ISSUE #22: The Adams Family

Welcome again, good hunters, to another week of Cover Tunes. So sorry for the slight delay, this week. I had a ton to get through in order to put together what I hope is an article that was worth the wait. Last week’s issue on strong women covers saw some great comments by you all and I hope you will continue the trend, this week. It is a genuine pleasure to read and respond to you all. This week, please, let me know your thoughts and while doing so, tell me what your favorite Neal Adams cover is (whether or not you actually own it).

This week, as you no doubt have already guessed, we get right to it with the discussion of a legend; Neal Adams. I thought about titling this issue “THE BIGGEST  BOOTH AT THE CON,” but decided against being snarky. Neal Adams deserves my respect as, in my opinion, he is one of the major players in bringing forth the modernization of comics and, more specifically, the collecting of cover art.  

In a slight change in format, this week, rather than speak about each of my cover choices, individually, I will intersperse them throughout a running monologue of thoughts. As a note, even though I cannot feature one of Adams’ most compelling covers (because it is decidedly NOT a PG-rated cover), I highly encourage you all to seek out the following…

 

[Picture Inappropriate for Posting]

***BONUS***

0. Star*Reach #2 (1974 Series)

PUBLISHED: Star*Reach Productions – April, 1975.

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: This is one of my favorite covers of all time.

Every line is sexy, sleek and perfect.  

 

Anyhow, these days, I often run into collectors who are hunting for spurious covers by Adam Hughes, Artgerm, Josh Middleton, etc. and it seems folks don’t care too much about what happens in the interiors of those books. I can’t necessarily argue with that and I am often a sucker for the same thing (especially for those three aforementioned artists). I certainly have the comics I buy for the covers, the ones I purchase for investment and those I get to read. It is part of the DNA of comic collecting. We are just drawn to cover art. Long before the cover hunters were out there sifting through bins for sexy Catwoman covers, though, they were (and still are) hunting for Neal Adams covers.  

 

1. The Phantom Stranger #14 (1969 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – July/August, 1971

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: Early prototype for the Swamp Thing.

 

With that in mind, almost every cover ever done by Neal Adams could, therefore, be considered a key and rightly so. Let’s just get that out of the way and understand that very rarely will one find books sporting his art in high grade for low prices. At least not those from the first 10 or 15 years of his career, anyway.

Those 10 or 15 years from the late 1960’s into the early 1980’s are where collectors generally focus. This is the sweet spot for Adams’ best work and where the majority of his most famous covers reside. As such, that era of Adams is one that many budget-conscious collectors ignore with the thought that the entire cannon is financially out of reach. As we are exploring, here, nothing could be further from the truth.   

 

2. House of Secrets #90 (1956 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – February/March, 1971

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: Note the use of masterful depth-of-field employed, here.

 

Adams has had, over the years, various issues that are considered grails by many. Inasmuch, many of his “next tier” covers are also out of the question for most budgets. But don’t be glum. If you still love Neal’s work, there are plenty of low-priced alternatives that are just as nice (or nicer) than some of his keys. In mid-grade condition, they can be snagged for under $20. Lower-grades can be gotten for under $10. Thus, if you want some legendary art and can be satisfied with less-than-high-grade, there are some real gems to unearth.

Adams’ art stands out. When one hunts through a longbox, it is pretty easy to pick his covers out of a lineup even if unsure that they are, in fact, by him. Mostly, his style in unique because of interesting perspectives; often dramatic up-angles or sharp aerial viewpoints. There is emotion and mood for miles in the majority of them and the linework is crisp, clean and sharp.  

 

3. The Witching Hour #13 (1969 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – February/March, 1971

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: Note the feel of animation with the face as the background and the “skull-fly” as the animated element. A brilliant 3D effect that gives a sense of motion and heightened emotion.

4. House of Mystery #179 (1951 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – March/April, 1969

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: This issue contains Bernie Wrightson’s earliest work (3 pages) and can therefore be a little tough to find.

