No.56: John Romita
One of the cornerstones of the Marvel Age of Comics, John Romita became almost as identified with the company’s look and house style as Jack Kirby. Words: Andrew Colman
Mainly remembered for his long and iconic stint as artist on Spider-Man, Romita altered the character’s look and tone, moving him significantly away from his former iteration, that of the nerdy, bookish, and alienated outsider, as delineated by co-creator Steve Ditko.
Getting his start originally at Timely and then Atlas Comics (both Marvel forerunners) Romita initially honed his skills as a storyteller in various genres for the publisher, including horror, war, western, and the abortive mid-1950s super-hero revival in Captain America and Young Men. Gradually segueing into illustrating romance comics, Romita switched to DC in 1958, drawing the bulk of the publisher’s line in that genre, on titles such as Secret Hearts, Heart Throbs, Girls Romances and Young Love. Despite romance comics’ decline by the early 60s, his work at this point became part of his DNA as an artist, which meant that when he returned to Marvel in 1965 he retained certain aspects of those books.
Returning to the Marvel fold, Romita pencilled an issue of the Avengers before being optioned by Stan Lee to work on Daredevil, a supporting level book in the Marvel hierarchy. In issues 16 and 17 Lee got to see how Romita would handle guest star Spider-Man, and he liked what he saw. With the relationship between Steve Ditko and Stan Lee deteriorating, Romita took over the pencilling reins in issue 39 of Amazing Spider-Man. With issue 39’s classic cover featuring an unmasked Peter Parker in costume being hauled skywards by the Green Goblin, Romita was off to a strong start, and within a year, he had made the book and character his own.
Romita’s rendition of what would soon be Marvel’s permanent number one property has elicited mixed views from comic historians over the years. Many have claimed that the move away from Ditko’s version was too drastic, with the original artist’s idiosyncratic, slightly skewed take having been the reason for fandom’s immediate response to the character from Amazing Fantasy 15 onwards. Ditko’s Peter Parker was the archetypal bespectacled, immature nerd, and although Romita’s interpretation retained his angst-ridden, insecure mindset, he now looked too clean cut, his specs gone, the awkwardness airbrushed out as he became more idealized (thanks to Romita’s background in the aforementioned romance books), as did his co-stars, such as the newly arrived foil and love interest Mary Jane Watson. Some have stated that with his departure Ditko took part of Lee with him, which is somewhat harsh. Despite Ditko’s inspired run on the title, John Romita was perfect for the strip in this era, its appeal broadened beyond its college reader base, while the artist’s dynamic, at times cinematic, evocation of New York in that period was also classic – the backdrop to many definitive battle scenes with Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. Thematically his work by this point also allowed Lee to cast his net wider, tackling other issues and topics as Marvel understood the necessity of moving with the times.
Romita continued at Marvel in the 1970s as art director, overseeing the company’s line and artistic style while designing characters such as the Punisher, Wolverine and Bullseye, his remit involving art corrections on projects whenever required. As one of the key figures of the Silver and Bronze Age, John Romita is as identified with the House of Ideas as much as any of his peers, and an artist who inarguably contributed as much as anyone. One of the legends of the industry.
Here’s links through to the other entries in our 101 Greatest so far as well
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No.56: John Romita One of the cornerstones of the Marvel Age of Comics, John Romita became almost as identified with the company’s look and house style as Jack Kirby. Words: Andrew Colman Mainly remembered for his long and iconic stint as artist on Spider-Man, Romita altered the character’s look and tone, moving him significantly away
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