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Friday, June 29, 2018

Neal Adams talks Batman villains, Continuity Comics and Bucky O'Hare

Neal Adams is a fascinating speaker -- he's interesting, he knows how to control the flow of a discussion and he's humorous. Attendees of the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon were very lucky to be treated to a one-hour Q&A Panel with Adams on the first day of the convention. When Neal Adams speaks, comic fans can't help but gather to listen.

The first twenty minutes of his Q&A panel had Neal Adams delivering a monologue encouraging new artists/writers to self-publish since most publishers are hesitant to take a chance on any concepts that seem 'too new'. Examples he cited were Dave Sim (creator of Cerebus the Aardvark) and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators of Superman from back in the 1930s). It was essentially a 'Don't give up your dream' speech. The rest of the panel was opened up for fans in attendance to ask questions.

I often tend to forget that Neal Adams played a big part in building some of the more popular elements of the Batman mythos; Neal worked on Batman in the early 1970s for several years and  was integral in helping Batman lose his 'campy' Batman '66 image and bringing him back to being a grim and brooding dark knight. I was the first to ask about the inspiration behind the new Batman rogues Neal Adams introduced.


THE CREATION OF THE LEAGUE OF ASSASSINS

Neal Adams: "That [idea] came from Murder Incorporated. Murder Incorporated was a semi-International murder/assassination organization that existed in the world. You also have the Yakuza. So there already were organizations like that -- at least two -- in the world. To pick up an idea that was lying around the street available for anybody, the League of Assassins was a very very logical thing to do."



First appearance of the League of Assassins from Strange Adventures #215 (1968). Art by Neal Adams.

Members of Murder Inc. photo source: Mafia Wiki



RA'S AL GHUL

Neal Adams: "The idea of Ra's Al Ghul is a little bit different. I was doing Batman with Denny O'Neil for Julius Schwartz, and [we] were trying NOT to do clowns, because basically -- you see, you guys don't necessarily know this because you're not old enough to know this -- Batman and his villains come from Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy had all these [villains]... Prune Face, Flat Top, The Blank... so when Bob Kane and Bill Finger were doing Batman, basically they stole the ideas of these crazy-weird guys from Dick Tracy. So we get the Mad Hatter, the Joker, the Penguin and all these kinda off-beat characters. A little hard to believe that a real Batman would be fighting these guys -- but you believed it with Dick Tracy, so why not Batman?"

"So when Denny and I picked up doing Batman, the question was: do we bring in the clowns? Not to begin with. So we didn't at the beginning, but we knew that sooner or later we were going to HAVE to. I went to Julie [aka Julius Schwartz] and told him that Batman needs a Moriarty. Julie said "what do you mean?" and I explained that we were going to start doing the Joker and the Riddler and the Two-Face, and we NEED a Moriarty. We need a real villain that's AS GOOD as Batman, because Sherlock Holmes -- the greatest detective in the world -- had Moriarty. As we all know. And he did well by him, if it wasn't for Moriarty, who knows if we would've had a successful Sherlock Holmes? We NEEDED one. Julie said "let me think about that"."

First appearance of Ra's Al Ghul & Ubu from Batman v1 #232 (1971)
Illustrated by Neal Adams and inked by Dick Giordano 

Neal Adams: "Julie came in on Monday and said "Ra's Al Ghul!" My reaction: "What does that mean?" He replied "It means that's your new villain. It translates to 'Head of the Demon' in arabic. It's up to you to figure out what he looks like." So I did. That was my job. He looks sorta like Jack Palance if you shaved his head back a little bit. Do you know who Jack Palance is? Evil, evil actor. A wonderful evil actor -- for those of you who are old enough to know: when Jack Palance came on the screen you'd start to shudder. His eyes were close together and sunken in his head -- just a horrible-looking guy. He was the villain in 1953's Shane. So that was Ra's Al Ghul. It launched Batman with a NEW villain, and then we can bring in the clowns, because there was always Ra's Al Ghul lying in the background. You don't see much of Ra's Al Ghul if you think about it. He's sort of like that entity that's waiting back there to mess everything up. And sometimes you think that Ra's Al Ghul is trying to be a good guy -- and then he kills a few people and you go "well I guess he's not"."

actor Jack Palance circa 1954. source: wikipedia 



MAN-BAT

Neal Adams: "Batman NEEDED a Ra's Al Ghul, and I think he needed a Man-Bat. He needed a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde who is not exactly a clown -- so I created THAT. By the way -- Man-Bat -- when is he going to appear in a movie? He's in the cartoons, he's in the toys, but he's not in the movie. They keep on resurging Two-Face. What's the deal with that? I don't get it."

