Wednesday, July 6, 2016
An Interview With Neal Adams
They say you should never meet your heroes, because you will surely find them human. What they don't mention is that your heroes will also see you standing in a pool of sweat, stammering just to say "thanks." And so it was last week, when I was given the opportunity to interview Legend of Comic Bookery Neal Adams, specifically about Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, but really about life, the universe, and everything. At least, that's how I took it. I have neither the chops nor the follicles to grow a mighty Neal Adams mane, but rest assured I am an acolyte of his teachings, most of which I expect will take several lifetimes to unravel. You can listen to my interview on this week's podcast, or read a transcript of it if you click the link and/or keep scrolling downwards!
Neal Adams: Hey, I’m right here!
Reggie: Hi, Mr. Adams, sorry about that…uh,
N. Adams: Did somebody press a button?
Reggie: Uh, no sorry…I, uh, I’m not used to this phone interview thing myself.
N. Adams: These new-fangled things, goddammit! Kill them! Shoot them. Shoot them in the bell.
Reggie: This modern world.
N. Adams: You sound like you got a bell behind you dingling, is that something you hear as well?
Reggie: Uh, you know outside my apartment, I think there’s something going on…
N. Adams: (quickly) Dingalingalingalingalingaling
Reggie: No, I don’t hear anything like that.
N. Adams. Ah well, okay. We’ll roll with it. Don’t worry about it.
Reggie: Alright, I just wanted to say first: thanks so much for giving us your time, everyone at Weird Science DC Comics is a real big fan of the Coming of the Supermen, and we really appreciate this opportunity to talk to you about it.
N. Adams: That’s great! That’s great.
Reggie: What was the original pitch for the Coming of the Supermen, when you brought it up to…whomever you brought it up to?
N. Adams: The original pitch was actually a rather long pitch, because it had to do with the story continuing beyond the six issues, because the six issues is sort of the set up. And the second part of the premise was “If I can just use Jack Kirby characters, I would be as happy as a pig in shit.” All I wanted to do was use Jack Kirby characters, that was the second part of it because, my feeling is Jack has been…you know, what happens is people do Jack Kirby characters, but they don’t do them as Jack Kirby created them. Very often, they go, “Well, that’s good, but let’s change it.” Ha! I don’t think that’s a great idea, I like the idea: well maybe you can draw them a little better, you know, take some of the big clunky teeth out or whatever, but really do the Jack Kirby characters. So the fun for me was to do Jack Kirby. And maybe I could draw ‘em a little differently and maybe a little bit better, but the point is not to change the Jack Kirby characters. So going in, one: I knew I wanted to do Jack Kirby characters. Two: there needed to be a place to put them that I could feel good about. And, you know, this Internet conspiracy theory b.s. is out there with this planet that’s on the other side of the sun, that’s been going on since the 1950s, and probably before that. There’s a planet on the other side of the sun, and the reason you can see it is because the sun’s in between! Which, actually, that’e pretty good, I like that, I like that. Let’s put everybody there! So there was your place, okay? Well I have characters and now I have a place, right? So now I just need a story. Well, that wasn’t that hard, you know? I think bringing Darkseid in made a big problem for New Krypton. That was a lot of fun. Having these characters come from New Krypton to replace Superman, thinking “We’re Supermen, too, let’s replace Superman.” Maybe it didn’t work out quite so well, because Superman is, after all, Superman. But it worked out okay. But then I got into the middle of the story.
Now, the premise of the story is not actually going to be revealed until the very last page of the very last story.
Reggie: Ohh, okay. Because, you know, there are a lot of lingering questions on this one.
N. Adams: That’s right. So you have all these little things that have been planted along the way that are not actually even going to be answered on the last page of the last story, but the last page of the last story is going to tell you so much that you can make assumptions. And then we get to play, if DC decides to go further with the story. So you have this moment at the end where you go, “Oh my god,” and then the question is: what will happen then? But all the other questions along the way, like, “What is that giant alien? I feel like I remember him from something. There’s some premise, that I…what is that guy?”
Reggie: Looks sorta like Dubbilex, looks sorta like some other characters. There’s also Lex Luthor taking the capsule of Kryptonian blood a few issues ago…just some lingering little things. Darkseid linked to Ancient Egypt, I guess we’re gonna have to wait to hear about that, right?
N. Adams: That’s right!
Reggie: Okay, we can wait!
N. Adams: I’m gonna tell you a little bit, really quickly: there is a thing that we do in science fiction that people don’t necessarily understand. People have always had questions about it, but it’s sort of like, why doesn’t everyone ask this question? And that question is: how does it seem like there are aliens that look very, very much like humans, you can even have sex with them, and then there’s aliens that look like rolls of tape? There’s two different kinds of alien, you know?
