Partners For Life - The Interviews: John Romita
Feel free to print these interviews out and place them in your book. Otherwise enjoy these little pieces and then run out and buy a copy of the book so you can read the rest.
John Romita Senior started drawing after spending a year in commercial art. His first jobs were for Stan Lee's Atlas group in 1949. Romita drew mostly horror and romance stories, but also several war, western and crime features for Western Publishing. After the folding of Atlas, he went to National, where he did anonymous romance stories for eight years. He then went back to Stan Lee, this time at Marvel. His first works were inking The Avengers and pencilling Daredevil comics.
His most notable work became the Amazing Spider-Man comic, which he drew from 1966, working closely with both Stan Lee as a writer and Mike Esposito as inker. Under Romita, Lee and Esposito’s guidance, Spider-Man became the quintessential antihero of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He left Spider-Man in the early 1970s, to become an art director at Marvel, working specifically in the Special Projects Department. Romita Sr. was engaged in product illustration and special designs and as Art Director for Marvel Books, the short-lived children's book line. In 1977, he briefly did the artwork of the syndicated Spider-Man newspaper comic.
The following interview was conducted in February, 2005, and was copyedited by John Romita.
DANIEL BEST: You first encountered Andru & Esposito back when they were doing Wonder Woman.
JOHN ROMITA: That was a funny episode. They were getting some flack about the Wonder Woman face. That was such a flattering thing, that they would ask me to help them out with it. I was scared because at the time I really wasn’t that solid in my own estimation. It was such a flattering thing that I think it elevated my ego a great deal. I had mixed emotions when they said that they’d decided not to do it, because I really wanted to see how it’d work but I had my doubts thinking about getting it to fit in to Ross’ style.
DB: Was that the first time you’d encountered them?
JR: No, actually I think it might have been done by phone. I’m not sure if I’d met them before that. I knew about them because as a comic book artist I was very much aware of Andru and Esposito and some of the great things they had done. And I loved that style. Ross’ style was so distinctive. Ross is a very under-appreciated talent. I thought he was a giant talent and people don’t mention him enough. As a colleague, and a guy who was looking at all the good artists trying to get as much information for myself, I always thought of Ross as a very special artist and I’m amazed that people have not remembered his run on Spider-Man as well as they should have.
I don’t think I met them until they were working at Marvel. I was rather one of those guys who were insulated. I never socialized or circulated with pros from other companies, I was just sort of parochialised. I just stayed in my own office and the only contact I usually had was by phone, and then at the occasional convention. I don’t even remember the first time I met them.
DB: Mike inked your first issues of Amazing Spider-Man.
JR: Right! He was my regular inker on the book. I figured that having a guy with his track record was a great boon to me. He wasn’t going to labor over it, he had a nice free style and I don’t think that our styles matched at first, but he made it work. I was very pleased with the stuff.
DB: You also inked Ross when he started on Spider-Man.
JR: I did some covers with Ross. I would do sketches and Ross would do finishes. A lot of times I would ink Ross’ covers when Mike wasn’t available. I worked a few times with Ross and I think the greatest thing Ross did was the treasury Spider-Man vs. Superman cross over. I have told many people at many conventions that I don’t know of anybody who could have done a better job on a huge project like that. It’s high profile, you’re out there exposed, and he did the best job I’ve ever seen on such a big project. That’s one of my favorite books of all time. I did work with him on that book because I was the consultant for Marvel and Stan sort of insisted that every once in a while I’d have to touch up a Mary Jane Watson face, or a Peter Parker face. You might find a couple of my faces sticking out like a sore thumb in that book.
DB: What was Ross like as an artist to ink?
JR: He was very hard to ink. When you’re a penciler and you ink chances are there are certain lines that are not comfortable for you. As a penciler I found him hard to ink. Even Mike has admitted that he had some trouble with Ross too.
