If you were to ask me who my favourite comic book artist of all time is, I’d likely ponder the question for a few minutes (I quit reading comics regularly as far back as the 90s). Following that pause, however, I’d most certainly invoke the name “Arthur Adams,” the iconic and influential illustrator and writer known largely for his artwork in the Marvel miniseries Longshot and his subsequent work on books such as The Uncanny X-Men, Action Comics, Hulk and many more.
“In Sketch Duel, the audience chooses a random character and random action or state by vote.”
What’s funny about that though is that despite owning a cherished paperback of the aforementioned six-issue Longshot series and having fond memories of his unique, then one-of-a-kind art-style in issues like X-Men Annual #9 and DC Action Comics Annual #1, seeing Arthur Adams live and in-person participating in a FAN EXPO Canada 2022 opening night “Sketch Duel” reminded me of just how little I actually knew about him.
Well, if there’s anything new that I’ve learned from that evening, it’s that while he may not necessarily be the fastest sketcher, Arthur Adams is masterfully hilarious under pressure.
Adams was in attendance along with his wife, fellow veteran comic book artist Joyce Chin as well as native Montrealer and colleague Yanick Paquette for a 3-way “penciller face-off” of sorts. In Sketch Duel, the audience chooses a random character and random action or state by vote, from which all three artists must then produce their own sketch of said character performing said action or being in said state within fifteen minutes. Once the timer runs out, each of the artists’ finished works are projected on a screen for the audience to see and react to, and at the end of the two-session panel, six lucky audience members are randomly selected to each walk away with one of the sketches.
The best part about this of course is that the artists must field live questions from the audience as they draw, resulting in some very hysterical, intriguing and at times disturbing tales from their long careers. The sketches therefore serve as humorous jumping-off points to encourage discourse when necessary, but thanks to some very audience questions, the panel had no shortage of things to talk about.
Sketch Duel Session 1: Hulk Doing Yoga
The first of the two sessions challenged the trio of artists to draw Marvel’s familiar shirtless green giant performing yoga, the action decided by Adams after the audience could not settle on the alternatives of “Hulk at the DMV,” “Hulk Paddleboarding,” or “Black Canary doing Yoga.” Once the pens took to paper it took no time for a member of the audience to ask what were some of the weirdest paid or unpaid commissions that each of the artists had ever been asked to do, to which Arthur wittily brought the house down immediately by responding “I think we’re on it right now.”
Joyce’s more serious follow up however kicked off a deluge of eye-opening mini-stories from Art, Joyce, and Yanick describing what working as young artists in the 80s, 90s and 2000s was like before the advent of modern internet, and just how weird customers requesting sketches in person could get back then. “[Strange commissions] have actually lessened because we didn’t use to collectively charge for sketches and so pre-internet that meant all the weirdos came out of the woodwork for commissions of their ‘interesting’ inner thoughts,” Joyce explained. “…they do not come out anymore because we charge money now…and they have the internet.”
Joyce, Arthur and Yanick made sure to keep the panel clean, but managed to hint at the tip of the iceberg, such as requests for sketches of superheroes tied to car bumpers, Harrison Ford as an elf, and situations where the requests seemed innocent but the behaviour of the fan standing in front of them clearly wasn’t. According to Arthur, even paid commissions weren’t the exception, as he recollected an experience where a well-to-do lawyer requested a painting of Venom mutilating Peter Parker in graphic detail. “I said [to him] ‘I don’t really do paintings, but how about $30,000? …I didn’t hear back,’” Adams joked with a chuckle.
In case you’re curious, all three artists’ Hulk Yoga sketches were coincidentally of the Hulk in a downward dog or crow pose, with Yanick somehow finding time to add green colouring to his and Joyce’s adding an adorable fart for added comic flair.
Sketch Duel Session 2: Sasquatch Tied to A Car Bumper
The themes of large superheroes and strange requests continued into the second and final session, with the unanimously requested second sketch being an obvious callback to the fetish stories. During this session, the conversation shifted to the artists’ most challenging work on a comic book. Further, convincing me that my attendance at this panel must have been fate, Arthur confessed that one of the most difficult assignments he could recall was that of 1987’s DC Action Comics Annual #1, one of my previously mentioned Art Adams standalone books that I used to own as a teenager. “[It was because my girlfriend broke up with me,” Arthur mockingly sobbed as the reason. Joyce quickly reassured the audience that it wasn’t her, to which Arthur effortlessly fired back with “No, someone wiser.”
As a fan that pored through that particular book many, many times, I remember DC Action Comics Annual #1 representing a noticeable change in Arthur’s drawing style. A Superman/Batman crossover, it depicted both heroes with thick, almost monolithic body types that in a way coincidentally foreshadowed their Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series incarnations in the 90s, and all the characters in general looked heavier and chunkier. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. “My editor would call up and say Arthur, I don’t care if your girlfriend has left you, you have to get the book done, and also could you make Superman’s chin smaller?” Adams recollected. “I did NOT make Superman’s chin smaller.”
Joyce put forward her early cover and interior work on the Green Lantern franchise of books (starting with the Green Lantern 80-Page Giant issue in 2000) as her most challenging job. This was because up until then she had only worked on Marvel titles and knew extraordinarily little about DC Comics and Green Lantern lore apart from the basics, requiring her to learn all the related characters’ looks and backgrounds as she went, crash-course style.
She also had an interesting story in which her artwork of Supergirl constantly went back and forth by FedEx between herself and her editor, with persistent requests from the editor to further shrink the size of Supergirl’s bosom. Only on the third rejection did the editor finally come out and explain that the version of Supergirl Joyce had been assigned to draw was only 14-15 years old and thus required a “younger” body-type. Yep, e-mail may have been a thing by 2000, but few execs at DC apparently used it, and you definitely couldn’t send full-size, hard-copy comic book panels in an attachment.
For Yanick’s part, his challenge was working with two comic book writing legends, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison “back-to-back” on the series Terra Obscura and Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer, respectively. On top of both writers being infamous for producing copious amounts of script, Alan Moore’s attention to detail in particular proved quite demanding for the Canadian-born artist. Yanick clarified: “It’s hard to realize that before the internet, if you need(ed) to draw a streetcar from San Francisco and you live in Montreal, there’s really no other way than to just go to the library and…hope for the best…there was no way to know… Every used bookstore I would go there and buy books and [maybe an] old table, just in case I would have to draw a table and ran out of ideas…or watches, or spoons from the 17th century! You know, maybe, you never know!”
With time to complete the sketches running out, Joyce responded to an audience member’s question about how the pandemic had impacted them by jokingly saying “The thing with art is that you’re alone in a room, so we were the ideal COVID candidates because nothing changed!” She lamented however that with the lack of comic book conventions over the past three years that she, Arthur and Yanick had few opportunities to meet and socialize with their industry peers, which before COVID they saw more of than their neighbours or family. Arthur chimed in, adding that his “neighbours suck.” Finally, an inquiry about Arthur’s favourite go-to BBQ recipes led into a legendary five-minute tale of a grilled-to-perfection “caveman cut” rack of ribs that left the entire room salivating.
As for our good old friend Sasquatch tied to that car bumper, I’m sure you’ll agree that Arthur’s sketch was the only one that mattered in the end. Just ask Scoob and Shaggy:
There’s a saying that you should never meet your childhood heroes, but Arthur Adams certainly didn’t disappoint, and I think I even may have found new heroes in Joyce and Yanick. One thing’s for sure, I’ve got a lot of reading to catch up on!