Reggie: You can have sex with them, too, but it’s not as comfortable.
N. Adams: Nah, you don’t wanna because they’ve got rolls of tape. So there’s a premise there that’s been set up by science fiction, and it’s waiting for us to take advantage of. And that’s what I’ve done. So you’re gonna have a good time, and at the end you’re gonna go, “NEAL?! What’s goin’ on??”
Reggie: I think at the end of this I’m going to have to compile these into some sort of Necronomicon and perform some sacred rites with it, because it really is a lot to unravel; a lot to unpack.
N. Adams: Exactly. But it all makes sense. And that’s the promise: it all makes sense.
Reggie: As we go along, we see it’s really a celebration of different eras of Superman, and I’ve really been appreciating that.
N. Adams: That and Jack Kirby! Please, don’t leave out Jack Kirby.
Reggie: Oh, I can’t leave out the Kirby. That is true, that’s critical to the whole thing.
N. Adams: So wonderful. Yeah.
Reggie: Um, Rafi and Rusty, the boy and his dog...what’s the inspiration for these guys? I don’t know how much you can give away, but…it’s hard for me to tell if this is a story about Superman, or a story about Rafi and Rusty. It’s like Superman is guiding it all along, but the story is centered on this boy.
N. Adams: Yeahh…it’s almost like that boy was planted in there.
Reggie: Yeah, maybe!
N. Adams: Yeah, maybe that boy was planted in there, maybe there’s a reason. And maybe that little dog…isn’t really a little dog.
Reggie: Whoa! Heh, (chuckles roundly)
N. Adams: Ha ha ha ha!
Reggie: This is a mind-bender, alright!
N. Adams: Ha! I’m sorry, you’re right! You’re right. And when you find out, you’ll go, “Neal, I knew you were going to do something with that, there it is!” And it was so obvious, when you think about it. So obvious. If you have Darkseid and Apok—I shouldn’t be telling you this. If you have Darkseid and Apokolips, you must also have…
Reggie: New Genesis and… the New Gods. That’s right.
N. Adams: That’s right.
N. Adams: (laughs)
Reggie: We know they’re a part of that planet, too, what was New Krypton. So it’s all coming together and freaking me out.
N. Adams: Yes it is, yes it is. Hey, that’s what comic books are all about, aren’t they?
Reggie: Oh, definitely. And we read this, as a team over at Weird Science, we talk it about it. We laugh…we freak out, y’know...just can’t stop talking about it. Every issue. Little by little, more people from the site have come on to it, and woken up to the fact that there was something really special happening over here.
N. Adams: Well remember this also: there’s a lot of science underneath it, because I’m a geek. Anyway, go ahead.
Reggie: I can’t imagine you thought up this story, y’know, one day just sitting on the can. How long have you been working on this epic?
N. Adams: No, what happens is that…it’s one of the things I said when I did Batman: Odyssey, everybody jumped on it and I didn’t say anything. I waited for the whole thing to happen. What I do, is that as I go along, I collect little pieces that other people left lying in the alley. “Hmm, let me put this in my pocket. Oh, there’s this thing over here, let me put this in my pocket.” Just load my pockets up with this stuff and then lay it out on the table and think, “Hmm, this goes with this, and what’s this, what’s going on here…goodness, Deadman was killed...how was he killed, he was killed in a circus? And he was killed in the middle of his act? And how were Dick Grayson’s parents killed? Wait a second…” See, people leave this stuff lying around, they don’t do anything with it. I go pick it up, put it in my pockets. Then, when it comes time to do a story, I can do that story. Believe me, there’s a lotta stories waiting to be told!
Reggie: Well, I hope so. And we were wondering…I guess you kind of answered this in the beginning, but is there a sequel in the works?
N. Adams: Well, there’s the sequel planned in my head!
N. Adams: I guess it has to do with DC and the fans, y’know? “We want more!” or “who cares?”
Reggie: We’ll certainly be campaigning for it. If you can’t do a sequel to this, do you think there’s a Lex Luthor and Darkseid comic in the future? Maybe the two of them as a comedy duo?
N. Adams: No, I think that’s for somebody else. I think I planted that seed already, and it’s for somebody else to play with. I mean, you’ve already seen it, y’know? The confrontations between those two are gonna become classic, out of the series. You’re ready for Darkseid to crush Luthor, and suddenly Luthor’s crushing Darkseid. What the hell is that?
Reggie: Yeah, and the way he’s just laughing at him!
N. Adams: The confrontation—yeah. They’re just at each other. Y’know, like (under his breath) “fuck you.” I love that.
Reggie: Oh, it’s one of my favorite parts, it’s almost like a…Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis kind of duo, but on a grand, more darker scale, y’know?
