A post from my old Marvel blog about John Romita.
Got a call from John Romita Sr. today, who was looking for some help remembering the particulars of a project from back around 1991. In those cases, there aren’t but two or three people up here he can reach out to.
John Sr. is one of those guys that the term salt-of-the-earth was invented to refer to. A supremely talented individual, a perfectionist, he nonetheless remains almost criminally humble and concerned about his own self-perceived shortcomings. In short, he’s a good egg, and I was fortunate enough to have been around for a number of years overlapping the end of his days on staff.
The things I learned from John about composition and design and visual storytelling–both elements I absorbed from him directly, and those which came to me second-hand from the previous guys he’s inadvertently trained, such as Bob Budiansky, Mark Gruenwald, Greg Wright and others–I drive people crazy with every day. My mind has been permanently poisoned against certain types of bad tangents, about the way a logo or cover copy should integrate with the cover art, and a million other elements.
John is also charming in his humility. So here are two quick John Romita stories for you, neither one remarkable, but instead representative of what the man was like on a day-to-day basis.
Not long after I started on staff at Marvel, must’ve been 1990, there was going to be a big weekend comics show in the city. Much of the Marvel staff was going there to hang out, and John was one of the featured guests. Now, a good friend of mine who couldn’t make it to New York that weekend was a major fan of John’s Spider-Man, and asked me if I could prevail upon John to do a sketch in his sketchbook of the Green Goblin. So I went down to the show that Saturday, waited in line for awhile, got up to the front–and John’s eyes just about popped out of his head. “Kid, ” he said, “why’re you waitin’ in line for me like this?” I told him the situation, and said that I didn’t feel right about approaching him about this sort of thing at the office–I didn’t know him all that well at that point. And John sent me away, telling me, “You bring me that sketchbook on Monday, and I’ll take care of it.” And he did, illustrating a wonderful shot of the Green Goblin, most likely on his own time, when he should have been eating lunch with his wife Virginia (who was also on staff back in those days.)
More recently, as we started working on the second arc on NEW AVENGERS, focusing on the Sentry, and we’d hit upon the idea of commissioning faux vintage covers featuring the character. It was a no-brainer to approach John about doing the “Wedding of the Sentry” piece. So we sent him over all of the reference, a few days went by, and I got a phone call from John, fretting. “I don’t know what you want me to do here, kid. Should I go for a little bit of an upshot, or maybe a panoramic–should there be other heroes, other characters in the piece? I’m not sure I can wrap my mind around this.” Now, this is John Romita Sr–he’s the guy who pretty much invented the Marvel hero gets married cover. And yet, so insecure in his own instincts was he that he was double-thinking himself out of every approach he tried. “It’s been this way all my life, ” he said, “I’m my own worst critic. John Buscema told me to throw away my eraser, but I could just never do it.” There’s something just so utterly charming about the fact that John, a grand master when it comes to Marvel-style super hero art can still fret even an easy slam-dunk assignment.
I also had the good fortune to sit near to John Sr. at the Marvel screenings of the first two Spider-Man films, during the course of which he’d repeatedly comment, “I drew that…I drew that…that, I drew…that was one of mine…” Not in an arrogant way, but with a pure joy and astonishment that something he’d created with his own hands and mind had been realized in real-life and was being projected large for an audience of millions to enjoy.
He also still calls me “kid” whenever we speak, which is a rarity these days. I speak to John Romita Sr., and I’m 19 years old again.