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John Romita, Sr.

John Romita Sr. at Comicon 2006.
Born January 24, 1930 (1930-01-24) (age 80)[1]
Brooklyn, New York City
Area(s) Penciller, Inker
Pseudonym(s) John Romita
Notable works Amazing Spider-Man

John Romita, Sr. (often known as simply John Romita) (born January 24, 1930[1]) is an Italian-American comic-book artist best known for his work on Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider-Man. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2002.

Romita is the father of John Romita, Jr., also a comic-book artist, and husband of Virginia Romita, for many years Marvel's traffic manager.[2]

Contents

Biography

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Early life and career

The son of a baker,[3] John Romita was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City,[4] with three sisters and a brother.[5] He graduated from Manhattan's School of Industrial Art in 1947, having attended for the years after spending ninth grade at a Brooklyn junior high school.[6] Among his instructors were book illustrator Howard Simon and magazine illustrator Ben Clements,[7] and his influences included comics artists Noel Sickles,[8] Roy Crane,[8] Milton Caniff,[9] and, later, Alex Toth,[8] and Carmine Infantino,[10] as well as commercial illustrators Jon Whitcomb, Coby Whitmore, and Al Parker.[11]

Romita broke into comics on the seminal series Famous Funnies. "Steven Douglas up there was a benefactor to all young artists", Romita recalled. "The first story he gave me was a love story. It was terrible. All the women looked like emaciated men and he bought it, never criticized, and told me to keep working. He paid me two hundred dollars for it and never published it — and rightfully so".[12]

Romita was working at the New York City company Forbes Lithograph in 1949, earning $30 a week, when comic-book inker Lester Zakarin,[13] a friend from high school whom he ran into on a subway train, offered him either $17[14] or $20[12] a page to pencil a 10-page story for him as uncredited ghost artist. "I thought, this is ridiculous! In two pages I can make more money than I usually make all week! So I ghosted it and then kept on ghosting for him", Romita recalled.[12] "I think it was a 1920s mobster crime story".[8] The work was for Marvel's 1940s forerunner, Timely Comics, which helped give Romita an opportunity to meet editor-in-chief and art director Stan Lee. In addition to Timely, Romita ghost-penciled for Zakarin on Trojan Comics' Crime-Smashers and other titles, eventually signing some "Zakarin and Romita".[8]

Atlas Comics

Captain America 78 (Sept. 1954). Cover art by Romita.

The collaboration ended in Spring 1951, when Romita was drafted into the U.S. Army.[15] Taking the initiative prior to induction, he showed art samples to the base art director on Governor's Island, in New York Bay, who arranged for him to be stationed there to do layouts for recruitment posters[8] once Romita had completed basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.[15] Romita was promoted to corporal after seven or eight months; now allowed to live off the post, he rented an apartment in Brooklyn.[16] He married Virginia in November 1952[17]

When not on duty, Romita could leave the base and go into Manhattan. In mid- to late 1951, he recalled in 2002, "I went uptown one day for lunch. I stopped over at Stan Lee's [office in the Empire State Building, where Timely Comics had by now evolved into Atlas Comics], and his secretary came out ... and I said, 'Stan doesn't know my name but I've worked for him for over a year'. I was in uniform! She must've told him this GI ... wants to do some comics. She said, 'Stan said here's a four-page science fiction story'. I penciled it and struggled with my first inking. That was the first story I did on my own. I did Westerns and war stories then".[8][18]

Romita went on to draw a wide variety of horror, war, romance and other genres for Atlas. His most prominent work for the company was the short-lived, 1950s revival of Timely's hit character Captain America, in Young Men 24-28 (Dec. 1953 - July 1954) and Captain America 76-78 (May-Sept. 1954).[19]

He also was the primary artist for one of the first series with a Black star, "Waku, Prince of the Bantu" — created by writer Don Rico and artist Ogden Whitney in the omnibus title Jungle Tales 1 (Sept. 1954). The ongoing short feature starred an African chieftain in Africa, with no regularly featured Caucasian characters. Romita succeeded Whitney with issue 2 (Nov. 1954).[19]

That same year, Romita and Virginia, who were living in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood, bought a house in the Queens neighborhood of Queens Village.[10] Some years later, the family would move to Bellerose, New York, on Long Island.[20]

DC Comics romance artist

In the mid-1950s, while continuing to freelance for Atlas, Romita did uncredited work for DC Comics before transitioning to work for DC exclusively in 1958. His first known work for the company is the tentatively identified penciling credit for the cover of Secret Hearts 58 (Oct. 1959), and, confirmably, pencils for the seven-page story "I Know My Love", inked by Bernard Sachs, in Heart Throbs 63 (Jan. 1960). Other titles to which he contributed include Falling in Love, Girls' Love Stories, Girls' Romances, and Young Love.[19]

