Singapore. From drawing covers of various X-Men comics to inventing original characters, such as Monkey Man and O'Brien, Arthur "Art" Adams has been known as a legendary comic book artist, who always has fans lining up at conventions for signed copies and commissions.
During his first visit to the city-state for the 2017 Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention, the self-taught artist spared a few minutes to talk about his love for comic books that led him to what he is now.
Born in 1963, Adams has been a comic fanboy since was young. He recalled that one of his childhood favorites is "Marvel Team-Up #79."
He left his job making pizzas at the age of 19 to concentrate on building a career as an artist. He defined his teenage self as an arrogant boy who thought he did not need to go to school.
"I was a very arrogant young man. I thought I could just examine other people's comics and buy 'how to draw' books. […] While I didn't technically go to school, I did have teachers, even though they're books or sometimes I would go to comic book shows like this to talk to other professionals, so I could find out a little bit more. They would always be very nice and give me helpful hints," Adams told reporters at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on Saturday (09/09).
Though he admits that if he had gone to university, it wouldn't have been to hone his skills as a comic book artist, but to learn art history.
He broke into the industry after penciling for Marvel's "Longshot" miniseries in 1985. Now Adams's work has been recognized by many and has inspired many other artists, though he admits that he sometimes still struggles to find his true voice.
"I feel like I have learned over the years but I also feel that there's a lot more for me to learn. I think it's part of being a fan of comics. I always see that there are so many creators that do such good work that sometimes I make a mistake of trying to emulate their work, so there are times my work would look very odd, 'cause I was trying to look at somebody else," he said.
One of his inspirations and favorite comics is the first edition of "The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans," drawn by Walter "Walt" Simonson and Terry Austin and published in 1982.
"Not only is that an excellent comic book, but Walter with Terry Austin taught me so much about drawing teen superhero books, because all the characters look different. They look distinctly different and they behave differently. […] Also, there were action scenes he [Walter] was able to use all the characters. Some people like focus on one character, but Walter was able to do all of them and do them so well," Adams said.
Adams has done covers and interior work for giant publishing houses, including Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics. The titles include Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Godzilla, Vampirella, Rocketeer, The Authority, Danger Girl, Excalibur and Hulk, to name a few.
GQ Magazine commissioned Adams last year to draw real-world controversial figures as supervillains.
"I thought they were funny when I drew them. They don't seem so funny anymore," he said.
The figures included United States President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, pharmaceutical executive Martin Skhreli, former FIFA president Seth Blatter and the Kardashians' "momager," Kris Jenner.
"I was happy to do that because I think most of them are quite villainous. Although I didn't feel quite that way about Kris Jenner. I didn't think that was quite fair. I think for some people she may not be a good role model, but I don't think she's as bad as all those other guys. I didn't think that was fair," Adams said.
Challenges and Advice to Budding Artists
Legends aren't born but are those who never waver from their field of expertise. Arthur never once thought of leaving his over three-decade journey of being an artist.
"Well I'm very lucky because I don't have to leave the house for work really. I'm a very lazy person, so if I could stay at home and do my work, that's very good," Adams joked.
"Mostly I've just been very fortunate that my work is always in demand. If I could draw three times as fast I'd still have too much work to do […] Also inside I'm not keeping track of time, so I only feel like I've been working for a little while even though I look in the mirror, I'm bald and fat now."
Anyone who works in the creative or entertainment industry is bound to have creative differences, especially in finding common ground between the artist's idealism and the product's marketability. However, Adams said he has never had any clashes between himself and publishers.
"I've been very fortunate, 'cause I work relatively slowly. Often when I turn in work, it's very close to the deadline so there's not much opportunity for the editors or the publishers to complain," he said.
When asked about his current challenges, he said it is his paternal duties that come in the way of work, considering that he has a 6-year-old daughter from his marriage to acclaimed comic artist Joyce Chin, who was also present as a panelist during the convention.
"Well when I was 19, and well into many years later, I could work all night, sleep all day, but I have a daughter now, so the main challenge now is I have to get up very early in the morning to send her off to school and I can't stay up all night anymore like I used to," he said.
Besides pulling many all-nighters, Adams admitted that back in the day he did not really pay attention to his diet, which resulted in some health issues. That's why when asked to give advice to emerging artists, he said, "basically the same advice that most of our mothers give us," which is to stay healthy.
Since drawing and writing requires plenty of time sitting down, Adams suggested that artists should exercise regularly and refrain from eating too much junk food.
In addition, knowing their limits instead of saying yes to all tasks is important.
"I've been telling young people that I understand that someone would want to sacrifice their health for the publisher, but the pub will never sacrifice their health for the artist, so don't do that. It's not a fair trade," Adams concluded.