 

In fact, that clean linework is paramount to the success of Adams’ pieces. The earlier half of Neal’s work exists prior to modern colorization processes. For the majority of other artists, this often revealed great flaws in their art, but not for Adams. This fact is probably the key reason why Adams covers stand out amongst those of his contemporaries. The simplicity of the color process during the 1960’s and 1970’s actually allowed Adams’ pencils to ring out rather than hide in muddied waters. This lends a darker tone to the work, especially on Neal’s horror title work.

 

5. The Unexpected #110 (1968 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – December/January, 1968/1969

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: Perhaps some of Adams’ best use of light and shadow, here.

 

Perhaps just as integral to Adams’ greatness is his understanding of the figure. Again, unlike other artists of the time who were blocky and rigid, Adams employed a kind of fluidity to the figural work and the over exaggeration of various body traits that was prevalent in the genre at the time was not present in Adams’ work. There was a realism and a focus more on mood and emotion than there was on gratuitous glorification.

 

6. From Beyond the Unknown #3 (1969 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – February/March, 1970

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: A rare foray into space-themed covers from Adams that harkens back to Sci-Fi paperback pulp novels.

 

Adams, himself, has described himself as a “drawing artist” rather than a “fine artist.” I’m not sure I’d wholly agree with such a humble statement, but it is difficult to argue against Adams being the penultimate commercial “comic artist.” Having broken the early conventions of comic art – the “silent rules” as they were termed – he was not instantly embraced by the industry. In his first attempt to join the team at DC, he was told there was “no room” in the industry for anyone new.

So, Adams made a name for himself at Archie and subsequently on newspaper strips until he attempted, yet again, to join the team at DC. At first, he worked more as a freelancer for DC and also, during this time, approached Stan Lee where he did his most notable Marvel work on X-Men (helping to fend off its impending cancellation for a time). Later, even though the bulk of his work has historically been for DC, he would work with Marvel off and on for various singleton covers.

 

7. Dracula Lives #3 (1973 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics (Curtis Imprint) – October, 1973

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: My one magazine-sized entry for this article, it is worth noting that Adams did a variety of work for other magazines such as covers for Epic Illustrated and interiors for Creepy and Eerie.

 

After this period, DC finally took in the young Adams where he carried out the bulk of his work on the various horror titles in the DC stable and eventually settled in on Superman-related and Batman-related titles. In fact, Adams is instrumental in gaining back the rights to the Superman character for its original creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a crusade that Neal was quite passionate about. The rights of creator-owned properties has always been a focus for him. Additionally, during this time, It was his work on Batman that transformed the once-campy character into the darker, more mood-driven Batman that we have all come to expect (and love).

 

8. Batman #221 (1940 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – May, 1970

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: Just a freakin’ amazing cover and it still sells cheap (a rarity for Bats and Tec books from Adams). Go get one!

 

9. Action Comics #398 (1938 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – March, 1971

ARTIST: Neal Adams

NOTE: The strength, movement and figural line work is just as strong (or better) than his more famous Action covers, but for a fraction of the price.

 

I could go on for weeks on the work of Neal Adams, but suffice it to say, not a bin-dive goes by where I’m not searching for at least one of his covers. Soon, I look forward to getting a commission done by him. Even at his higher price point, I feel it is still a bargain and important to own the work of a legend. When I do, I will be quite proud to display it prominently.

With that, my fine readers, I leave you for another week. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the career of Neal Adams and wish you luck in finding some of these and other covers by him in your travels. Until next time, please sound off in the comments section, thank you for reading and happy hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

13 comments

  • Dan Piercy

    Dang, that Dracula Lives cover is awesome. Don’t think I could pick a fav; I’m partial to his work in the seventies.

  • Martin Fairlie

    Great article. It’s a shame that he almost gets overlooked by new collectors nowadays. His overall body of work should be enough to keep him at the forefront of collectors minds.

    • Mike Morello

      Martin, I agree. I think many modern collectors are searching more for status and/or the quick buck. Prices on Adams work falls into either the really expensive or the fairly cheap realm. Since the majority of his best work is older, prices have largely settled in and, as such, there are no fluctuations nor is there meat on the bone. This makes those collectors ignore work that they should be appreciating for its merit as art rather than its potential for profit.

