John Romita, Jr. interview

In his career as a comics artist, John Romita, Jr. has drawn a veritable who's who of the Marvel Universe: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, the X-Men, and Spider-Man, just to name a few. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Romita, Jr. about his past, his current work on Amazing Spider Man and Incredible Hulk, and his father, classic Marvel artist, John Romita, Sr.

Westfield: For our readers who aspire to becoming a comic artist, could you tell us about your art training?

John Romita, Jr.: I majored in advertising illustrations in college. It was called Advertising Art and Design. I have a degree in that. I went to two years of school figuring on looking for a summer job, then I would go and change schools and finish, and get my Bachelor’s and so on. That summer job ended up lasting 25 years.

Westfield: How big of an influence was your father in your development as an artist?

Romita, Jr.: Completely influential in every way, including art. He’s the greatest father in the world. The art thing wasn’t foisted upon me. He never really dragged me down and said, “you’ve gotta do this,” “you’ve gotta do that.” He was very cool about it. He said, “if you want to.” He was there for advice and was there for counseling, so to speak, but he never sat me down and taught me how do anything. It was always if I asked. But his influence was everything to me. He was influential in how I told stories. Watching him was influential in how I learned how to draw. In every way, he was an influence.

Westfield: Throughout your career, you’ve drawn many well known characters. Do you have a favorite to draw?

Romita, Jr.: To draw, Daredevil. But my favorite character is Spider-Man.

Westfield: Why is that?

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #4Romita, Jr.: Daredevil, probably because of the ease and the fun with it; using shadows and the cleanness of the costume. You don’t have to worry about anything except shadows and the images are a whole lot broader. It’s a lot easier to use the character against backgrounds. With Spider-Man, he’s got the webs, and other costumes are complicated. So, the ease of it is one thing, but he’s also a wonderful character. A lot of artists prefer to draw Daredevil over a lot of other characters because of the way it’s been done. I think that goes back to Frank Miller. But even before that, he was a great character. And my father drew him when I was a kid and it kinda stuck in my head. But my favorite character of all is Spider-Man, just for the history in my family.

Westfield: For as long as you’ve been in the business, are there characters you’ve never had a chance to draw that you’d like to?

Romita, Jr.: On a monthly basis? Sure. There’s Captain America and the Fantastic Four. I am doing a one-shot Fantastic Four job with Stan Lee this winter. I haven’t drawn The Avengers, although I’ve drawn a lot of the characters individually. Sooner or later, I’m going to be able to get to every single character Marvel started out with. [laughter] It’s just a matter of time.

Westfield: Spider-Man has had a resurgence in popularity recently. Why do you think that is?

Romita, Jr.: Probably because of the writer. I’m not ashamed to say that. Straczynski’s writing is just fantastic. The stories are great, and I appreciate his allowing me to flex my muscles. Even though I am working with a script, he still allows for a lot of my expansion. So I say it’s the fresh blood. It’s also the new editor on the book and the new Editor In Chief. Axel Alonso is the new editor on the book and Joe Quesada’s the Editor In Chief. I think those three, the writing and those two editors, have turned Spider-Man back around after a long lull. So I blame editorial. [laughter]

Westfield: Amazing Spider-Man #36 deals directly with the attack on the World Trade Center. What was it like as a former New Yorker working on that issue?

Romita, Jr.: First, I’m not a former New Yorker. I’m still a New Yorker. I’m in California, but I go back and forth and I’m moving back soon. Doing this has really taken a mental and physical toll on me. It’s given me nightmares; it’s brought a lot of tears to my eyes. And anybody that’s from New York in any way lost a piece of themselves when that happened last month. Masochistically, doing this assignment the way I have, by plastering my office with references and putting photographs everywhere and clippings from the newspapers, has just made it a nightmare of a job. It’s coming out fine. I’m very proud of it. I’m finishing up the last couple of pages right now. It’s taken an extremely long time because of the complexity of the artwork. But it’s taken a toll. I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep in a month.

Westfield: Can you tell us anything about the story?

Romita, Jr.: Other than it’s beautifully written, it’d be hard to describe in a short amount of time. It’s Straczynski’s attempt to show the helplessness of the super-heroes and, in turn, showing the helplessness of all people. There’s the joining of the super-heroes with the actual heroes - the firemen, the cops, the health workers and the rescue workers and anybody else who’s on site - showing who the real heroes are. And showing that we as people are always going to be around, regardless of what is done to us. But the main part of it is the frustration in Spider-Man, which translates into our frustration. That’s about it. It’s very simple, but it’s absolutely beautifully written.

Westfield: You’re also involved with the Moment of Silence book. Can you tell us anything about that?

