With barely a week apart, the world of comics has said goodbye to two of the greatest superhero cartoonists who have worked in the American industry: Neal Adams (1941-2022) and George Pérez (1954-2022). With vastly different styles, both would become influential artists of the genre, marking its evolution from the 1960s to today, and from comic book pages to theater screens.
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Neal Adams, a New Yorker by birth, began his career training at Archie Comics and drawing the newspaper strip that adapted the television serial Ben Casey. His jump to superhero comics took him first to DC Comics, where he did different stages in series like Strange Adventures (1967-1969), where he was in charge alone of creating and developing the first Deadman stories, something rare for a cartoonist at that time. Together with Dennis O’Neill, a few numbers were enough to update Batman (1969-1973) and introduce characters as important in his mythology as Ra’s al Ghul. With the same scriptwriter, he worked on the series Green Lantern/Green Arrow (1970-1971), where both dealt with social problems practically unheard of in comics until then: Green Arrow’s teenage helper, Speedy, would become a heroin addict.
In all these commissioned works, Adams’ extraordinary technical ability was evident, but also his unique vision of comics. His sense of the page and his daring compositions, full of impossible foreshortenings and shocking close-ups, combined with his meticulous representation of bodies, full of volumes and prisoners of a tension reminiscent of the terribilita by Michelangelo. That mix between academic classicism and groundbreaking page design had such an impact on superhero fans that it would soon change the graphic standards of the genre, and would force a paradigm shift that would leave behind the unreal and fantastic epic of Jack Kirby or classicism. late romantic by John Buscema or John Romita.
In his few jobs for Marvel, Adams continued to experiment and push boundaries. In X Men (1969-1970) and The Avengers (1971-1972) took Roy Thomas’ conventional screenplays to a new level of graphic freedom and photo-realism that rivaled Jim Steranko’s pop revolution, and set the bar for cartoonists from then on. . As Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics. the untold storythe influence of Adams “changed the appearance of the drawings practically everyone in the editorial.”
In 1978, back at DC Comics, he was in charge, again together with O’Neill, of one of the publisher’s most ambitious projects: Superman vs. Muhammad Alia large-format special, conceived as a blockbuster that pitted DC’s star character against the heavyweight champion, in the context of an alien invasion and with cameos from countless popular personalities of the time.
Turned into a star, Neal Adams also stood out for his unwavering defense of artists’ rights. In the same year that it was published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, was one of the founders of the Comics Creators Guild, an association created with the aim of improving working conditions in the sector. Adams advocated for the revision of the usual contracts in the industry, the return of the originals to their authors and the improvement of the rates and the royalties. In fact, his public struggle was key for DC Comics to end up recognizing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s authorship of Superman. In the eighties, fed up with the editorial policies of the big publishers, he created Continuity Comics together with some partners, which for a decade accommodated his projects. creator owned (term used in the United States to refer to works in which artists maintain their copyright). In recent decades, Adams has combined occasional collaborations with Marvel and DC with his work as a lecturer and disseminator of the unscientific theory of the Expanding Earth.
Surely, there has not been a more important artist with so few published works, if we compare him with other great names of his time. Neal Adams is one of the cartoonists who has most influenced the aesthetics and narrative of the superhero genre, and has been a reference for authors as different as Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Carlos Pacheco, Alan Davis or Bryan Hitch.
George Pérez, also a New Yorker (and of Puerto Rican descent) debuted in the industry a decade later than Adams, and although his first works could be considered more of a continuation with the previous graphic line, he soon stood out for his baroque style, his attention to detail and his ability to choreograph scenes populated with dozens of characters. His work in The Avengers (1975-1980) and in The Fantastic Four (1975-1980) with writers like Jim Shooter or Roy Thomas laid the foundations for a style appreciated for its sense of action and its ability to characterize characters. His understanding of the grammar of the genre was applied to spectacular combat scenes, very influential on his colleagues and, ultimately, very present in the saga of films of The Avengers (2012-2019). He was also co-creator with Bill Mantlo of Tigre Blanco, the publisher’s first Puerto Rican superhero.
Already specializing in superhero-infused series, Pérez switched from Marvel to DC Comics, given his disagreement with the former’s creative direction, and teamed up with screenwriter Marv Wolfman to launch The New Teen Titans (1980-1985) and the miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986), the apotheosis of the editorial’s fictional universe and starting point for a restructuring of the entire line in which Pérez would be in charge of revitalizing Wonder Woman (1987-1988) as a complete artist. More consistent than Adams in his work as a cartoonist, Pérez remained at the forefront of the industry even when, in the late 1980s, public tastes veered toward more aggressive and confused styles than his own, and he produced seminal work. What Hulk: Future Imperfect (1992-1993) with Peter David and the first issues of The Infinity Gauntlet (1991) with Jim Starlin. At the end of the nineties, in the midst of a wave of revivalredrew the series of The Avengers (1998-2000) based on scripts by Kurt Busiek. Years later, the same creative team handled the miniseries. Justice League/Avengers (2003), the true climax of a way of understanding superheroes that brought together hundreds of characters from Marvel and DC Comics, which Pérez moved through its pages with surprising fluidity.
In parallel, George Pérez also launched some series creator ownedwith mixed luck, as crimson plague (2000) and did work for smaller publishers such as BOOM! Studios or Malibu. Like Adams, Pérez also got involved in the fight to improve working conditions in the sector, through the organization The Hero Initiative, which specializes in financially helping veteran comic professionals with health problems, since it is frequent that, due to the contractual conditions of the industry and the health system of the United States, many find themselves helpless in their old age.
Neal Adams passed away on April 28 from complications of sepsis. George Pérez died on May 6, after several years with serious health problems and pancreatic cancer detected in 2021. At a time when Disney (owner of Marvel) and Warner Bros (owner of DC Comics) generate millions of dollars Thanks to the exploitation of the characters and stories that authors such as Adams and Pérez have created, it is especially important to remember both of them not only as comic book legends and extraordinary cartoonists, but also as defenders of the rights of a historically mistreated profession.
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The deaths of George Pérez and Neal Adams advance the demise of a generation of superhero cartoonists
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