Everyone who reads comics knows John Romita, Jr.'s versions of classic Marvel Comics characters from Spider-Man to Wolverine. But when it comes to the world of "Kick-Ass" -- his creator-owned series from Icon with Mark Millar -- no one will ever know versions of the characters beyond his. It's a promise he made to himself that carries on into the five-issue "Hit-Girl" series that launches in a few weeks. (See our talk with Millar about the book here.)
Romita spoke with CBR News about the comic, relating how he felt at the original suggestion that the spinoff be drawn by another artist. "I actually felt like a two-year-old kid whose toy was being played with by the kid down the block," he laughed. "I got so jealous and so petty. 'I want it!' That's a slight exaggeration, but I did want it. I didn't want any other 'Kick-Ass' projects to be done by other artists. So I begged for us to fit me in, and now I got what I asked for, and I'm in deep doo-doo because I've got to get a million pages done."
And the pages he's been working through aren't just the standard mainstream penciling gig. Romita just finished his work on the first act of "Avengers Vs. X-Men" -- Marvel's major event comic for the year -- and he expressed happiness that he took the assignment... and that he was done with it. "I just tossed a stack of 'AvX' reference into the recycling bin. You have no idea how happy that makes me!" the artist said, noting that drawing a book with so many locations and characters made it hard for even him to juggle multiple projects.
"You go back and forth and as soon as you've finished pages on one project, you realize you've got pages due on the other side," Romita said. "I work on 'Kick-Ass' stuff at night and on weekends, and that's all there is to it. The Marvel stuff gets done during the day. It's a balancing act, and it's hard. Right now I'm working to get another issue and a half of 'Hit-Girl' done quickly, and then there are some 'Captain America' script pages waiting for me. It's just a matter of not letting any one set of pages wait too long. The 'Kick-Ass' stuff suffered the most over the past few years [in terms of scheduling], but the truth of the matter is that I've had to do the Marvel stuff first, and the Marvel stuff with 'The Avengers' has been notoriously hard to do. When I was doing 'Spider-Man' and 'Kick-Ass' a while back, it was easier because they were both single character books. Doing a group book like 'Avengers' and then doing 'Avengers Vs. X-Men' which is a double group book made things much more difficult. And at the end of the 'AvX' arc, I had a real difficult scene crowded in Times Square that I had to get through. So I was losing hair that I hadn't even grown."
Two major assets that keep Romita happy with his work on "Hit-Girl" are legendary inker Tom Palmer and acclaimed colorist Dean White who bring a lush, brushy quality to his initial layout work on the book. "The interesting part of it is that going back to the Marvel stuff, which are full tight pencils, after doing the looser 'Kick-Ass' and 'Hit-Girl' pages, which are breakdowns, means that I have to get used to doing full on penciling again," he said. "At first, I struggled with 'Kick-Ass' over how much I put in and how much I left for Tom. Tom's a brilliant artist, so he's been handling my breakdowns well -- I made a concerted effort to leave out all blacks on those pages and only do linework. There's no blacks or shading. Tom adds a wash then, and I was struggling with the pages feeling unfinished when I turned them over to him. Now we've come full circle -- where it feels to me like I'm still doing full pencils. But that book looks beautiful because of Tom and Dean. But the struggle now has become going back to tight pencils on the Marvel work. 'Oh yeah, I have to shade these faces!'"
Still, he explained that in "Hit-Girl" he's found the right way to present the character's story in between volumes 1 and 2 of "Kick-Ass" in a visual sense, noting that the real world setting impacts who Mindy McCready is in and out of costume. "I actually have referred back to the other arcs, and I'm trying to make Mindy look like the little girl she's supposed to be. But I am changing things up. I'm changing her hair a little bit and letting it fit the different time frame. I just don't think ten-year-old girls have the same haircut all the time. Little girls usually dress up in what their mom's dress them like. I'm trying to make her feel more like what she is -- from a lower middle class family background where she can't always afford nice clothing. She's also a bit of a tomboy. I'm probably overthinking it, but it's certainly different."
And for now, Romita is thinking entirely about the comic even as plans for the "Kick-Ass 2" movie take shape. The artist said he's been in the loop on the new film, but his involvement will remain at the whim of the director, Jeff Wadlow -- just how Romita likes it. "I met the director and had a preliminary conversation a few months ago, and he said, 'Maybe we'll think about doing another animated sequence.' I don't know if he remembered that. He's got a lot on his plate. But I said over the weekend, I'll do it if they ask me. That would be great. But I'm not going to stomp my feet and demand it. That's entirely up to the director. It depends on how much he'll keep it in line with the first one. [Original 'Kick-Ass' director] Matthew Vaughn will be the producer, so I don't know if he'll have something to say about it. But I'm more than willing to help out wherever they need me."
The artist learned the hard way recently that even mentioning the movie out loud can bring a lot of distractions as he learned this weekend during an over-50-hour sketch-a-thon for charity in Las Vegas. "I did this charity event over the weekend, and not so much attention was paid to that after the fact. What was paid attention to was the fact that while I was there, I revealed there was going to be a second movie," he laughed. "I'm all of the sudden on Huffington Post and DigitalSpy and all this. It's the same as being asked about working in comics. You say you work in comics, and no one knows what the hell you do. If you say you made a movie, people go 'Oh my God! Wow!' Suddenly, you're a better looking man than you were before."
"I try not to volunteer what I do to anyone. If I say, 'I'm a cartoonist,' they might have no idea. Then I have to explain what a cartoonist is. And if they do know about the comics industry, I can mention Marvel Comics or Spider-Man, but I've never said 'And then I've done 'Kick-Ass.' I've never been able to stand in front of people and say, 'Have you ever heard of this?' For one, if they haven't it's embarrassing. For two, it's presumptuous to just assume that people should know about what I do for a living. I don't like to wear a badge about what I do with the movie and so on. I feel uncomfortable. People will go, 'Really? That's what you do for a living? I thought elves did that!'"
Of course, elves have never been as productive and John Romita, Jr., and they've never made anything as violent as "Hit-Girl."
"Hit-Girl" #1 by Mark Millar, John Romita, Jr., Tom Palmer and Dean White is available June 27.