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Astonishing X-Men, Gifted

Astonishing X-Men Motion Comic Spotlight: Neal Adams

Since the late '60s Neal Adams has pushed the envelope of the comic art form, He sees no reason to stop now.

With MarvelFest NYC rapidly approaching, we're shining the spotlight on the creative geniuses behind the ASTONISHING X-MEN Motion Comic. Make sure you come down to Union Square in NYC on October 28 at 6 p.m. to see the world premiere of the ASTONISHING X-MEN Motion Comic, take part in the costume contest and more. Visit marvel.com/fest for more info. And even if you can't make the event, click over to iTunes on October 28 to download the first episode of "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted"!

By John Rhett Thomas and Chris Arrant

Ever since he stepped into the spotlight, Neal Adams has been breaking new ground in the comic art form. First, as artist on the X-Men and Avengers, then redefining the character of Batman for DC, he changed the visual vocabulary of comic art with his mind-bending layouts and his sophisticated approach to anatomical rendering. To borrow from Bruce Springsteen reviewer Jon Landau, those who saw Neal's work at the time knew they were seeing "comic book future."

Years later, he was among those independently minded creators who led the charge into indie publishing; and it was with Continuity, his own company, that he took his team of able artists into more commercial and film pursuits.

He's never left the industry he loved, but he's been so busy with the latter pursuits at Continuity that folks who strictly pay attention to comic books may be excused from not being in the loop on Neal's recent activities.

But that excuse won't last for much longer. Marvel is adroitly using motion comics to push further into the future. And who is helping push them there? Why, Mr. Neal Adams. The man for whom the future has always been now catches us up on what motion comics means to him, to Marveland to the Astonishing X-Men

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT: Most comics fans know you as a groundbreaking comic book artist, but some may not be as familiar with your current work in visual arts with Continuity. Can you give us some background on what you do and some of the milestones your company has hit?

NEAL ADAMS: Continuity, my company, has been "drawing" and "doing" "motion comics" for decades—except for all this time we and all the advertising agencies in the world have been calling them animatics. And for the last ten years we have been proposing animatics-style comic books to the big two comic book companies.

The big awareness happened at both companies, not because of what we were doing but because both found themselves doing animatics of comic book projects in their course of doing business: "Stephen King's N." for CBS, produced by Marvel Comics, and Watchmen, the motion comic by DC's sister company, Warner Direct. What a surprise this was to us, that after all this time both companies "discovered" animatics... which now have come to be known as "motion comics."

Hurriedly we put together new samples and presented them to both companies. Marvel recognized the quality of our work and realized how far advanced our "tricks and technology" were and commissioned us to do the Cassaday/Whedon ASTONISHING X-MEN as a motion comic.

Most comic book fans are completely unaware of my Continuity production company and my work here. The advertising agencies, in their turn, are not aware of my comic book work. Odd, I suppose, but true.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: What elements of your Continuity experience come into play for directing this motion comic?

NEAL  ADAMS: Continuity produces animatics, finished CGI computer animation and advertising illustration. Continuity was the first company in the world to create animatics on computer and edit with video editing programs. (Previously, animatics were created on video animation stands, with video equipment. Continuity changed all that.) Continuity was the first company—producing animatics—that created and presented moving/ talking mouths for natural speech patterns. Continuity was the first to use morphing and warping to animate flat non-animated drawing. Continuity was first to include CGI characters within animatic animation, which led directly to the first year (the great year) Nasonex Bee commercials.

And after 30 years of directing, I have learned to direct... and to respect 30 seconds. And I have learned the differences and the similarities between comic book and film.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: Just as in comics, when you're producing a motion comic, you are an artist and you start with a script. Was there any editing or adjusting of Joss Whedon's dialogue?

NEAL  ADAMS: We made it our business to change as little as possible—and in the case of John and Joss' work, nothing. Since Joss is a film/TV writer, he works with an economy of words and he makes all of them count. We didn't change words as you will discover.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: How do the extra features of music, voices and animation work for you in terms of planning? Do you coordinate that with others? If so, how does that process work?

