think so. In those days there were Fan Addicts for EC, but I was just a reader of comic books, a reader of comic strips, and went to the movies. My mother didn't keep me from comic books, so I guess I was something of a collector, but not a big one. I certainly did read comics. Because of my early interest in art, I tended to keep some comics that were well drawn. I wasn't looking for the artist necessarily, but I also had favorite comic books. I was a big fan of Supersnipe. And Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman. There's hardly a comic book you can bring up that I don't remember reading, because when we were kids we traded comic books. That's how I got to read all the comic books. Powerhouse Pepper and all these oddball comics were traded back and forth. Even if it wasn't the greatest comic, we read it. That's pretty much the way things happened until I was ten or twelve years old. That's when the sh*t hit the fan in the comic book business, and I went off to Germany as the son of a sergeant in the army.

I didn't know what was going on back in the states with Congress attacking comics and so forth. I just got incidental comics from the Army PX. By that time I had become a Joe Kubert fan. I was a big fan of Tor: 1,000,000 B.C., and 3-D comics. Then they died. When I came back to America I just started in again, and this time I realized that a lot of the guys had disappeared, just gone away. Somehow there weren't that many comic books out. It started to dawn on me that this was a different time. It was as if only DC comics were available. So with Jack Kirby, what I did - along with all the other kids in America - I would notice that every once in a while Harvey Comics or Archie would come out with a series of super-hero characters that were spearheaded by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. So I started to realize that this is a guy out there who was trying to make something happen, and I began to recognize this guy from before. I started to follow what Jack was doing - not so much as a fan, I must admit, but more as a person I recognized who was trying to crack the business back open again, though I didn't quite know why it was closed down. Here was Simon & Kirby going to Harvey comics doing "Space Commandos" or whatever the heck it was called, and then going to this company doing a series of books for them, and then this company, disappearing and reappearing somewhere else. It was fun! Suddenly there would be Jack Kirby, Al Williamson, George Evans - all the old guys being pulled together and trying to make something happen.

When I was a later teenager, Joe and Jack did The Fly and the Shield for Archie Comics, which lasted for a certain period of time and then went down the tubes. They were down in the trenches. It would seem that Jack would go to Timely and do work, and later blast out to work with Joe again. At Marvel, Jack would work on the standard Stan Lee five plots: "Mogaam," "Fin Fang Foom,"... (laughter)

One really high point in the '50s was when Jack went to DC and started to do Challengers of the Unknown. That was probably when Jack Kirby's artwork really hit me right in the face, big, big, big time. Not so much in the first couple of issues inked by that guy...

TJKC: Marvin Stein.

NEAL: ...but suddenly his pages would hit me. Now I was a big Wally Wood fan, and Jack inked by Wally just blew everything away. Jack's perspective, Jack's attitude towards composition, Jack's storytelling with Wally Wood's delicate inking with the blacks just knocked me out, blew me away. I guess they just did three or four issues of Challengers, and then they did a comic strip called Sky Masters. It was in a New Jersey newspaper, and I would go down to an out-of-town newsstand and buy it every Sunday just to get that page.

TJKC: At this time you were starting to get professional aspirations?

NEAL: I was in the School of Industrial Art, now called the School of Art and Design, and I was certainly interested in drawing comic books. But in those days, people who drew comic books really were interested in drawing comic strips. In the '50s you didn't draw comics unless you wanted to draw comic strips. That included Jack, Joe Kubert, everybody. The idea was to get a comic strip. So you did comic books in the meantime. From 1953 on, comic books were considered toilet paper, and anyone who was producing them was considered less than human. It was not a good thing to do. This aspect was piled on you when you spoke to people in the business. The best example I can give you is the fact that there is no one in this business that is five years my junior or five years my senior. So really, what I heard was, "Oh, what a terrible place to be," and people were getting crushed all around. And yet in the middle of it, there was Jack trying new experiments here and there, and then, by golly, he did land a syndicate strip - and thank goodness for the rest of us in comic books that it fell apart!

TJKC: You actually drew a sample Sky Masters strip.

NEAL: I did when I was in high school. I did a Sunday page. I became a fan of the Kirby/Wood combination so that even when I did it, I was doing Wally Wood lines and I was trying to do Kirby drawings. I realize now that I was failing at the Jack Kirby drawings more than the Wally Wood lines. There you go. It's hard to see past that now. Yeah, I was a big fan of that strip. I don't know what happened to my collection, but I had every Sunday page until I got out of school.

