On Tuesday night, July 17, my friend David Rondinelli and I had the pleasure of attending Leaping From Tall Buildings, an interview with comic book legends Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams held at Soho’s Housingworks Bookstore Café. Though I profess I’m not nearly as much of a comic book devotee as many of those in attendance—or David, who writes his own books for indie label Pronto Comics—I enjoyed the event immensely. As a writer myself, I found the team’s insight into their creative process to be particularly interesting.
O’Neil and Adams are perhaps best known for their collaboration on Batman in the 1970s, creating a seminal run that brought Batman back to his darker days after the campy frivolity of the 1960s TV series and left a lasting impression on the character for generations to come. Christopher Nolan certainly took note of their sensibility, and undoubtedly Tim Burton as well; when asked what he thought of The Dark Knight Rises after attending the premiere, Adams likened it to being asked how he feels about his own baby. The creators’ work was known for its grit and reality, de-emphasizing “crazy criminals” and introducing more plausible people and situations. The two also contributed social relevancy they’d previously shown a knack for working on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up. (In fact, Adams suggested the African American incarnation of Green Lantern, though I tragically failed to ask him his take on the newly outed Alan Scott.)
Both men were witty and literate, though the amusingly (and maybe justifiably) egotistical Adams stole the show with his many funny anecdotes. He recalled famed comics editor and sci-fi agent Julius Schwartz suggesting the ridiculous moniker “Lincoln Washington” for the aforementioned black Green Lantern, for instance, though he made it clear that he had enormous affection for the man. He also commented that Dark Knight premiere guest Donald Trump’s hair “glows in the dark.”
The pair explained that they were able to get away with doing edgy and provocative material in their books because either the titles were slipping in sales or they had free reign, or because the publishers didn’t actually bother to read their books. Adams recalled an angry letter that threatened a conservative boycott after Green Lantern/Green Arrow featured a thinly veiled Reaganite; the higher ups at DC, naturally, had no idea what the outrage was all about, but in any case the issue had already been released and Adams and O’Neil weren’t planning to revisit the caricature, anyway.
Intelligent and engaging, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams make it clear why they are industry giants—and why comic books, as we’ve all long known, are much more than just kid’s stuff.
Leaping From Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics by nycgraphicnovelists.com webmasters Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner, is in bookstores now.