A Tribute to the of

Just before the anniversary edition of the Sage hit the web, the bad news began to spread that Neal Adams had passed away. That is a sad sentence to type out, folks.

Neal, as some of you may remember, was my 6th interviewee back in 2007, the year I began the interviews and really went on a tear, pulling off 17 of them before year’s end. While Neal was the 6th, he was only the 4th creator I actually spoke to, so I was still learning my way, but a few things are indelibly locked into my mind. One was his friendliness and accessibility. I still remember nervously composing the email with, “Carmine sent me.” Yes, that Carmine. He’d asked me during our conversation whether I’d talked to Neal. Well, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could. “Tell him I sent you.” It worked.

When I got him on the line, I could actually hear him smiling on the phone and it helped put me at ease. Another great memory was when I made some comment about comics being modern mythology and he replied, “Ah. You’re a writer. I can tell.” Nothing like having Neal Adams call you a writer when it’s something you’ve been aspiring toward. I also remember hitting him with a question that actually made him pause for a moment, leading me to believe it wasn’t in the usual list he’d heard many, many times before.

“What would people be surprised to learn about you?”

I’m not the pain in the ass they say I am.

The truth is, what happens is that history has a way of coloring things so that is seems as though when you put all the things together that things are a given way when in fact, they were nothing like that. One has the impression that I was just a maniac running around causing problems and getting people upset and fighting and carrying signs and shit. None of that is true. The most I would ever do; I would go and have a private conversation with say Carmine or Stan or whatever and I’d say some things that perhaps they should think about and consider. They were throwing away the Alex Toth stories and the Tomahawk stories and the color guides that the staffers would use because they didn’t give a crap and raised the quality of the color up so that it was recognizably better.

I was really quite mellow and contrary to what people might think, people at DC would call me Smiley. Oh, there would be days when, “What the hell’s going on? He brought in this drug cover.” Now we had this meeting and before we went into the meeting I said, “Look, I’ve been doing a little research and here are some things you should know. According to the standard of living, if you go to those figures in the 50’s and 60’s to today and factor in simply increases in rates, somebody who was making $45.00 a page would now be making $300.00 a page.” Now everybody who was there thought I was crazy. “$300.00? That’s totally insane. Neal, you’ve gone off the deep end.” “No. I just want to tell you. We’re supposed to be an organization of freelancers. I’m just trying to say that if we’re being paid according to the national average that people are being paid and if you were paid $45.00 back in the day, you would now be making $300.00 per page. That’s how much it has stayed down. That is why we are not part of the rest of America.” And people laughed. “Another hare-brained scheme by Neal.” But things changed.

While I got to meet up with Neal at a few different cons, I never could really afford any of his original art, so I settled for an autographed print of one of his most famous pieces. Thanks to the great generosity of the webmaster, this was actually my second Adams autograph, the other being on a treasured bit of memorabilia in my collection. The oversized reprint of Action #1 in the Famous First Edition format with accompanying signatures by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster on the front with Neal's autograph on the back by his fabulous rendition of the Man of Steel.

I'd nearly forgotten until I'd been scrolling through the numerous tributes to Neal on Facebook that, through a serendipitous chain of events, in the tiniest possible way, I inadvertently teamed up with him on a project a few years ago.

I take certain liberties with that statement as all I provided was a conduit, but when you get to see your name in the acknowledgements of a hardcover book with a cover by Neal and an accompanying essay by him within, you gratefully take it.

It was in the spring of 2017, ironically just about exactly 10 years since that first conversation, when I got a query via email from Dr. Rafael Medoff, the founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. He was working on a book titled "We Spoke Out" subtitled "Comic Books and the Holocaust." Dr. Medoff was seeking permission from the Ric Estrada estate to use some of his published artwork from DC Comics' Blitzkrieg #2 in a story titled, "Walls of Blood." I'd had the privilege of interviewing Ric shortly before his death and since Dr. Medoff was having trouble reaching any of Ric's family, he wondered if I could help. I could. I secured the necessary release form and got it back to Dr. Medoff and for my small efforts was given a comp copy of the book, which collects reprinted stories of comics ahead of their time, addressing the Holocaust. It was an honor to assist in my small way.

