Monday, June 12, 2017

Adam West 1928-2017

Anyone who reads this blog will (I'm sure) be already aware the legendary Batman actor Adam West died this past weekend. Therefore, the purpose of this blog post is not to give anyone a run down on Adam's life story or his impact on popular culture-there's far more eloquent people than me who have done & who will do that. No this is to reflect the effect that Adam West had on me.This is going to be long & rambling, could well jump around, & might not make much sense, so feel free to jump to the next blog on your watch list.

As strange as it may sound, I think it's probably true to say than no single person (other than my immediate family) has had such a profound effect on the course of my life than Adam West... & I never even met the guy. Ok, to be specific, it wasn't Adam West as such, but the truth is Adam West was Batman, & that had a significant effect.

When I was very young (back in the late 1960's) there was very little that was more important to me than Batman. And when I say 'Batman' I mean the Batman TV show, I think it wasn't until just before the turn of the 1970's that I even realised Batman comics existed (I'll get to that in a mo..). I can't explain why that show & that character resonated with me so strongly. It certainly wasn't the gaudy 1960's colours,because we had a black & white televison. Maybe it was the car (I had more than one die-cast Corgi Batmobile) maybe it was the theme tune... there can be few people in the western world who if you say to them "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na...." they won't respond with "Batman!". But whatever the reason, I loved Batman, I loved the idea of Batman, I loved the costume, everything & anything to do with Batman was ok with me. Which brings me back me to that first Batman comic.It was (I'm guessing here) around '68 when I was walking through one of the less well off parts of my hometown with my Dad & older brother & we passed a second-hand (in America they'd probably call it a 'junk') shop. As we pass, my brother says "There was a Batman comic in that shop", I say there's no such thing a a Batman comic (as I said, to me, batman was a TV character), he insists that he saw it & gradually as we walk I realise he's telling the truth, so as we return the same way I'm pleading with my Dad... I simply HAD to have that comic. This comic.....
Yes, I got the comic, except it didn't look like that. It had no cover & I'm sure was missing a couple of interior pages too. But I didn't care, it was Batman, every page was filled with lots & lots of images of Batman. Well, someone who was mostly Batman. But something wasn't quite right. This wasn't the Batman from the TV show... not the real Batman, not the Adam West Batman. Firstly, the belt was all wrong, there were tubes instead of boxes & there was no Bat symbol on the buckle, the Batmobile didn't look at all right but mostly, there was no yellow oval around the Bat on his chest, fortunately going through the comic with a stubby yellow wax crayon easily solved that last problem.
Despite these teething problems the die was cast, more comics followed, I could enjoy the adventures of my favorite TV character despite the fact that the show was no longer being broadcast in my area. But the truth is, that even though I was reading (what I now know) were classic Batman tales I preferred them when they resembled the TV version, I liked it when they drew Robin to look like Burt Ward, & I was heartbroken when I read the comic in which Batman left Wayne Manor & the Batcave behind. So at the time, I would rather read & re-read my hardback UK Batman annual than all those classic Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams & Irv Norvick stories.

Then there were the trading cards. Those classic Topps cards adorned with Norm Saunders paintings , which I now know were produced as a tie-in for the TV show, & although I didn't know that at the time were quite simply like having the TV show when it wasn't actually around. They were perfect! They featured the best four villains, Robin looked like Burt Ward, but mostly, they got Batman's costume right! The belt had boxes, not tubes.On some of the cards you could even see Batman's eyes.This particular card was always my favorite, because this was the one which most closely resembled the Adam West Batman.

But then, in around 1972 something happened. I bought this book, with £1.25 of my own money.

The book was sealed in plastic, it was impossible to flick through it before purchase, but I bought it because I was convinced it was going to be full of photos from the TV show-it wasn't. But what there was in there were lots & lots of Batman stories, some I'd already read, but many I hadn't. Batman's origin, The Joker's origin & many more, & finally, my 8 year old brain could start to appreciate these tales for what they were. These weren't a spin off from my favorite show, these were the stories which inspired my favorite show.And at some time around that point I started to see the artwork differently. This wasn't Batman picked up from the television & slapped on a page... someone had drawn these, & if they could do it, why couldn't I? And though I never vocalised it, or probably even arranged the thought in anything other than a random sense, I think it was there in the afterglow of Adam West & Burt Ward & the full glare of Gil Kane & Carmine Infantino that my destiny was set.

Over the next twenty years I discovered lots of new & exciting comics, Action, 2000AD, Battle, Warlord, Star Wars etc etc, but always there was Batman. Even when Batman wasn't cool (yes there really was such a time, hard to believe now) to most comic fans, to me he was always number one. And I never got more of a thrill when reading a Batman comic than when the villain was The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin or The Catwoman.

Eventually of course (through sheer dogged determination rather than talent) I actually did get to draw comics professionally & part of that journey included spells drawing Batman (& Robin). And you can bet that when I sat to draw those pages for the first time, the thought in my head was "I'm actually drawing Batman". But as the four year old who read that tattered 80 page giant, this was a different Batman. The costume was different, Robin wasn't even the same kid anymore, but still, I'd made it, & I was determined to do something for that four year old kid with his yellow wax crayon & I drew the Bat symbol on Batman's belt buckle. Of course, that was never going to stick & it got hit with white out in the editorial office, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that I still knew the way it should be, & I knew that because Adam West had shown me.

Rest In Peace old chum, you affected more lives in more ways than you could ever have known.