TJKC: You worked for a syndicate on Bat Masterson and Ben Casey.

NEAL: I did backgrounds for a guy named Howard Nostrand on Bat Masterson. Later on, after I had done a whole bunch of stuff - it seemed like an eternity - I landed a comic strip with Jerry Capp, an adaptation of a TV series called Ben Casey, when I was 21. A lot of things happened in-between. I worked over at a place called Johnson & Cushing, a studio that did comics for advertising. Illustrations, comic booklets, all kinds of stuff. I worked 24 hours a day.

TJKC: When I was a kid, one of my favorite magazines was Boy's Life, and I remember a bunch of your half-pages.

NEAL: There was a guy named Tom Schauer (who is now Tom Sawyer, head writer for Murder, She Wrote) and he did Chip Martin, College Reporter for Bell Telephone. In the middle of it, he decided to quit, and they looked around for someone else; and of course I was there, big grin on my face, saying, "I can do it! I can do anything!" I continued to do the pages for a couple of years. Very, very difficult work. It really allowed me to arc my abilities. Very demanding with lots of reference. It required lots of discipline.

TJKC: So what got you into DC?

NEAL: Well, I had the syndicated strip for three and a half years. Instead of going into comic books, I decided to be an illustrator. I spent six months painting samples and I took them to various places to try to get some illustration work. One place I dropped them off and when I came back, they were gone. So I realized that although I may have had a syndicated strip, reality says you're not going to pick up a lot of spot illustrations; people aren't going to do you a lot of big favors, so maybe I should look for some comic book work. So I went over to Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. Archie Goodwin was the Editor over there when they started to do the Warren horror books, so I did work there in a number of styles.

The best other comic books out there were the war stories over at DC Comics, so I went over to try to get some work. Coincidentally, I had helped Joe Kubert get a comic strip, Tales of the Green Berets, so maybe they were looking for kind of a Kubert thing. So I went over and met Bob Kanigher and nearly got into a fistfight. I never would ever hit anybody, but if I ever did, it would have been Bob. So he gave me work!

It was a big shock to me (to get work at DC) because when I had just gotten out of school I had samples to show, and they were pretty good. I would have to say that out of desperation perhaps, they were professional. And when I took them to DC to show them, they wouldn't let me past the lobby. They just sent out some guy to tell me to go away. It was a very, very bad time. So at this point, Marvel had started to give DC Comics a little bit of a run for their money. I didn't even know that they were called Marvel yet, but I could see that Jack Kirby was kicking a little butt. I don't think Kanigher cared one way or the other. I think he just probably missed Kubert, and thought that I could turn out some decent war stories.

TJKC: You actually got an opportunity with Kubert's war books because you got Joe the syndicate job?

NEAL: Isn't that weird? (laughter) It never ended up that way because I went to see Kanigher; having heard some horror stories about him - hearing that he gave Johnny Severin a hard time, which I can't imagine anyone giving Johnny a hard time. I thought that he would have some work for me because Joe was not there; it was very clear to me when I picked up the books that he had people drawing them. So it wasn't like he needed me, but I don't know; I made the appointment like a professional, went up to see him and he gave me a script. Then he started to art direct me. So, ho-ho, that was it.

TJKC: So you did about three war stories?

NEAL: Y'know, I didn't count the stories but I think it was more than three. Maybe five. There are people who keep track of that stuff who can probably tell you.

TJKC: Actually those are about the only stuff of yours I'm missing. I just bought your run of Jerry Lewis.

NEAL: Yeah, hard to get.

TJKC: (laughter) There's only a little of you in them.

NEAL: Jerry Lewis was the best money I ever made in comics. I penciled ten pages a day! You can't do that with the realistic stuff. It was tough to give them up. People ask me, "Why did you do those?" Boy, golly, ten pages a day! You can't beat that. You're talking about $35 a page, but at ten pages a day, that's decent pay. If you do it the regular style, you're doing two pages a day.

TJKC: You just went back and started doing work for Murray Boltinoff?