While Neal didn’t do any work on that particular story, it somehow seems fitting to review it here. The Blitzkrieg series ran only five issues and #2 had a March/April, 1976 publication date with an on-sale date of December 23, 1975. Joe Kubert was the editor with an assist by Allan Asherman. Joe did the cover with Tatjana Wood colors and “Walls of Blood” was scripted by Robert Kanigher with art by Ric Estrada. Somewhat similar to the legendary Enemy Ace title, the hook was that it was a series of stories from World War II from the enemy’s perspective.

Three Nazi soldiers with potato masher grenades are involved in the invasion of Poland, specifically in Warsaw and go on an aggressive attack. After the successful blitz, they are singled out to be rewarded for their clean-up detail. Franz, however, keeps complaining that it’s his birthday and he’d certainly rather be doing something else. Their reward is a little easy duty guarding the walled ghetto.

Jewish POWs are herded into the ghetto under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. Benjamin is with his grandfather and older brother Mordecai along with his wife, Esther. It is Benjamin’s birthday and despite his parents having been lost and their status as prisoners, they are determined to celebrate.

In the darkness, the soldiers mercilessly cut down those trying to escape the camp and an officer is shown directing the Jews to the work camps, promising them food and warmth. Men to the left, women and children to the right. The trio of soldiers, Franz, Hugo and Walter, callously watch the prisoners gradually die off from lack of basic necessities.

Among the prisoners, a survivor warns them that the work camps are not exactly as advertised. He relates how a band was playing at the camp and the families were broken up and directed, men to the right, women and children to the left, to the showers.

One guard took the narrator aside as a way to assuage his guilt and to hopefully be free of his nightmares. Before he lets him go, however, he let him see what the showers were really all about, a ruthless gas chamber, killing his people prior to mass cremation.

Benjamin’s grandfather says they must fight and tells the story of Masda. “…when a handful of men withstood the Roman army. Rather than surrender, they killed their own wives and children, then each other…to the last man! Can we do less…here…in the Warsaw Ghetto?

In another section of the ghetto, the soldiers execute children smuggling food. The same trio is having to do the killing and while one is remorseful, the others say they are simply obeying orders.

The next day, the prisoners are called upon with a bullhorn to board the trucks to the work camps. A woman rolls a stroller toward a Panzer and is mowed down with automatic fire before the baby carriage strikes the tank and explodes. The Nazis are incredulous that the prisoners are attacking them. Mordecai falls from a mortal wound and urges Benjamin to find their grandfather and not surrender. The weeping boy grabs a rifle and fires at the soldiers while fleeing.

The next day the Stukas bomb the area of the resistance until they are certain all the Jews have been killed. But Benjamin has beaten the odds and has survived. His dying grandfather urges him to escape through the sewers and that he is their only hope, bringing to a close this sobering and sadly accurate story.

We Spoke Out” contains an essay on page 11 by Neal titled “Speaking about the Unspeakable” that I’ll reproduce here:

Every Jew in the world should read this book. So should every Catholic, every Protestant, every Buddhist, and every Muslim.

Not because it’s a pleasant book—it’s not. But because it’s the kind of book that makes you think. No matter what your beliefs or background, it makes you think—about something that could happen to any group.

These comic book stories are the product of a unique moment in history. It was a moment when the world had experienced the Holocaust—but still wasn’t talking about it. Almost a willful blindness.

It was a time when an American kid learned about the Holocaust by going to his neighborhood newsstand and buying a comic book. It wasn’t a very sophisticated way of learning about genocide. It wasn’t like seeing a powerful documentary, or visiting a high-tech museum, or reading a scholarly treatise. It was the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, a time when it fell to humble comic book writers and artists to give voice to something that too few people wanted to talk about.

Looking back at these comic books now, it’s obvious that the quality of the art and the writing varies. Some stories are stronger than others. But that’s not the point.

This isn’t a Greatest Hits album. It’s a slice of history. These are the comic books that were printed and sold from those corner newsstands. This is how we tried, in our own modest way, to teach American kids about something very important that they weren’t learning about in school. Our stories couldn’t get into classrooms or into television. But we did have a platform, and we used it. We spoke out. I’m proud that we did.

So, much like the relevant comics produced back in the 70s, Neal was still at it, using his preferred platform to try to make a difference. Not the only important thing he did, but not a bad thing to add to the legacy.

Rest easy, big guy. You did some good in this world.

Next time, I’ll finish off the two-part piece I shared last time with commentary and remembrances from two other dearly departed creators. Look forward to that on June 1st and don’t forget to write. Comments and other feedback will be perused here: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

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