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The Flayed Model: the comic book artwork of Neal Adams

Brave & Bold: issue 85 Green Arrow ‘New Look’ Sept. 1969

One minor component in the American project to achieve a postwar cultural hegemony across the West was the exportation of the full-colour superhero comic. It occupied innumerable newsagent’s carousel racks across Western Europe under a plethora of titles, many of which were produced on a monthly basis. At this level of output, production values governing both artwork and storyline were set low. The strips generally displayed little aesthetic merit: rather crudely drawn and then simply inked, and coloured with four colours, modulated only through a half tone process incorporating the Ben-Day dot system.

Representative of comic book artwork before Neal Adams raised the genre’s visual bar.. Amazing Fantasy issue 15 August 1962 Introducing Spider-Man Cover Artists: Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko the Sub-Mariner issue 1 May 1968 Cover Artists: John Buscema & Sol Brodsky An unremarkable genre, until the later 1960’s, when an artist named Neal Adams began work on several titles for both Marvel and DC comics [Batman, Spectre, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, X-Men]. He obviously used models and photographs in his practice. Figures now moved convincingly through their strips; they looked like they could fly, [and perhaps more significantly, take off and land safely]. They refused to be bound by the time panels they were meant to occupy. They were observed from unusual viewpoints, from above, from below; from extreme close quarters, effecting dramatic and convincing fore-shortenings.

X-Men: issue 56 [first appearance of Adam’s artwork for Marvel] and issue 57. May and June 1969

Human emotions were conveyed through underplayed facial expressions and body language; the lower lip bitten with anxiety; an eyebrow raised slightly during a conversation; the jaw slackened in utter disbelief. He even extended the range of colour and tone by introducing textured patterns to the inker’s palette.

Two pages from DC’s Strange Adventures issue 216, featuring ‘Deadman’

This strip which followed a former trapeze artist’s search for his own killer, was my first introduction to Adam’s work. Adams almost single-handedly effected a new realism in this genre.The best page sequences remain in the memory rather like film scenes.

Page 10 from Strange Adventures 216: Feb. 1969 Final page of X-Men issue 57: June 1969

Interestingly, the comic buying public in America didn’t grasp his significance; several strips folded in the face of their antipathy to his newly humanized and vulnerable heroes. He was then assigned to draw occasional strips which were over-layed by the work of slightly less sensitive inking staff, and assigned to a cycle of cover art for titles which targeted a more juvenile demographic, such as the perennially one-dimensional, republican and rather nauseatingly wholesome Superman and his extended family spin-off titles [Supergirl, Superboy, the legion of Superheroes etc.]. Under an increasing and increasingly unrewarding workload, Adams turned freelance and subsequent career developments led to spin-off illustrations of franchise characters originating in the sci-fi and film industry. He is well worth an online image search; particularly for his work between 1968 and 1973. I have no hesitation in conceding that his art was as important to me during my formative years as a professional artist as Degas’ or Cezanne’s, and continues to provide me with a touchstone; generating compositions, figure poses and shadow and light effects .

Two covers by Neal Adams for DC comics Strange Adventures 216: “All this has gone before, but I still exist” Feb. 1969 Batman: issue 234 “Half an Evil” August 1971

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