Man-Bat from Detective Comics v1 #407 (1971).
Illustrated by Neal Adams and inked by Dick Giordano.



CONTINUITY COMICS

Back in 1984, a very small and relatively unknown (unknown to me, anyways) publisher was sporadically releasing comic books. This publisher was called Continuity Comics. Early titles you may recognize included Captain Power and the Soldier of the Future, Zero Patrol, Revengers, Armor, Echo of FuturePast (first appearance of Bucky O'Hare), and Toy Boy. During the late eighties, Continuity Comics really began stepping up their game and started releasing a flurry of new titles: Megalith, Ms Mystic, Cyberrad, Hybrids, Samuree, Crazyman, a big cross-over called DeathWatch 2000, another cross-over called Rise of Magic, and then... nothing. I always wondered what happened to this publisher. It was only a few years ago that I discovered that it was Neal Adams' publishing company. I've always wondered what happened to Continuity Comics...

Neal Adams: "Remember we had that thing in comics when all these collectors jumped into comics and started to buy all these issues? And we were getting sales of upwards a million copies per issue? A lot of you guys don't know about it because it's fading into the precincts of history... a lot of guys thought that they could make so much money from comic books by buying boxes and boxes of comic books. SO suddenly, a comic that you wouldn't expect to sell that well... sold a million copies. The comic book stores are going 'This is great! This is fantastic!'."

house ad in Continuity Comics circa 1991

Neal Adams: "Until one day, all these crazy guys who thought they could make all this money on comic books called each other and said "If we all do this, and put boxes and boxes of comic books in the garage, we'll never make any money on this! To hell with this! I'm quitting!." Boom! The next day -- nobody's buying 'em -- they're in the stores. 1500 stores went out of business. 1500 stores! People were selling comics for 50 cents a piece in boxes at the front of the store. You can't stay in business that way... you just paid $1.50 for those books, and now you're selling them for 50 cents! So they went out of business. Diamond [Comic Distributors] had to finance a whole bunch of comic book stores. We almost lost the business with this crazy collector nuttiness... and nobody backed off from it... they all thought "Oh! Money to be made!". Well, it was stupid."



Neal Adams: "Unfortunately we got caught in the middle. We had done Deathwatch 2000 -- it was a cross-over within our comic books. We had gone from selling 15,000 copies to selling 100,000 copies per issue per title for 3 months... I put 3 million dollars in the bank... and then everything fell out. And so, instead of going bankrupt (which certain comic book publishers did), I just backed off and went into advertising. And so our studio has been doing advertising since then until I started to get back into comic book now. And now we're going to go back into publishing. Carefully. Very very carefully."


Editor's note: A few years ago, I manage to acquire a small collection of Continuity Comics from the early 90s and decided to binge-read them on a long weekend. Most of the titles I read were pretty interesting -- they all had that Neal Adams realistic-type art and the colors were very vibrant -- and you could feel the plot momentum picking up as the books progressed. Continuity Comics went defunct a little too soon before they could fully mature and gain a strong cult-like following. I am curious to see what the new Continuity Comics will be like.   



DEATHWATCH 2000 TRADING CARD SET

In 1993, Continuity Comics released a 100-card trading card set celebrating their BIG comic book cross-over event: DeathWatch 2000. I do remember seeing these in stores, but didn't know these characters well enough to actively want to collect these cards. It always did strike me as odd, however, that there was a chase subset within the card set featuring Shaquille O'Neal, Ken Griffy, Jr. and Manon Rheaume -- three professional athletes being featured in a very decidedly NON-sports trading card set.

DeathWatch 2000 Shaq and Ken Griffey Jr. insert cards. source: www.tradingcarddb.com


Neal Adams explained: "You have to remember that those cards were produced by another company, and that company is a sports card company. They worked with us and planted that stuff with us, with a plan in mind that we were going to continue to move on with it. And we ended up not continuing on with it."



THE ORIGIN OF BUCKY O'HARE

Bucky O'Hare will forever be remembered as a cartoon about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals (led by a green rabbit) who piloted a spaceship and had galaxy-spanning sci-fi adventures. The cartoon had a really catchy theme song, a Nintendo game, and a series of highly-articulate action figures. Like, seriously, this could've held up against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And then... as quickly as it appeared... Bucky O'Hare vanished. Neal Adams told us all about the rise and fall of this rabbit.

Neal Adams: "It became a television show for one season, and then Hasbro ruined it. Now we're coming back with it."

screenshot from Bucky O' Hare and the Toad Wars episode 1 (1991)


Neal Adams: "I'll tell you how it all happened: understand that I'm a socialist in the worst way. I foment trouble. That's what I do. I look like a fireman or a cop, right? But I'm a fomentor, okay? I'm always going to be doing SOMETHING that's going to upset SOMEBODY... all the time."

