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Eternally Marvelous - Part 3

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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
Eternally Marvelous - Part 2

BROKEN FRONTIER: Is there any Marvel character you would like to work on that you haven’t before?

JOHN ROMITA, JR.: Dr. Strange.  I haven’t worked on a regular book with the character, but I do like the surreal nature of the character.  I had the chance to work on a Dr. Strange book with Harlan Ellison, but Bob Harras shot it down because Ellison wanted too much money.  I also had the chance to work with Moebius on a project with the Punisher and Bob Harras turned that down over money too.  So,,,,,, thank Bob Harras for ruining two projects that would have been classics.  If I ever get the chance to kick him in the ass I would.

BF: Did you know that Neil Gaiman has said that one of the Marvel characters he would love to work on was Dr. Strange?

JR, Jr.: Is that right?  I did not know that.  I’m going to have to call him about that.  Now that is a project that I would put off going back to Spider-Man for.  I have a great idea too.  I’m definitely going to give Neil a call about that. Really?

BF: Yes, people have asked him that and he said 'Dr. Strange'.  And I do want a finder’s fee for this one. [Laughs]

JR, Jr.: You got it.

BF: Now, is your desire to go to Dr. Strange because you have done mostly “real world” type stuff?

JR, Jr.: I enjoy doing the down to earth stuff: Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Punisher.  Because there’s a reality to it and I am a stickler for details, down to the grain on the walls of brick in an alleyway in Manhattan.  And then you enjoy the fantasy more because you know you’re steeped in reality.   I love that.  But a departure from that, which is why I enjoyed doing Thor and now the Eternals, is serendipitous; it’s fun.  You’re lucky enough to get that, so go with it—as long as it’s not too ridiculous in its relation to reality. 

For instance, when I did Thor there was a lot of earth-based stories and I didn’t always enjoy those elements that much, because Thor is so out-of-this-world.  He’s a god walking on earth, so to me it didn’t coordinate right.  I loved doing Thor in Asgard with Odin. And it’s the same with the Eternals; I don’t enjoy the earth bound stuff as much as I do the Eternals out in space.  They’re gods.  That’s not to say it’s not a good combination by Neil, but they’re gods, they belong in the heavens.  If I do Spider-Man, he’s earthbound; Daredevil, earthbound; Punisher, earthbound. If I do Thor, I want him out in Asgard.  It’s the same thing with Dr. Strange.  Let’s put him in the other dimension.  His powers are so surreal and that’s what I love about him.  I love surrealism because of the twisting of reality.  Let’s bend the face of the clock like Dhali, but you still know it’s the face of a clock.  So, that’s why I think I want to do Dr. Strange.

BF: Did you want to work with Moebius for the same reason?

JR, Jr.: Oh man!  Makes me want to cry!  I met him and had dinner with him and got drunk together and ogled women!  He’s the nicest man, and an absolute genius.  His English is better than my French, but we managed to work it out.  He even complimented my wife who swooned over him.  I’m sorry I never got the chance to work with him, because I may never meet him again.

BF: And he was going to work with you on a Punisher story?

JR, Jr.: He said that when we met, he really enjoyed the way I drew the character.  He brought over an issue and told me that and then pointed to a particular cover and said it made him want to work with me.  So I said we should do an arc.  And he sent me this tome, an overview of a 12-issue arc on the Punisher.  He would have written it and I would have drawn it.  And to have Jean Giraud write a book for me, it would have been the pinnacle.

BF: Well, Joe [Quesada] might be up for it.

JR, Jr.: Ah, Moebius’ probably forgot my name by now.

BF: Now, one of my favorite issues that you did growing up was during your Uncanny X Men run with Scott Lobdell.  I’m not sure about the number but it was right before the Scott/Jean wedding and it was a father/son issue with Cyclops and Cable.  Does being able to tell stories like that mean something special to you?

JR, Jr.: Yes.  My father is the greatest man I have ever met or will ever meet.  So anything that brings the relationship I have with my father professionally into my mind makes me choke up a little bit.  The reason I love this business so much is that it has made me as close as you can possibly get to your father without being in the same body.  My mother was in the industry as well, but I thank comics for making me and my father so close. 

Now that I have a son, whenever I look at him, I hope that he cares as much about me as I do about my father.  When the three of us get in the room it’s hard to choke back the tears of joy.  There were years that my father didn’t know if the family would ever have another son.  When my wife got pregnant and we found out it was a boy, my dad started crying and screaming ‘There’s another Romita coming to pass on the legacy!’ So yes, anytime I get to do a book where there is that father/son element, that is special to me.  Some day if my father should ever decide to pass, it would suck.  I can’t be much more eloquent than that.  There would be a gaping whole in the force. 