NEAL: Well, it kind of jumped around. I thought I was going to get myself canned out of there because I confronted Kanigher for art directing my stuff - I basically told him, "I don't tell you how to write, so don't tell me how to draw." But he was cool. I think that Julie Schwartz might have thought that I had spunk because he hadn't quite seen anybody stand up to Kanigher before. He offered me an Elongated Man story, and I think I did more work for Julie after that, The Spectre. It is kind of a jumble. Bob Oskner was going off to draw Dondi or he was having some trouble with his eye, and he couldn't draw the Bob Hope stuff. So I was there, and I said, "I can do Bob Hope." So Murray, who was always unsure of everything, called Sol Harrison in, and said, "Sol, do you think this young man can draw Bob Hope?" So Harrison said, "He can draw, so what's your problem?" Murray said, "Okay, okay." So he gave me those books. It kind of spread. It seemed as though anything they gave me wouldn't stop me, so basically I started getting split up and shared with people. But it wasn't bad.

TJKC: At the time, Carmine Infantino, Arnold Drake and Jack Miller invented Deadman in Strange Adventures. You came on the second issue and in a very short period of time you started kicking butt.

NEAL: I thought I was kicking butt on The Spectre.

TJKC: Yeah, I remember some great double-page spreads. Were the production problems on some of those spreads frustrating to you?

NEAL: My problem, to a certain extent, was that I had done a lot of work in the advertising business. When I was 18, I started doing brochures for advertising agencies and studios, and I had learned a lot of reproduction techniques. I was one of those guys that when you ran the film from school on printing techniques, I paid attention. I was one of those people - a geek. I knew about this stuff, and when I could, I'd do dropouts and all kinds of stuff. I understood the techniques of what you could do. When I came into comic books, it dawned on me very quickly that what was worse than the comic strip business was the comic book business. It was as though they were in the dark ages. They didn't know anything, yet you had very smart, clever people like Jack Adler and Sol Harrison. In the production room at DC, I couldn't believe that these bright guys didn't keep up with the techniques that were available. It seems as though that not only was it a closed shop as far as writers and artists were concerned, it was a closed shop as far as time was concerned. They were locked into a very strange era. It was 1952 and they just kept on moving forward and DC stayed 1952. Even though they were moving into the '60s, even though Marvel was biting at their butt, DC was still staying the same.

So I would say, yes, I was frustrated. For example, the obvious thing of putting Zip-a-tone on comic books to create more colors didn't start with me doing it at DC Comics. It started at EC Comics! Anything that I ever did at DC was done at EC long before me. To me it's a joke to hear people talk about all the "innovations" that I brought in because it's not true. I just did what they used to do, and I brought it back. I was pumped enough to say, "No, I'm going to do it, leave me alone, I'll make the mechanical for you; I will provide it in a negative acetate form if you need it, but please, let's do this." So people started to pay attention, and Carmine started to act like I was brought in by Carmine. (laughter) So I got to be Carmine's guy to some extent.

TJKC: How did things change with Carmine in a management position?

NEAL: Carmine had nearly nothing to do with the changes that took place. This is not a criticism of Carmine, but he was interested in being publisher and advancing himself. From an art director point of view, he felt he had something to contribute. But when it came to creator's rights, he lived through the worst of times and he was quite happy with the status quo. He liked the idea of having new people coming in for him to take credit for, and that was great. But essentially, Carmine did what he was told. I'd like to say that Carmine was a total ally in all the rights battles, but it really wasn't quite that way.

TJKC: There was an influx of new books that suddenly appeared. Dick Giordano came over from Charlton.

NEAL: That's the thing that Carmine did that I thought was so good. Basically everybody at DC was saying that we have to have new blood. Once I got there, everyone realized that gee, maybe things can change. But they still kept the doors closed! In fact, I had a room there and I was constantly hiding people in there, finally introducing them to editors. It was a rather rowdy time, but it was Carmine's feeling that to bring new people in was a good idea and Neal was the proof. So he hired Dick who brought all the people over from Charlton, starting as a new Editor who turned out new stuff. Then Joe Orlando, who had a heart attack, I believe, was put on as an Editor to let him sit down and relax a little bit from the more frustrating times of his life. Carmine did indeed hire some people and start things up. Some of them worked out but others of them didn't. Giordano was potentially somebody who could do Carmine's job, I think, better than Carmine. After a while, there got to be a little bit of a realization of that, and I guess you'd have to say that Dick's days were numbered. I would say that Carmine brought Dick in and Dick brought everyone else in.

TJKC: Carmine tended to cancel books at the drop of a hat.

NEAL: I probably know too much about that! (laughter) Sometimes people rule from their head, sometimes from their gut, sometimes they rule from their passion. I think that Carmine tended to rule from his passion.

TJKC: Carmine not only brought Dick over but he also brought Jack Kirby over to DC.