First of all physically it was a problem because he used to press very hard on the paper. If the paper was soft that day there’d be a sort of a groove in the paper where the pencil line was. That makes it very hard to ink because if you put your pen there and you’re expecting to make a curve and it comes straight because there’s a groove guiding your pen. Some of it was physical and some of it was stylistic, where your style is to do a certain kind of an arc and his style would be a little bit of a different kind of an arc. All inkers confront that, but a penciler who is an inker also has a harder job on a very distinctive style like Ross’. His expressions were also very subtle. If you didn’t nail the expressions, like all good artists there’s a subtlety in the pencils that you can’t capture in ink. I don’t care who you are. Even a guy like Kubert, his pencils have one thing and his finishes have another. In other words the effect is never quite the same. If they could reproduce from pencils then you’d be surprised at how different some guys work would be.
Ross and Gene Colan were probably the toughest guys to ink for me. Gil Kane presented other problems because he didn’t finish up as well as Ross did. Sometimes a penciler in his haste just sort of suggested things with a faint, little touch, a little shadow here and there, and it’s very difficult to get that in ink. I used to joke around with a lot of pencilers and say “You guys can use grey; we can only use black and white”. Those grays were beautiful to do in the pencils, but tricky to do in ink.
DB: Was there much room to move as an inker when it came to Ross’ pencils?
JR: Not much. The size of his figures was different from mine. Some of the smaller figures were tricky, as they were with other artists. Gil Kane’s small figures used to drive me crazy.
Ross was such a storyteller that he did not dote on the show-off parts of penciling. Some pencilers want to show off, they want to show some glamorous little touches and flourishes, but he was more intent on telling the story, which I always admired. Ross was a storyteller first and a show-off second.
DB: Ross came over to Marvel towards the end of the ‘60s and did a few stories and then went back to DC.
JR: I think that was more an editorial type thing. If an artist and an editor didn’t see eye to eye then there was always a problem. There were editors that I remember who used to come to me and say, “I can’t get an inker to do this kind of work”, like Ross’ and Gene Colans. They would come to me and ask who’s a good inker for this and I would say “You know, you’re going to have a problem getting an inker on that”. There’s a funny illusion; editors would look at Ross’ pencils and see all sorts of things in there that the inker couldn’t see. Even Mike had that trouble. There was one editor who when he was editor-in-chief, asked me if I thought that Mike was losing something from Ross. I’d say “This is a case of you think you’re seeing something in the pencils”, because of that subtlety I was talking about, “but that the inker can’t translate to ink, it’s an impossibility.” You look at those penciled Spider-Man pages and you’ll see some little subtle looks in an eye that can’t be duplicated in ink. That was the problem. If an editor was being a hard-ass about “well the inker’s not following the pencils”, I had to tell more than one editor in the thirty years I was at Marvel that you think you’re seeing something that’s not there. You’re seeing an illusion, which is that nice little grey accent here and there that a penciler slips in there and gets away with murder because he doesn’t have to ink it. I know as a penciler it used to paralyze me. I could have gotten away with a lot of things in pencil for other people to ink, but because I knew how hard it would be to ink, I used to make it extra clear and I lost a lot of time. It would have been better if I was living in a fool’s paradise and just knocked it out and let some poor inker suffer.
DB: When Ross and Mike were given the art chores on Spider-Man, did you feel any sense of history due to their background?
JR: I always thought Andru and Esposito had a special magic. I don’t remember hearing a lot of it, but I think certainly amongst the insiders we all felt that it was a very comfortable feeling to have that team working on the book.
DB: Ross then quit Marvel and went back to DC.
JR: I think Ross always had a dead-line problem like I did. Some editors, if you can’t get it in early, or on time, they don’t care how good you are, especially if the traffic managers and the editor-in-chief all say, “Look, it’s all well and good that this is beautiful stuff, but it’s getting later and later”. So when Ross left Marvel it might have been because he had a deadline problem and it might have been because there were clashes of taste and deadline problems, because editors and pencilers constantly bickered and clashed on styles and things like that.
DB: What were Mike and Ross like as people?
