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Neal Adams Got His Start In Comics In An Unlikely Place

Today, I take a look at the earliest comic book work of Neal Adams’ career, which happened to take place in the pages of Archie Comics in very late 1959, when Adams was still a teenager!

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

The comic book world (myself included) is still reeling from the news that Neal Adams has passed away at the age of 80. Adams was such a gigantic presence in the world of comic books that it felt like he would always be here, sort of like another major comic book icon we lost a few years back, Stan Lee. But Adams’ “problem” is that even at 80, he seemed so vibrant, even while dealing with a long illness, that it seemed like we would have him in our lives for much longer.

While reflecting on Adams’ legendary career in comic books, I was thinking that it is interesting to note that he got his start in a rather unusual place, in the pages of Archie Comics!

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HOW DID NEAL ADAMS END UP AT ARCHIE COMICS?

So recently mentioned on Twitterinspired by a comment by Roy Thomas in Thomas’ tribute to Adams, the late 1950s and early 1960s were a very difficult time for anyone trying to break into the world of comic books, since the comic book industry was in shambles in the wake of the Seduction of the Innocent stuff and, well, just a general sales ill. So many comic book companies went out of business in the late 1950s that there was a major surplus of comic book artists and thus even the middle of the road comic book companies could pick and choose, as the middle of the road companies were pretty much the only ones left after the dust settled (besides the big ones, of course).


Neal Adams, just 18 years old, tried to break into comics at that period, and he was turned down by pretty much everyone. I have recalled that everyone seemed to think that the comic book business was going to vanish within a few years. The always extremely informative Bryan Stroud (the amount of comic book icons that Stroud has interviewed is STAGGERING) interviewed Neal Adams a number of years ago and Adams detailed how he finally broke into the comic book industry:

Adams: I was this 18-year old kid who was trying to get some work and so I thought maybe I could go to Archie Comics and work for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who were doing at that time The Fly and The Shield and a bunch of other titles for Archie Comics.

Stroud: Oh yeah, their adventure series.

Adams: So, after failing at DC and searching around for nothing…I didn’t know where anybody was. I went over to Archie Comics and I tried to get work and I showed my samples and neither Joe Simon nor Jack Kirby were at Archie Comics. I met the Archie guys and obviously they felt sorry for me, because I was foolish enough to want to do comics. Nobody did. Nobody was showing samples. It was a dead field. And so they suggested I come back with some samples of The Fly, and I did. I came back the next week and they’d introduce me to either Joe Simon or Jack Kirby. So I came back a week later with my samples and it turns out neither one of them were there.

Stroud: Of course.

Adams: So I showed my samples to the guys at Archie and they looked at them sympathetically with kind of a sad look around their eyes, an embarrassed look, and they said “Well, why don’t we get Joe Simon on the phone for you?” And so they did. Now it turns out they had shown Joe Simon the samples I had brought in previously, and they got Joe Simon on the phone for me. Joe said to me, “Neal…young man, your samples are good. I’d use you on stories, but I’m going to do you a really big favor. I’m gonna turn you down, kid, because this is not a business to be in. It’s gonna fall on it’s face any day now and everybody’s gonna be out looking for other work and you want to get a job doing something worthwhile, so it may not seem like I’m doing you a favor, but I’m turning you down, and it’s the biggest favor anybody could ever do for you.” “Gosh, thank you, Mr. Simon.”

Stroud: How very gregarious.

Adams: So the guys at Archie said, “Well, Neal, do you want to do some samples of Archie? And you know, maybe we can give you some work doing our joke pages or something.” I said, “Yeah.” So I came back with some samples and in the end I did work for Archie for the Archie joke pages for a couple of months, and that’s how I got my first work in comics, because Joe Simon turned me down.

Stroud: Son of a gun.

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WHAT DID NEAL ADAMS DRAW IN HIS FIRST FEW MONTHS AT ARCHIE COMICS?

Amusingly enough, Adams’ first work at Archie Comics, published in October of 1959, was a tie between two comic books that were released the same week, with one of the pieces of work being an Adventures of the Fly story in the fourth issue of that series by Joe Simon, where Simon felt that the final panel of this one page wasn’t up to snuff, so he had Adams do it and Adams really did an amazing job with that one panel, right?

That same week, Adams did two one-pagers in Archie’s Joke Book Magazine #44. I have no idea who wrote these two (or ANY of the pieces I’m sharing here today)..

You’ll see, even here, that Adams used some very creative work on this mismatched page…

The next month, Adams had two shaving-themed half-page strips in laugh comics #107..

Oh, Archie, you’re so irresponsible…

Now here’s the big one, Archie’s Joke Book Magazine #45 was FULL of Adams’ half-pagers, including this tree-carving one…

this basketball gag…

this funny cow joke…

this dangerous live wire gag (is Jughead a socipath?)…

This funny school gag…

Paired with this one comic strip style bit…

Jughead’s cousin, Souphead is in this one…

Archie’s DAD even get i on the fun…

Adams gets to draw an attractive lady in this one…

A silly coin flip gag…

and a weird bit about Archie being super irresponsible…

Also that month were these two half-pages from laugh comics #108…

including a chance to draw Betty and Veronica and a cowboy..

and then finally a one-page gag in jughead comics #58…

Adams did a few more months at Archie before moving to the world of commercial art when his career at Archie ended under what Adams later described as “not the best of circumstances.” In 1962, he got into the field of comic strip art where he worked until he finally became a comic book superstar later in the decade.


Thanks again to Bryan Stroud for that outstanding interview with the late, great Neal Adams.

If anyone has suggestions about interesting pieces of comic book history, feel free to drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com.


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