NEAL: Jack brought Jack over. I think Jack was ticked off. He wasn't thrilled at the way things were going and he wanted to prove that he could do everything all by himself.

TJKC: What was the atmosphere like when the announcement was made that Jack's coming over?

NEAL: It was great! Everybody thought, "Boy, the millennium's here!" (laughter) Indeed, it was! It seemed as though DC was going to kick out. I don't know if DC quite knew what to do with Jack, and therein lies the story. If Jack had continued and gotten the support that he needed over at DC Comics, I think he really, really would have done something. But I think that there was a waning of support. They didn't pull out the stops for him.

TJKC: Do you remember your experience inking Kirby on those Fourth World covers? What was that like? His anatomy's a lot different than yours.

NEAL: I wouldn't call what Jack does anatomy. He does an impressionistic thing and he does it because he pencils very fast and he's a storyteller. You don't sit Jack down and say "Here's an anatomical study, Jack. Do this." What you get is the impressionistic quality that is in many ways superior to someone who draws realistically the way I do. I would tend to fall short, because I don't have that freedom in the work. I would have to put aside a _certain discipline to jump into what Jack does. What I thought my contribution was on Jack's stuff - if you can call it a contribution, and it's hard to say that with Jack - was that there were certain people who inked Kirby that harken back to the Wally Wood thing, that made Jack look different than he did on something else. I thought, "Well, if I just inked the lines, I wouldn't be adding much and you could just give them to anybody else. If they asked me to do it, what they're saying is, 'try it with a little something else.'" I tended to make the muscles a little bit more real, a little bit more three-dimensional, trying very, very hard not to take away the Jack Kirbyness of the drawing. They were obviously looking to me to add a little sales potential, because they gave me covers to do. They thought, "Well, we don't want to drive away all the Jimmy Olsen readers, so let's keep a little edge on it and maybe we can wean them away from the standard Curt Swan stuff." The thing that I was upset about in certain cases was they got Al Plastino to redo Superman figures in place of Jack's. No, please, not that! No offense, Al, but those were putty guys! Not right! They looked so out of place. What I was striving to do was not make my style intrude so much that you would not get any impact of the Jack Kirby drawing, even though you might miss some of the Jack Kirbyness of it - that you get the power, the impact. I tried to keep that as much as I could. But those Plastino paste-ups...!

Carmine had a lot to do with some things I didn't necessarily agree with. I didn't think that I should be working on the Jimmy Olsen covers. I thought that Jack should do them. It may have been the Editor combined with Carmine who insisted that I do them, but I put up a big fight to get off of them. I didn't feel right about it.

Jack Kirby did good comic books for DC. But he was sabotaged along the way. Jack was getting too much attention. I know that people criticized the writing and all the rest of it but, y'know, the stuff he did at Marvel somehow got better with time, but the stuff he did at DC got worse with time because he wasn't supported. The team around him didn't bolster him up. There were some people there who were Kirby fans, but basically he was let down. It came from the top. The New Gods could have been one of the best things that DC ever had, but it would mean that maybe Jack Kirby would become the Publisher eventually. And that wasn't going to happen.

TJKC: Was it routine for Carmine to ask for a lot of cover changes? Jack had a lot of rejected Jimmy Olsen covers.

NEAL: Yeah. The excuse that I got was, after all, Jimmy Olsen was one of the Superman titles and you can't take the Superman audience and immediately turn it into a Jack Kirby audience. You had to wean them away. So they decided to wean readers away with the covers - and I guess some of the insides by having Plastino work on stuff. I didn't think this was a good idea. But on the other hand, I felt that by accepting the commissions to do the covers, at least I would try to keep enough of the Kirbyness with it that perhaps I could protect his rear if I could. Otherwise it would have been Al Plastino or Curt Swan or whoever.

TJKC: Did you respect Carmine as a cover editor?

NEAL: I respected Carmine more when I was younger, when I really liked his work that he inked himself. Then he got other people to ink it and that kind of sketchy line that suited his style so well disappeared. We lost Carmine and had his layouts left. They had a certain vastness about them, empty spaces going off into nowhere. But the style wasn't there. Carmine had a limited number of layouts that he did and a certain way of handling things: The dead body splayed out, one way or another. I accepted his covers to a certain extent because there was a certain workability to them. His layouts were simplistic in nature.

TJKC: There seemed to be a change for the better at DC after Carmine left, and you seemed to be a part of that. The Siegel & Shuster settlement was getting good publicity, Jenette Kahn came in, and almost overnight the image of the company changed. There seemed to be a chemistry going on between you and Jenette.

