Put simply, Art Adams is one of the greatest and most influential comic book artists of all time. This is no fanboy hyperbole. There was this guy toiling on an obscure book at DC who was doing Neal Adams type layouts with a style that looked like overinflated Michael Golden sex dolls. Then he was exposed to Art Adams, and became Todd McFarlane. This other guy was doing okay with a riff on John Byrne by way of Kevin Nowlan, but he really took off when he adopted Adams' kinetic, detailed, mangaesque attributes and became Jim Lee. Everything that was ever any good about Rob Liefeld's artwork was an attempt to replicate Art Adams' earlier, less anatomically correct efforts, and Jim Valentino only had his moment in the sun by aping Liefeld mimicking Adams. Basically, without Art Adams, you never have the Image Comics exodus, and everybody continues to slave away at DC or Marvel on cheap paper with crap coloring.
On a more personal level, I was poor white trash whose only access to comic books was newsstands and flea markets. My half-brother grew up more flush than me, and had a neighborhood comic story where he could pick from a broader selection and score silver/bronze age rarities (by our standards, anyway.) He was the one who bought Longshot #1 in the summer of 1985, because he could, but he was kind enough to share it with me. The first issue I ever saw on the stands was #4, which either meant that it was a rapid sellout or had gotten broader distribution because Adams' art style was such a revelation. From there, Adams was recruited by the X-Men office, producing lavishly rendered specials and annuals the likes of which had rarely been seen in the medium, recalling the glory days of Berni Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith. Art Adams contributed to Wolverine's elevation to fan favorite status, seemingly drawing every single hair on the mutant's body. He popularized buckles, pouches, and leather jackets, although they actually served a purpose when he used them. No one had ever drawn like Adams before, despite his having absorbed and reworked past masters. No one has drawn like him since, despite legions of devotees and imitators.
I hadn't planned to attend Space City Con, as I was broke from Comicpalooza and other obligations that popped up, plus starting a new job. However, when I heard just a few days ahead of the con that Adams and several other artists I'm fond of were attending, I scrambled to pull together the time and funds to attend. I rightly suspected that I might have a narrow window of opportunity to commission Adams, so he was the first artist I sought out as soon as I could get to the con on Friday. I had been warned from a friend that Adams might only offer head shots, which I find more frustrating than desirable. While it would be awesome to have Adams draw any character related to the Martian Manhunter, I really didn't want him to do anyone ahead of the Alien Atlas and his other-dimensional pet/sidekick Zook. I had already gotten a Zook head shot elsewhere, and seen plenty of Adams Manhunter mugs. Adams had also drawn the classic Manhunter a fair number of times, so I really wanted Zook, preferably with J'Onn J'Onzz in some capacity, in full figure.
When I approached Adams, I believe it was still within the first hour of the con, but I was already #5 on his list. I briefly shared my story of long time fandom, and inquired as to how much a two figure drawing would cost. The answer was four figures, and I immediately copped to being totally out of my depth. I asked about a single figure, which was north of a half grand, which was a kidney punch to any misguided notions I had of getting either J'Onn or Zook as full figures, much less both. For most any other artist, I might have balked, but I know Art Adams is worth every one of those pennies I failed to have available to offer. Thankfully, Adams' rate for a head shot was supremely reasonable. Adams even offered to let me take up several spots with multiple busts, and I considered it, but ultimately refused. For one, I felt guilty about the certainty of denying other people the opportunity to get an Adams piece, because there was no way that he was going to make it out of Houston without drawing as many pieces as time would allow. Hell, most of the other artists I was getting commissions from were wanting to get an Adams commission of their own. Second, I knew in my heart that no matter how great an Adams bust was, I would just end up longing for the full figure that I couldn't afford. In fact, I anticipated my Zook bust with a mixture of glee and dread for that very reason.
Friday was the only full day I had free, as I was working evenings over that weekend. I told most of the artists who hadn't finished on Friday (meaning most of the artists, since only two finished that day) that I would return on Sunday, since it was too much of a hassle getting to and from the Galleria area on a Saturday. As it turned out, I wasn't able to hold out that long, and braved traffic to buzz through before my shift. Adams had been finishing up the Booster Gold commission that was ahead of mine the night prior, so I figured Zook would be ready, at least. Boy, was it ever.
Truth to tell, as you might have been able to guess from my preamble, Art Adams' legacy was so hugely impressive that he intimidated the hell out of me. I talked with him a bit on Friday, but nothing especially drawn out. I also had the aforementioned trepidation about a Zook bust. Back when I got Ethan Van Sciver to do Zook in my earliest days of collecting commissions, I held out a small hope that he might decide that it was a small, simple enough character to just draw as a complete figure. I had no such illusions two years and considerably more experience later, so imagine my surprise when Adams did in fact draw Zook in total at no additional charge. I was completely floored, so shocked and impressed by the gesture and the quality of the work that I was rendered inarticulate (an obvious rarity to anyone who follows this blog, or even this one post.) Yes, I wanted to know why Adams had been so generous, and I wanted to express my gratitude, but all I could do was stammer out repeated "Thank You"s while staring at the art. Such is the nature of awe.
Please excuse my poor, simple coloring job. It does a disservice to Adams' lines, especially the highlights in the hair, but I was curious to see how it would look under the flat scheme employed by the comics. Even the different tone to the tongue is a cheat, as he was only ever black, white and the same shade of orange back in the day. It is a credit to the vitality and joy of the work that it fairs so well even under Microsoft Paint. For more, check out Arthur Adams Art.com, or follow some of the links below...
Arthur "Art" Adams
- 2000 Big Barda commission @ DC Bloodlines
- 2007 Zatanna commission @ Justice League Detroit
- 2005 Wonder Woman WonderCon sketch @ Diana Prince
- 2005 Justice League of America #60 cover recreation @ Power of the Atom
Frank, thanks for sharing this story about such an influential artist.
What a great story. As a commission guy, I love it when you get a piece that is so much more than you expected.
Whoa. Really, really great piece. I love the expression on Zook's face. Nice to hear the backstory behind it all, too, and how he fits into DC history.
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