|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
The only existing stat of Neal's pencils to an X-Men page. See below for the Tom Palmer inked version. From X-Men #62. Magneto ©1998 Marvel Entertainment
Neal Adams: The Marvel Years
Interview Conducted by & © Arlen Schumer
From Comic Book Artist #3
The following excerpts are from an interview conducted in two sessions during September and October 1998. For the full interview - complete with plenty of rare and unpublished Adams art - be sure to order COMIC BOOK ARTIST #3.
ARLEN SCHUMER: Why did you go to Marvel Comics?
NEAL ADAMS: I was inspired to come to Marvel to a great degree by Jim Steranko. He dropped in to DC's offices months before and caught me there—I was there nearly every day—and after we had a good-humored yuck over my "Hey, it's a Jim Steranko effect" panel in "Deadman," [Strange Adventures #216] he described the Marvel style to me: Basically, they just let you free to do whatever you wanted to do, and you just went ahead and did it. If you did it wrong they'd correct you, but he hadn't been corrected along the way, so he was pretty happy; Stan had given him carte blanche to do anything he wanted to do storywise, within certain boundaries.
It seemed to me to be a wonderful way to do comics. Certainly, coming from DC Comics, there was nothing at DC that even resembled what happened at Marvel Comics. We wrote scripts, we wrote descriptions, we wrote balloons, and the artist was expected to fit them into the pictures.
Part of what I did was say, "I like this Marvel style; it's a little scary. I wonder what I would do with it if I had it available to me?" I didn't know what I could do; when I came from comic strips into comic books, I felt a tremendous amount of freedom—so much so that I never turned back to illustration, which I was headed for. I felt this freedom and I thought it was wonderful. The next step in this freedom would be the Marvel style.
Arlen: Had you talked to Stan before this meeting? Did he
know of you because of the splash you were making at DC?
Arlen: He would have given you any title? At the time, Kirby
was still there and, other than his titles, you had the pick of anything?
Arlen: Looking back on it now, if you had your druthers, what
would you have drawn?
Stan then said, "How do you want to be known at Marvel? Do you want us to give you a different name?" I said, "No, my name will be just fine." So Stan said, "Well, you know, here at Marvel we don't like people working for the other company." I said, "Well, I guess you can't let me do the X-Men." But Stan said, "No, no, no. That's fine. It's not a problem." I said, "Good." And he said, "Hey, how about I give you a nickname? How do you feel about 'Nefarious Neal?'" I said, "Well, if you feel like doing that, I guess it's okay. I'm not really prone to nicknames; I never had one, but if that's what you'd like to do." So I agreed to do the X-Men.
Arlen: Your working at Marvel represents the whole breakdown
in that pseudonym game, where for instance, Gene Colan was Adam Austin.
It was sort of the same way in comic books; the things they were doing wrong would have been so evident to somebody from advertising or book publishing—any of these worlds outside of comic books—but comics were so insulated, they didn't know they were wrong; they didn't know that they were backward and foolish. So, for me, it was perhaps an adventure in breaking these rules down but at the same time it was my day-to-day existence. It wasn't like "I'm going on this adventure to break down this rule"; it was more "I think I should try to do this and see what happens and maybe I'll get something else out of it."
My motives weren't so clear, but certainly that little piece stuck in the back of my head when I went to ask Stan if I could do a book for Marvel. I had seen those altered names of artists in the Marvel books, and felt that passing back and forth from Marvel and DC would be good for creators. And I didn't like the way creators were treated in general.
Arlen: Didn't Gil Kane do it about a year-and-a-half before
you, in 1967 when he went to Marvel to do the "Hulk" for
I'm not saying that going back and forth to Marvel and giving my name was my goal. It just seemed it was silly to hide it; I guess because of whatever position I held in the comic book field, my going and being so overt about it, and being so comfortable and willing to talk about it—which of course I did—had more of an impact.
Arlen: So you agree to do the X-Men for Stan; then what happened?
So Roy and I went to a coffee shop nearby, and I asked him about it. He basically said that he had worked only on that one previous book, and I asked him where the story was going. He told me that Cyclops' brother was kidnapped by this guy in an Egyptian costume, and they were in a museum, and it might have something to do with blackmail; Roy wasn't altogether sure what Werner was going to do with it and what was going to happen; he didn't quite know where this was going to go. So I said, "Why don't I just wing it and find someplace for it to go; we'll take off from there."
Arlen: You mean you didn't know where you were going?