"I was following the DC [house] style", he recalled in 2002. "Frequently they had another artist do the first page of my stories. Eventually I became their romance cover artist".[11] He would "swipe" — an artists' term for using existing work as models, a common practice among novices — from movie stills and from the Milton Caniff comic strip Terry and the Pirates.[11] Bernard Sachs and Sy Barry inked some of Romita's romance work, but "by the late '50s and early '60s, I was inking my own stuff".[11]

Shortly afterward, however, romance comics began declining in popularity, and by 1965, DC had "stopped buying any new [romance] art", Romita recalled. "They had a large inventory of stories and continued with that and reprints. The other departments just never used me. I didn't go push myself in their face, either".[21] Romita's last known DC story work was the six-page "My Heart Tricked Me", inked by Sachs, in Girls' Romances 121 (Dec. 1966), though his spot illustrations, some or all of it reprints of earlier work, continued to appear on one-page "beauty tip" and other filler pages, as well as on letters pages, through early 1970, as did the occasional reprinted story.[19]

Joining Marvel Comics

Even before his final original DC story was published, Romita had already returned to freelance for what had now become Marvel Comics. After wetting his feet with two 12-page Giant-Man assignments, penciling over Jack Kirby layouts on "The Menace of Madam Macabre" and co-inking (with Chic Stone) over Bob Powell's pencils on "The Mystery of the Hidden Man and his Rays of Doom" in Tales to Astonish 66-67 (April-May 1965). He also inked Kirby's cover and Don Heck's interior pencils on the superhero-team comic The Avengers 23 (Dec. 1965).[19]

Romita directed most of his efforts, however, toward finding advertising storyboard work. He obtained a position at the large ad agency BBDO through his friend Al Normandia, one of the firm's art directors. "They were going to pay me $250 a week. I'd made just over $200 a week with the romance [comics] but only by killing myself" with long hours of work. "It had become very hard for me to come up with new ideas.... So I said, 'If I do any comics ... I'll do inking only...."[22]

Marvel editor Stan Lee, however, had heard of Romita's leaving DC, and asked to see him. At "a three-hour lunch", Romita recalled, Lee promised to match the agency salary if Romita would come work for Marvel, and to give him flexibility to work at home or at the office on any given day at Romita's discretion.[23] And while Romita felt he no longer wanted to pencil, in favor of being solely an inker, Lee soon enticed him otherwise:

"I had inked an Avengers job for Stan, and I told him I just wanted to ink. I felt like I was burned out as a penciler after eight years of romance work. I didn't want to pencil any more; in fact, I couldn't work at home any more — I couldn't discipline myself to do it. He said, 'Okay,' but the first chance he had he shows me this Daredevil story somebody had started and he didn't like it, and he wanted somebody else to do it".[24] "[He] showed me Dick Ayers' splash page for a Daredevil [and] asked me, 'What would you do with this page?' I showed him on a tracing paper what I would do, and then he asked me to do a drawing of Daredevil the way I would do it. I did a big drawing of Daredevil ... just a big, tracing-paper drawing of Daredevil swinging. And Stan loved it."[25]

Romita began a brief stint on Daredevil beginning with issue 12 (Jan. 1966), initially penciling over Jack Kirby's dynamic layouts as a means of learning Marvel's storytelling house style.[25] Sales perked; while the title had a smaller print run than Marvel flagships The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, it briefly boasted the company's highest percentage sales.[25] It also proved to be a stepping-stone for Romita's signature, years-long penciling run on The Amazing Spider-Man. "What Stan Lee wanted was for me to do a two-part Daredevil story [issues 16-17, May-June 1966] with Spider-Man as a guest star, to see how I handled the character".[12]

Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man 50 (July 1967). Cover art by Romita and Mike Esposito.

The reason for the backdoor tryout was the growing estrangement between Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. When Ditko abruptly left Marvel after completing The Amazing Spider-Man 38 (July 1966), Lee gave Romita the assignment. This followed Romita's eight-issue Daredevil run, the cover of the subsequent issue 20 (Sept. 1966), and an incidental Hulk and two Captain America stories (in Tales to Astonish 77, March 1966, and Tales of Suspense 76-77, April-May 1966, respectively). While Romita's depiction on the character would eventually become the company mascot and the definitive look to the general public, the artist had trepidations:

