“Until John Romita Jr draws Superman, Make Mine Marvel…” Oh, hang on. John Romita Jr has jumped ship to DC. He tells Joel Meadows why he made the move
There are a few artists who become synonymous with a specific publisher. Their careers begin there and they spend most of their working life drawing for them. You couldn’t think of the sadly departed Joe Kubert without his work for DC, or John Buscema and his decades working almost exclusively for Marvel.
John Romita Jr’s roots are even more entangled with one particular company. The son of ’60s Marvel artist John Romita, he has a career stretching back to the second half of the ’70s. Drawing everything from X-Men to Thor, Daredevil to The Eternals, Romita Jr has become arguably the ultimate Marvel artist of the past four decades.
So the announcement that he was going to jump ship from the company he and his family have been associated with for decades (his mother Virginia also worked at the Marvel offices) to draw DC’s flagship character Superman came as quite a surprise. But he admits to Comic Heroes that he has considered working for the competition before.
“Actually, I always imagined that if I worked for DC, it would be on Batman,” he reveals, “because physically and visually I just think it’s a great costume. I never imagined it would be Superman.”
“I was coming to the end of my contract at Marvel,” Romita Jr recalls. “So I went to the San Diego Comic Con and I ran into Dan Didio [DC co-publisher]. We started talking as friends and decided to have breakfast and the conversation came up about working for DC. Something came into my head about an idea that I had for a storyline that could apply to Superman. When I mentioned it to Dan, he loved it and we went from there. We didn’t do that storyline because we wanted it to be in continuity. It’s something completely different from what I expected. I’ve been looking for something completely different and here we are.”
I always imagined that if I worked for DC it’d be on Batman
Superman’s costume has been redesigned for the New 52 and Romita Jr is using Jim Lee’s vision as the basis for the way he’s drawing the Man of Steel.
“I was given Lee’s sketch of the costume because, to be honest, the reference I have isn’t all that clear from panel to panel. So it might be off just a touch but if it is off, then it’s because I’m a lousy artist!”
Romita Jr is working with DC veteran writer Geoff Johns on Superman but despite knowing each other socially, Romita didn’t really have much of a
professional connection with Johns prior to this project.
“Geoff and I have only met at bars at conventions which is really sad, but true. I’d heard all sorts of great things about him but I’d never read any of his books or his scripts. I don’t do a lot of reading – I usually just look at the pictures because I’m always looking at the competition. When I was told that it was a possibility that Geoff could work with me, that cemented my desire to work on Superman because his history goes back and his reputation precedes him. People said ‘That’s the guy you want to work with if you ever do work at DC’, and here we are. When I started reading his stuff I realised that what everybody was saying was exactly right.”
Klaus Janson, an inker who has worked with Romita Jr before, most notably on Daredevil, is also joining the new team. “He’s always my first choice. I think he’s a brilliant artist and just as good as an inker. It’s the same as working with Tom Palmer on Kick Ass [co-created by Romita Jr and Mark Millar]. They’re both artists who just happen to be inkers so it really helps out. They’ve also saved my bacon on more than one occasion with corrections and repairs!”
Romita Jr is tight-lipped when we ask him about the upcoming Superman storyline, but he does reveal how much work he’s put in.
“I can’t say anything about the story as we’re trying to keep things under wraps. Unless Geoff Johns and the editors at DC come forward with information, I’m not going to do that. I’ve only just begun working on it and I should keep my mouth shut.
“It doesn’t veer too far from what I’ve done before, though: there is the supernatural with the natural. In all honesty, I have to keep looking at reference for the new universe and that makes things a little bit difficult for a while. Once I get used to my surroundings and the faces, it’ll get a little bit easier. When I do get to that point, one thing I do like to do is use familiarity, things around me, and the world that I’m in. I like to look at clothes and locations so I can use my memory as opposed to having to get reference off the internet.
