John Romita Jr. has had a long and successful career in comics. He is in the middle of the Sentry mini-series right now. He took some time away from the drawing board to talk about breaking in, Spider-Man, Sentry and the Ultimate Vision.
First Comics News: You have been at Marvel for a long time, and your father has a long history there as well. When you were just starting out was there any question in your mind that you could get a job at Marvel.
John Romita, jr.: Yah, there was actually a question. There were two questions, 1) was I good enough and 2) the difficulty with some people because I was my father’s son. My father nipped that in the bud by saying “You are going to get no help from me; you’ll have to pull your own weight”. I don’t think there was a concerted effort to keep me from getting work. If there was, I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but there were a lot of bitter feelings towards me because of my father and the whole last name. No one came after me and started swinging at me, there were just people who disliked the fact that I was trying to get work.
1st: From the very beginning, you got a very positive response from the fans.
John: It may sound that way to most people, but at first my work was not that good, like most neophytes starting out. I knew how, but I just wasn’t that good. I quickly learned but, my work wasn’t printed right away. I worked on sketches for a year, then I was on staff as a production assistant for eighteen months. The first things I did were pin ups for the black & white department, pin ups for Conan, and then it was the British department. There was a long breaking-in process. The first things printed were the British covers and pin ups, and they were ok.
1st: Your first published comic was in Spider-Man Annual #11. How many people get to start their career on Spider-Man?
John: It was terrible, and Al Milgrom saved it for me. And, Archie Goodwin, rest in peace, allowed it to be printed. It was terrible in my eyes. I look at it now, and it’s even worse. It was a back up story, and there was a certain novelty in having me do a little tiny back-up Spider-Man story.
I was able to use the experience and the eighteen months of production to see direction, gain experience without getting much instruction from anybody. I was able to pick up things and put it all together. The advantage of being my father’s son was being a fan first and working on staff. Being around the company, I had an education. It took a year or two, and then I hit the ground running. I knew how to tell a story, and it was just a matter of my artwork improving through experience. A lot of guys who start out take a little longer because story telling doesn’t come to them right away. I went backwards, my story telling came quicker than my artwork. Then, it was just a matter of the repetitive experience and the artwork improved. To me, it seemed like a quick learn; although, it was two or there years. You do some things, and two or three years take forever. Or, they can go quickly. To me, they went quickly. All of a sudden, I felt like I was in control of what I was doing.
1st: You have such a huge body of work on Spider-Man; do you feel an attachment to the character?
John: On a personal nature, I feel like I grew up with the character. He is like a sibling of mine. My father had the comics around the house. I read the books all the time, and the family name became attached to the character because of my father. Getting into the business, I did that six page story, and before I knew it I was doing the monthly. I have a personal attachment to it. I love the character and it’s been around my family name so long.
1st: You have had tremendous success with the Marvel icons, from Spider-Man to X-Men. When can we expect to see your work on the Fantastic Four?
John: I have had the Fantastic Four in many of the books I have done. They were in the Wolverine mini-series, and the Fantastic Four appeared in the Sentry book I am doing now. I am half way through Fantastic Four: The End. It’s a one-shot. I have done 24 pages of 48. I don’t know when it’s coming out. Stan Lee is the plotter and dialog man, and I have to get it done quickly. We only have so much time with Stan. Scott Hanna is the inker and he’s got the pages. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. It’s a lot of fun; Prince Namor is in it and some aliens, some interesting characters. I would like to finish it, but I have so many things I want to do and so many things they want me to do.
1st: What about an original John Romita Jr. super hero?
John: The Grey Area is an original character so to speak. It’s an original premise. It was published by Image last year. It was a 3 part mini-series, and it came out in paperback last year. It has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood.
1st: With Punisher/Batman you finally worked on a DC character. Did this make you think that you might like to work on a DC character or was this enough for you?
John: My interest would be Batman; it wouldn’t go much further than that. I don’t know if I would even want to do Superman. Batman would be the character, I think everyone wants to do Batman because of the mystery of the character. It’s a great character, but I don’t know if I had my fill because I have been with Marvel so long. And, I will be with Marvel so much longer. I probably won’t get to it, but never say never.
1st: Let’s turn out attention to your current project Sentry. What made you take this assignment?