BF: Is your son going to be The Third?

JR, Jr.: I don’t know if he will be an artist, but he has the personality to be one.

BF: Speaking of your family, there is a long legacy of you and your father working at Marvel. With The Grey Area being your only work published elsewhere.  Is there any character outside of the Marvel that you would like to get your hands on?

JR, Jr.: Batman only.  Most artists, for a visual, dark sense, would love to work on Batman.  Daredevil has the same effect on artists too.  And that is due to Frank Miller again.  God Almighty!  What Frank did with Daredevil has turned Frank into that slightly demonic lawyer because of the demons inside.  But the visual sense of Batman and Daredevil causes artists to lean towards those characters.  I love drawing Daredevil and Batman, visually.  If I had a choice, I would go to Batman.  That would be it.  I don’t like Superman at all.  No matter what they do to alter the history and sense of the character, he still comes of as corny.  Not to say he isn’t a brilliant character in terms of longevity, but he’s just too perfect. C’mon!  It’s too much. 

But Batman is a great character, again, because of the link to reality and what had happened to the character.  Now there are a lot of the corny doo-dads that he makes up that can get too much, but the shadows and the deep darkness of the character… there is still enough reality to that character to have a good balance.  But Jim Lee may have scared me off.  I don’t think it can be done any better than that.  Who wants to follow him?  I followed Frank on Daredevil; I followed my father on Spider-Man; I followed Byrne on Uncanny X-Men; I followed Kirby on Thor and Eternals.  I’ve had enough!  I don’t want to follow any more geniuses.

BF: So would you ever leave Marvel and possibly follow the Kuberts’ choice of switching things up?

JR, Jr.: Well, I’m a Marvel exclusive for four more years.  Marvel has really done right by me.  At this rate, if I continue doing what I am doing and Marvel is happy with me I don’t have a reason to leave, especially working for Joe Quesada right now.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working for him.  He’s an artist and a friend.  As an artist, he knows what he likes.  He is a fan of my stuff, which is great.  But he’s got a great decision sense and is a good businessman.  I love working for Marvel because of Joe and as long as Joe wants me, I have no reason to leave. 

All of the former Editor-in-Chiefs have been writers, so this is a great combination.  He knows what looks good.  Joe’s a great storyteller too.  Perhaps the only thing with Joe is that he’s slow because he’s such a perfectionist.  But as long as Joe’s there, I’ll be there.  In four more years, if Joe decides to jump ship and do something else, then I would have to consider it.  Hopefully in four more years I won’t be so old that I won’t be considered, because there is an age factor here.  I’ll be 25 in five years! [Laughs]  I’m getting nervous!

BF: Seeing as how you’ve lasted so long, through the 80’s to the pin-up era through to now, is that still a fear for you that eventually someday someone in charge will make a mandate that there is to be no more John Romita, Jr.?

JR, Jr.: I tend to (and this is to a fault) look at the message boards.  Because, if I don’t, then I’ll be living in a fantasy world where I think I’m great and I’m not.  And if I ever get good enough to be content, then I’ll turn around and there will be a whole new set of readers who don’t want to read a book by some “old man.”  So, my goal has been to transcend the age factor.  Kirby, my father, and Buscema did it.  Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, John Byrne, and Joe Kubert have done it.  That’s great company to be in.  If someone reads my stuff regularly for 10 more years, I’d be happy.  But I have to make a living when I’m in my 60s.  I don’t want to be a “has-been.”

So, my goal is to be as good in 20 years as I am now.  Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is not a young man, but he is still in demand.  If my father were ambitious enough, he could still get regular work.  It’s a challenge that I’m very conscious of.  And I get comments from the message boards from people saying “Give someone else a chance, Romita!  You’ve been around too long!” So after I decide not to tell them off, I go and work harder at it.  I don’t feel my age, but it doesn’t change the numbers.  You can’t hide from the fact that I’ve been in the business 30 years.

BF: How do you think you have been able to maintain that youthfulness? 

JR, Jr.: It’s easy to do.  All you have to do is pay attention to modern events—visuals as well as emotions.  Just look at the news, pay attention to magazines, newspapers, and read People.  I am afraid to pick up Teen People though because someone might think I’m a pervert.  So I have my wife go pick up that stuff and some fashion magazines.  I watch some of the crap on the WB; I look at hip-hop; really, all you have to do is be alive and be conscious of what’s around you.  Just because I’m a fan of Blues doesn’t mean I can’t be aware of hip-hop and heavy metal.  And that is what has kept me young.

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