Eternally Marvelous - Part 2

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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.

Eternally Marvelous - Part 1

BROKEN FRONTIER: You just mentioned storytelling and the influences on you, in that sense are you glad that the focus has shifted back onto your skill set and away from being pin-up books?

JR, Jr.: Yes, because storytelling is my strength. If [Marvel] gave me the most challenging situation to do, I wouldn’t worry about it for that reason.  A lot of guys would panic.  I remember when the industry started moving back towards storytelling and away from being all pin-ups (and we know when that era was), there were some guys who could not survive.  I got phone calls from guys who had been in the industry for years who said that they had never had to tell a story properly and asking me for advice; and I felt bad for them.  I learned [my craft] during an era—with John Byrne, Frank Miller, Walter Simonson, and later Jim Lee, who hit the ground running— where [artists] all had to learn how to tell a story or we were in trouble. 

The editors demanded it, so we were able to bridge the gap between the “pin-up age” and the “decompression age.”  I’m very happy that it worked out this way and I have no fear of what is coming.  My only fear is that my artwork doesn’t live up to my storytelling.  To use a hockey player comparison, there are players who were just flat out great scorers like [Wayne] Gretzky.  Then there were the great defensive players like Paul Coffey.  I think of myself more like a Mark Messier, I can score and defend, not the best at each, but a great amalgam (author’s note – for those not in the know, Mark Messier was an integral part of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty in the 1980s as well as the captain of the team that brought the championship back to the New York Rangers).

There are better artists out there, and there are better writers out there.  Better draftsmen, better designers; I think I am a relatively good combination of all and I’ll take it.  I got a pretty good career out of it that’s still going.  I get emails and check the message boards and I get compliments like ‘I don’t think you’re a good artist, but I’ll read your stuff anyway.’ And that’s a compliment, because whether they know it or not, they’re reading it because the story makes sense.  So, if a writer gets on a book with me and writes beautifully and I do my job adequately enough to get these critics to read it, how can you pass that up? 

I’ve got guys that like me that read my stuff and I’ve got guys that don’t like me that read my stuff.  Jim Lee doesn’t have that problem, nor does Frank Miller, because everyone loves their stuff.  I’ve got guys that hate my stuff that read it.  I’ve accomplished something!  I send them back, ‘I’m sorry you don’t like my stuff, but thank you for buying it anyway!” [Laughs]

BF: Now, getting back to the early days of your career—you started off on Iron Man, correct?

JR, Jr.: Yes, Iron Man #150 was my first complete book.


BF: What would you say have been some of your favorites, in terms of single issues, complete runs and story arcs, writers to work with, etc.?

JR, Jr.: I think my favorite project ever was The Man Without Fear with Frank Miller.  That was 5 issues that became a graphic novel.  I think at that point I may have done about as well as I could ever do in a complete fashion.  I may have hit my home run there.  However, my greatest and worst moment was Amazing Spiderman #36, the 9/11 issue.  I can’t look at the book, it makes me cry.  My favorite run, visually, was Thor because I worked with Klaus Jansen.  My favorite run overall was Amazing Spider-Man with JMS. 

The best writer to work with, not because he’s better than anyone overall, is Frank Miller.  He is the complete package.  Neil Gaiman is brilliant, but Frank is an artist and a writer.  Maybe I’ll change it after I finish working with Neil because he is unbelievable, but there’s something about Frank.  I have always been a fan of his.  When we worked together on that graphic novel, I was younger and impressionable, and working with him was a huge leap.

Miller’s got a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ style to his writing.  I’d love to work with him again, especially on Daredevil.  I think we could do something else, to pick up where The Man Without Fear left off.  But he doesn’t want to work on anymore Marvel stuff, so I’ll have to break rank someday to work with him again.  But working with J.M.S., Jenkins, Gaiman, Miller, Claremont, Scott Lobdell, Anne Nocenti (who was the best-looking writer I ever worked with), and Byrne; I’ve had a run on writers that I don’t think anyone else will be able to match.

BF: Some of the writers you mentioned, like Miller, Byrne, Simonson, they were all artists too.  Have you ever thought of doing some writing yourself?

