Friday, June 3, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 14

Continuity was a non-stop day and night blur of Rock ‘n’ Roll provided by NYC's best stations. The Who drilled us with Tommy night and day on F.M., and the A.M.  dial insisted that Grease was the word.
       Three panes of glass facing 48th Street was our view of the city. From a second floor perch, working our way upstairs in God status or attempting to maintain it, we watched the world pass at our feet while we colored ads for cars or produced animatics for scores of companies.
The room was usually warm with creative males doing commercial art until the exhaust of the morning garbage trucks burned their nostrils. 'Till the coffee machine had dissolved what was left of the last pot burned the base of the pot. No more Entemen’s treats until 8:00 when the deli across the street opened with fresh stock. The morning cracking over the skyscrapers of mid-town Manhattan. Exhausted, we put on our shoes and shuffled into the morning air, warriors spent from a night at battle with twittering Magic-Markers. Tired from the work, high from the fumes, and somehow strangely a part of Madison Avenue, or Fifth if you were going that way.
After all we were located right off of the street of advertising. Ad-men coming to work while the night shift shuffled passed, and the ad-men knew it and appreciated it, because I carried a portfolio in tow. Tired, low blood sugar, and an ache at the pit of our stomachs. Sleep would be sudden when it came, and that knowledge kept us going right down to the keys in the door lock of our homes. In.  The last seconds in clothes then the darkness of exhaustion. Out cold 'til 2:00 the next afternoon, then a fresh start back to the temple.
       On Fridays the visitors came into NYC to deliver jobs and collect checks, and Continuity was a Mecca for seasoned talent, and not so much. Like on the Mickey Mouse Club, Friday  was theme day, and the theme was celebrities! Sergio Arigones, Grey Morrow, Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Jim Starlin, Russ Heath, and visitors from all over the world whose dream it was to visit us. Neal dug the attention and so did the rest of us. We were touring with The Dead, we were doing what thousands of other guys wished they were doing. The envy of the fanboys, transcendent.
       Visited by heroes.
Valhalla, as I’d died and gone to a warrior’s Heaven.
       I always carried my load at Continuity. I painted the front room twice, waxed the floors, much to delight of Neal and the disdain of the rest of the boys.
He woke me up in my hotel room at the tail end of the studio, me on a dirty couch.
I was sleepy, Neal was delighted.
For the first time in memory, the floors shined.
“What happened?” he poked at me.
“Must have been the Elves.”
Neal didn’t comment, but I saw him smile through sleepy eyes, and felt vindicated at it.
Everybody tried to please Neal.
Another happy memory about the place.
 "Don’t get it scuffed up you guys," Neal said to the new usual crew as they shuffled in, and they all sneered at me when I came into the room. You never knew what line you were bound to cross in the front room. You’d say that the sunset was pretty and the room would still, stiff backs braced, fisheyes shifting to the infidel. “Sunset? You asshole! How dare you?”
Who knew?
“I didn’t know this was a bracketed topic.”
I always found that the guys in the front room at Neal's were unnecessarily competitive. I rarely heard anybody complement anyone else and when I did I was looked on as freak, unmarked line crossed. The stereo played on and the Dead sounded good.
       All working within the hierarchy. Each doing what we did best and attempting to learn from the master. Proximity to the gods all day and night long. As good as chocolate egg creams at the all night drugstore on 50th Street and Lex.
       Gone now.

Portfolio reviews
As one who has been under the knife on Neal's table, I must tell you that it was one of the most valuable experiences of my creative life.
I watched my other father give selflessly of his time, ANY time somebody asked for advice. My favorite was his opening line "If what I'm about to tell you makes sense, assimilate it, if not, disregard it. Only you will know what is important to you right now."
How's that for an opener?
I use those lines to this day when sharing what I've learned. That's a very wise way to share. I watched my other dad do dozens of portfolio reviews, and watched some, like Ken Stacey, holding back the tears, lower-lip a’tremble. Almost to a man, they were the big artistic fish in their small towns, and all expected to be stroked the way Grandma would. Mid-way though many of these reviews, it dawned on them that they were getting more than they bargained for, wanted to cut and run, but couldn't. LOTS of seat squirming.
However, those really dedicated to knowing the truth left the table better for the experience. What poet said that you can wrestle with the angel: Never
win, but walk away stronger for the experience for even trying?
My only problem is with Neal's telling the slow-starter not to pursue his dream at any cost. “You just don’t have what it takes, kid.” John Romita reviewed my work in 1970 and said, "It's not good enough for Marvel. Why don't you get some other kind of job? Why do you want to be in comics? I wouldn't want my son to be in comics." True story told before. And if J.R. SR. had his way, we'd never have had the work J.R. JR. did.
Neal didn't review portfolios because he wanted to be liked. He did it because the oral tradition of sharing Comic knowledge had come to him that way at Johnstone&Cushing. And it is a VERY good way to spread information. And Neal has been more than generous over the years with his help. Anyone who walked away from a review with Neal walked away with two things: Information, and the obligation to give to others.....for free.
       I try to live up to that credo every day.
       Thanks Neal.
I've seen Neal review dozens of portfolios, but never with malice, always trying to help.
It's simply that some artists are too sensitive to hear hard truths.
I'd bet that almost none of the artists have ever had a professional review of their work prior to Neal's. Most were big fishes on their hometowns, fawned over, complimented, and this caused a belief that they were indeed great. Most of these artists expected the great Neal Adams to fawn over them as well like Grandma. Instead, the practical Neal Adams told them some hard truths, and none had been inoculated for them.
Though you shouldn’t say who cried in front of you, I remember the day Frank Miller came up to the studio for a review.
I'm certain that if you asked him about the experience today, he'd probably say that it was one of the most valuable lessons of his professional career.
       Can’t say for sure, but I heard Frank tore up the paper contents of his recently reviewed portfolio, in immaculate dissatisfaction, on the street, just in front of 9 East 48th Street.
Tears in his eyes.
Eric Larson also came under the knife, then showed me his black portfolio stuff in the reception area.
       I told him, “If I was an editor at Marvel or DC, I’d hire you on the spot. But I’m not.”
       I wonder if Eric remembers that.

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