Wednesday, June 14, 2023


Just heard the heartbreaking news that John Romita Sr. has died. John was the artist who introduced me to Peter Parker's world with his classic Green Goblin story in Amazing Spider-Man #s 39 and 40 (still my favorite Spidey story of all time). I also adored his work on Daredevil, Captain America and, well, pretty much everything he touched.

One of the great joys of my career was working with John on a story called "The Kiss." He put such love and care into that story and it was clear he was an artist who never stopped challenging himself, never stopped evolving.

I remember John sitting in on a Spider-Man writer's meeting back in the 90s. We were all tossing ideas around for new stories and, time and again, the best ideas came from John. The man wasn't just an extraordinary artist, he was a storyteller of the first rank.

When Amazing Spider-Man #400 came out, John took the time to call me and tell me how much the story had moved him, that it had actually made him cry. Can you imagine what that meant to me? How deeply it touched me?

John Romita, Sr. was a giant of our industry and we all owe him so very much.

Heartfelt condolences to John Jr., John Sr.'s wife Virginia, and the entire Romita family.


  1. Well, Dematteis, I heard about it from you, here, on this website.

    End of an era. The Marvel Age's bullpen is now all gone. Yes, Roy Thomas is still with us...hopefully for a long time...but while he may have been working in that era he never seemed a part of it. He was gestating the 70s. But, ROmita... he was a part of that, and one of the most important parts.

    The dirty secret is, Lee and Ditko may have created Spider-Man, but Romita is the genesis of why the character is so beloved. Look. I love the Lee-Ditko Spider-man, but he was kind of a jackass a lot. Which is fine, he WAS a teenager after all. But, being like that is only excusable as a character trait for so long, and Romita was a big part of taking off teh rough edges.

    Lee was clearly already sick of if. Peer was becoming more charismatic with Betty, and in college Flash was trying to get along with Peter, but there kept being misunderstandings. he was clearly getting sick of writing a guy who was always angry, but having read Ditko's post-SPidey work, he never did.



  2. Romita however, was clearly on the same page as Stan. Both wanted to tell stories about people, probably because Romita was from the world of romance comics. And that seemed to be the most collaborative partnership Stan had. Lee and Kirby being two sides of the coin created magic, as did Lee and Ditko's friction, but Lee and Romita's similar priorities propelled SPider-Man to superstardom. Really bringing in the promise of the human superhero.
    The even worked together a lot afterwards. Romita was the first artist on the newspaper strip, and also worked with Lee on several one shots and back up features for Spider-Man.

    I have mentioned before that in the first 20 issues of F.F., you can see Lee's dialogue effecting Kirby's drawing of the thing, and Kirby's art effect stan's writing, and round and round it goes. ROmita certainly brought depth to Stan's writing. Such crisp, beautiful art allowed Stan to write the characters how he wanted. The emotions were human, not cartoons (not that I am knocking the more cartoonist Lee and Ditko mind you, I love 'em), and Stan had to rise to the occasion.

    Of course, Romita was not just a tool for Stan, to make him better. He was clearly a part of the storytelling. There are numerous examples, but let's talk about the big one...women. Stan had a problem writing women, It is okay to say it, he was from a different generation, and despite his progressive for the time views on race in comics, the women were often stuck in the 50s. It just means he was a product of his time,

    However, did you ever notice that once Romita came on, Aunt May had a bit of a social life with Aunt Anna? Speaking of Anna, we saw her niece being loving to her, and being a woman not defined by a man. She had her own interests and goals, was not defined by a man. That was all Romita.

    According to Romita, he preferred MJ to Gwen, and would draw her into stories, even if he had not talked about it with Stan. So, Stan had to write her to fit the drawing, an since she was the direct opposition to Gwen, Stan had to write her a certain way..which happened to be the personality fans preferred. To match Romita's art.
    Which also means Romita was responsible for the Death of Gwen Stacy, because according to Gerry Conway Stan decided to kill Gwen off because fans wanted Peter with MJ.

    Which means he is directly responsible for one of the two of three most beloved relationships in comics... because he understood both characters so will. He is responsible for the greatest point of joy in a character often mired in unhappiness. something that over a decade...ouch.... after undoing, people are still upset about is because of him.
    He even changed Stan Lee's mind, Stan being the one who decided to marry Pete and MJ, and according to the Spider-man TAS, Stan made it a requirement that MJ be shown as Pete's ultimate final love interest. That probably carried on in other projects as well.