JR, Jr.: Yes, but the problem is that I’m not confident enough in my dialogue for that to work.  I can come up with ideas, but I come up a couple inches short of writing a complete book.  I have concerns about my elocution.  I probably could [write] if I had to, but I’d rather not because I’m not good enough.  I’d rather be an artist and storyteller and a plotter, than having to try and walk on thin ice as a writer.  I haven’t had any great desire to write right now. 

I did come up with The Grey Area on my own and worked with Glen Brunswick, who is a brilliant screenwriter, and he helped me turn it into a book.  See, that’s what I do, I had met Glen and pitched him some idea that I had written down on napkins and sheets of paper on flights.  He took that and added his half to it.  That’s how I would describe my writing: great ideas, but just short of making it a complete package.  My father says I am underestimating myself.  I’m relatively intelligent, so I could probably come up with the words. [Laughs]

BF: So, if you found the right idea and project would you consider a series or a creator-owned book?

JR, Jr.: Well, I do have a few more ideas germinating.  If The Grey Area works as well as we hope it does, we have a production company and Reginald Hudlin attempting to get it into a studio.  If something good does happen there, I’d be willing to explore a few more of my ideas.  I’d like to get a foothold with The Grey Area so that it will lend credence to the other projects.

BF: Is this going to be superhero work?

JR, Jr.: It is without superhero stuff, per se.  This is what I have always enjoyed about comics, we have a perfect balance between the real and the surreal/fantasy.

To me, that's also what Stan Lee did when he created Spider-Man.  Spider-Man was basically Superman except that it was a kid from Queens and that took this amazing idea and put it right on the ground.  It was perfect, 80% reality and little bit of fantasy.  That’s what I try to do with the ideas I come up with: everyday people with a little twinge of fantasy.  It completely disrupts everything else, but doesn’t overshadow the reality.  I think between Glen and I we’ve got about 4 or 5 great ideas to work with.  One of them is called Shmuggy Bimbo and the Sugarman.  These are two people who were my parents’ age and are no longer with us, so I can use their names now. [Laughs]

BF: Working back into the Eternals and the idea of legacies, how do you play both of those into the book?  How much is homage and how much is your own?  A lot of the stuff at Marvel has been not “Let’s forsake what’s happened!” but rather “Let’s mention it and then build our own on top of that to make it ‘now’.”

JR, Jr.: That’s exactly what this is.  What you have to do is find the jumping on point, especially with Kirby.  You want to revere, but without overuse, so you take enough of it to keep the flavor and then add your own spices to the recipe.  I think I may have the right combination.  Some people might think that this is a direct rip-off of Kirby.  The Celestials for instance, two of them are basically line for line the way Kirby defined them, but we have created several others. 

The Eternals themselves are based on Kirby’s designs, but that’s where we stopped; the rest are our visuals.  The names are the original ones, but Neil has taken them in a completely different direction.  So, on the scale of 1-10, you have 2 Kirby and the other 8 are ours.

Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge

BF: You mentioned that you were taking this break from Spider-Man to work on special projects, but there has always been the mention of going back. Will this be happening soon?

JR, Jr.: I am going back to Spider-Man after The Eternals and I’m really looking forward to it.  There is a very simple and shallow explanation.  With special projects, it’s like jumping on a parkway on a tricycle, because you don’t know the characters and you have to produce them. 

However, if you do a monthly title you don’t have to reference other characters, you know the characters.  I know Peter Parker and his (old) apartment like the back of my hand.  I don’t have to reference anything.  I know Manhattan without any references.  So, there’s the familiarity and the efficiency of dealing with it.  With special projects, you finally learn them by the third issue, but by then there’s only 3 issues left.

I’m looking forward to getting back into a regular series.  I’d like to do a monthly title and then a 6-issue arc on Punisher and maybe another 6-issue arc on another character.  I think that’s what Marvel has in mind.  I don’t think they want me to do 2 titles a month, because sometimes the both of them might not be 100% well done. But if I did one title and special projects on the side I can give more to the one title, but I still would like to go back to doing 2 per month.  Really, all I need is my wife to spend more money and I’ll be able to produce more because we’ll be in hock. [Laughs]

I’m not sure which Spider-Man title it will be, though, because the guys that are working on them now are doing great jobs and I wouldn’t have anyone kicked off.  But if there is a Spider-Man title that opens up in 6 months, that’s where I’ll be.

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