[UPDATE: Dec 23, 2009]: It's official, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Special Edition is seeing a new printing. On the DCU Blog The Source, it was announced today that the Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams collaboration will have not one but two new editions in Fall 2010. Both are hardcover reprints. The Deluxe Edition will include an "expanded sketch section" plus an all-new cover drawn by Neal Adams. The other will be a hardback version of the original book, printed in the same trim-size as the 1978 classic. Pictured here is the re-colored version of the original cover.Original Story, Oct 27, 2009 Veteran comic creator Neal Adams was featured in a panel at this month's Big Apple Comic Con, along with J. David Spurlock [publisher, Vanguard Productions] and his son Josh [artist, “House of Mystery”]. During the hour-long Q&A, Adams discussed his studio’s work on motion comics, including the upcoming Astonishing X-Men motion comic being released by Marvel, revealed he is talking with the publisher about a new project starring Wolverine, talked about his upcoming new Batman: Odyssey project for DC and indicated that publisher is planning a new reprint edition of the 1978 never-reprinted Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Special Edition, as well as discussed his humanitarian efforts. Marvel is promoting the Astonishing X-Men Motion Comic, which will be available through iTunes on Oct. 28, by screening the first chapter at Union Square in New York, following a signing at Forbidden Planet which includes Adams, Chris Claremont and Dan Slott. The motion comic will be projected onto the three-story building which formerly housed a Virgin Megastore, preceded by a costume contest and prize giveaways. The motion comic is a literal translation of the Astonishing X-Men story “Gifted,” by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, collected into a graphic novel.
“If you guys see this, near the end the X-Men are kinda reintroduced; they get out of their dark outfits and put on the brighter outfits and they’re all walking towards us out of this hangar ... so cool! ... because it’s like watching a movie, and its John Cassaday’s drawings moving,” said Adams at the panel.
His studio, Continuity, produced the motion comic for Marvel using computer-animation techniques like aftereffects, warping, and morphing to make the actual panels of the comic book move and the artwork come to life. Voices are added in later by another company.
“When I say it’s a new genre, or a new medium, I’m not kidding, because it’s not animation, although its animation and it’s not a comic book, although it’s a comic book. It’s not a film, because film is an adaptation ... You can see every line that John Cassaday drew, all the lines are there,” said Adams.
"Motion comics are really animatics, which have been used in film and advertising for years. Continuity has produced animatics for advertising agencies which they are using online, including ads featuring superheroes based on Taco Bell ingredients.
“So, I’m looking at it and going, these people have been kept away from the fun by doing this advertising stuff, and now the Internet is suddenly becoming very entertainment-oriented. And we’re doing some of the entertainment. Then, the motion-comic came along and everybody got jazzed on the motion-comic. My studio, which was doing well financially, realized that this is more fun,” said Adams.
Adams likes to balance things by doing work for both Marvel and DC and brought the idea of doing motion comics to DC, who according to Adams was lukewarm at first, but acquiesced when Adams offered to draw [and write] a new Batman story for them, which could then be turned into a motion comic. He returns to Batman with a series called Batman: Odyssey after many years, having a popular run on the character with writer Denny O’Neil during the seventies, in which they brought the character back to his “dark” roots after years of campiness which culminated in the live-action Batman television show.
When asked by an audience member whether Batman would be Bruce Wayne, seeing as how the character was killed off in the ongoing titles, Adams replied, “Batman’s going to be Bruce Wayne and Robin’s going to be Dick Grayson. And The Joker’s going to be Joker, the Man-Bat’s going to be Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul is going to be Ra’s al Ghul.”
Spurlock said that besides from the constant questions fans have about Adams drawing Batman again, he has influenced many artists in the industry who grew up reading his work, including Frank Miller [“The Dark Knight Returns”].
Since the prospect of doing motion comics inspired Adams to do a Batman comic, a fans asked if doing the X-Men motion comic inspire any motivation to return to X-Men, another series Adams left his imprint on in the late 60s/early 70s.
“I wanted to do a feature for Marvel, so I’m saying, ‘give me a lousy feature that doesn’t make any money and I’ll make it into something’ and they say, ‘well, why don’t you do Wolverine?’ So, we’re kinda talking about doing Wolverine,” said Adams.
Using the same approach in the 60s, Adams first came to Marvel and then Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee and ended up working on X-Men, which was slated to be cancelled in a few issues, but he wanted to do it anyway, having the freedom to work on it in his own unique style.
He worked on X-Men with writer Roy Thomas, because Stan Lee was too busy writing a whole slate of other books. A fan asked what his relationship with Thomas was like.
“When I went to Marvel Comics, my relationship with Roy was kind of yin and yang. I liked Roy, but he was going through his divorce when I was working with him, so it was very hard and we had little bits of conflict; not at the beginning, but a little later on. But, he’s very good at stuff ... he’s an English professor and so he gives you lots of references, like ... he talked about ‘Metropolis.’ Not Superman’s, but Fritz Lang’s. Good references, not typical comic book references, you don’t normally find that,” said Adams.
Though they have differed over who plotted the stories, Adams said Thomas was “a total professional.”
“I’d have to say when I was at DC Comics, doing this stuff on a regular basis, Denny O’Neil was the best writer at DC. At Marvel Comics, Roy was the best writer at that time. So, I got the best,” said Adams.
Even now, he said he gets to work with the best talent, as Frank Miller is helping him to write Batman: Odyssey.
