romancing the superhero

Jesse Marinoff Reyes:

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual (“King-Size Special”)
November, 1966 issue, #3
Illustration: John Romita (b. 1930), pencils; and Mike Esposito (1927-2010), inks.

---Unlike my other covers in this gallery, I had to kipe this scan from the intraweb—though I do have a copy in storage in Seattle somewhere (but it's probably been eaten by mice by now)...!---

Because Robert Newman demanded it! Here is the Incredible Hulk tussling with the Amazing Spider-Man (not the best idea in the world for Spidey)!

… “Jazzy” John Romita, one of the building block artists of the “Marvel Age of Comics” (as Stan Lee would put it) with the cornerstones being Jack “King” Kirby (1917-1994) and Steve Ditko (b. 1927), the rest of the foundation of Marvel’s art bullpen being “Big” John Buscema (1927-2002), Marie Severin (b. 1929), Gene Colan (1926-2011), George Tuska (1916-2009), Don Heck (1929-1995), and Romita. From that core group, the Marvel style, or more specifically, the Jack Kirby “look” (bold, explosive, super-reality) would create a signature for Marvel comics that set it apart from its competition—combined with Stan Lee’s penchant for snappy, wise-cracking dialog and having its characters suffer from myriad real-world problems when “out of uniform,” be it the tribulations of high school angst (Spider-Man) or the complications of alcoholism (Iron Man)—and make it profitable and successful as a publishing concern unlike its previous incarnations as Timely Publications in the 1940s and Atlas Comics in the 1950s.

Romita’s association with Marvel went all the way back to the late-1940s when, as a kid, he was subcontracted by another artist to “ghost” pencil a number of stories for which he would be paid $17 or $20 per page. At the time, Romita had been working for $30 a week at a Lithography firm, so one could immediately see the advantage to focusing on comics work. When Romita was drafted in 1951, this arrangement ended. But he was eventually stationed on Governor’s Island working on recruitment posters. When he was promoted and able to live off the post, renting an apartment in Brooklyn (and when not on duty), he went into Manhattan and dropped by Lee’s offices (now Atlas Comics) to seek freelance work, making his relationship with Marvel “official.” From that point on he would cut his eye teeth on romance, sci-fi, war stories, and horror—including, most prominently, work on a short-lived revival of one of Timely’s signature super hero titles (Jack Kirby’s) Captain America. He would also freelance for DC comics on their romance line, adapting to their “house style” (narrative realism) eventually becoming their primary romance covers artist in addition to doing interiors. This is significant, as the work in romance for both Atlas and DC would inform his later work—I doubt many could render female characters as beautifully and as romantically as Romita could on the superhero titles he would later be associated with.

By the 1960s, With romance work waning at DC, Romita began to steer his career towards advertising story board work, securing a position at BBDO that would pay better than the comics workload. Stan Lee however, had other ideas. After “romancing” Romita over a three-hour lunch (the story goes), Lee promised to match Romita’s agency money, with flexible scheduling to work at home or office at Romita’s discretion if he would come and work for Lee at Marvel. The rest, kiddies, is pop culture history as Romita would take over from a departing Steve Ditko on Marvel’s most important title (with Fantastic Four), the Amazing Spider-Man in 1966, transforming the character into Marvel’s defacto mascot and increasing the title’s appeal to a wider audience.

Romita would eventually become Marvel’s art director, creating such important characters as The Punisher and Wolverine.

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