Romita, Jr.: The benefit book? I know nothing about it right now. I haven’t even gotten the script on that yet. I’m going to have to sleep for a month after I get done with this one, so we’ll see what happens when I get that script.

Westfield: Also coming up is the silent, Nuff Said, issue. What challenges does drawing a wordless story create for you?

Romita, Jr.: I don’t think it’s a challenge to me. I’ve been working on my storytelling for so long that you do the same job you normally do. If somebody has to do an extra amount of storytelling, and it’s different from their normal work, then that’s a challenge. The amount of storytelling I do in these silent issues is basically the amount of storytelling I do in all issues. I was taught at a young age in the industry to draw a story as if there’s no dialog. Those were the words that were handed to me when I was younger. So this is just another day on the job.

Westfield: Can you say anything about what’s coming up in Amazing Spider-Man?

Amazing Spider-Man #35Romita, Jr.: No. Honestly, I haven’t gotten the next script. The issue after Aunt May finds the Spider-Man costume, which was issue 35, that script hasn’t been done yet. That was supposed to be 36, but we’ve had some interruptions. I don’t know what the next script is going to be like, and that’s kind of exciting.

Westfield: You’re also working on Incredible Hulk. Can you tell us anything about that?

Incredible Hulk #34 Sneak PeekRomita, Jr.: Yeah. I’ve got three issues done. I’m back on the Hulk again. I did a whole bunch of them and they changed writers, and they put a gap in between the two writers. I’m working with a guy named Bruce Jones, who is a writer I read when I was younger. I didn’t know it was that Bruce Jones. I’m really proud and happy to be working with a guy who’s that good of a writer. I’m just blessed. I’ve got these two guys who I’ve never met before (I’ve spoken briefly to Bruce Jones) but I’ve got Straczynski on Spider-Man and I’ve got Bruce Jones on the Hulk. I must have been walking in the right area of the industry for somebody to hand those two guys to me. And that’s a tribute to the editor on both books, who is Axel Alonso. He went out and got top-notch writers. And to Joe Quesada for signing them. They have handed me the golden pencil, so to speak. The stories on the Hulk are great. It’s a totally different way of looking at the Hulk. It's kinda hard to describe it. If you read issue 34, that'll give you an inkling of Incredible Hulk #34 Sneak Peekwhat the future issues are going to be like.

Incredible Hulk #28Westfield: Do you approach working on Spider-Man differently than you do Incredible Hulk?

Romita, Jr.: Yeah, you have to really approach them differently. Obviously visually, but because of the writers, it's not a difficult task to approach them differently. They ask for different things. Unless you're not an experienced artist, or unless you're not an able artist, the work comes out differently. You have no choice. If you're really an inexperienced artist, then you might have troubles, but just by sheer experience and having worked with a lot of different writers, they come out in different ways. Now the art, to some people, might be repetitive. I don't know. You ask a lot of people who don't like me, and they'll say that. You ask a lot of people who do like me, and they'll say otherwise. The work will come out looking different because it's different writers and I tend to put out what the writers ask me to put out with my slant to it. Hopefully it doesn't look repetitive.

Westfield: Do you have any personal favorite projects that you've done?

Romita, Jr.: Yeah. This job I'm just finishing; the Spider-Man issue. But the stuff I'm most proud of is The Man Without Fear, the mini-series with Frank Miller. That's probably my favorite.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects coming up that you’d like to mention?

Romita, Jr.: Yes. My five-year-old son is my favorite project. Keeping him from turning into an ax murderer would be important. He’s my favorite project; he and my wife. As far as upcoming stuff in comics, the Fantastic Four thing that comes up after the first of the year. I’ll be able to do a couple of pages of that a month, but it’s a long schedule. But just maintaining the Hulk and Spider-Man, Spider-Man especially. This job with the World Trade Center to me has kinda opened up a whole new door, because it’s turned Spider-Man into a very real thing. It sat me down into the rubble, so to speak, and let me think about it on a regular basis. If I hadn’t worked on Spider-Man, I probably would be less involved with this World Trade Center thing. While that seems to be a cruel thing to do to someone, I think it’s important. You don’t avoid stuff like that. You don’t just pooh-pooh it and pay no attention to it. This is an important thing in history, let alone as an artist. It’s really made me appreciate my family and my friends; and appreciate cops and firemen - especially firemen. I have friends who are both. None of them were injured in the mess, but it makes me appreciate things a lot more, including life in general. So this Spider-Man job, if it didn’t cement it after working on it for so many years, this particular issue has really done that.

Westfield: Do you have any closing comments?

Romita, Jr.: To all the people who hate my stuff, I'll try real hard to win you over. [laughter]

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