"I was hoping against it, believe it or not. People laugh when I say this, but I did not want to do Spider-Man. I wanted to stay on Daredevil. The only reason I did Spider-Man was because Stan asked me and I felt that I should help out, like a good soldier. I never really felt comfortable on Spider-Man for years. ...I felt obliged to [mimic] Ditko because ... I was convinced, in my own mind, that he was going to come back in two or three issues. ... I couldn't believe that a guy would walk away from a successful book that was the second-highest seller at Marvel. ... After six months, when I realized it wasn't temporary, I finally stopped trying to [mimic] Ditko. ...I was doing these nine-panel pages and the thin line, and I was doing Peter Parker without any bone structure — just like Ditko was doing, I thought."[26]

Increasingly called upon to do art corrections and touch-ups, and to interface with artists for ever-busy editor Lee, Romita, becoming Marvel's de facto art director, cut back on his Spider-Man workload. After having initially inked his own pencil art, he began to be inked by Mike Esposito (who began uncredited with issue 49,[27] then as "Mickey Demeo" for a time beginning the following issue, using a pseudonym since he was also freelancing for rival DC Comics). With issue 57 (Feb. 1968), Romita began doing only layouts, with finished pencils by Don Heck. This continued through issue 66 (Nov. 1968), except for one issue finished by penciler Jim Mooney, who would succeed Heck in that role with issue 68, following a fully Romita-penciled issue. In another experiment to lessen Romita's workload, John Buscema laid out issue 72 for Romita to finish penciling.

These steps at reducing Romita's Spider-Man workload had mixed results, Romita recalled in 2001, saying, "Stan was always trying to speed me up. He had Don Heck pencil over my breakdowns for a while. ... Then, when Don had finished the pencils, [Lee would] call me in to fix up anything ... that he didn't like. Even after it was inked, he'd have me changing what the inker had done. I told him, "This was supposed to save me time, but it isn't!'".[28]

With issue 73, and then 76-81, Romita provided only covers and was absent from the inside, with Buscema providing layouts for penciler-inker Mooney. Romita returned with issue 82, doing layouts for Mooney to finish. Romita fully penciled the next issue, and then returned to layouts only, finished by Buscema, Mooney and Heck variously, through 87. He penciled the following issue himself. Gil Kane then penciled a four-issue stint with Romita inking and continuing to draw covers. Romita then finished his initial run penciling issues 93-95 (Feb.-April 1971). Kane succeeded him as Spider-Man's regular penciler through issue 105 (Feb. 1972). Romita then began a second stint as the title's regular artist, doing full pencils for issues 105-115 and 119 (Feb.-Dec. 1972, April 1974), and continued to provide occasional inking and most of the cover art through issue 168 (May 1977).

In his original run on The Amazing Spider-Man, Romita had contributed an unbroken string of over 50 covers through issue 94 (March 1971), and an almost unbroken run of story layouts or full pencil-art for 46 regular-issue stories spanning The Amazing Spider-Man 39-95 (Aug. 1967 - April 1971), as well as a 21-page story in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 3 (Nov. 1966), the covers of Annuals 5-7, and the covers and stories for the two issues of the oversized, magazine-format title The Spectacular Spider-Man (July & Nov. 1968) that themselves totaled 110 story pages, the equivalent of five-and-a-half issues.

As comics-art historian Daniel Herman assessed of Romita's Spider-Man work,

"Romita's transformation of the character redefined the character's look and took the strip in a different direction. It also made him a star artist in the comic book world. The trouble was, Romita took Spidey away from his roots and firmly planted him in the mainstream.[29] ... Marvel staffers would joke that Romita 'took Spider-Man uptown'. Romita reinvented the character and made it possible for [Spider-Man] to appeal to a wider audience, even if he removed the qualities that had made the strip a surreal standout."[30]

Romita was the artist for the Spider-man newspaper comic strip from its launch in January 1977 through late 1980.[12]

Marvel Comics art director

When editor-in-chief and art director Stan Lee assumed the position of publisher, he promoted Romita to the latter position. In that capacity, Romita played a major role in defining the look of Marvel Comics and in designing new characters. Among the characters he helped design are the Punisher, Wolverine, and Brother Voodoo.

Later career

TV Guide (April 17-May 3, 2002): Cover by John Romita Sr.

Following his retirement from day-to-day comics work, Romita returned to draw his signature character Spider-Man on latter-day occasions. He was one of six pencilers on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 121 (Dec. 1986), and he penciled a nine-page story "I Remember Gwen" in The Amazing Spider-Man 365 (Aug. 1992, the 30th-anniversary issue) and an eight-page backup story starring the conflicted hero and supporting character the Prowler in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 13 (1993).

