Monday, May 18, 2009

NCS Luminaries: John Romita Sr.

John Romita has been my comic artist hero since childhood. I began collecting comics when I was in grade 1 and realized almost immediately that Spiderman was the coolest character ever. I spent an awful lot of birthday, Christmas and allowance money on Marvel comics at that tender young age, and poured over every drawing of Spidey in The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Tales and Marvel Team-Up. In grade 2 I began studying the credit block that appeared on the splash-page of every Marvel comic. It was a revelation to realize that different artists were responsible for drawing different comics - even when they featured the same character - and I began scrutinizing the artwork in my Spider Man comics in greater detail. If I found a particularly good drawing of Spidey, I'd ask my mom or dad for a piece of carbon paper and a sheet of typewriter bond and trace off the drawing. For this young art connoisseur, the best Spidey artist to trace over was John Romita.

By the time Marvel began advertising these medallions below in their comics in 1973 I knew two things: that the artwork was by John Romita and that I absolutely positively had to have one.

The following summer at the Canadian National Exhibition I experienced the happiest day of my life.

I was ten years old. Yeah, I knew the guy in the suit wasn't really Spider Man, but wow, that medallion - and as a bonus, my parents bought me the same Romita art on an accompanying t-shirt. I was in heaven!

Flash forward 35 years. By chance, I recently found a terrific blog put together by Dave Karlen, who is a dealer in original comic art. Dave has been posting about various notable members of the National Cartoonists Society - and one of his posts was about John Romita. You may recall that I was accepted into the NCS last year and attended my first Reubens Awards ceremony in New Orleans. With this year's Reubens almost upon us, I thought it would be nice to spend the week showcasing some NCS Luminaries. With Dave's generous assistance, that's exactly what we'll do!

From Dave Karlen's blog:

"This is one comic artist that I have unfortunatly never met but would love to do so, since I respect his work so much. After a short stint in commercial art..."

"... John Romita broke into comics in 1949 working for Stan Lee on various war, western, romance, crime and horror titles at Atlas."

"When that company folded he went to National to perfect his slick illustrative style doing mainly romance stories for a few years..."

"... before his return to Marvel jumping head first into super-hero titles like Captain America, The Avengers, Daredevil, and his best know work, Spider-Man. Leaving that title in the early seventies Romita became an art director at Marvel working numerous special projects and overseeing Marvel's children's book line, before returning to his signature character illustrating the popular Spider-Man syndicated newspaper strip."

For his NCS bio, John Romita wrote:

"Born in Brooklyn, New York, January 24, 1930 to Vic and Marie Romita. who eased me thru the Depression and set me on a good course. New York School of Industrial Art (now Art and Design) forged and launched me into comic book art. Marvel Comics' rise to prominence and collaboration with Stan Lee, creative force behind that rise, led to Spider-Man strip team-up of Lee and Romita in 1977. Handled by King Features Syndicate, the strip appears in over four hundred sixty papers. My wonderful Virginia has made it possible to meet deadlines - her support and patience cannot be gauged. She has also blessed us with two sensational sons, both well on their way to successful careers - Vic, a fine teacher, and John Jr. doing a great job as a comic artist."

Many thanks to Dave Karlen for allowing me to 'reprint' his terrific post about one of my life-long inspirations, John Romita.

Oh, and by the way... I still have that medallion.

* The Captain America original art scan above is courtesy of Dave Karlen Original Art

* The Spider-Man newspaper clip and the 1954 Captain America clip are from the John Romita interview in Alter Ego # 9, still available for sale.

* The early advertising art example near the top of this post is from The John Romita Sketch Book, also still available for sale.


  1. Jeez Leif--not only did we look somewhat alike back then but i was a huge Marvel fan as well, at least until i discovered the undergrounds :-)

  2. What a great post! I still remember the day my Mom brought home the "Draw Marvel" book for me. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Romita did a great job on Spider-man.The cover art he did on those early issues was especially memorable,and his Daredevil comics were a lot of fun also.

  4. jeff Norwell7:32 PM

    Look how cute you handsome Devil!

    Another great post Leif!

  5. Zach; love that picture of 14-year-old you! The purple popsicle absolutely makes it. ;^)

    Von; I hear you on the "How to Draw the Marvel Way" - that book changed my life. It doesn't get the credit it deserves. I taught my Grade 10 art class (and teacher) perspective thanks to that book.

    Steve; He did. Even more interesting, he improved Gil Kane by finishing/inking him on Spidey in the early 70's. Romita seems to have understood how to achieve that idealized realism in comic art the way Coby Whitmore did in illustration. I would say that Alex Toth was the Al Parker of comics and John Romita was the Coby Whitmore of comics.

    Jeff; What can I say - thanks buddy. :^)

  6. I once worked for John at Marvel and he really is the greatest guy. Great artist and professional!

  7. Leif, I received the greatest gift a Romita Sr. fan could ever wish for: a drawing by John Romita of MY own comic book character.

    I was 13-years-old and attended one of the earlier San Diego Con shows in the mid 70s. I waited in a crowd to get a sketch from him and mustered up the nerve to request he sketch my own creation Kid Karate over a coveted sketch of Spidey. He made my character look mean and FIERCE and I loved it! I have to dig that puppy up and post it here!

    Anyway, Romita has a style that's as organic and fluid as anything.
    I can't think of a comic artist with a more natural and spontaneous style. In my humble opinion the paint brush was, by far, the most appropriate tool to ink Romita's work. As talented of an inker Mickey Demeo (AND Romita himself) were, it took Jim Mooney and his paint brush to really help display Romita's flamboyant pencil line work. The variation of line weight just weren't being fully displayed with Mickey and John's pens.

    And great photo of you Leif!! What a treasure!

  8. Don; I'm green with envy.

    Les; Great story. - if you ever manage to find that drawing I'd love to see it!

  9. Leif,I also thought that Jim Mooney's inks over Romita's pencils were very effective.Their styles seemed to be very compatible.

  10. Hi Lief. Cool Medallion,bet you wear that with your fancy duds when you're hangin' with Flash,Mary Jane and the gang.
    Romita Sr.Great inker,even managed to humanize Gil Kane's diagrammatic faces and apply super slick finishes.Great storyteller but somewhat 'generic' i find.At his super best on romances.Whitcomb parallel spot on, but was Toth in some ways the Sickles of comics?

  11. Romita has always been my favorite comic artist! Excellent post and I dig your photo with Spidey!

  12. Thank you, Todd :^)

    Chad; I think you're right - Toth is a natural comparison to Sickles, probably more so for his earlier work. later, when he worked more with a marker than a brush, I always see a closer comparison to parker, because his panel compositions are so beautifully designed, the way Parker's pictures are.

    As for Romita, I don't think of him as much in terms of Whitcomb because although both were masters of idealized (maybe even formulaic) romantic perfection, Romita's people are so much more alive and emotional, while Whitcomb's are much more 'wooden' and Barbie-doll-like, in my opinion. That's why I see Romita more as the Coby Whitmore of comics that the Jon Whitcomb. Like Romita, Whitmore also was a master of illustration impossible beauty, but his people are 'living' creatures like Romita's.

  13. Just discovered this post - I'm a big Romita fan from way back and I'm incredibly jealous of your medallion. I assume you're aware of David Barsalou's work deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein's paintings, including many that used Romita's romance comics as sources, like this one: