Neal Adams Interview
Originally published in October 2008. I asked Neal about his role in helping Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with the mid 1970s settlement for Superman. Some bits of information conflicts with Jerry’s version of events. Neal tells his version with more storytelling flair. I was also able to ask him about the Academy of Comic Book Artists, which was a short lived organized gathering of creators.
A couple of years ago I did a sit down interview with Neal Adams. We had a great hour long interview regarding his role in getting Siegel’s and Shuster’s 1970’s settlement with Time Warner and a few other topics. Sadly, I discovered my MP3 player was set up wrong and it didn’t record the interview. While at San Diego I saw Neal and he agreed to do the interview again. I also asked him questions regarding the Batman: The Dark Knight movie that had just come out just prior to the convention.
Jamie: When did you first learn about Siegel’s and Shuster’s plight?
Neal Adams: When Jerry Siegel sent a letter to various newspapers and organizations including the Academy of Comic Book Arts. I was the president of the Academy of Comic Book Arts and got the letter and read it. It was about 9 pages long and outlined everything that was happening to Jerry and Joe.
Jamie: I understand you took time off to be their representative to help them out?
Neal Adams: Well, obviously I could not be their legal representative, but it seemed like their legal representative was not getting the job done. Whatever they perceived the job to be or whatever Jerry and Joe perceived the job to be because they wrote this letter. Or Jerry wrote this letter. Clearly he was crying for help. And in crying for help he was saying they were not being helped by their lawyers who had promised they would intercede for them after a 15 year period where they were to remain silent and to depend on the legal system to return their rights to them. So the had stayed silent for those 15 years between the ages of 45 to 60 years old and now their lawyers weren’t answering their phones, according to them. They really had no answer to their question of how they would get what was promised to them.
So they called out for help. I realized that somebody had to do something about it and thought about who that somebody might be. It seemed to me that even if the newspapers responded, they would just write stories and for certain DC or Marvel wasn’t going to do anything about it. The people that owned DC weren’t going to do anything about it, I mean they might, but that was pretty much a long shot.
So really the question came down to who was going to help them? I felt I was in a better position than most people because while I was dependent on the companies for a certain portion of my income, I wasn’t fully dependent. I had a reasonable understanding of the situation finally and I could become involved. So I resolved myself the fact that this thing would not end this way and it had to end in a favorable situation. And that DC and their owners would be reluctant to deal with it that way so I had to somehow represent Jerry and Joe publicly to make the issue important. So I volunteered to do that. The boys had accepted my help, not my legal help, but my vocal help in the media and anywhere else I could get it. For the next 4 months I dedicated myself and my studio to undoing this tragedy. At the end, we did.
Jamie: I understand you got them on the Tom Snyder show?
Neal Adams: Yeah I had to go on the show myself because Tom was concerned that Jerry was too vehement and perhaps angry and Joe who was legally blind was too mellow and wonderfully pleasant. That created a kind of dichotomy between the two characters. He felt that I would be able to modify that to present a straight up story. So I appeared on the show, the boys appeared on the show and we did, I don’t know an hour or a half hour, I guess it was a half hour and discussed this. The boys appeared on a number of other shows. That sportscaster, Howard Cosell had a show at the time and they appeared on there. What I did was convince Jerry to come to New York. I hosted Joe to come in from Queens to be in these various interviews. I managed to convince the news stations that perhaps simply with petty cash they might convince the boys to stay in town long enough to get some kind of resolution to this. They cooperated to the extent that they could, they couldn’t pay them but they helped out as much as they could, so they kept the story alive. We worked pretty hard on that and like I said, we turned it around.
It took the help of the cartoonist society, it took I guess some people in the studio of good will, who helped out. In the end it turned out favourable for everybody. I told the Warner’s people from the beginning that it wasn’t necessary for this to become a controversy. They could have paid the creators of Superman the same amount of money they pay a good assistant or associate and they would be happy and there would be no problem. It wasn’t necessary to prolong this torture and make a blot on the face of the industry. And so in the end, perhaps because of pressure, perhaps because reason prevailed, they saw the wisdom of being reasonable and they agreed they would in fact not only pay the boys and give them medical insurance and give them benefits that one has when they work for a company. But they would also make them a part of their presentation of Superman, because now with the boys being taken care of they can introduce them at openings at where the movie was appearing and have them as guests at conventions. So in the end their reluctance to deal with the situation, when it turned around to being co-operative and being positive turned into a benefit to Warner’s and DC Comics. As I told them in the beginning that is what it would be.
Jamie: I remember you said before that the Tom Snyder’s show has never been rerun.