He both penciled and inked the 10-page backup story "The Kiss" — a flashback in which Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy share their first kiss — in Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man 1 (Jan. 1999). He also drew an alternate-universe version of the Spider-Man characters in the one-shot Spidey: A Universe X Special (2001), and penciled the final four pages of the 38-page story in the milestone The Amazing Spider-Man 500 (Dec. 2003). Romita also drew one of four covers to the April 27 - May 3, 2002 issue of TV Guide.[31]

Additionally, Romita contributed to multi-artist jams in commemorative issues. He did a panel in Captain America vol. 3, 50 (Feb. 2002), starring the first Marvel superhero he'd drawn; a portion of Iron Man vol. 3, 40 (May 2001), although the hero was not one of the artist's signature characters; a panel for Daredevil vol. 2, 50 (Oct. 2003); and a few pages featuring Karen Page in Daredevil vol. 2, 100 (Oct. 2007), done in the style of the romance comics he had drawn decades earlier. Romita both penciled and inked the cover of Daredevil vol. 2, 94 (Feb. 2007) in that same romance-comics style. The following year he drew a variant cover of his signature series, for The Amazing Spider-Man 568 (Oct. 2008).

In the mid-2000s, Romita sat on the board of directors of the charity A Commitment to Our Roots.[citation needed]

Selected bibliography

Comics work (interior pencil art) includes:

Marvel Comics

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b Comics Buyer's Guide #1650; February 2009; Page 107
  2. ^ Cohen, Lynn E. "Bullpen Bulletins," Marvel comics cover-dated January 1984.
  3. ^ John Romita interview, "Fifty Years on the 'A' List", conducted by former Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, Alter Ego #9 (July 2001) pp. 8-9 of print version
  4. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 4
  5. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 6
  6. ^ Spurlock, J. David, and John Romita. John Romita Sketchbook. (Vanguard Productions: Lebanon, N.J. 2002) ISBN 1-887591-27-3 ISBN 1-887591-29-X, pp. 8-9
  7. ^ Spurlock, p. 9
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Spurlock, p. 11
  9. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 7
  10. ^ a b Spurlock, p. 17
  11. ^ a b c d Spurlock, p. 16
  12. ^ a b c d e Keefe Studios: John Romita interview (late 1980s; exact date n.a.). WebCitation archive.
  13. ^ Spurlock, p. 10
  14. ^ Spurlock, pp. 10-11
  15. ^ a b Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 10
  16. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 11; appears in print version only
  17. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 10; appears in print version only
  18. ^ The collection Marvel Visionaries: John Romita Sr. (Marvel Comics, 2005) ISBN 0785117806, ISBN 978-0785117803) and former Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, in an interview with Romita in Alter Ego 9, each identify that four-page science fiction story as "It!", about a murderous alien in the guise of a baby. That story saw print in Strange Tales 4 (Dec. 1951), although the Grand Comics Database lists Romita's first identified published comic-book work as penciler and inker of the six-page story "The Bradshaw Boys" in Atlas' Western Outlaws 1 (Feb. 1951) — published nearly a year earlier. This may refer to a ghosted Zakarin story. The Atlas Tales database lists both "It!" and the six-page "Out Of My Mind", in Astonishing 7 (also Dec. 1951), as Romita's first full penciling and inking — although "It!" carries a later job number (9118) than the other tale (8964).
  19. ^ a b c d e John Romita Sr. at the Grand Comics Database.
  20. ^ Lovece, Frank. "Bellerose artist created X-Men's Wolverine", Newsday, April 23, 2009. WebCitation archive.
  21. ^ Spurlock, p. 18
  22. ^ Spurlock, p. 19
  23. ^ Spurlock, pp. 20-22
  24. ^ Interview with Romita, Comic Book Artist #6 (Fall 1999). WebCitation archive.
  25. ^ a b c Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 27
  26. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 27-28
  27. ^ The Amazing Spider-Man #49 (June 1967) at the Grand Comics Database
  28. ^ Romita, Alter Ego #9, p. 30
  29. ^ Herman, Daniel. Silver Age: The Second Generation of Comic Book Artists (Hermes Press, 2005), ISBN 1932563644, ISBN 978-1932563641, p. 166
  30. ^ Herman, p. 167
  31. ^ Weiland, Jonah. First Look at Spider-Man TV Guide Covers", Comic Book Resources, April 6, 2002

References

Preceded by
Bob Powell/Wally Wood
Daredevil artist
1965–1966
Succeeded by
Gene Colan
Preceded by
Jack Kirby
Captain America artist
1966–1966
Succeeded by
Jack Kirby
Preceded by
Steve Ditko
Amazing Spider-Man artist
1966–1970
Succeeded by
Gil Kane
Preceded by
Jack Kirby
Fantastic Four artist
1970–1971
Succeeded by
John Buscema
Preceded by
Gene Colan
Captain America artist
1971–1971
Succeeded by
Sal Buscema
Preceded by
Gil Kane
Amazing Spider-Man artist
1972–1973
Succeeded by
Ross Andru

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