“But the casual moments are the same way as before. I find myself doing facial expressions in the mirror and the same with hands and elbows and so on – I have a full length mirror in my office. When it comes to clothing, every year I update my fashion reference and that’s especially relevant for Lois and the character Jackie that we’re introducing. They have to be more cosmopolitan than regular females because they are who they are. So I like to have reference from fashion magazines. Clark is a little bit of a casual kind of guy, sneakers every once in a while which is great, while Jimmy Olsen, of course, is forever a teen so there’s a lot of reference I’ve got to get and I embrace that. But until I get comfortable with the faces and their apartments and so on, I’m still very much in the learning process.”
So how different is it working for DC rather than Marvel? “There’s no difference in the job. Working for two different companies, two sets of people, everyone is nice. Everybody’s always been nice. Not when I first started at Marvel, of course. I was a little punk kid then. But now I know so many people and I’ve been around long
enough, so people have experienced my work and there’s a comfort zone that way. But the physical nature of the job stays the same. You get a script or you get a plot. You story tell, and you draw, and you get it right and in on time, and you make people happy.”
The business has changed significantly since Romita Jr made his comic book debut back in 1977 (with a six-page story called “Chaos At The Coffee Bean!” in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11) but he sees those changes as a good thing.
“My storytelling has improved because I’ve become a student of storytelling and that was due to not being that good an artist in the first place. I needed to rely on one thing that I could do strongly and that was tell a story. But what has changed is the quality of the writing. Because of the closeness of the movie industry to the comics industry, screenwriters use the industry so to speak and comic writers and comic artists use the movie industry. So the storylines and the characters have improved because of it. And as an artist you have to raise your bar to meet those stories.
“With something like Mark Millar and Kick Ass, the challenges on that book are hard to describe, and the scenes that he asked for… when I worked with him on Wolverine, he asked for some amazing scenes. That’s changed from the earlier years. I spoke to my father and he laughed. He said, ‘Nobody ever asked me to do something like this!’ Although when he worked with Stan Lee, there were challenging moments. It’s just that the size and the scope of the stories has changed: it’s basically Cecil B DeMille with a cast of a million. And the more you put into it, the more reaction you get from sales. And that is the ultimate change. They pay better if your sales are higher and you bust buns and get down to dollars and cents. It’s an overall raising of the bar. Every aspect of it, including printing, colouring, promotion and marketing, drawing and writing.”
Romita Jr wouldn’t be drawn on the length of his contract with DC but he seemed hopeful it would last for a while.
“It should be a year or two, depending on how many issues we get through. There is a set amount of time that I am supposed to be on it for, and that could change depending on the creativity. As long as I don’t go dancing round Manhattan in my underwear, I’m sure DC will keep me!”
With a book featuring such a wellknown character, there is bound to be extra
You story tell, and you draw, and you make people happy
attention focused on its artist but Romita Jr seems to see that as a positive as well.
“There’s the pressure that I put on myself – I should never have done this but before I even pencilled the first page, I read a couple of reactions to the announcement. I’ve been in the business long enough and I also carry a lot of history and that means that there’s more people to like me and more people to hate me. The people who aren’t fans of mine are louder and more boisterous than the people who love me. So I did read a couple of negative reactions but all it does is inspire me.
“I shouldn’t pay attention to it but I do because it keeps my feet on the ground. I still have to pay the bills, I still have to do work. I told a few family members that I’m working for DC now and the contract was a little bit different and they said: ‘Boy, it must be great knowing that you’re in that comfort zone.’ So I said, ‘No I still have to work. I don’t get paid if I’m sitting at a desk doing nothing.’ People forget that. What keeps writers and artists on their toes is if you don’t produce and you don’t sell, you don’t get paid.”
Superman #32 – the first by Johns and Romita Jr – is on sale now.
Who’d have thought it…? John Romita Jr drawing Superman!
Above: We do know that Superman gets a new foe in the form of goldenhaired Ulysses.
Above left: The gruntfaced, slobber-filled cover of the all-new issue #32.