Neal Adams: Well, it’s a various odd thing. I don’t want to cast aspirations on anybody but I talked to Tom Snyder subsequently and he told me that they looked to run the show again and couldn’t find the tape. Which is… kinda odd.
Jamie: I know Jerry Robinson says he got involved after seeing them on one of the shows, thinks it was the Tom Snyder show.
Neal Adams: I think he got involved after I called him. (laughter)
Jamie: Really, you called him?
Neal Adams: Jerry Robinson was the President of the Cartoonists Society. And I decided I would enlist the aid of the Cartoonists Society and the logical thing would be to call Jerry Robinson. So I did, and asked if we could have some kind of meeting to see what the cartoonists society could do to help this situation. We had taken it quite a far distance, we had appeared on all these shows and had all these conversations and interviews. We were sort of getting to the end of the rope because Jerry had a heart condition and it really wasn’t good for him to stay away from his job and to endanger his health by staying in New York and staying under this tremendous pressure. Joe, on his part, because he was legally blind, was constantly banging his head on taxi cab doors as I was taking him from one place to another.
Jamie: Before when we talked you mentioned the Cartoonists Society got other organizations together and wrote a letter?
Neal Adams: Well, they proposed writing a letter. They had a meeting at what was called the Allied Chemical Building at the time. It was very nice. One big room with a big old table in it, a spotlight above the table, lots of space and they were having their meeting in this building and at the end of the meeting they proposed that they write a letter decrying the situation. Then they asked me if that was fine, if that was a really good idea. I kinda made a speech at that point. It was perhaps an angry speech. And I implied I suppose, that people in this room that I was speaking to, owed their living to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And that the comic book business certainly wouldn’t be what it is without Jerry and Joe. The concept of just writing a letter was not exactly what I considered to be the right amount of energy. Perhaps I said it in a little more angry way. Anyway, I got up and left. It was as I said, a rather long speech, about 15 minutes. So I said you guys do what you want to do, I’m leaving.
So on my way out there was a fellow by the door, reasonably well dressed, the place had a coat room. I was going to get my coat and there was a guy standing there. An Irish guy, or he seemed Irish to me. He stopped me and he said, “You know, that was a pretty good speech.” I said “Well, thank you but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.” He said “Well, it was a good speech anyways.” He says, “You know what you ought to do?” I said “I’m trying to do everything I can do, what you do think?” He Says, “Well you ought to hold a press conference.” I said, “Well, that would probably be a good idea but I have no idea on how to hold a press conference.” He said, “You know what building this is here?” I said, “The Allied Chemical Building on Times Square” (but it’s not the Allied Chemical Building anymore.) He said, “This is the headquarters of the International Press Corp.” I said, “Really? That’s very interesting.” And then he said, “Do you know who I am?” I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “I’m the president of the International Press Corps and if you want a press conference, you just say the word and you got it.” Whoa! So I took him by the arm gently and took him over to the Cartoonist Society and said Gentlemen this is the President of the International Press Corps and he’s offering to have a press conference for us. Within a reasonable period of time, in a few days we had a press conference. And it was.. a press conference tends to attract a lot of attention. And it did. Artists from around the country presented their point of view, some in anger, some in sympathy, and it received a lot of attention. At that point Warner’s seemed to feel that perhaps they be willing to make a deal. Not that they were reluctant to make a deal before but they seemed to be perhaps a little bit more anxious to make a deal. So we managed to put together a deal for Jerry and Joe. Maybe not the greatest deal in the world, but it certainly made it possible for Jerry and Joe to live out the rest of their lives in reasonable comfort. Which I considered to be my job.
Jamie: Do you remember what day that press conference happened?
Neal Adams: No, but you can probably look it up.
Jamie: You also told a story about putting more pressure on DC management and you going to Florida for a convention.
Neal Adams: Well, when we finally got down to negotiations and in the lawyers office there seemed to be problems on whether Jerry and Joe were going to get their names back on the strip. I had been very quiet about it because negotiations were going on between lawyers and business men. I noted that people were overlooking certain things. The representative for Warner’s asked me if there was a problem? I said, “No, but I think Jerry and Joe’s name ought to go back on the strip.” They said, “No, that’s not going to happen.” I said, “Well, I think it ought to.” So the question came up if that was a deal breaker. I agreed that in fact, it wasn’t a deal breaker. Jerry and Joe were too exhausted from this process that they had gone through to stop it, so I wasn’t going to make this a big deal.