I had been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and had seen an exhibit on the Aswan High Dam that the Egyptians had moved from the Lower Nile Valley floor to the upper tier of land, so this incredible sculpture would not be destroyed. I had magazines, photographs and brochures from that and I thought, "Jesus, this is an incredible place." I said to myself, since this is a pharaoh, why don't I just go to Egypt and start my story with the X-Men trying to rescue the brother not in some museum, but in Egypt, at the Aswan High Dam?
The first thing I did was trace a photograph of the Dam to give me a solid lock into reality and I worked off of that. I try to give everything I work on a sense of authenticity so when you look at it, you believe it.
Now what was I going to do? The next thing, to make a little time for myself to start to think, let's have a fight! I'm at Marvel! Let's have a fight! The Pharaoh threatens them, and suddenly these guys in Egyptian costumes start a fight. By the time I get through this— all of the X-Men are doing something with their powers, before anything else happens. That gave me a couple of days; in that time I worked out what was going to happen for the rest of the story, and I was able to put it down and send it to Roy.
Arlen: You were literally making it up as you were going.
I had a second conversation with Roy and said, "Y'know, if Scott Summers has mutant abilities there's a certain logic that says his brother would have mutant abilities. Can I take that and weave that into the story?" Roy said, "Sure, go ahead."
I thought, if I suck off the power from Alex and the Living Pharaoh takes it, what does he do with it? What character do I make him into? I don't think I got to that problem until later in the book.
Arlen: At what point while drawing X-Men #56 did you do the
Arlen: So you're working true Marvel style; you're telling
the story and Roy's dialoguing it?
I'm one of those lucky people who got to work with my favorite writers. At DC I got to work with Denny, and at Marvel I got to work with Roy, arguably the two best writers in comics in those days.
Arlen: What about Stan Lee?
Roy crafted the flow of words so that they blew apart every-thing that had been done with group super-heroes right up to that day. There was no end to the way he would handle dialogue; the way he would approach the subject matter. When I had the Sentinels fly into the sun to destroy themselves, he basically described the sun in very dry terms, and said finally in the end that the arrival of the Sentinels would make the smallest of ripples. It was very, very beautifully and cleverly done. Stan would either say, "Well, there's no need for words on this," [laughter] or "Excelsior," or come up with a very passionate description.
Not that I want to criticize Stan, but I feel that Roy has a very fan outlook; he knows all the little things that we all know. He remembers all this crap that we all have stored away in our heads, and nothing gets by him. Roy has it in him to find these things, to craft them. Roy took his craft and gave another level to understand it on. Sometimes the level was totally different than what was there, and then, almost like a whiplash, came back and succeeded in enhancing the drawing, which is very hard to do; but if you take your time and are skilled enough, you can do it—and Roy did.
For me, Roy made me know that I could move forward with confidence, that I could go just as crazy as I wanted with this comic book and he'd be equal to the task. You have no idea how that buoys a partnership.
Because once Roy got to believe in me, we could sit and throw ideas back and forth. They were not necessarily story ideas but Roy, again, had this font of knowledge that he could throw at me. We would have these conversations and they never would really be involved with the story, but when I would walk away from them, I would feel that I had enough information to put these pieces together.
I drew the stories, I handed them in to Roy, and he made sure that I made notes on the sides of the pages. As he explained to me, "Unless I know what's coming up at the end of the story, I don't know how to write the stuff early on." So I would have to kind of add notes to describe what was coming up, and where we were going. I would call Roy about the rules and what he was concerned about and what he wanted to have happen. But essentially I was doing something that I considered to be a very personal experiment in how to tell a story with this group of characters, hold them together and mold them through the story.
Arlen: But the fact that you conceived and told these stories
on paper, that is the act of "writing" that is not given
enough credit. Because the Marvel Style developed the way it did,
artists like you, Steve Ditko, Kirby, were not given enough credit
But essentially, it was never a question; we weren't sitting down, splitting hairs about who was writing, who was drawing, who was telling a story. You have to understand that we were collaborators and the half that I didn't do, Roy did. And the half that he didn't do, I did. And that's all I care about. It was an adventure, and we were on the adventure together.
Arlen: In "Deadman" you were doing all that incredible
experimentation—some of which you were doing in The Brave and
the Bold—while the "Batman" stuff you did was more
mainstream six-panels-to-a-page; your X-Men picked up right where
your "Deadman" left off, with your experimental panel and
In the case of the X-Men, I couldn't think of anybody who had handled team books correctly. I know that at DC Comics, they had the Justice League and they would take two characters off this way, two characters off that way, and two characters another way, and they'd come together at the end of the book.
