With Neal Adams’ Batman: Odyssey now in stores (of which you can see issue #1′s beautiful cover above) I’ve been taken back to a little over a year ago when I, portfolio in hand, attended the New York Comic-Con in 2009 and threw myself at the mercy of Mr. Adams himself. Well known in comic book circles as an extremely harsh critic, my friend (and Bit For Byte co-conspirator) Mark Robson suggested that I take my stuff to his booth and ask for a critique of my artwork.
These are the events that transpired that day as I remember them.
A little background first.
It’s not secret that I’ve wanted to be a comic book artist for about as long as I can remember. I honestly believe that breaking into the market is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when;” of “when will my craft be at a sufficiently high level for that to happen” to be precise. At this point in time, there’s plenty of room for improvement in that regard and I don’t feel I’m quite there yet and I certainly didn’t feel like I was ready for it a year ago. Nonetheless, I wanted to get my artwork viewed by people from within the industry in hopes of getting some helpful insight or critiques from them. That was the whole reason behind me going to NYCC ’09, my first comic convention, in the first place.
Below are three of the eight or so pages I carried with me to the convention:
Some of it holds up today and some of it doesn’t but it’s more or less the best I could muster at the time. Like I said earlier, I had spoken with Mark and he suggested that I take my work to Neal Adams’ booth and ask for a critique. I was well aware of Neal Adams’ reputation as a harsh and brutally honest critic, which I’m guessing is exactly why Mark thought it’d be a critique worth having, so decided to give it a shot.
After circling the booth a couple of times, I finally got the courage to approach one of the persons there and I asked if it’d be possible to get Neal Adams to look at my work. The immediate response (paraphrased, of course) from the girl in question was: “Are you sure you want to do that? You know he made Frank Miller cry, right?” This put me in a weird space where I’m thinking: ”Fuck, DO I really want to do this?” and I had more than enough time to ponder this because Neal was away at the time and I was told to come back later if I really wanted him to look at my work.
Naturally, all this waiting just increased my nervousness but I walked it off in the con floor and I returned to Neal Adams’ booth about an hour later and, sure enough, I saw him there this time around, talking to somebody. I approached the girl I had spoken to earlier to let her know that I hadn’t changed my mind and she called another guy over and he basically said: “Listen, he’s an extremely harsh ciritc but if you have the balls for it, just walk right up to him,” so I did just that. No turning back now.
He was talking to somebody as I said, but he saw me and asked me what I wanted. I said I was looking for a critique of my work and, after giving me a look of “here comes another,” he told me to wait until he was finished with his conversation. Within that time frame, I ran just about every conceivable scenario of how this could go about through my head but, again, no turning back now. Once he was finished, he turned at me and asked to look my stuff. Game time.
I arranged my pages so that I had 2-3 pin-ups at the top followed by the actual storytelling pages. He barely got to the second pin-ups when he said: “Where are the pages?” So yeah, that thing about pin-ups being useless to editors, critics and whatnot? Totally true. But I told him to just keep going and he got to the comic book pages soon after that. He carefully looked at the first page and said nothing. He carefully looked at the second page and said nothing. This was driving me insane, mind you, but upon reaching the third page he pointed at one of the figures and said: “Does this look normal to you? Show me somebody that looks like this,” and with that he was off.
What followed was perhaps one of the most intense critiques I’ve ever been subjected to though it might perhaps be more appropriate to call it a monologue. It’s been a over year since it happened so it’s difficult to remember some of the details but I’ll try to describe, as best as I can, what I gathered from Neal Adams’ critique that day. Just be aware that there’s a lot of paraphrasing from here on and it’s entirely possible for me to have completely misinterpreted some of Neal’s points.
One of the main arguments he put forth is that “no style” is what I should be striving for. To better explain this, he used himself as an example and said that whenever his work is distinguishable as “Neal Adams’ work,” that there’s room for improvement. Maybe he was trying to say that I shouldn’t hide behind “style” to cover up flaws (which is a sentiment I can totally get behind) but I sometimes think about what he said in regards to that and I question whether he was thinking much bigger than that. Was he trying to say that a piece becomes something larger when freed from its own artist’s stylistic imprint? Either way, he made it abundantly clear that he favors a more realistic, Western style of comics over something more stylized which confused me many months later when I read an interview where he speaks fondly of Chris Bachalo’s work. But I digress.
In speaking of the “style” issue, I also feel that he may have made one too many big assumptions about myself and what kind of artist inspires me. For example, he brought up Greg Capullo a couple of times to illustrate his points, implying that I followed or liked his work when, in reality, he’s an artist I have zero love or admiration for. I think that, for him to bring up such a specific artist, he must’ve assumed I was a fan of bloated, nineties comic book artwork and that’s not really true. I mean, I love me some Jim Lee but that’s about as far as my love for 90′s artists goes. I did grow up reading comics in that era and perhaps there’s an imprint of that 90′s mindset in my own work (which might be where his assumption comes from), but among the comic book artists I really admire are the likes of Steranko and Gibbons and Bolland and, perhaps more than any of those, freakin’ Neal Adams himself! Needless to say, I was bewildered by his constant bringing up of Capullo.
I will say that, without a doubt, what was most important and resonated and stuck with me the most was him speaking of the necessity to take my artwork very seriously and to dedicate myself to it completely. He suggested that I draw from photographs and body building magazines to understand musculature. That I set up interesting lighting scenarios and draw from those. That I get friends to model for me. He was adamant about this stuff and he likened what I was doing, and I will probably never in my life forget this, to simply masturbating as opposed to fostering an actual love relationship. It’s such a strange analogy to use and make of it what you will but yeah, I think I get it.
It’s funny but thinking back on it, I find that I got more of Neal Adams as an individual and an artist than I did of the failings and/or successes of my artwork from that critique. I will question his stance on style until the day I die because, as they say, variety is the spice life but, as much admiration as I had for Neal Adams prior to that critique, I’ve accrued an utmost respect for him as an artist because of it. His talk about an artist having to work for his craft and not the other way around is a true eye opener even though, I’m embarassed to admit, I still haven’t been pushing that as far as I could.
And he took his time. He didn’t speak for just five minutes and then sent me on my way. He was talking to me for at least 20-30 minutes. He gave up his time to talk to this kid he’d never seen before about art and why it’s important and I’ll always be appreciative of that. And, for all the warnings and horror stories prior to me walking up to him, he wasn’t all that bad. I mean yeah, he was cocky but I think changing the face of comics gives him that right. And sure, when some kid walked up to the booth, saw my artwork and said to me: “Is that yours? Hey, that’s really good,” Adams was quick to reply: “Don’t tell him that,” but, at the end of the day? He never made me feel like my artwork was shit or that I’d never make it as a comic book artist. He didn’t throw my pages in my face and told me to eat shit and die like I was half-expecting him to at that point. True, he doesn’t mince words but I never felt like anything he said was just for the sake of being mean.
I went to art school and I quickly noticed that, save for maybe 1 or 2 of my professors, there exists a fair amount of pandering during critiques. Maybe it’s to not discourage people from pursuing art (thus keeping the art school business going perhaps) but that doesn’t help me get better at my craft. In that sense, Neal Adams’ critique was, if not the best, then perhaps one of the most important critiques I’ve ever had in my life.Posted on July 31, 2010 in Comics |