I had a plan. Because I realized this whole thing was going to go south, the idea of putting their names back on. So I went back to my studio. I had been invited to go to Florida for a convention. So I talked to Jerry Robinson. I told Jerry, “Look Jerry, tomorrow you’re going to get some phone calls from the newspapers and probably from Warner’s.” He said, “Why are they going to call me?” I said “Well, because I’m going to be gone.” He said “What do you mean gone?” I said “Well I’m going to disappear.” He said “What do you mean?” I said, “Well I’m just going to go to Florida for a convention but I’m not going to tell anybody where I’m going. I’m just going to be… gone.” And I said, “And you’re going to get some phone calls.” [Jerry says] “What about?” [Adams says] “Well, you’ll see.”
So what I did then was, the newspapers were calling me to find out what was going on. I announced to them that the deal had been made, we’re fine. They said, “You’re happy, everything is fine?” I said, “Well, just about.” [Reporters] “What do you mean just about?” [Adams] “Well, In the end DC Comics and Warner’s have not agreed to allow Jerry’s and Joe’s names to go back on to the comic book character they created.” The newspaper guys would say, “Well how do you feel about that?” I’d say, “Well, how could I be happy about that? It’s their strip, they created it. It’s not going to cost the publishers anything to have their name on it, it’s just recognition that they created it. I don’t understand what the problem is.” They said, “Why are you letting it happen?” I said, “Well Jerry and Joe are in ill health and I can’t make it an issue, but I think it’s a damn shame.” After about 4 or 5 phone calls like that I went home, got on a plane and flew down to Florida.
So about mid-morning I’m with Jack Kirby with my family and his family and we’re in the lobby of the hotel and somebody comes running over with a phone. Said it was Jerry Robinson on the phone. So I got on the phone with Jerry and said, “So Jerry, what’s happening?” He said, “Go sit down.” [Adams] “Why?” He [Jerry] said, “Go sit down.” Fine, I go and sit down in a chair. He says, “Let me tell you about my morning.” He says, “Turns out all the reporters in town have been calling him and apparently Warner’s asking what’s this idea about their names not being on the strip.” I said, “Well I don’t know, I said the deal can go ahead. I just mentioned it along the way.” Well, he had just got a call from the Warner’s guy, who told him Neal Adams had disappeared from the face of the earth. And he’s been calling all morning because reporters keep calling and asking him about what’s going on about Jerry and Joe not having their name on the strip? And it’s not going to cost anybody anything? Why is it important? Why are they doing this? Why are they making them sign this contract? So he’s [Jerry] talking to the guy [Warner’s] saying “What’s going on? Where’s Neal?” [Jerry] “I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know where he is.” [Warner’s] “Well, maybe you can help us. Maybe we can work something out and help settle the newspaper guys.” Jerry said, “I think you’re talking to the wrong guy. You’ve got to remember, I’m the President of the Cartoonist Society. We have syndicated comic strip artists all of which sign their name to their work. So I don’t think there is anybody I know that wouldn’t be in sympathy with the idea of Jerry and Joe getting their name on their strip again. I really think you’re talking to the wrong person, I can’t help you there. If anything, we are totally against this idea.” So the guy at Warner’s said, “Okay. Their names are on the strip again. Are you happy now?” Jerry said, “Well, we’re almost happy.” [Warner’s] “What do you mean, almost happy?” He [Jerry] said “You know, the guys have been through a lot. Wouldn’t it be nice, before they started receiving their money they got a little bonus to pay for their expenses, for the trouble they’ve been through the last several months.” [Warner’s] “What number were you thinking of Jerry?” Jerry named a number. The guy at Warner’s said “Fine. Anything else?” [Jerry] “No, I think that about covers it.” So Jerry managed to put the icing on the cake. Me, I was in Florida having breakfast with Jack Kirby and got to tell him the whole story.
Jamie: I know that you were involved with the Academy of Comic Book Artists. How did that start?
Neal Adams: I think there was a lot of rumbling going on in the field. There was union talk and other talk and the truth is, it was Jim Warren who came up with the idea. He thought there ought to be a group, an academy. Maybe he did it to stop the complaints going on, maybe it did it to show he was a good guy, I don’t know why. So it was really Jim Warren who started the whole idea and everybody agreed. Unfortunately or fortunately the publisher sorta tried to make themselves a part of it. In fact Stan Lee was the first President involved. Which seemed a little strange to everybody. It put a lot of pressure everybody. But Stan insisted he was a freelancer like everybody else. Nobody quite agreed with that, but after all he was in charge of hiring and firing 50% of the people in the business so one could hardly argue with Stan Lee. After he was no longer president, Dick Giordano became President and I was the 3rd President. All through that time we got things going. I did an awful lot of the work because I’m kinda a work horse. And I can’t say that Stan did anything. Stan was a figurehead, and a good figurehead in my opinion. The work, as usual, was rested on me.