John: It was at the suggestion of Joe Quesada. He said let’s try it; you would be perfect for it. It looks like it would fit my style perfectly etc., and I went with his suggestion. I had a chance to work with Paul Jenkins, and that was another big point for me. Now, I am halfway through the series, and I will be done shortly. I can’t say what’s next. I am not sure, and I am not supposed to say anyway.
1st: With someone like Spider-Man, he is an every man, but Sentry is schizophrenic. How do you get a handle on a character like Sentry?
John: It’s a matter of getting expressions on faces and doing a little bit of acting yourself. The expressions are the most important part. There are a limited amount of expressions that you can do. You can’t over play him being crazy. You can’t throw him into the Joker realm. Since you know he has the emotional problems going in, you have to down play it just a touch without getting too carried away.
1st: In the first issue, we see a lot action; however, when it comes down to the battle with Terrax, Sentry almost seems bored. Is everything just too easy with that much power?
John: That played itself out in the book, where you get the actions without the facial expressions. He just pulverizes Terrax, who is the herald of Galactus. That’s pretty cool. The point is to make it a Dirty Harry type of reaction, doing a stunning job of violence and then acting cool about it. That’s a way of acting crazed without looking crazy. It’s almost insane that he could be that powerful and act so cool about what he is doing. As far as making him look crazy, that’s not the point. He is not supposes to look insane, a la the Joker. What you can do is down play it a little bit, combined with the dialog and then some close-ups with some disturbing expressions. It comes out looking like he has emotional problems without making him look manically crazy. When a scene happens where he is having an emotional reaction to what he is doing, it is usual after the fact, in his alter ego as Rob Reynolds. Then, you can show some sweat beading down his brow, and his conversations with his psychiatrist. If he does have an emotional break down, then you can show the emotions as more extreme. This is a super hero that is supposed to be the most powerful of the Marvel characters, knowing it himself and trying to maintain control. He is supposed to be more stoic than others, even though he has emotional problems. It is because he has two different personalities, as well as two identities. Does he have two personalities as Sentry? Does he have two personalities as Rob Reynolds? And are there four personalities? Right now we are feeling our way through the manifestations of the craziness. I don’t want to get Joker like; I want to get Dirty Harry like.
1st: In some scenes we have a lot of emotion, especially with the Void; this must be very different than drawing Spider-Man, where you can’t really see his face?
John: That’s true; although, Spider-Man has his own emotional problems. You can’t show much. With Sentry, it is all expressions. Again, when you have him in his Superhero form, you can’t have him act insane. He is not really insane at that point. He is struggling with himself. Right now we are going slow and easy with the crazy expressions, not to say it won’t happen later in the series.
1st: One of the things that is more apparent in this mini series is how different in size Bob is from Sentry. The transformation is off panel. Is this more of a Hulk -style transformation or a Captain Marvel-style transformation?
John: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I just came in, and I feel like I am on a tricycle hoping on the freeway. I am not exactly sure how that is handled or how we are going to handle it. I am sure at some point we will show that, but there are so many more important things than that at the moment. The character himself and his struggle are more important than those kind of visuals. That will happen down the line. Just like watching Spider-Man or Iron Man change into costume, it will happen as a matter of fact, as an aside during a scene.
1st: The first issue mostly focused on Sentry. Will we see more of Bob and his wife in the coming issues?
John: Definitely. The conversations with the psychiatrist and the ultimate questions that everybody will ask are all covered. How it affects him as a super hero will all be covered.
1st: A lot of the time you are working on more than one comic at the same time. What else are you working on?
John: Right now I am doing Sentry and the Vision back up story in Ultimates. I am half way through with the Ultimate Extinction.
1st: What is Ultimate Extinction about?
John: I am not the only one doing the Vision story. Right now it’s the female Vision’s story and the origin way back when in outer space. It’s the Vision’s different appearances. Joe Madureira designed it, and I am drawing it at the moment. It’s hard to describe it because I don’t know the whole story itself. Sam Wilson, the designer of the Vision, is the main character, and then there is Galactus. Galactus has an interesting appearance. I can’t tell you how he looks, but it is Galactus as you have never imagined. I wish I could say, but it is a very interesting visual.