Arlen: What were they doing in the Marvel team books?
What I did was make the world of the X-Men more complicated; build one thing on top of the other, integrate one thing into the other, so that after a while, you get a whole world populated by these characters, all integrated, so that you started to see a tapestry of characters, all having these different interrelationships. I don't think the X-Men ever should have been a story, and then a story, and then a story; it should be this tapestry that goes on.
I think that if a contribution was made it was to tell people, yeah, you can do a group book and not do it the way the Justice League was done, and it could be just as satisfying as doing a single character book. You just had to make that extra effort to do it and it would work. I had never really seen it done before so that was intriguing creatively.
Arlen: Critics say Jack Kirby created characters and you didn't.
But your act of recreating is original in and of itself—like
Green Arrow, like Batman, like Deadman. You didn't create Batman,
but your recreation of Batman is just as impactful as the original.
You recreated the X-Men in such a way as to give them new life.
Arlen: Like Havok, who had a revolutionary costume design.
He precedes those black figures in the "Batman" story ["The
Challenge of the Man-Bat", Detective Comics #400]. This delineation
had not been done in comics before— there's a realism to the
outfit yet it's also very surreal at the same time. What was your
Tom Palmer, in order to help me out and delineate the drawing, added highlights to Havok's costume. I explained to him, "Tom, I've drawn the character in such a way that you can tell what he's doing in every silhouette—you don't have to worry about it; remove the highlights." While there are positions you could put such a character in so that you would need highlights, I made it my business when I did Havok not to put the character in those positions. If you limit yourself to certain positions, you would never have a problem; the audience never loses track of it and they get it every time. That was the philosophy behind it.
Havok was certainly not a Jack Kirby-type of character; he was something new and different, and a little hipper.
Arlen: Let's talk about Tom Palmer's inking. Palmer had just
come off of a great run inking Gene Colan on Dr. Strange that was
There are people who believe that Tom Palmer is my best inker. The thing about Tom's work is it's tremendously sincere and thorough. He never backed-off from anything that I gave him; he always went for it and, if I was vague, he cleaned it up; if I gave him something awfully hard to do, he did his best to finish it. He really, really did the kind of professional job that I respect. For me it was a wonderful job and I think he gave the whole series a classy look.
Arlen: Even though these took place in the late
'60s—you even have a character wearing a medallion and a turtleneck,
which might seem dated—because of the quality of the art and
the intense realism, it's not dated. The machinery, everything you
used in here, still looks very fresh. It doesn't have a dated look,
and I think that's just because of the quality of the realistic drawing.
Arlen: One of the most fascinating of your "new"
characters was Sauron; what was the genesis of that character?
Arlen: Why were you interested in vampires to begin with?
So I went all the way back to pterosaurs, and used the idea of some kind of energy that's based in some kind of disease, like a blood disease, to cause this character to have to... not suck blood, which the Comics Code wouldn't have approved at that time, [laughter] but suck energy; mutant energy, to be satisfied.
Presumably, in the years after he left this cave, he absorbed energy, not realizing what would happen to him if he absorbed a lot of energy. In our book, of course, he absorbed that amount of energy which would suddenly turn him into this pterosaur-type character, which is sort of like Dracula absorbing a lot of energy and becoming a giant bat. The similarities are very obvious, though nobody's ever brought it up to me! Apparently I had gone far enough away for the analogy to no longer apply.
Arlen: What made you bring in Ka-Zar to the strip? Were you
a fan of the character?
I tried to imagine how Magneto, after falling off that cliff, could somehow survive. Rather than being washed up on shore somewhere, it seemed to me the way he survived was using his magnetic ability to burrow his way into the earth, and drive the earth away from him while he was falling, and slowing himself down. In the end, where would that take him? It might take him into this Ka-Zar land; it's kind of a nice segue, and it works.
Also, I had set up a cave with Sauron that led to some prehistoric place, which either has to be explained as some incredible cave that's lost in time, or an incredible cave that leads down to the Savage Land. Well, since the Savage Land has been established, why not have it lead down to there? It'd make it much more logical that this'd be the case.
The elements started to come together, and I realized that's where I wanted Magneto to be: Down there, and since he's down there, why do I want to reveal that it's Magneto right away? Why don't I just hide it? Who would ever suspect? Since he had never taken his helmet off, no one knew what he looked like. When I finally revealed that he was Magneto, Roy supported it with the line, "Maybe clothes do make the man," which I think has become a classic line in comics.
