Goodbye, Old Chum.

As always, Adam West (as Batman) provides valuable guidance.

Adam West, the actor who pretty much defined Batman for a huge number of fans, passed away this weekend. I’d met him, and he was an excellent guy, kind and friendly, and pretty much exactly what you’d hope from someone that you looked up to when you were tiny, but met as an adult. Artistically, I felt like there needed to be color, and a 60’s pop art feel, hence the Lichtenstein style treatment.

I’m not going to do all that much of a book report about Mr. West here. A little bit, sure, because it’s important…except the internet is very much doing all of those book reports right now. I was lookking for something else, and I’ll get to it.

How did Adam West become Batman? Interesting story, really. Producer William Dozier cast West as Batman, in part after seeing West perform as the James Bond-like spy “Captain Q” in a Nestlé Quik commercial. He was in competition with Lyle Waggoner for the role. The popular, very campy show ran on ABC from 1966 to 1968; and a feature-length film version was released in 1966. I still contend that this is in fact the BEST of all Batman films.

As Batman, West appeared in a public service announcement in which he encouraged schoolchildren to heed then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call for them to buy U.S. Savings stamps, a children’s version of U.S. savings bonds, to support the Vietnam War. Weird, right?

In 1970, West was offered the role of James Bond by producer Albert Broccoli for the film “Diamonds Are Forever.” West did not accept, later stating in his autobiography that he believed the role should always be played by a British actor. However, after his high-profile role as Batman, West, along with Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig (who played crime-fighting sidekicks Robin and Batgirl), was severely typecast. Not taking the James Bond role severely limited his options for several years.

The pencils that I started with. Likenesses are hard.

i met Adam West at a comic book convention at the Shrine Auditorium. I waited in line for a while, and when I got to the front, I wanted to shake his hand, and thank him for all of the enjoyment that he brought to me. I did that, actually, and he was a bit confused. I didn’t want any kind of collectible, and had no questions…I just wanted to shake his hand. He asked me if I’d go run and get him a snack, and I said sure…the next think I knew, he pulled up a chair, and I was having a pleasant day with him, and Frank Gorshin.

Just hanging out with Batman and the Riddler. We went out for Mexican food afterward…it was over twenty years ago now. Still such a fond memory.

Let’s be clear…Batman, the one I grew up looking up to as a kid, wanted to just hang around, chat, and have Mexican food. BATMAN.

West said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do that, one had to NEVER think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.” Really, it’s exactly that which made it funny…that was the whole joke.

The pre-Lichtenstein style, abstract version of the art.

That version above is actually my favorite. Some of you Gentle Readers like the process art, so I thought that I’d put together the highlights. The version above came from this version:

Very constructivist treatment, direct from the initial pencils.

A large amount of the beef that I have with modern portrayals of the Batman character are that they are SO far from the Adam West version. They are so super serious, completely “grim dark,” and completely unable to have a surf contest or a Batusi. At its heart, the idea of Batman is as absurd as West and Ward knew that it was, and that makes it FUN. Adam West made the role FUN, by not taking himself all that seriously.

I did put the process art together into a Warhol style collage, which I’m posting here:

The pop art process piece.

Longtime readers know that Cap was a part of the Bat-Family for a bit, and seems really angry at Batman now. She has a few stolen Batmobiles, in fact, I often depict my own car in the strip as West’s Batmobile. In short…Cap being angry at Batman now is pretty much because he isn’t Batman ’66 anymore. DC went a different direction, different from the character that I love, and that she liked. It’s the second or third time we have seen her in a Robin style suit, as a sidekick or “hanger on,” and I think that we will see a whole lot of Batman ’66 material this week.

It seems appropriate.

About the Batmobile…I got to ask Mr. West what driving it was like. He said, “The Batmobile was the coolest car ever invented, but it didn’t corner very well.” then he smiled, and shrugged.

Goodbye, old chum.

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