JR: Wonderful guys. Ross was a pro. He and I were sympathetic because he labored over his stuff like I did. Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Byrne, the work just seemed to flow out of them. I know they worked hard, but I don’t think it was as much a struggle for people like that as it was for me and Ross. We had a kindred kind of a problem; we’d have to pull it out of ourselves surgically.
As far as people go, the artists and writers got along better with editors at Marvel, although there were a few guys who gave us trouble. Up at DC it was even harder. If Ross could work with the people at DC he could work with the guys at Marvel easier. The DC editors were brutal. Marvel editors were a little more diplomatic. All Bob Kanigher needed was a whip and a chair.
DB: You and Mike have been close for years.
JR: It’s been thirty five years, sure. He worked up at the office with me. I was a freak of the industry because I was working at the office full time and trying to do my deadline stuff between midnight and dawn. So when Mike came up to work in my department, we were doing corrections together, and Mike was also doing freelance so we definitely had a parallel career for quite a while.
DB: You also did a lot of the British Marvels with Mike.
JR: Because Mike was very fast he was always available to do that kind of stuff. He also worked with young pencilers and he was quite helpful. When my son was twenty years old he started doing some of those British splashes and covers and I think Mike was very helpful to him in those days. Mike’s speed was one of the valuable assets that he had, so he was able to work with that. He also did a lot of work on Spidey Super Stories with me. I didn’t pencil a lot of those, but I did do a lot of the covers and Spidey Super Stories was one of my proudest achievements and Mike was a big part of that.
Frank Giacoia was a part of it. We were like the Three Musketeers many times, trying to get a project out at the last minute. Guys like Frank, Mike and I would be working under the gun sometimes through the night. Sometimes Frank would come to my house, or he’d go to Mike’s house, it was a real three ring circus for a while. One time Frank Giacoia and I had to abandon the Marvel offices because of a bomb scare. We took our pages with us because we were so close to the deadline and, believe or not, we sat in a bar on Third Avenue and Frank and I were at a table, he was putting in blacks upside down on the panels on the top of the page and I was doing outlines on the bottom of the page. It was the damnest thing. All the patrons of the bar at lunchtime were standing there watching us work.
DB: I’ve noticed that Mike did a lot of first issues during the ‘70s.
JR: That’s a blessing. I didn’t have the pleasure doing many number ones. My first issue (of Amazing Spider-Man) was 39 and I never really had a chance to do any number ones. It’s one of those breaks that you happen to be there at the right time.
DB: Purely as an artist, how did you see Ross?
JR: I don’t think Ross was as free as he wanted to be. For example, I consider myself much too tight and too rigid. I tried to free up but it was much too hard for me, and with Ross it was the same thing. He was always a little frustrated because he was always too bound by reality. He was trying to do the thing that most comic artists have to do: make the reader forget they’re looking at a drawing. The reason he did that was because his instinct told him that you would believe in his characters more if you believed that this was really happening, and not constantly reminding the readers that this was a drawing. Ross struggled with that the way I did and that’s why I understood Ross from the beginning. Other guys don’t struggle. John Buscema never struggled, it used to just flow out of him and the fact that it was just the most beautiful figure drawing you ever saw was a bonus. We were all different, but every one of us admired the creativity of the other guys.
John Romita inked the following book over Ross Andru's pencils:
#125 (Inks: John Romita; Tony Mortellaro)
#173 (Cover - pencils by Andru, inks by Romita)
Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man
#nn (partial Romita pencils & inks)
Mike Esposito worked on the following books with John Romita:
#125 (Cover art only)
Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#3 (Cover art only)
#115 (Cover art only)
#116 (Cover art only)
#117 (Cover art only)
#122 (Cover art only)
#16 (Cover art only)
#10 (Cover art only)
Spidey Super Stories
#6 (Cover art only)
#65 (Cover art only)
#67 (Cover art only)
#68 (Cover art only)
#72 (Cover art only)
Weird Wonder Tales
#11 (Cover art only)