If you look up Neal Adams on the Internet, you’ll find that he’s worked with the who’s-who of the comic book world. He’s credited with helping to create some of the modern imagery for DC Comics superheroes like Superman and Batman; he also worked on Marvel’s Avengers, Conan the Barbarian and the X-Men, among others. More recently, he’s been championing motion comics — videos based on illustrations you see in comic books, word-for-word and drawing-for-drawing — as a way for the comic book industry to reach a broader audience and take over the world. Today, Marvel‘s motion comic Astonishing X-Men, produced by Adams’ Continuity Studios, made its debut on Hulu. The first series, ‘Gifted,’ is based on the hugely popular graphic novels by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, so it promises strong characters and, even better, plenty of action.
“At this point in the history of motion comics, ‘Gifted‘ is the very best motion comic book out there,” Adams told us. “There will be some in the future that will be as good if not better, but right now it’s the best one.” It’s the early days of this medium — you can catch a motion comic version of Marvel’s Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. on Hulu, as well, and we’ll have more chapters from the Astonishing X-Men next month — but Adams thinks there’s much more to come, especially as uses motion comics are used to promote feature films. (He tells us there’s motion comic material for a Predator-like character in the works, but that’s all he can say.) Learn how Adams defines –or rather, doesn’t define — motion comics and get his take on Joss Whedon’s graphic novel talents in Hulu’s exclusive interview below. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
Hulu: Can you tell us about motion comics and what they are?
Neal Adams: Well, first I can tell you what they aren’t. They aren’t a replacement for comic books. They are an adjunct to comic books. They are, in some ways for some people, an easier way to read a comic book, because the comic book kind of reads itself. They are not animation. They are not animated like an animated adaptation, which is when you have some designers in Czechoslovakia or Thailand or India draw thousands and thousands of drawings that have to look very similar to the other ones so that the characters can animate, and so they use the least number of lines that they can to create the animation. They’re not computer animation, and they’re not movies, which are adaptations of comic books. Sometimes you can recognize what went on in the comic book in the movie, and sometimes — most of the time — you can’t.
These are the comic books. They are word-for-word, comma-for-comma the writing of the writer. They are line-for -line, drawing-for-drawing the drawings of the artist, except that the words are turned into voices and the drawings have become animated through manipulating them with computers. You know, you can draw a line and you can turn it into rubber on the computer. You can make it move up, you can make it move down; you can turn it into a face, you can do things with it on the computer that is not what an artist does by redrawing it. So the line that’s in the comic book becomes the line that’s in the motion comic. The only difference is you’ve added the dimension of motion so you can watch it happen. It’s a new form. I don’t want to get all high and mighty or anything, but it’s a new form of entertainment that never existed before.
You’ve explained this before, haven’t you?
I’ve explained it before, to people I’ve tried to sell it to at Marvel and DC Comics. We do this kind of thing in advertising. We do, in effect, a motion comic of a commercial that the advertising agency takes out and tests before they spend a lot of money to do the commercial. Sometimes those what used to be called “animatics” are actually better than the finished commercial. So my little company, Continuity, has done that for over 20 years. We have tried to get some folks in the comic books business to give it a try to see whether or not it can be turned into another form of doing it. Well, a whole series of events had to take place for it to happen, but, by golly, it happened. It turns out that Marvel is, as usual, the first one to open the door and try something new.
You’ve been involved with some of the biggest names in comic books — names like Superman, Batman and X-Men. How did you get your start?
I started when people thought that comic books were toilet paper. In America, once we attacked communists, we also then attacked comic books. Comic books, for a long time in America, were considered to be the kind of thing you never wanted to show your kids and you never wanted to read yourself. So there’s been this long climb upward. When I began, everything was pretty much in the doldrums and everyone was telling me, “You don’t want to do comic books because pretty soon — a year or two, maybe three — they’ll be gone.”
I started at a very bad time and, by golly, those of us who persevered and kept on going, we changed the standards as much as we could to make them not so much more adult, but to appeal to a broader audience. Some people say there are certain movies and certain movies that are meant for kids, some are meant for adults, some are meant for everybody. The wonderful thing about comic books is they’re a medium that everyone can understand. We don’t limit the language. Comic books are, in fact — and always have been — the only kind of book that a kid buys with his own money. This is not an insult to children’s books, which I think are wonderful, but children don’t go out and buy children’s books. Their parents do. Kids will take their own money and buy a comic book. They’re also not magazines. A lot of people think of them as magazines, but they’re not. They’re periodicals and books. Magazines make their income from advertising. If you pick up Vogue or whatever magazine you feel like picking up, what you’ll find is 80 percent of the magazine is advertising. Comic books survive on entertainment. They’re like going to the movie. There is some advertising in comic books, thank goodness, but not so much that it gets in the way of the story.
