Eternally Marvelous - Part 1

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John Romita, Jr. needs no introduction.  A mainstay at Marvel for 3 decades, he has drawn almost all of Marvel’s characters.  He was kind enough to sit down with Broken Frontier to discuss his upcoming Eternals series with Neil Gaiman, as well as his own legacy as an artist.

BF: John, you are one of the most well known, most popular superhero artists.  Joe Quesada often says ‘John Romita, Jr. is the best superhero artist we’ve got’ and that you are the modern day Jack Kirby.  Does that tie in at all to you wanting to do the Eternals?

JR, Jr.: Yeah, because Jack Kirby’s work, when it’s in your head, anybody would produce better work.  The reason they asked me to do it is because they feel that I’m suited to that stuff.  And on top of it being Kirby characters, Neil Gaiman was attached to it.  A guy would have to be nuts to pass that up.

BF: This is the second in a row that is more of a “throwback” story of sorts.  Not “out of continuity” but paying homage to the past—is that a specific direction you chose?

JR, Jr.: A couple of years ago I asked Joe Quesada if instead of doing 18 issues of Spider-Man a year, I could do 12 issues of Spider-Man and a second title.  I was tired of doing one single title.  And that led to a conversation where he said if I’m tired of doing Spider-Man, maybe I should take a break and work on some special projects.  So I said it would depend on the special projects.  He mentioned Wolverine, and I said I absolutely wanted to work with Mark Millar.  Then Joe mentioned Black Panther, and again I loved the chance to get to work with Reginald Hudlin.  Then he said Marvel was going to try something a little new and different and offered to team me with Paul Jenkins on The Sentry

I basically told Joe ‘I’m going to trust you with your strategy sessions, beause I really don’t know what I want to do different,’ and that’s when he came to me with these projects.  Then he said he had the ultimate opportunity and that’s when Eternals with Gaiman came out of the closet.

BF: The Eternals are one of the most misunderstood character groups, with a very confusing origin to boot.  What did you bring to the table in terms of your knowledge of them?

JR, Jr.: Just what I read from the Kirby series.  I looked through the artwork when it came out in the 70’s.  And I don’t think it was Jack’s best artwork, but I’m a fan of his stuff so I read through it.  I don’t remember very much about the stories…  I actually don’t read comics.  I look at the artwork, because the time to read a comic takes away from my schedule.  But I look at artwork and am a fan of so many different artists, especially Jack Kirby.  I really didn’t think of much of it before I got the assignment, so I went back and looked at the old issues.  Marvel also sent me a stack of photocopies to read and then Neil sent me an overview of what he planned on doing in comparison to what had been done before. 

I had a clear understanding, before I even started penciling, of what was done and what Neil had in mind.  All of it is so well done; he is beyond brilliant when it comes to writing.  He took Jack’s old stories and improved upon it.  It’s something I would’ve liked to have done had I had the where withal to come up with the idea.  It’s the way I would have done it.  And now I get to do the artwork, which is great.


BF: So, are you saying the book will have a “retro” feel without having a real “retro feel”?

JR, Jr.: Yes, because it has enough of the Kirby feel to it without being heavy-handed about it.  Neil took the germ of Kirby’s idea and then went with it in his own direction, so there’s enough reverence to Jack’s stuff with all of it but it’s all new.  I tried to do the same thing with the visuals—I didn’t want to just steal Jack’s costumes or designs, but I didn’t want to abandon them completely. So I tried to tap dance and walk on that tightrope to get there and I hope I succeeded. But once the costumes have been established, it’s all us.  The size and the scope of it are Jack Kirby’s, ours can never as good as his stuff, but you tip your hat to Jack (God rest his soul) and do it as best as you can.

BF: I had the chance to see Neil Gaiman speak recently and he mentioned that there were a lot of surprises for him about the characters as he was writing that forced him to make some other changes in his story.  Was that ever a problem for you?