Jamie: What were the things that was accomplished through the organization?
Neal Adams: We didn’t really accomplish much with the organization. The things we did accomplish were intangibles tangibles. First of all we put a shock and a scare through all the publishers. Because when people started organizing and getting together, the nature of doing that does scare the management. So we gained a certain amount of respect with the publishers. In fact there was a dispute between Marvel and DC Comics and they called upon us to settle it, and we did. We called a meeting and settled the dispute. I don’t actually remember what the dispute was at the moment, but that’s kind of strange if you can imagine, a freelance organization being in a position of settling a dispute. Another thing we did was during our first meeting, one of things I did was I went around and told everybody what my page rate was. Nobody wanted to talk about what their page rate was, but once they discovered what my page rate was they were able to compare page rates, they then made demands on their editors and publishers that they should be paid at least as much as Neal Adams. So when you form an organization like that you can’t easily make a super point about a solid thing like we went on strike and we got this. We couldn’t go on strike. But there were things that happened because people were listening to us. We were making changes within the group. Everybody was meeting one another that hadn’t met before. Jack Kirby had never met Joe Sinnott. So there’s these intangibles that you can’t easily codify but in fact were very, very important.
Jamie: DC contracts. I know DC is has been reprinting a bunch of your work.
Neal Adams: What do you want to know?
Jamie: I know when DC published Deadman reprints with your name on it…
Neal Adams: Well, what happened was DC was nice enough to pay me an additional royalty for using my names on the books. I say nice enough. Well, yeah, nice enough to capitulate at the end of a series of discussions. In which I never got angry. But they were still nice enough to work with me. And I think that’s a new attitude with DC comics. I think DC has gotten a lot more human, a lot better at doing business with individuals. And as a result they are now going to a project I call, printing all the rest of my crap. Which they call, DC Classics. So all the other stuff that didn’t appear in either Deadman, Green Lantern and Batman is going to appear in these three volumes. It’s pretty nice.
Jamie: Before you talked about lawyers and moral rights versus legal rights.
Neal Adams: I don’t think lawyers know very much about moral rights so I guess it’s not exactly a topic that I strenuously get involved in discussing. Lawyers seem to be, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to have that switch in their psyche that says even though this may be legal, it’s not right, and I ought to back away from this because it’s wrong. Right and wrong seem to be gray in the law. So a lawyer will more likely depend on the law rather than what’s right. I don’t think this is true, always with all lawyers, but it is a standard of the business of lawyering. To allow the bending of morality, their judgment of right and wrong to be satisfied by if it’s okay in the law. You see it on television all the time. You see television shows about legal firms who think it’s okay for somebody to get an award for, and use the word award as if it was some kind of prize, of an amount of money that is unrealistically high compared to the offense. So that the law firm may receive such a large percentage of that. So it’s not up to me to make these kinds of judgments that, when you watch these television shows. If the goal becomes to make lawyers rich and that’s the way it’s reflected on television shows, live in fancy apartments and drive fancy cars and to smoke cigars on their balconies, if that’s the goal of the legal business, that’s hard to believe it is a good system. It’s a very, very bad system. Making lawyers rich and destroying the lives of companies and individuals in unfair proportion makes no sense. I don’t know why. It’s sort of like when I was a kid they made the lottery unlawful and people were arrested and put in jail and then they made it legal, then had the state run it, and it paid for the educational system, especially in New York, and therefore it became okay. So why were all those people thrown in jail? I don’t know how that makes sense. I don’t know how people who spend their families’ money on the lottery are justified in participating in gambling on a regular basis. I just find it very odd that morality slides around so much under a system that’s essentially run by lawyers. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Jamie: What are you doing with Continuity Studios lately?
Neal Adams: We’re doing a lot of work on the Internet. We’re doing CGI animation. New forms of what we call Animatics for the Internet that’s kind of an animation. We’re really busy producing what’s called content for the Internet. I wish we could put our signature on it all the time so when you are on the Internet and you see an animation of a refrigerator or interactive game play for selling or involving you in a new company’s product that we could say, “Hey! That’s ours.” But you really can’t at this point do that. We’re all over the place. Very few things are like comic books where you do your thing, sign your name and everybody knows you did it. Most everything else is kind of a group effort.
Jamie: Last question here. Did you see the new Batman movie and what did you think?
Neal Adams: I did and I loved it. It is based on to a lesser degree than I might appreciate on, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” [Originally published in Batman #251]. Or at least that’s what the author of the story says. So it would be really hard for me not to like it. Also I believe in stories as stories and not just vehicles for superheroes to knock down buildings, or to dress up in funny costumes. So I would have to say this is my kind of Batman, probably, MY Batman.