You began working in comics right out of high school in 1959. How did you manage that?
I was lucky enough to go to an art high school, [so] I was able to get out of high school as a skilled professional. Unfortunately, I tried to earn a living doing comic books. Everybody who was doing comic books at the time told me that they were going to be out of business in a year. They suggested that I do something else with my life. But I didn’t listen.
You worked for both DC and Marvel. How were they different?
They are very much alike now, but early on there was just Stan Lee at Marvel. At DC, they had, say, five editors and writers, and the writers wrote scripts. … Marvel had the smallest office you could ever imagine. Stan had a corner room that was as small as you could be in and still move your legs. He had a production room that was nothing, a place where they kept supplies and there was Flo Steinberg sitting up front saying, “You can’t go and see Stan, I’m sorry, he’s very busy.” And that was Marvel. DC Comics had regular offices with rooms and shit and the president of the company and a big production room and it was a real official place. They were totally different.
What were the comics themselves like?
DC Comics was looking at Superman and saying, “You guys who are doing the cowboy stuff and the Flash Gordon stuff—go do superheroes.” And so all the superheroes they were creating were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and they had shiny teeth. They [had] intended to be heroes all their lives—they’re like grown-up cops.
When [comic book artist] Jack Kirby came to Stan Lee in 1961 or whenever the hell that was, he suggested the idea: “Why don’t we take your horror stories or your monster stories and turn them into hero comics?” Take the four [characters] that go up into space and they get affected by gamma rays, and they come down and they turn into monsters. Why don’t we make the monsters into heroes? Which was the opposite of what DC Comics was doing. These are flawed, practically monstrous heroes. Almost every hero at Marvel comics at the beginning was an asshole, if you’ll excuse the expression. Iron Man was a guy who had a bad heart and he was a big-time jerk.… The Hulk is clearly a monster, he just smashes everything. Ant Man was a jealous husband who beat his wife. Spider-Man was such a jerk that he got his Uncle Ben killed. You’re talking about real jerky assholes, as opposed to DC Comics, where everybody’s teeth gleamed.
You helped revive Batman in the 1970s. How did that happen?
We had that TV show, which everybody loved—God knows it was a wonderful show—but it wasn’t Batman. It was satire. When the satire ended, for the comic book company to keep any of that aspect was—what’s the word?—stupid. Because Batman wasn’t a satire; Batman was a reality-based comic book superhero. So I went into my editor, Julius “Julie” Schwartz, and I said, “I’d like to do Batman.” He said, “Get the hell out my office.” “But, Julie, I just want to do a Batman story like Murray Boltonoff!” He was editing a book called The Brave and the Bold, and Batman would show up with other characters: Batman and Deadman or Batman and Aquaman—it was called a teen book, so I volunteered to do this teen book. Murray said, “Do you want to change the scripts?” and I said, “No, so long as I can have the stuff happen at night and not in the daytime, and as long as Batman doesn’t come through the door and say, ‘Hi! I’m here!’ but he comes through a window, or comes out of a closet or comes out of the darkness. So long as I can do that, I’ll be fine.”
What do you think of current controversial character reboots such as female Thor or gay Green Lantern?
They’re experiments, and experiments, as anybody in science will tell you, are worthy. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it’s going to go—it’s simply a concept. … Remember, we’re in a fantasy form, we can do whatever we want. The only question would be: Why don’t we? Of course we should do it, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you know what your base is and go back to it anytime you want to.
What is your favorite comic that you’ve done?
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali that I did in the late ’70s only to be [surpassed] by Batman Odyssey, my latest and greatest. It’s a book, 325 pages and eight pages before the end of it you see Batman with a gun seemingly blowing the chest out of the Sensei and, as you know and I know, that can’t happen. So something must have happened in those 300 pages, and Neal must have done something with those last six pages to get us out of that.
Neal Adams will appear at the Las Vegas Convention Center, April 24-26, WizardWorld.com.