Arlen: So the story grew and Roy was inspired. How did this
whole thing just keep steamrolling along?
Arlen: You brought Professor X back from the dead in your
last issue—how did you accomplish that?
It was really a hard thing to figure out but I did. First I laid in a clue: I brought the Sentinels back (I love the Sentinels; they were one of Jack Kirby's greatest creations), unthinking, mindless robots who could beat the sh*t out of anybody and just want to kill mutants; they were such a solid concept. And how do you deal with the Sentinels? The guy who created them was dead so I brought in his son. I thought I have to lay in a clue, so when I bring Professor X back nobody can ever go back and say, "Nah, you're cheating; you just made this up."
So the clue I laid was all these Sentinels had captured all these mutants that have appeared previously in the X-Men and put them in these tubes. And then, when the good guys win and the Sentinels get sent into the sun, all the mutants are let out of their tubes, except for one. And if you look at that panel, all the mutants that appeared in the X-Men up to that point are there except for one. That one is The Changeling and the reason that he's not there is because he is dead in the place of Professor X.
The story we did later (which I did with Denny O'Neil's dialogue) was this: Professor X has found that there is an invasion that is coming from outer space and he has to protect the Earth. Only he can do it by moving the minds of everybody on Earth essentially. He can't do that without training himself to do it. In order to train, he has to disappear for a year.
While he is pondering his problem, the Changeling visits him and says, "Look, Professor X: I know you think I'm a rat, but I just found out from the doctor that I'm going to die, and I'd really like to make up for all the sh*t I've done all of my life." Professor X says, "That's really good but what can I do?" The Changeling says, "Can you think of anything I can do to redeem myself?"
And suddenly Professor X says, "There is something you can do: You can pose as me." But The Changeling doesn't have the professor's powers and abilities. "But if Marvel Girl helps you," Prof explains, "your powers and abilities will seem as though you're me in decline and dying. I can go away and train to save the Earth. She's going to be the only person who knows this, and terrible as it is that you're going to die, you will participate in saving the Earth." And that's how we brought Professor X back.
Arlen: Did you know X-Men #65 would be your last issue? Why
did Denny O'Neil script that issue?
I loved Denny O'Neil on Batman and GL/GA, but Roy and I had established a professional relationship and I didn't find anybody else's work to be as satisfactory. Also, Denny, as talented as he is, was thrown into the middle of this, a story that I had essentially started months before; suddenly, it's thrown into Denny's hands, and he has to come up with dialogue. I didn't think that Denny was the greatest dialoguer in the world for a Marvel book. I thought Roy was, but as far as structuring a story is concerned, I thought Denny was a tremendous story structurer, and he knows how a beginning and a middle and an end work. I don't know that I could look at the qualities of Roy and Denny and pick my favorite, because they're so different from one another.
One of the things Roy did almost better than anybody at Marvel is give the right amount of copy to tell the story and not clutter up the art. It doesn't matter how good the copy is if you're covering too much important art, because then you're hurting the enjoyment of the story. Imagine me coming from DC Comics, where I am designing a page and the placement of the balloons, and at Marvel turning over that job to somebody else and have that person have the same or similar sensibilities—to be able to place the balloons in such a way that they read in order, they tell the story, and they don't get in the way of the art.
Arlen: Your last issue is also infamous for the blatantly
obvious changes to the monster on the cover and interior art; what
I came into Marvel one day, and Marie Severin—one of the nicest people in the world, the salt of the earth, kind to everybody—came running up to me and said something like, "It wasn't me, Neal. Stan made me do it!" I said, "What are you talking about, Marie?" I couldn't figure out what she was talking about until I got up front, and she was all over herself with embarrassment about the whole thing. I couldn't for the life of me understand until I saw the inked pages.
Sure enough, patches had been put in over my spaceship watchdog, who went around on all fours, and it had been turned into a man-like creature walking around on his hands and knees, which seems a little strange for a biped to have to do. But since the ceiling was there, he couldn't stand up.
Arlen: Palmer inked it, and no records of the earlier pencils
Arlen: Why were so many of your covers at Marvel retouched,
unlike your DC's?
Every time I tried to hand in something original, it was looked upon as being different and weird, where at DC I was expected to come up with original and fantastic covers.