    Then think of how popular Spider-Man is, now think how important to a character their true love is. THAT is how much of a legacy Romita has.

    I suppose this means no Romita cover for ASM #1000 in three years. But that loss is nothing compared to the people who lost a husband, father, grandfather, and friend. I hope they find comfort, and remember the good times they had, instead of the loss as soon as possible.


    1. All beautifully said, Jack. I think Ditko was brilliant, but Romita's Spidey is MY Spidey. I started reading the book with John's second issue...and that Green Goblin two-parter remains my favorite Spider-Man story ever. JR's impact will be with us as long as Spier-Man continues. And I suspect that will be a very long time.

    2. I don't think a Ditko influenced SPider-MAn would have become as popular. Ditko tried for years to recreate the Spider-Man formula. Blue Beetle in the most basic. Creeper by being a joker. Hawk and Dove as teenagers. Speedball a combination of all. None of them ever really took off, and the ones that did find popularity were largely reworked.

      This is not because Ditko was a bad writer. It is widely known he was an Objectivist, and while that does have political connotations, the characters it inspires are more important to this conversation. The politics are irrelevant.

      Ayn Rand's characters tend to be unnuanced paragons of some belief in what a hero is, unwavering. There is a reason for that, they were characters created not to tell a story, but rather to push a philosophy.

      Ditko liked ideas, and he likes his heroes unwavering in their beliefs. Ditko characters do not have feet of clay.. It was even said the reason he was fine with Peter was screwing up is because he was a teenager, and still learning. I don't think it is a coincidence Ditko, the man who believed adult heroes should be models of integrity and stoicness, and never compromised in his beliefs, left when Pete was technically an adult. Stan showed little sign of transforming Peter into a paragon.

      The Ditko book would still have been well crafted, but probably not as universally accessible. Especially since Peter probably still would have had his aura of WAS still Ditko... and that is a lot more forgivable on a dumb teenager than an adult.

      Bringing that back to Romita, that is why he was so great. He sorted acted as the best of both world Pete's change felt more like growth. It also allowed Stan to write a less high-schooly soap opera.. He drew it and Stan had to write.

      He drew a happy Peter at times, who liked people. Which is important, because it made the character more likable.

      It also worked beautifully WITH Ditko, because combined with Stan as the through line, Peter felt like a nuanced person capable of growing.

      People like that.


    3. Ditko was a brilliant storyteller, a masterful plotter, a one of a kind artistic talent, but Stan brought another level of emotion, humor, and, perhaps most important, accessibility to those stories. Steve built the house, but Stan painted it, furnished it, and personally led tours of the premises. (That's a shortened version of a longer concept—developed to explain the Kirby-Lee collaboration— that I should really share here one of these days.)

    4. I think it is a little...odder than that.

      There are a whole slew of Spider-books that specifically call Ditko plotter, like for a long stretch. Was Stan the juggernaut for all the others? No at least not all.

      I have said before that you can see in Fantastic Four how that team evolved, and then devolved. The first 30 issues are clearly Stan,, but getting more collaborative all the way. You can see it, and not always in good ways.
      A lot of them have plots that hinge on misunderstandings or Namors, or what have you to drive the story, because that is what Stan liked.
      Issues 61-90, are Kirby taking more of a roll, with it getting less collaborative. You can see that in in it being more plot driven, more of a cohesive team, and even trying to rewrite stories, see issues #66-69, 78-79, and most Dr. Doom and Mole Mans stories. They are all like previous stories, but rewritten to be more Kirby, or or a more villain-y version of characters. They were not necessarily bad stories, just not as good as the golden era (#31-60) when it was at the height of collaboration, and you could see both of them on every page. It also had the misfortune of becoming less of that golden age when Stan's leading era was moving more towards it.

      However, it is harder with Ditko. It is more mix and match of how much of the plot was whom. The origin, clearly Stan. Dcotro Octopus's first story, where Dr. Doom;s origin is clearly being workshopped, also mostly Stan. Green Goblin vs., the Crime Master saga and Molten Man, probably Ditko. The return of Molten Man, after he gets out of jail by faking reform? Absolutely a Ditko lead, but the one where SPidey goes to a "shrink" because he thinks he is going nuts, fells pure Stan. The Enforcers, who first appeared in issue #10, feel very Ditko.
      You get the point. It is the hazard of the "Marvel Method."

