Comic Watch’s Kevin had the pleasure of speaking with the great Neal Adams at Rhode Island Comic Con 2019. The industry legend shared insights and stories on some of the significant contributions he has made to comics including his work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman.
Comic Watch: How are you liking Rhode Island Comic Con?
Neal Adams: Well, I go outside and there it is [laughs]. I’m liking it a lot. I’ve always liked the Rhode Island Comic Con. I came here from close to the beginning. I don’t know when the beginning was exactly but it seemed like I was coming close to the beginning. They were nice enough to send a car to pick us up in New York and drive us down and that’s always very nice. They treat us well and everybody’s really happy here at this comic con. You wouldn’t think necessarily that Rhode Island would be a place you’re gonna have a comic con. You know, off the top of your head you kind of go, “Oh ya! Chicago and Denver and Rhode Island. Really? Rhode Island?” But apparently the people of Rhode Island have gotten into it and even environs and are very happy to come here. So it’s a very happy convention. There are some conventions that are, you know, you get a lot of grumpy people but this one is not that way. I’m very happy when I come here. It’s a great weekend.
CW: One of the things that has defined your career was the reception of yours and Denny’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow run. Given the politically charged nature of that run, what can you tell us about the decision process behind introducing John Stewart, a black Green Lantern, at a time where black heroes typically still felt like stereotypes?
NA: Well I can tell you that I observed that in comics and I wasn’t happy about it because I know — I have the — I do have a reasonable ability to put myself in the other guy’s place and if I were a black man in America and all I had in comic books were gang-bangers who get hit by lightning and then magically became superheroes or African chiefs, which I’m sure everyone can relate to [laughs], I would be pretty unhappy with the state of affairs in comic books relative to black people. So I went to my editor Julie Schwartz and before our run was over, because we were kind of coming to an end you know flag waving and all the rest of it, and I told him essentially that I think we ought to have a replacement Green Lantern in case something happens to Hal Jordan. He said we had Guy Gardner, who was a white-Anglo-Saxon-protestant-gym teacher, which had to make me laugh because obviously it was quite a chore for the Green Lantern Corps to seek out everybody on Earth and find a white-Anglo-Saxon-protestant-gym teacher to be the next Green Lantern. I felt that wasn’t really kosher, and I suggested that perhaps my editor was not aware of the Olympics. He insisted that he was and I said, “Well, how often do you find three white guys up there?” I mean, I find Asians, I find black guys, and I find white guys, you know. Three white guys? You’ll rarely find that, you know, maybe in, I don’t know, archery, shot put, but in general you’re gonna find blacks and Asians. He said, “Well maybe a — maybe a — what about an Asian?” I said, “Well Julie, you don’t treat Asians very well in your comics.” He said, “What? Of course do.” I said, “Well, there’s a character in the Green Lantern that’s been there for ten years and you call him Pie Face.” I mean I could bring in a hundred Asians and ask whether or not they’re insulted by the name “pie face” and I think they’d all pretty much say they were. He said, “Well, we didn’t mean it that way!” I said, “Well, I don’t know how you meant it, Julie, but I’m sure you didn’t do it because you’re bigoted but you did fall for a trap.” He said, “Well, okay, I’ll give you a black Green Lantern because obviously that’s what you’re looking for.” I said, “Am I that shallow that you easily see through me like a puddle in the street?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, okay.” He said, “Okay, you’ve got a black Green Lantern.”
I said, “No, no, no, no, I don’t have a black Green Lantern. I have a black Green Lantern that has a college education and is a professional man, and if you do that I’ll do the book.” Unfortunately Julie named the character Lincoln Washington [laughs]. So I went to him and I locked the door and I yelled at him, “Julie, that’s a slave name. Do you want to have people marching around this building you name him Lincoln Washington.” He said, “Fine, you name him.” You know, pissed off at me. I said, “Just put some names in a jar and pick a name out. Any old name. Not Lincoln Washington, not a slave name. People don’t like that. It’s not a good thing.” So he said, “You pick a name.” So I said, “Okay, John Stewart.” How did I know he’d become a late night comedian, really? So we got John Stewart. Unfortunately DC Comics and Warner’s didn’t choose to use John Stewart in the Green Lantern movie. Somehow they went from Gil Kane’s Green Lantern to Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. They kind of missed that place in between that everyone loved and they lost 150 million dollars. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again. That’s pretty much how it happened. I thought Denny did a pretty good script based on the concept and idea. It’s pretty obvious what to do. I think pretty much any writer could have taken that and run with it.
CW: What is it about Batman that seems to keep drawing you back time and again?
NA: Because he’s there. Because he’s there. Why do I keep climbing the mountain? Because it’s there. Part of it’s because I’m not really a superhero person. I don’t like the endless powers of Superman. I think it’s preposterous. I mean, he’s an alien. I mean, in your hand, in, if he handled you, you’d be like less than a mushroom, almost like swamp gas. And he’s the man of steel but it’s more than steel. I mean, he can twist steel. So why would you have an alien from another planet with power that is so unlimited that you couldn’t even conceive of it. That’s the problem with superheroes, you know, you make The Flash and suddenly The Flash can travel faster than light. You give characters powers and suddenly the powers become so fantastic that you can’t even conceive of them, can’t conceive of them as human beings. That’s the bad side of comics in my opinion. Batman is the good side of comics, to a certain extent. He’s a regular person. He has no superpowers. He’s you, he’s me. I mean, if we could be Batman, that would be our choice in general because we made ourselves, he made himself. So if I’m given the choice of what character to work on it’s not because of Batman’s cape or he works at night or all the rest of it, it’s because he’s not really a superhero. He’s a hero. I like that.
CW: Do you have any future projects that you can talk about?
NA: Yeah, future, present. Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul I’m working on right now. I can’t tell you the project I’m working on with Marvel. It concerns four characters and they’re pretty fantastic, but I can’t tell you what they are.
CW: Where can people find you and your work?
NA: Nealadams.com … dot com [singing]. If you know my name, very easy to get there. And you can find out anything, we’re on the internet, we’re around. Go to nealadams.com, we have a store there we have articles and stuff and we record things and put them up. We kind of stay on the internet pretty well, and now that I’ve learned my lesson. And come to conventions and spend money at my table and spend money at everybody’s table and have a great time. That’s what it’s here for. It’s not a zoo!
CW: Thank you so much, Neal.
I’m Not Really a Superhero Person: An Inteview with Neal Adams
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