JR, Jr.: No, Neil just gave me the scripts and I ran with it.  And his words were, ‘If I deem it possible to add more dialogue based on what you’ve drawn, we’ll do that.’  This is what I’ve been getting from writers and I’m so lucky.  Generally, I’m older than the writers I work with anyway [laughs] so they say if there’s anything you want to do call me up and let me know; if there’s anything that you’ve done that will change my writing we’ll do it.  They give me room to play.  But because they’re all such brilliant writers I haven’t had to do that.  What I may do is add a page or a couple of panels here or there, without having to add dialogue to that.  So, if there’s a dramatic pause in the action or one brought on by some of my storytelling ideas I do it without fear of them getting upset.  I’ll call them and let them know.  I never take anything out; it’s just unnecessary. 

If this were a regular monthly series, I probably wouldn’t be able to add so much, but with it being a special project it has room to add and play.  And then Neil says “I’ll look back on it and if there’s any room for improvement on my dialogue,” which is ludicrous, “I’ll do that.”  Neil’s been an absolute joy to work with, and [at this point] I’ve only done the second issue…  The first one is double sized, the second one is 24 pages, and the last one is double sized again.  I think there is room for going forward with these characters too, and if Neil wants to go on beyond these 6 issues, I’m in.  He’s just so much fun to work with.

BF: You mentioned that most writers anymore will give you that level of input in their work, is that something you feel you’ve rightfully earned?

JR, Jr.: Yeah, after thirty years in the industry, I think it wouldn’t have been fair to get that kind of respect without deserving it. I think I got that respect, though, just because I’m a good storyteller; there are guys who are better artists than me without a doubt.  Jim Lee, for example, is the John Buscema of my generation.  I think I’m as good a storyteller as there is, only because it is the one thing that I really knew how to do from the get-go, and as I went along I learned more from guys like my father and Jim Shooter.  Storytelling has always been my strong point; it makes my artwork look better, which I is middle of the road. There are guys who can outdraw me in a heartbeat, like Adam Kubert, Jim Lee, Leinil Yu—they’re all better illustrators, but my storytelling really helps me out. It takes me from a ‘C’ to a ‘B+’ in my humble opinion.  So if I get a little respect from writers from my experience and because they care about my storytelling, I use it. But I don’t abuse it.

BF: You mentioned your father and Jim Shooter; how do you feel about coming into such a legacy with your father’s name and work to live up to? How has that affected the way you approach your own work?

JR, Jr.: I always have my father and Buscema and Kirby in the back of my head.  I always thought as I got older that there would be other artists that I would see in my mind.  And if anything, there is a storytelling sense from Frank Miller that I sometimes use for inspiration.  Frank does brilliant but very stylized storytelling. My work is more ‘meat and potatoes’ and his is more ‘champagne-y’ if I can use that analogy. But as far as I go, my father’s work is the biggest influence, because my storytelling is his storytelling first, and then John Buscema and Jack Kirby.

Yet, everything was self-imposed when it came to my father. No one had ever come to me saying they expected me to be as good him or anybody else. It was always self-imposed.  Following my father on Spider-Man, no one expected me to be as good as him, but I wanted to be.  In a general sense, I got a lot of crap from people because I was my father’s son, like “Who do you think you are? You’re in the industry because of your father.”  I didn’t have time to take a swing at them, it didn’t serve me…

BF: That’s because you were too busy being the only one staying on schedule. [Laughs]

JR, Jr.: What it did was inspire me to work harder. I got a great work ethic from my father: work your butt off and everything will work out.  So, my success isn’t through attrition.  I outlast everyone, that’s all! [Smiles] Half the people that didn’t like me are gone, the other half has learned to respect me.  But I have so many good friends and people I care about in the industry that it has worked out nice.

I’ve also met so many great people going to conventions over the years and now I’m meeting their children!  My father said ‘Just wait till you start meeting grandchildren!’  So, over time, I’ve managed to eliminate any of the hatred for me in the industry over a job they think I got handed to me through my father.  It never worked out that way—if anything, it was a detriment.  My father told me that if I wanted to get into the industry that he wasn’t helping me, that I had to do it all on my own.  So it actually worked against me in that regard, but it just made me work harder.

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