It’s a very weird and unique medium. In fact, I’ve spoken with some French folks who have opinions about America and have opinions about culture. If you scratch a French fellow who is interested in this sort of thing, he will tell you that America is responsible for three forms of art: jazz, musical comedy and, guess what, comic books.
How have you seen the business change recently?
I don’t see that there’s a limit. I think the limit is going to be about quality. One of the amazing things about the Astonishing X-Men that we’ve done is that it’s a motion motion comic as opposed to a cut-out dolls motion comic. It actually has motion to it. There’s a wide variety of motion comics that go from no motion to extreme motion. We’re on the extreme motion end, not on the no motion end. So there’s a great variety of that stuff. It’s available for many reasons. For example, some movies are going to be promoted with motion comics. There’s an educational program that I’m myself involved in with the Disney Corporation doing motion comics about the Holocaust. The Disney Corporation is providing them to schools. There’s going to be five in the first half of the year, basically stories about Mayor LaGuardia in New York, the ship that can’t find a port to let the refugees off, Ann Frank, things like that; really significant stories done in a form that, like motion comics, are very palatable and very, very interesting. You just don’t get bored. That’s not to say that educational things are boring but, you know, it has to do with the “boree” rather than the “borer.” The “boree” is sometimes more easily bored with one form or another. It’s very hard to get bored when you’re given good and interesting information in a form like this.
It almost takes a certain kind of person to read a comic book, to be a comic book geek. But it’s very easy, once you see the video, for you to then turn to the comic book and go, “Oh, I get it. I may read this very quickly, but it may have more meaning.” And so they go back and they look at it with a different point of view. In fact, one of the things that we do when we show people Astonishing X-Men, is I put copies of the graphic novel in the room with people as I show it to them. As they’re watching, they reach for the graphic novel to see “Is that in there? I didn’t get that from that. What is that? Was that really in there?” And they go ahead and read it and look at it to see if we were really following the comic book, or there was some nuance that they missed, this is really good artwork, or oh, that’s the guy who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So the connection is being made in a very important way to people who aren’t necessarily comic book geeks. I think that’s what happening here, and not the way a movie does it. You can go to an X-Men movie and never pick up an X-Men comic book, because it’s an entertaining movie, and it’s never exactly the comic book. It’s very hard to look at these and not pick up the graphic novel.
You referred to Joss Whedon of Buffy fame, who also wrote this “Gifted” storyline for Astonishing X-Men. Can tell us what it was like working with him?
We would have preferred that Joss to stop by and give us some input, but of course he’s been busy working on Dollhouse. On the other hand, I’ve done some directing for commercials and stuff, and from the point of view of my directing this thing, he has a better economy of words since he’s used to writing for film and television. He knows when to stop having this person talk because all you’re watching is talking heads. He knows what his limits are and he knows how to use them. He knows how to cut back-and-forth between characters, because he’s so used to doing this. He’s the very best person to be first out with a really good motion comic. I guess there may be a better script writer out there, but is there someone more used to the form of both comic books and film? I don’t think there is. He was the perfect guy for us to work with.
Can you give us a little taste of what to expect with this series?
First of all, “Gifted” is one of Marvel’s best series of graphic novels. It has an awful lot to do with the potential of having superpowers and what the inevitable result can be. You could put another culture in danger. I don’t want to tell people where this culture is, or what kind of danger it represents, but what is known is that one of the X-Men is going to present such a disaster to another culture, and that culture has to go and try to find that X-Men and do away with him, or do something to change the history that’s going to unfold. So you have a story that starts at one time and goes back in time and starts to evolve forward while you’re watching the story of the X-Men, so you get a real classic tragedy in comic book form.
Of course, one of the things about Joss, if you watch Buffy or his other stuff, is that he likes action. You’re not going to turn too many pages before you get to some big knock-down, drag-out fight. Of course, we love that. You’ve got guys going behind the computers going, “Who’s going to handle that thing where the guy bashes the guy and throws him through the wall and they end up on the other side of the wall and then crash into the third wall?” And I say, “You want to do that? Oh, OK, I guess. Hmm…yes, make me a cup of coffee and I’ll let you do it.” People just love that. We have some people who are very strong in the soap opera sense. I’m not saying that girls are more sensitive than guys, but I will say that our best soap opera person is a girl, and she milks the emotion out of the characters using the animation tears coming to the eyes and going down her face.
What’s so wonderful is that we can pass these pieces out and look for people’s strengths to see how they handle that particular scene. You wouldn’t think that handling drawings and creating animation would do that but, by golly, it does. If you watch this little epic unfold, I think you’ll see what I’m saying is true. You’ll get a lot out of it drama wise, and you’ll forget that you’re watching drawings move. You’ll think you’re watching things happen.