NEAL: Jenette Kahn and I lived together for a year.

TJKC: Well, there you go! (laughter)

NEAL: There was a chemistry going on! (laughter)

TJKC: I liked the Muhammad Ali book a lot. I thought that it was the best thing you did.

NEAL: It's very tough when people ask me what the best comic book I ever did was and I reluctantly say Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Part of the reason is that there was an awful lot of things that I liked in it. Also it harkens back to an awful lot of things that I believe in and feel strongly about. It didn't do well in the United States, strangely enough, but it did very, very well around the world.

TJKC: Did you ever have the desire to ink a full Kirby book?

NEAL: Sure. Wouldn't that have been great? I would have loved it. It's one of the experiences that I missed in those days, never having a shot. The opportunity was never there. They were always busting me to do something else at DC and I always had my own books to do. But, boy, it would have been nice to take a job aside. In all honesty, I would not have done it unless I was sure that it was okay with Jack, and the communication didn't exist.

TJKC: Were you aware Jack was using Deadman in the Forever People?

NEAL: Yeah. It was all right with me. I had a proprietary interest in the character but I didn't feel that it was exclusive. It was a DC Comics character.

TJKC: Was Deadman a favorite character of Carmine's, too?

NEAL: No. He didn't give a sh*t about it.

TJKC: He allegedly ordered Jack to put the character in Forever People, and it just doesn't work.

NEAL: Well, there you go. I can't tell you why. Maybe it was a power thing. Once I started doing Deadman, as far as I know, Carmine didn't want anything to do with it. He did the first issue but I don't think that Carmine thought it was much of a comic book.

TJKC: You helped Siegel & Shuster get a credit line and a pension from DC Comics in the late '70s. Any advice on how to get a similar co-creator credit line at Marvel Comics for Jack?

NEAL: Ask them. I would ask them whenever possible, as much as possible. I would ask people to ask.

TJKC: Did you ever socialize with Jack and Roz?

NEAL: Just at conventions. I liked Jack and Roz. I think that Roz is the stuff that held Jack together. There's less said of Roz but I think that she is indeed the other half of Jack Kirby. I'd say it's the "Roz & Jack Kirby Show," not the "Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Show."

TJKC: What's the most important thing you learned from Jack Kirby?

NEAL: That there are other ways of doing things; not just my way, or the way of people whose stuff I appreciate. I learned that from Will Eisner, too. There's a lot of wonderful things out there, and my favorite thing is enjoying the work of other people who don't do what I do. My favorite thing about Jack Kirby is that he didn't do what I did, and yet he did what I did. He gave a new look to it, a new feeling about it, and made me realize - as with all great creators - that there are always new worlds to conquer.

If you think about what Jack did: Jack created Marvel Comics. Jack could have recreated a good 50-80% of DC Comics if they let him. He is 50% of the creative stuff in comic books today. What do you say about somebody like that? Me, I just did some characters; I may have picked the right ones. The truth of the matter is that I brought a quality to comic books; Jack made comic books. There's just no comparison. I'm just one of those guys out there who tries to do his own thing. Jack is a giant. Jack created worlds. Universes. Now we think of them as part of what we do and we go out and try to build on top of them and fail miserably. He really held them together - and all in his head. It's incredible.

TJKC: Did you have any opinions at the time in the fight to get his art back?

NEAL: I wasn't even aware of it. I'd been spoken to about it. I learned later on, before Jack died, that there was indeed some effort being made to get his artwork back, but I was unaware of what Marvel's response to it was. There was a time when I was volunteering to help, but I was rebuffed. It seemed to be in the hands of people who were pursuing it legally. I really am not in favor of pursuing things legally. I'm in favor of pursuing things morally and ethically, and I believe that's the stand that should be taken. I don't like much about the law or much about lawyers who seem to able to use law to their own advantage. Morality and ethics are a much stronger argument, I believe, and they're very hard to argue with. You can see the greys more clearly with morality and ethics. You can't see the greys very clearly with the law. I believe that it would have been better pursued in perhaps a less legal, more straightforward level. At a certain point, I made an effort to volunteer my help. I even called Stan on a personal basis and asked him to step in, and he basically told me that it was out of his hands. I could've worked it out between me and Stan, I think, because there was nothing wrong with it from Stan's point of view. So we were thwarted by the legal putzes in the world and stopped from doing what we should have done. We should have put our heads together and figured out a way how to get this stuff returned.

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