NEAL  ADAMS: With minor differences, this is very much like working on film. Joss writes, John Cassaday creates lighting, composition, story telling, camera shots, etc. I take the materials presented and direct with intercuts, extensions, pans, zooms, dissolves, animation, moving mouths and effects, etc. etc...James Snyder did all the sound work and Marvel oversaw the project at key points.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: How did you collaborate with artist John Cassaday on the motion comic? What role did he play in development? As well, what about writer Joss Whedon and colorist Laura Martin? 

NEAL  ADAMS: John Cassaday was major in that we were not doing an animation, or film interpretation of his work. We were/are using his work—from beginning to end. This is a work-heavy process, end to end, and John gave suggestions and input along the way and when needed, did additional or larger drawings to replace the small drawings that could not abide enlargement.

Joss' contribution was in his years as a professional video/film writer. You can't put into words how important and helpful this is. And Laura Martin's work is also key as far as the overall visual look and digital effects. Laura often did her effects on layers. This made doing our work much easier. All of Continuity can't say enough about Laura Martin's work.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: Can you tell us a bit about the process for creating a digital comic? You obviously start with the original story as represented in the comic book. So what steps are there to fashion that into the final product of a motion comic?

NEAL  ADAMS: How did we proceed? As a director, I must provide storyboards and breakdowns. No panel in a comic book is screen-proportional except by accident. This is why there are so many motion comics that have comic book borders.

Every panel must be extended out and colored outward. Room must be made for the camera to move. I am in charge of moving mouths and animation design. And this is just the beginning of the process. Many hands and many computers begin to work. Up to 10 people on one panel.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: What do you think of John Cassaday's layouts in the original comics and how easily they lend themselves to motion comics? What qualities of his art are inherently filmic?

NEAL  ADAMS: I can't easily imagine a comic book panel that can't be reconfigured to a good motion comic sequence, but especially so with John Cassaday's work. John thinks filmically. A rare few comic book artists think this way. We were lucky to have John's art for our first big project.

MARVEL  SPOTLIGHT: You've been a creative force in the industry for over 40  years now, pushing it into new places ever since the late '60s at Marvel with X-MEN and AVENGERS and DC with Batman. So you'd have a valuable insight into what kind of milestone you think these motion comics reach. Are we seeing just another new platform for comics and comic art, or is it perhaps an evolution of the art form?

NEAL ADAMS: First let me say that motion comics support comic books, and do not detract in any way. When I see people watching the motion comic, I see them reaching for the graphic novel, or comic book nearby to check a point or sequence to see that they "missed that gag" or "how was it done in the comic book?" Because of this, I'm sure Marvel will sell many, many more reprints of this book. How's that for support?

This is a new art form. It's not a comic book, it's not 50 video animators "interpreting" artists' work. It is the work moving and tracking and fighting on the computer, TV, iPod screen—wherever.

This is a new medium. It will only get bigger. Are comic books and motion comics taking over the world? Mmmmm.... It's a possibility. People have been asking me for over 10 years, "What's going to happen with comic books, when you have $100-plus million special effects movies, computer games, the Internet, sky writing on Mars, etc. all competing with comic books?" I never had the answer.

I do now. Motion comics and comic books. Sisters in creative presentation with a conservative budget.

It's 1:30 in the morning. You're trolling across the dial questioning whether you're going to watch that same lion ripping out that antelope's throat for the seventh time...and then you run across John Cassaday and Joss Whedon's X-Men. Ha.

Make sure you come down to Union Square in NYC on October 28 at 6 p.m. to see the world premiere of the ASTONISHING X-MEN Motion Comic, take part in the costume contest and more. And even if you can't make the event, click over to iTunes on October 28 to download the first episode of "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted"! Visit marvel.com/fest for more info. 


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