Stan Lee was always suspicious that I did better covers for DC than I did for Marvel; if he were to say it to my face, I'd have to say, "Gee, Stan, maybe that's because you keep changing my covers." If they left them alone, the covers would be fine. They felt they had a point of view, but almost consistently with Marvel Comics, the insides were better than the covers; where at DC Comics, the covers were better than the insides. [laughs]
Arlen: Why do you think that was?
At Marvel, all there was was one guy, Stan. He had to go and take the stuff to his bosses, so basically he took the covers; I don't think he ever took the insides. There was never a discussion about the insides. Essentially, the books were just pushed through as quickly as possible and printed.
Arlen: Was there any reaction at DC to the fact you were working
When you come right down to it, I wanted both DC and Marvel to do well, and continue to feel that way.
Arlen: Why was X-Men cancelled?
One of the things I and others observed was that after the X-Men was cancelled, almost every new artist and writer that came to Marvel wanted to do the X-Men because of those ten issues. And as the book was passed to each in his turn, they all do Sauron, they all do the Sentinels, they all do Havok, they all go into the Savage Land, they all do Magneto.
Arlen: After your run on the X-Men ended, you did a couple
of issues of Thor immediately following Kirby's departure from Marvel;
how did that come about?
So then Stan asks, "What do you think you want to do?" I said, "Well, do you have a story?" Stan would go, "What do you think you want to do?" (rather than say no). So I said, "I'd like to change identities between Thor and Loki." He said, "Oh, that's fine. Go ahead and do that." I said, "I'd like to do that for two issues. Is that okay?" He said, "Yeah, sure, sure. Go ahead and do it." So that was pretty much the story conference.
Stan dialogued the first book and after about 20 pages he comes up to me and says, "Y'know, I thought I was going to have a hard time with your stuff, but it was as easy to work on as anything I've ever worked on. I had a great time."
But Stan had a certain attitude about things. For example, I had left a space for copy [pg. 17 of Thor #180, second panel] because something had to be told there. So I left a space and wrote "Space for copy." Stan got so upset with me that he called me and said, "Why did you do that? Don't ever do that again! Don't leave space for copy! You don't make decisions where the copy goes!" He got all bent out of shape, but I thought it seemed to need some room for copy that I didn't want to draw all over. "Well, I can take care of that! Don't ever do that again." Awright, Stan! I had forced him to write where I thought he needed to write, and he sure didn't like that.
Arlen: Roy says you had a different style with him; he says
you'd leave blank spaces and leave a note, "Write pretty, Roy."
Arlen: So Thor #180 and 181 was as long as your collaboration
with Stan lasted?
Arlen: After your stint on Thor, you followed in the departing
steps of Kirby again when you took over the 10-page "Inhumans"
strip running in Amazing Adventures with issue #5; how did that come
It seemed to me the Inhumans were right on, whereas the X-Men deserved to be remade. I didn't think that the Inhumans deserved to be remade; Jack had done them so well.
Arlen: Again, as in Thor, your realistic style clashed with
Kirby's—your Black Bolt lacked Kirby's majestic, godlike feeling—it's
a guy in a slick black outfit with black boots. While your style worked
for realistic characters, I don't know if it necessarily worked for
these godlike characters.
I think I did a good job on "The Inhumans," a professional job. In the end, I felt if I had full books to do, I could have paid more attention to it. I thought maybe I could make a contribution, to in effect reenter the Inhumans back into the Marvel Universe, where they were missing from. People didn't really make much of these stories; I liked them more than other people did. I added more of a melodramatic spiel to it—it wasn't as big a story as Jack would do. I also had been forced now to plant them in my psyche.
Arlen: Did you feel like you told the story you wanted to
tell with "The Inhumans"?
It's odd; it shows you the difference between the companies. At DC Comics, the script, whether I did it or someone else did it, becomes established. You know who the writer is ahead of time, and generally you know who the inker is. There's no opportunity for any kind of change, because the script is done already. So you're pretty secure. It was very odd for me at Marvel, to feel secure in that I knew who my dialoguer was, and then it just got pulled out from under me.
Some people might think, after these two experiences with Denny O'Neil [on X-Men] and Gerry Conway on "The Inhumans," that if I was smart I would've seen the writing on the wall, and seen that this perhaps was going to turn into a disaster. I guess I didn't see it; I guess I thought these were anomalies and this wasn't going to continue.