"What was I going to do here? I was going to go to Europe with certain properties and go to the Frankfurt Book Fair and show the properties and sell them to one magazine or another (or a book publisher). They would buy it, and I would come back to America and I would take it to DC or Marvel comics and they would say "Oh! I like that! We'll do it as a comic book!" and I would have to say "Gee, I'd like to sell it to you as a comic book, but I can't -- I sold first-time rights in Germany... so you can buy second-time rights or third-time rights.. but you can't buy FIRST-time rights". They'd reply "What does this mean?" and I'd reply "What this means is that you DON'T own it! You can NEVER own it! But you can use it, and you can print it... but you can never own it." Like, let's say I brought Torpedo from overseas and brought it to America -- nobody in America could own it because it's owned in Europe (or the first-printing rights are owned in Europe -- which I can withdraw)."

"So this creates a problem for American publishers. American publishers WANT the first crack at it, but I'm taking Howard ChaykinMichael Golden (and other different really good artists) to Europe, selling their properties, to the first-time licensor and then bringing them back to America. So I went to people in my studio who I thought were good, intelligent and creative. I went to Larry Hama and I said "Larry, do you have any characters you'd like to do?" and he said "yeah, I've got this bunny... this rabbit... an intergalactic rabbit." I asked "well, what's he named?" and Larry replied "Buck Bunny". I said "Buck Bunny? okay... So how about writing it? I will take it to Europe and try to sell it. I will license it. I will control it. But you will OWN it." I don't own Bucky O'Hare -- Larry Hama does. I control it, which is -- for me -- better, because then I can fight people. Which is good."

panel from Bucky O' Hare #3 (1991). Art by Michael Golden.

Neal Adams: "So, we had to find an artist. Who could we find to do this? Who was the most brilliant artist I could think of? Michael Golden. It took him about a year, and he did six pages. So, I took him to Frankfurt, along with with other stuff that we did, and I presented it to this guy named 'Bilar' from Germany -- and he [Bilar] looks at it and says "Ha! Bucks Bunny? Ve haff a Bucks Bunny! Ve get it from Varner's!". Oh crap. (It did sound a little like 'Bugs Bunny', didn't it?) So, I'm in Chicago and I'm designing a show called 'Warp'. (Some of you guys may have heard about it. And if you haven't -- too bad. It doesn't matter [for this story].) So we're heading for the airport and my wife, Marilyn, looks at the sign to the airport and she says "O'Hare! O'Hare is a rabbit, too, isn't it?". I said "yes, it is... Bucky O'Hare." So that's how 'Bucky O'Hare' got his name. So now it's 'Bucky O'Hare', now I can sell it."

House ad from a Continuity Comic promoting the new TV show & Hasbro action figures.

Neal Adams: "Now we started to peddle it: we did a television show (13 episodes), we did toys, we did licensing. Between LarryMichael and myself, we made 3 million dollars... and then Hasbro pulled the plug on it because they screwed up the distribution."

Fun fact: Neal Adams co-wrote the Bucky O'Hare cartoon theme song.



To close, Neal Adams talked a bit about his plans for Deadman -- but we interviewed him BEFORE the panel about this, and he gave us a more in-depth interview -- which you can read here. He also explained the origins of the comic book Direct Market, but it's a pretty long and involved story, so we may post that at a later date. All in all, it was a very enlightening Q&A session and I learned many things I was previously unaware of.

Once again, we wanted to thank the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon and Leeja Murphy and the rest of the Agence Pink for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Neal Adams speak about the characters we grew up reading about and watching on TV throughout our youths.

-Justin Francoeur

1 comment:

  1. "you see, you guys don't necessarily know this because you're not old enough to know this -- Batman and his villains come from Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy had all these [villains]... Prune Face, Flat Top, The Blank... so when Bob Kane and Bill Finger were doing Batman, basically they stole the ideas of these crazy-weird guys from Dick Tracy. So we get the Mad Hatter, the Joker, the Penguin and all these kinda off-beat characters. A little hard to believe that a real Batman would be fighting these guys -- but you believed it with Dick Tracy, so why not Batman?"

    Maybe Neal "isn't old enough to remember", but Joker and Penguin predate Flattop and Pruneface! "Finger and Kane stole the villains from Dick Tracy" is a tired old canard that really needs to be put to rest. Gould started introducing those "crazy-weird guys" AFTER Batman came along. Time to start accepting that Bill Finger really WAS that much of a genius.

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