Artist Spotlight on Neal Adams

by Blaise Tassone

121872_d44d58d1f7f052757ec8fd912543bdb876110ad9-198x300 Artist Spotlight on Neal Adams

Neal Adams is one of my favorite comic book artists. Given the prices on his iconic cover work, apparently I’m not alone in thinking his art is of high quality. In fact, I would rank Adams in the top ten of all-time great comic book illustrators, both as regards his influence and for his contributions to changing the look of modern comics.

In my opinion, Adams illustration work, at its best, can more than hold its own when placed side by side with the work of great artists like: Frank Frazetta, Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane and Wally Wood.

Okay, enough praise of Adams’ ability. What is it about Adams illustrations that makes so many collectors seek out his work?

If we place his illustration work in historical context, we can see that a line can be drawn in modern comic book art. On one side of the line we find what can be called ‘the pre-Adams’ period and, on the other, ‘the post-Adams era’ in modern comics.

Pre-Adams, there was some very good (even great) but also highly idiosyncratic art produced for comics. This allowed for some individually brilliant visionary talent to be actualized on paper. Think of the work of Jack Kirby or Will Eisner and Gil Kane.

Unfortunately for every Eisner, Kane and Kirby there were clones who were being forced to adopt a workshop mentality leading to a highly stylized but bland output imitating the stiff and lifeless style of less impressive illustrators.

In the case of mainstream super-hero comics this was noticeable in the DC titles of the early 1960s. The Superman books had decent art, and Al Pastino, for example, was no slouch, but the mentality of the time led to Joe Shuster knock off art in those books and artists like Wayne Boring and Kurt Schaffenberger only rarely achieved the expressive brilliance of the Golden Age Shuster art.

Adams changed that. Coming from a commercial art and advertising background when he started work in comics in the early 1960s, at that time it was unusual to see a naturalistic and realistic style applied to stories. But Adams refused to produce a ‘paint-by-numbers’ and constrained style. Instead his art made Batman scary again (moving him into the shadows instead of giving us the campy daylight scenes), he made Green Lantern edgy and relevant. Adams brought a new realism into the medium and made the entire Bronze Age style of comics that much better for it.

Stand Out Work

Adams hit his creative peak from the mid-sixties, I would say starting around 1966, up until the early-to-mid 1970s. So good was the work that Adams produced at this time that his covers from this period, e.g. Green Lantern #76 (see picture above):

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Batman #237 ,

and
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Detective Comics #412, continue to increase in price and desirability year after year with no signs of slowing down.

Without Adams, we would not have had the great seventies outputs of a Bill Sienkiewicz, a Val Mayerik, or a Mike Ploog. Because there is so much good art, especially from his creative peak, picking only one book to exemplify his best work is not easy.

Therefore, I’ll end by mentioning two books that I think capture the essence of Adams style:

123081_8b8cd400632a04cee8fc9d8b20f5f8b259c069cc-202x300 Artist Spotlight on Neal AdamsAvengers #93 (November 1971) – Double Sized Issue

Featuring the classic Kree/Skrull War story arc, this is Adams at his creative peak. With Adams’ art bringing the Avengers to life, an already strong story became so much better. If you haven’t read it, you should. While a 9.8 in certified form will cost you $6,750.00, you can still get this in 9.2 or lower for a relatively affordable price. Currently in 9.6 it has a FMV of $1,550.00, in 9.4 = $825.00, and a 9.2 can be had for $350.00. Best returns over the last four years have been on, 6.5 with a positive + 25.1% return on investment after 6 sales.

124789_28becdb51289f364a94df00fcc9d3449dff9880c-201x300 Artist Spotlight on Neal AdamsBatman #251 (September 1973) – Classic Joker Cover

There’s a Joker movie coming out and the early publicity stills look like they were going for the Adams’ take on the character. That would, in fact, be a great idea – since this is the period when the Joker became the villainous character we all love to hate. Whether due to the Joker movie or not, returns on this book are strong in anything above a 5.0. Currently expect to pay $4,900.00 for a certified 9.8 near mint copy, with best returns of positive +75.6% on 9.4 certified copies after 59 sales since 2009.

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