Day 1 of Toronto ComiCon 2015. Legendary comic artist Neal Adams tried to sell me a comic book today.
Upon introduction, he handed my card back to me and said, “Listen, you wanna know the best book on this table?” He holds up a copy of Batman Odyssey. “Why? Because it’s the only f**king book here, that’s why. The others are just comics and what store is going to survive on 3.99 each? Wave of the future, my friend.”
Neal Adams had just identified the success of the hardcover graphic novel to me.
Adams definitely has a practiced sales pitch associated with his book. It makes you wonder what sort of a cut he’s getting if he has to boost his revenue by charging $20 for autographing it, though. I listened as he opened the book and described a beautiful two page inset of Batman holding the Sensei of the League of Assassins … and blowing out his spine with a Glock 9 mm.
Adams relaunches into his pitch at this point about “if you know anything about Batman” – and he does because he’s Neal Adams – “Batman doesn’t use a gun. And why is Batman using a gun?” he asks.
And his answer?
“Because I’m Neal F**king Adams!”
There’s hubris and then there’s hubris. Neal gets to boast about his accomplishments and talent because, to be fair, he is Neal F**king Adams. If he wants Batman to sell out his principles and use a gun, then that’s his prerogative. It’s his work, but there’s an unspoken boundary to how much he is allowed to go over the line without losing creative integrity. He’s an indisputably spectacular talent and in Larry Hama’s words, a “machine.”
Still, it’s a large world with a lot of spectacular talent out there. So some degree of attempted decorum is expected. Or at least fake it, maybe.
I was taken aback. But Neal mistook my surprise at the blunt force of his comments as a reaction to the two page spread.
“And your face looks just like these people here.” He turned the page to reveal characters who had just watched Batman use a gun to murder someone. “And now that image is seared forever into your mind.”
Now, I own a ton of Neal Adams’ work as any decent comic collector does, and the man is quite simply a legend. I was excited to meet him. But the situation made me uncomfortable because I personally dislike the hard sell approach in any situation. And I have to be honest: the encounter kicked off this year’s Toronto ComiCon for me on a somewhat uninspiring note.
I walked away feeling a bit jaded after having been force-fed a quick serving of ego-laced cynicism.
What happened to this artist? I remember the idealistic stories of Neal Adams, the fighter for artists’ rights, and expected somebody more idealistic and inspiring than the sarcastic film-flam man who was trying to hard sell his hardcover graphic novel to me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying he’s a bad guy at all. I’m sure he’s great, and as I’ve already said, I’ve bought a lot of his work and have always admired him for the bold beauty of his work. I’ve also respected his historical stance on copyright issues and protecting artists’ creative initiatives. He was one of the firsts to be heard and he also needs to be recognized as an artist who has had a lifetime career of providing for his family in this business, and that is no mean feat to accomplish.
What I took away from my meeting with him, after thinking about it, was that what appeared to be Neal’s cynicism might be a natural byproduct of his efforts in the industry. His career has spanned over fifty years and you can’t remain forever idealistic, certainly not in this tough business. Hell, I’ve been in mine for only 12 and even I feel the weight of my work pressing down on me at times. But when I think about the new generation of fans who are just beginning to read comics, artists could at least feign a degree of positivism for their sake. Don’t push a $60 book into their hands and tell them that the other, more accessible comics are s**t. Inspire them to read comics by other, up-and-coming comic creators who haven’t had the benefit of a 50 year career.
After a few minutes, I realized I needed a picture of him for the article. I walked back and saw Neal holding open the same two page spread of Batman: Odyssey he had shown me to another comic fan wanting to meet with this icon.
Out of the corner of his eye, Neal saw me approach. It didn’t interrupt his sales pitch in the slightest. Of course, it was the same thing he had just rattled to me moments before:
“And why is Batman using a gun?”
Adams was right in one sense, but it wasn’t the image of the gunshot that was seared into my mind: it was the sound.
I think that was why I didn’t buy the book. Despite being a fan.