CCI, Day 2: Spotlight on John Romita

Fri, July 21st, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Travis Fischer, Contributing Writer

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John & Virginia Romita
Once upon a time there was a house. A house of ideas. And in this house of ideas there was a man named Stan who created a fairly popular character with a guy named Ditko.

Stan would tell the story to Ditko, who would in turn illustrate that story for everybody else to enjoy. This was the story of Spider-Man.

Spider-Man became a success and it looked like the wall-crawler would have a long and happy existence.

But then Ditko left and everybody was afraid that Spider-Man would slowly fall into obscurity.

Fortunately for Spider-Man, there was one man who was able to take Ditko's place and bring Spider-Man to even greater heights than before. Even more fortunately, this man was hired at the house of ideas just months earlier.

This man was John Romita, Sr..

"I did not feel right with Spider-Man," Romita said at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday. "I did it because Stan needed it. Foolishly, I believed I was only on temporarily.

"A lot of artists today the first thing they want to do is change the character," Romita said when asked what it was like taking over for Ditko. "He and the writer just conspire to change the whole book.

"I felt obliged to do it just like Ditko," continued Romita, who used Ditko's art style as a template for drawing Spider-Man. However, Romita's own style couldn't help but affect some changes as Peter became more handsome and stronger the longer Romita worked on him. "I ended up putting more muscles on Spider-Man than I should have."

Not having the self-discipline to work at home, Romita spent many late nights in the Marvel offices, which led him to offer the following advice to the potential future writers and artists.

"You gotta have a wife like I have!" he exclaimed. "We've been married 53 plus years. I don't think many women would have put up with what I put her through."

"I was stupid!" a shout from the crowd immediately replied, followed by a burst of laughter.

John's wife, Virginia, became as much a staple of Marvel comics as Romita himself was. When his wife told him that she wanted to get a job, he asked her to come into his office at Marvel and arrange it for him as a favor.

"Twenty years later I had to drag her out!" Romita said. "She wanted to stay and I had retired for both of us."

With no experience in the field, Virginia quickly became the linchpin of the Marvel Bullpen, masterfully taking on every challenge her various positions offered. Romita even claims that during children's tours of the office, Virginia went from being introduced as John's wife to John being introduced as Virginia's husband.

"She ran a 30 person bullpen so well that the only time Marvel was on time was when she was running the bullpen." Romita said. "When I left there was more grief trying to fill her job than my job."

The conversation then turned to the newer generation of comic artists. Those upcoming hotshots of the '70s.

"The younger generation in the '70s did not feel the same critical need for this stuff. They were thinking of it as part of their own and didn't want to tie themselves down. They wanted to be independent," Romita said about the many talented artists who would turn down stable work in favor of their creative freedom.

People who Romita felt needed years of more training were given jobs out of necessity and that's something that he feels is still hurting Marvel even today.

On the subject of technique, Romita also has some very strong opinions.

"Technique is not what you need in comics. What you need is characterization and storytelling."

When asked about how he felt about the excess detail of certain artists, he continued with, "Clarity is the third part of that trilogy."

Romita understands the situation modern artists have though, stating that while he only had five or ten years to work off of, modern artists have decades to compete against.

"I have to sympathize with these guys and know why they do what they do."

During the panel Romita mentioned many artists who were influences on him and he respected. Of them, Frank Robins was one of the best.

"He's another guy who drove me nuts," said Romita, who told of how Frank Robbins came to work for Marvel because he had too much free time on his hands while drawing and writing his own strip.

DC Comics couldn't keep him occupied, so Marvel picked him up and gave him "Captain America."

"He could knock stuff out so fast it drove me out of my mind," Romita said. "I don't care if you're fast but to be fast and good - that's a cruel thing to do to a guy like me."

Now retired, Romita hopes to give up on his dream of painting.

"I promised myself I was going to paint. That was 96. You know how many painting's I've done. Zip."

Coming around full circle, the panel ended where it began. With Spider-Man and the tale of how Romita came to work on the project.

After years of writing romance novels, DC Comics canceled the romance department, which made Romita wait for the adventure department to call him.

"The thing is that they couldn't picture me doing super-heroes."

After quitting comics forever for a weekend, he went to Stan Lee and ended up getting "Daredevil" two weeks later. Soon afterwards, DC Comics offered him Metamorpho, which he turned down.

Romita went on board with Marvel and still considers himself a Marvel man today. He loved drawing "Daredevil" and was intent on watching it grow into something spectacular.

"It killed me to give it up," he said about having to leave the hornhead for the webhead.

All too soon the panel ended and Virginia's husband politely excused himself from the room of cheering and appreciative panelists.

 
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