After a fan asked him whether any of his older work would be turned into motion comics, he said that he's made a proposal to DC to release a collection of his Batman work, which could then make for a good motion comic series if modernized. Adam also said his daughter Kris is lobbying DC to turn the infamous 1978 Superman vs. Muhammad Ali book that he did into a motion comic.
“DC is going to reprint everything I’ve ever done in new formats, like the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali book in a deluxe edition with new coloring, and/or the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in Absolute edition. It seems this motion-comic thing has gotten DC very jazzed to reprint everything I’ve ever done and make a lot of money,” claimed Adams.
[editor's note: DC declined to comment on whether they have plans to reprint either of these two titles in new editions.]
As for titles he would like to work on, Adams mentioned “Challengers of the Unknown,” a DC book originally created by Jack Kirby.
“If you go back and read the original stories, those are great stories. Basically, what I’d do is revamp the stories ... ‘Challengers of the Unknown’ was meant to be one of the greatest titles ever done,” said Adams.
Someone asked what writers and artists he would like to work with and Adams mentioned Geoff Johns on Green Lantern, but said some of the new writers can be a little wordy.
“You get panels of dialogue where the artist is Xeroxing a panel and putting them in, where they’re saying pretty much what they said three panels ago. I would think that would be a clue to the writer, to stop being so wordy; I mean, if I can put a Xerox in, then. . figure out another way to say it. Why not have him say it while he’s punching somebody ... The stuff that writers have to figure out; try to find a way to get the message across while action is happening, ‘cause it’s an action medium. Not all action, you can’t do that, you have to tell a story,” said Adams.
As for artists he’d like to write for, he named Duncan Fegredo, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo, the Kuberts, and Bryan Hitch.
Another question revolved around graphic novels and whether they’ve increased or decreased interest in comic books or “confused the genre.”
“What’s important for comic book fans, is that graphic novels and collections are making it into the bookstores, so it’s bringing comic books to a wider audience ... it gives you a lot more choices,” said Adams.
Fans of his 70s work tell him that comics "suck" now as opposed to then, but Adams said that the general rule in life is that “90% of everything sucks, but 10% of it is really good.” This rule applies to the 70s as it does today, even of graphic novels, but the form allows creative talent “to do further out stuff, that pushes the boundaries.”
One such project was Adams involvement with the artist Dina Gottliebova Babbitt and trying to secure her paintings from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He has related her story in a six-page comic printed both in the New York Times and in the back of X-Men: Magneto Testament [inked by Joe Kubert, with an introduction by Stan Lee].
Babbitt was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz as a child, because she did not want to leave her mother. Josef Mengele, sometimes referred to as “the Angel of Death,” performed experiments on people in the camp, like trying to determine if there was a connection between twins and exposing people to extreme temperatures which would result in death. Babbitt had grown up watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and would draw pictures of them on the walls of the barracks for children who were eventually sent to their death.
After discovering that he had an artist in his camp, Mengele brought her to him and asked her to paint portraits of Gypsies so that he could prove they were inferior, wanting to capture their appearance and skin color, because black-and-white photographs could not do so. She agreed to this only if she and her mother were spared, and they survived the war because of it.
Those paintings ended up at the museum in Auschwitz years later. They contacted Babbitt, who was then living in California to come and identify the paintings, but would not let her take them home. Her efforts to secure them were taken up Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and later by Adams, as well as others. Medoff wrote the story which Adams illustrated for the comic, using actual text from it. The paintings have still not been secured, with Babbitt passing away earlier this year, and the cause taken up by her daughters.
“Her daughters have taken over the campaign, along with the Jewish organizations I’ve been working with very closely and I can tell you right here and right now, that we will get them back, but not today,” said Adams.
Disney turned the comic adaptation into a motion animatic for release with three films, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” They’ve also commissioned Adams, Medoff, and other artists to do a series of stories on the Holocaust, also to be turned into motion comics. Adams said “he has a soft spot in his heart” for the comic industry, because artists contributed work to the Babbitt project for free.
“If I can go to somebody and ask them to work for free and they will do it, they will do a story, or do a drawing to raise money for Dave Cockrum, they will do whatever they are asked to help, and this is the industry that I’m in. I’m very proud of it,” said Adams.
Though he keeps up a correspondence with the curator of the museum, he said some of their arguments were ridiculous, and it was another example of the State vs. the individual. The curator argued that the person who made the gate that stands in front of Auschwitz may want it back, to which Adams thought, “does he want the gate back?”
Adams has long been a champion of creator’s rights in the comic book industry and related his dealings with the curator to that of dealing with DC in the 70s, when he and others successfully secured credit and financial remuneration for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as being the creators of Superman.
As he said to DC then, “you’re going to pay these guys what you would pay a good secretary and you’re going to be happy. They’re going to be ambassadors of goodwill for you and [Warner Bros.] and go to all the premieres with a smile and be happy, and you don’t want to do that.”
After someone asked him if credit should be given to Bill Finger for co-creating Batman, Adams said, “The truth is, it doesn’t cost one thin dime to give people credit. It doesn’t cost a dime. I don’t know what the problem is. The animosity created during the whole thing with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster has come back to bite DC Comics on the ass, because now, certain parts of Superman don’t belong to DC anymore. The animosity related to Jack Kirby has come back to bite Marvel on the ass; they could’ve been nice. I have a recommendation to anyone in the world ... be nice. It’s so cheap to be nice.”Update reporting by Lucas Siegel