But certain things happened to make me think that, for whatever reason, however it worked out, I really wasn't going to end up completing much of the projects I began at Marvel. I was going to start them, but I wasn't going to get to finish them. That's sort of the way it worked out. You can see that the forces were marshalling. Somehow this wasn't turning out to be the wonderful experience I hoped it would be at the beginning.
Arlen: Your first inker was Palmer. Did he get yanked off
Arlen: How did John Verpoorten come to ink you next?
Arlen: What is the "Marvel kind of thing"?
Arlen: That sounds so contradictory to wanting a good artistic
Arlen: But what did you think of his inking?
I felt very good about what was going on. I had been inked by a lot
of people, and I had my choices. When I did the GL/GA stories, I invited
different artists to ink the stuff, including Giacoia, Bernie Wrightson,
Dan Adkins, people with very different styles from one another, to
see how they would look on my stuff. Some would disappoint me, some
would surprise me. If I took a negative attitude about anybody I invited
to work on my stuff, I think it probably would've shown in my pencils.
I didn't ever want my pencils to be the thing people were criticizing,
so I penciled the same quality for each inker, in the hopes it would
bring something out of him that he hadn't experienced before.
Arlen: After your four-issue "Inhumans" stint, you
finally went on to The Avengers. Because it came right on the heels
of you finishing "The Inhumans," was this a case of, "Okay,
I'm done with 'The Inhumans'; whaddaya got?" Or does it go back
to the deal you made with Stan that you would do The Avengers after
When Roy had Gerry Conway dialogue the second-to-last episode of "The Inhumans," I did not perceive that as a good experience; I was not happy with it. So I told Roy I would do The Avengers only if he dialogued it; I didn't want anybody else working on them. My deal at Marvel was I got to work with Roy; I was much more comfortable with that.
Arlen: Was Thomas writing and planting the seeds for the Kree-Skrull
War before you came along?
Here we had these Kree and these Skrulls off in this intergalactic battle, and here we were on Earth, and there were no Skrulls... wait... no, there were these cows. Mr. Fantastic had somehow convinced these Skrulls that they were cows. I thought, at some point they've got to come out of this. They're cows! They're eating grass, y'know? I think they'll probably come out of it just before they get to the slaughterhouse, [laughter] where they stick that trip hammer to their heads. It's got to occur to them they're smarter than cows, and maybe they don't want to go in there. But given all that, I thought, "I like those cows; that's a great image. We ought to use that. We ought to have the cows do something." That was the basis of the way I wanted to start reintroducing the subject. I indicated that I'd like the first story title to be "Three Cows Shot Me Down." Heh.
The concept of the War had to be left in the background, because there was no rationale. We were talking about having a Kree-Skrull War, but how this would affect the Earth, and what would be the significance, sort of got left in the gray area later into the progress. I realized at some point I wanted to bring Rick Jones into it for a very significant reason, and I didn't quite know how, and I wanted to go into this other dimension where Annihilus is, and somehow utilize that to create the introduction of Earth into the War.
Arlen: Your first Avengers is memorable especially for the
opening sequence, in which Ant-Man travels microscopically within
the Vision's body; were you influenced by the comparable 1967 sci-fi
movie Fantastic Voyage?
I decided I was gonna kick ass on this thing. I was going to dedicate myself to this Kree-Skrull War with these Marvel heroes, and just really go crazy with it. My view of the War was very expansive—I was headed toward a 10- to 30-issue miniseries of an intergalactic war between the Kree and the Skrulls using the Earth as a battlefield. I thought, this is gonna be one hell of a series. Inside my head, I was going to do the best series I had ever done. I was determined to do that; throw in new ideas and concepts, design work, all kinds of stuff. This was going to be a big deal to me, a very big deal. And it would include the Inhumans. I would make it, I thought, a validation of... well... never mind.
The first issue was 34 pages, a big issue. Normal stories were about 22 pages in those days; that's another half a book. I must admit, the idea of doing that many pages was daunting. But I was ready to do it, prepared to do it, and doing it.
Arlen: Then how did the John Buscema chapter insert in your
second issue come about?
I talked to Roy about the story as it progressed, and we were collaborating more on the individual book storylines at that point, but only I knew where it was going. I suggested to Roy the idea of doing the next story from the point of view of a classroom in the future, telling the story of how the Kree-Skrull War got to Earth. Roy kind of questioned that; he thought it really sort of says that we survived. I thought it really wasn't that important at that point; we know we're gonna survive. I thought it would be an interesting way to do the story; he didn't like it very much. I said I thought I could make it work; he said okay, go ahead.