N. Adams: Exactly. (laughing) Exactly.
Reggie: We think it’s one of the funniest things in the book and one of the most entertaining parts of the book. So what would you say to someone if they said, “Neal, I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get the Coming of the Supermen.”
N. Adams: Oh! (pause) Then read something else.
N. Adams: Ha ha ha! No really, no really, “I don’t get it?” You know what? If you think you’re gonna get it on the first reading of the first book, you’re mistaken, because you don’t pick up a Stephen King novel and get it in the first chapter. You don’t do that. I don’t really start these stories without there being surprise after surprise, as you go along, and they all make sense. But if you think you’re gonna get it when you first open the book, that’s a big mistake. That’s an assumption that I would never make. If I was picking up anybody’s stuff, I would say, “Well, if this guy hasn’t got any surprises for me, and it’s just the way I see it, well I don’t really care anymore.” Maybe I’ll follow it, maybe I won’t, maybe it’ll be drawn well. But I want the writer to give me some surprises. I want to be surprised. And that’s what’s been going on in these stories you’ve been reading! Every issue there’s one surprise after another…”Oh, what is that? And this isn’t explained? I don’t get it, wait a second,” y’know…
Reggie: Heh, “I gotta read this again!”
N. Adams: …”What’s this kid doing here?” Y’know? “I gotta read this damn thing again!” Yes! Yes, you gotta read it again! I’m sorry! It’s like going to a movie a second time. You know, very few movies I go to more than once, Star Wars, first Star Wars, I went three times! I just couldn’t believe that they did what they did, and, “Argh! I gotta see it three times!” And to me, that’s what it’s about, you know? You see my comic books, whether I write them or somebody else writes them—and I’ve written quite a few, I wrote most of the Deadman, and Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, and I wrote two Spectres…three Spectres, actually. People will go back and those books get reprinted and reprinted and reprinted, and they stay contemporary because of the—and it’s not just the pretty pictures! People say, “Oh, well Neal draws so well.” No! That’s not why you read it, that’s not why you read a book. You read a book because there’s a story there and you wanna read that story. The R’as Al Ghul and all that stuff…whether I’m working with somebody else or working on my own, I tell stories, I try to tell stories that linger with you and make you want to pick it up again. There are things that happen in here that you’re gonna go back and check like, “Damn, he put it right in front of my face and I didn’t see it.” Who is that little kid? Just a little kid going through the desert? No! Of course not!
Reggie: It’s a dangerous place for a little kid.
N. Adams: Wait that creature…that creature, wait a second…he looks like a creature I that remember from reading Childhood’s End.
N. Adams: Wait a minute…wait a minute…heh heh heh heh. And what did the creatures from Childhood’s End do? They observed. And enabled…wait a second, is this you borrowing from Childhood’s End? What the hell? Heh heh heh…
Reggie: Wow…uh, just a wrap-up, I just want to know what’s coming up, and I hear you’ve got something cooking with Harley’s Little Black Book.
N. Adams: Yes. It’s super coincidental, kinda sad, but kinda…pleasant memory of uh Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, you got Harley and Superman doing kind of a take-off on Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. And you know how warmly I feel about Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
N. Adams: The satire of it is, in a way, a tribute to it. But it’s funny, and of course it’s Harley, so it’s a lot of fun. And DC’s doing Kamandi, you know, one of the Jack Kirby characters? They’re letting me do the second issue. So that’ll be good. I’m kind of hoping the next thing will either be a continuation of this Superman or it will be Deadman. Because I’ve got things about Deadman that nobody knows.
Reggie: Oh yeah. I’m a huge Deadman fan and I think he’s been sorta under-used in current DC…
N. Adams: Yeah.
Reggie: So that will be great, and I’ll be looking out for that Harley, I’m a big Harley fan, and I love that Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, you know, it was very sad to hear of his passing, but it definitely made me pull that down off the shelf again and take a look at the, uh…y’know people remember that it happened, but they don’t remember just how entertaining and crazy the story is.
N. Adams: Another thing they don’t remember is that that book got printed in every free country in the world. And there are not just copies in English, there are copies in all the languages of the world. And it got printed especially, it got published especially because people actually believed that we were becoming a liberal country at the time. It didn’t exactly happen, but it was a precursor to the way things have come out now. And things have, indeed, changed. It’s taken quite a while, but people of the world believe that comic book, and believed that’s how we felt about it. Maybe they were off by a little bit, y’know, maybe a decade or two. But it was quite the book for the rest of the world, and made a statement for America, which I was very proud to be part of.
Reggie: That’s wonderful. Well, I thank you very much, Mr. Adams, it’s been a very enlightening and entertaining interview.
N. Adams: My pleasure!
Reggie: I hope you have a great day.
And be sure to read my review of the last issue of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, right here!