      People snag all the Hughes, Middleton, etc. that they find in the hopes that the NEXT hot book will be the one they just found for a dollar. This is not likely to happen with Adams covers. They are what they are and worth what they’re worth, already. For a collector like me, that is a good thing. It allows me to set my sights on the favorites I can afford and perhaps stretch for one or two more pricey favorites and not worry about how they are affected by the spec market.

      Thanks, so much, for the great comment and the compliment.

  • Avatar

    Great article as usual. I am always amazed how many covers from the seventies I am drawn to just find out they are Adams covers. His Superman covers are the only Superman books I try and collect. Batman 227 is one my top bronze age “books to own”

    • Mike Morello

      I agree… 227 is my must have as well. I didn’t answer my own question in the article, but it is my all-time favorite Adams cover. Sadly, I don’t own one, yet.

  • Avatar

    Great article Mike, I always look forward to them. Neal Adams is the man!

  • Avatar

    Pre-80’s Neal Adams work is the best. I think he was one of the first artists in the collecting hobby whose work on just covers or interiors of weak titles bumped up prices notably back in the late 70’s and early 80’s more so than any other artist (like Kirby, Ditko, Kane, Romita, Infantino, etc.) for non-Key issues, just by featuring artwork by Neal Adams.

    • Mike Morello

      I absolutely agree. The current trend of “covers only” can probably be attributed to Adams. While the other legends you mention are amazing in their own rights, they did not create that trend. They were a piece of the puzzle. Adams was the whole puzzle.

  • Avatar

    Very good article. I like these covers. Thanks for sharing

  • Avatar

    Many amazing covers by Adams. I have a great appreciation for his work and it shows in my PC.

  • Avatar

    Adams didn’t start the cover trend. Many Golden Age books were keys solely for their covers.

    Also, “penultimate” means “second to last.”

    • Mike Morello

      You are absolutely right. It is a pet peeve of mine when writers and speakers misuse words. I sincerely hate that I’ve done that, here. Rather than say “second to last,” I was actually thinking more of ” second to none.” This is a mistake I shall not repeat. (I feel like my Father just watched me run and win a 26-mile marathon and then, at the end, say to me, “you stumbled at mile 25, son. You should have tied your shoes tighter.” Haha!)

      I hope there was some aspect of my article you enjoyed. It takes many hours for us writers to sift through, compile and condense this information for the hope of reader enjoyment. We do strive to provide well-written, accurate and provocative content in our various columns. We thank you for your continued support.

      To your other point, I will say that, while many golden age books have since become keys because of their covers, it is very much a retroactive behavior. What one must remember is that during the actual Golden Age, comics were an ephemeral medium. They were treated like glorified newspapers or magazines and published very cheaply and in large numbers. As such, while kids “collected” them, they were not taken as a serious collectible until the 1960’s. By that time, the art of many of the Golden age artists seemed silly and tired and it was artists like Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson and the like that transformed the medium into a legitimate collectable upon their release rather than decades later. As a matter of fact, Adams was hired onto books on more than one occasion specifically to revive titles that were failing due to poor interior content. The hope was that his covers would be so good that consumers would be blinded by them and ignore the failing story inside. Those aforementioned artists revolutionalized the way comics were printed and presented and quite literally invented new printing techniques in order to highlight specific covers of theirs. It was no longer just a kid pulp throw-away. This trend continues today with such artists as Campbell, Hughes, Lee, etc. and is one of the main reasons for the survival of the industry.

      Additionally, even the Golden Age covers that are collected today are rarely to do with chasing an artist (other than perhaps artists like Schomburg and Kirby). Inasmuch, it is only the spurious cover (rather than the art itself) that is sought after either because of character (like Captain America) or content (such as “good girl” or “bondage”).

      With that said, there are a ton of Golden Age comics I’d love to own merely because of the covers. The collecting of GA is very much alive and thriving, these days (and for huge money).

      I very much appreciate the comment and your taking the time to read all the way down to the word “penultimate.”

  • Ben Steiniger

    Nice Mike! These are some great ones

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