I went home thinking, "Let me think about this. Let me try out some different ideas." After a few days I realized it really wasn't going to work, so it probably wasn't such a great idea. Not only that, Roy didn't like it that much. So I just went back to straight narrative. I had some other work I had to get done at the time, and it took me a good week to get back to it. When I got back to it, I was fine. I had pages, I brought them in.
Well, apparently Roy had decided he was going to go with a different way to tell the story, and he had sent the story to John Buscema! It threw me for a loop. As much as I had been surprised by some of his decisions in the past, this one just got me, and I thought, "This is not good." I was just taken aback by the whole thing. There was nowhere for me to go, so I basically bowed out. I knew it was not going to be what I wanted it to be, go where I wanted it to go, or be as big as I wanted it to be.
I really had the sense that I could do something bigger, something really, really big with Marvel's key characters. If you look at the four issues of the Avengers and see all the stuff that's in there, you really get the sense of a tremendous framework building in a short amount of time; it's an awful lot of work. Consider the work that went into the layout of every page; look at the detail in these pages. I turned out an awful lot of pages for this with a tremendous amount of sincerity, and I felt it was going to turn into something. I was building a kind of Marvel New Gods.
I felt I was embarked on an epic and I discovered the support for doing an epic wasn't there, in general. The Marvel "machine" was not prepared to get behind something as big as this, for whatever reason. It just didn't feel to me that the team was operating as a team; I didn't feel it was together. When something isn't working, it starts to unwind. If you have a certain dedication to something, it gets worn away and there's no use or reason to try to save it.
Arlen: Did you ever have the desire to finish the War your
Unpublished page to "War of the Worlds." Neal pointed to the children and said, "These are the twin brothers, and this [indicating the emphatic man] is Doc Savage." Killraven ©1998 Marvel Entertainment.
Arlen: How is it that you came to do "The War of the
Worlds" [Amazing Adventures #16] in 1973, a year after your Avengers
run was over? Were you a fan of the movie?
This character—later named Killraven—was travelling through his world, collecting things. And he would trade things in order to create and put together technology to fight the aliens. He carried his backpack all of the time and everywhere he went, he would trade off bits of technology for other bits until he could bring the world together, by putting the pieces back together again, to fight the aliens because civilization was being destroyed.
I was putting together a science-fiction concept. This guy, in effect, was the son of Doc Savage—not the Doc Savage, but a Doc Savage-like character—his genes are imprinted with the desire to put the world back together again. It can only be done genetically; nobody can naturally do that. That is the advantage of this character. This guy is motivated by instincts he doesn't even understand; he's doing these things, but he doesn't know why he's doing them—he's very good at doing them because he's the son of Doc Savage and he's a wonderful genetically-created person.
And he has a twin brother—only he's working for the aliens. To me, that's a set-up for a really good series.
That concept got lost and, in place of it, was an adventure that didn't actually have progression. My tendency is to move things from point one to point two and on, and when that's not happening, then people jump in and out. It was like what was happening with "Deadman"; they would have writers come in and do a story that would have nothing to do with the last story or anything to do with the next story, so there was no progression. Here, this story was started by Roy and I, and midpoint into it, it was turned over to Gerry Conway again, so I backed out of it. This sounds like a criticism of Gerry again, but it's really not. It has to do with working with the people and having a relationship, and trusting that it's going to go forward and be positive, and it just seemed to crumble. I felt betrayed.
Arlen: Then you went on to do Conan, in issue #37, in 1974.
I had done the first three pages and then was told that this was going to be a 19-page book! I couldn't go back and redo those three pages, but I had to grab the remaining story and [straining groan] compress it to remaining 16 pages. It was in fact a 34-page book jammed down into 19 pages. I refused in my own mind to limit the events of the book to shorten the story.
For that reason, the book to a certain degree suffers because of the smallness of the size. There are a lot of little drawings in there; they're like Sunday pages—13 panels to a page! So if you read that book, you almost have to mentally enlarge the pages to get the impact of the story, and there are pages that have a tremendous amount of lettering on them, simply because that much story had to be told.
A publisher in France loved the book so much, they gave me the opportunity to re-layout the same pages, allowed me to make diagrams of new layouts, and expanded the book to something near a 34-page book again, so you got to see some of these panels reproduced bigger.
Arlen: What happened with Savage Sword of Conan #14, "Shadows
of Zamboula"? Though credited as "Art by Neal Adams and
the Tribe," the pages begin with what looks like your tight pencils
inked by you first, then the Tribe, but by the end, only your basic
layouts are detectable.
How this unscheduled book got put on the schedule, and what happened subsequently to that book, is something that I don't really know or understand and consider a real tragedy in my professional life. Roy suddenly sent copies of my layouts to the Philippines, where they were finished up by Filipino artists who obviously didn't understand them.
To make matters worse, I had been drawn voluntarily into a battle to find some justice for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman), and it absorbed much of my time. While I was out of the studio, someone from Marvel came to the studio and asked for the pages and in a spirit of cooperation they were handed over. When I returned to the studio, I was dumb-founded, but I was too involved with "The Boys" to respond to this unfortunate event. The rest is... as they say....
There are a certain number of pages here that I carried through exactly the way I wanted to see them done. In the panels that I inked, you can clearly see the sincerity of what I was doing. To have this thing treated this way was just so very, very disheartening. To have layouts taken away and done by other people is not something that should be done to anybody, for any reason. I really wanted to finish this story; I felt this would be my definitive Conan story. The thumbnails alone show the potential of that story. You can see the devotion I gave to these.
That was pretty much the last positive project I did for Marvel at that time.
Arlen: Why was that?
But when individual projects would go sour on me, it's tough to drop them. It's tough to drop a project like the Kree-Skrull War; it's tough to back away from Conan when I thought I was doing the best Conan around; it's tough to leave "War of the Worlds"—jeez, I was off to a run on that baby!
So my contribution to Marvel was done in spite of the fact the logs were rotting under my feet.
Arlen: At about the same time your color comics work for Marvel
waned, the black-&-white magazine line was starting up, and you
painted most of their debut covers.
What's interesting is that Marvel had a sister company that hired illustrators all the time, but they never seemed to go to these artists to do these illustrations.
Arlen: The one interior black-&-white illustration job
you did do was a beauty, Dracula Lives #2.
Arlen: Did you want to do more Dracula stories—or more
black-&-white stories of any genre?
Arlen: It's as if you never said no to anything they asked
you, at DC and Marvel.
Arlen: Your work at Marvel, like your DC work, petered out
at the same time as you formed Continuity Associates and did more
advertising work; is that an accurate assessment?
Everybody was getting confident that the comic book business was really good, and getting better. When enough people got in and DC and Marvel welcomed new people, we opened Continuity on 49th Street. Then people came up to Continuity, and that became the new meeting place to get together and hang out.
It was time for me to back away and make my own way, and to be a little less dependent on DC and Marvel. But there was never a moment when I ever said to DC or Marvel, "I'm going to say no to you. If you have a job and want me to do it (and I'm in a position to do it and handle the deadlines), I will do it." But as time went by, I could handle the deadlines less and less because I had more work on the outside.
It was time for a change and I was moving on.
Arlen: If there's a legacy to the Marvel years, I would say
that, like Steranko's, yours was a small body of work that had tremendous
impact. Your X-Men and Avengers, in particular, seem to have had an
enormous influence on artists and writers years later. Your stories—and
of course, your artwork— have stood the test of time.
When Marvel Comics wanted to go into black-&-white magazines with color covers, I started that off.
With Barry Smith, I was given a shot at doing Conan; I don't know how much impact my Conan has had, but I did a really, really nice Conan.
The other work I did for Marvel was more spotted: The Dracula story, these other stories, but they all added a kind of sparkle to each area. Whether it was covers or Crazy magazine, all those things served to be a positive experience... or maybe it's just me.
On a personal level, I liked everybody at Marvel, I liked the people who ran Marvel. I never had a difficult time with Marvel; my relationships were always good. People were loving the work that was happening, and were just as disappointed as I was when things didn't continue.
When the work was good, it was great, and the work changed the face of Marvel to that extent—look at the X-Men. It was in the X-Men that the impact was felt because it was a continuity that lasted a good ten issues, and you can look at the run of it and say, this is what the X-Men can become.
The Avengers was a small, bright star that dimmed and went away; it's too bad. I can't have a conversation with Marvel fans without the subject of finishing the Kree-Skrull War coming up. Why didn't I finish it... or will I ever finish it? It rankles me, because I know it would've been great, and I know they were disappointed, and I feel like I let them down. If I had finished that War, there's a suspicion that The Avengers could have been as strong and as powerful as the X-Men. I know it could have and would have been.
I feel in some ways that my work with Marvel is sort of an unfinished symphony that everybody would have enjoyed had we finished it.
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