      However, to your point about Stan painting the house and such, there is a think an old saying that might explain it faster "people like reading about people." Stan liked writing people. A plot draws some one in, but but people make you come back.

      However, there is something else worth noting...or a few things... in relation to Romita. Daredevil #16, the first time ROmita drew SPider-Man. Stan said it was a try-out for Romita on the character. That issue came out three months before Spider-Man #38. It was also 1966, the year my father graduated from high school. So, I have a somewhat secondhand knowledge of what that time was like.

      I actually just watched something where someone talked about how comedy changed with certain events, pointing out that culture always adapts to the time.

      Ditko did not like what was happening on college campuses. Stan, I don't think actually cared one way or the other, IN 1966, society was changing, especially for college aged young folk.


    5. Ditko clearly wanted at most patty Duke Show type young person.A show about a young person who maybe a little frivolous while young, because they were young, but whose mind was on getting a good job, marrying someone, and having 2.5 kids. Also know as what the Silent Generation largely did in the 1950s and early 60s.

      There was a shift around '66. The Beatnik counter culture of the previous years had mutated into hippies, and become borderline mainstream Comics were starting to skew older. While college kids reading them were starting to show up. they were nt the norm, but the new age demographic WAS old enough to buy Rolling Stones and BEatles albums...see it as fun.

      Also, those college kids, the Peter Parker types who were angry teenagers, who were not cool enough to be rebels without a cause...a lot of them went to college, and got into the 60s scene. Many were probably the brothers, neighbors, or even symbols of cool to those kids.

      While Peter Parker flirted with being a hippie, having a frayed leather vest, supporting protests with Randy Robertson, going to MJ's avant-garde plays, he remained kind of a square. But he was a part of it, he had friends who you could see being at least friendly to it.

      Look, Stan was a capitalist above all else, I am sure he wanted that because it was a revenue stream, but he does not get it without Romita. The great way he drew humanity allowed Peter to walk that line.
      GO back and look at the FLash Thompson and Peter drawn by ROmita, even in the early years when they are still supposed to be rivals, they don't look it.
      ROmita had looking like he enjoyed interacting with people, so he melted in with everybody.

      While it may not have been intended, times changed, and Spider-man had to change with them, and luckily the opportunity arrived.

      Also worth noting, Stan started pulling away his part in the F.F., and started putting the bulk of his effort on SPider-Man about the time Romita came on.


    6. We'll be exploring the questions of authorship, intent, all of it, as long as there are comics, Jack. Thanks, as always, for your insights!

    7. Maybe you will, and I wish you well, but I won't. I don;t know if you have heard about this thing called 'the internet.' but there are already way too many people arguing about such things, I do not intend to get caught in that trap.I probably will, but I I do not intend to.

      That having been said, I do think Romita coming around at the exact right time is not talked about enough. Remember how many counter culture loving kids became movers and shakers in the 70s comics. I am not sure that happens with out Marvel's college age student seeming to fit that era. Or at least MAYBE not.

      Let me tell you a story you won't care about:
      I have two cousins from North Carolina (a state). Several years ago one of them was in Ohio visiting her husband's family, and decided to go a little further and visit us in Detroit... but mostly my grandfather, who was in his 90s at that point, This is my dad's side of the family (that actually does matter)
      We all went out to a local pizza place for dinner (a meal), and about half way through I got up to stretch my legs.
      As I went out the front door, I ran into my MOTHER'S cousins. She was very close to that family, when she moved to Detroit in the 70s she even stayed with them for a while.
      I told my mom, and before we left we sought out the table they were eating, then she said hello and chatted for a few moments.
      The next day, she got a phone call that her uncle, who she talked to at the restaurant, had died.
      My mother would likely say it was some minor act of God that things worked out how they did. Despite not being an atheist, I am not sure I would. I do however think it was very fortunate she got to see someone she cared for before he was gone.

      Romita taking over is KIND of like that. Romita coming may have been the universe taking effect, or just good timing, but I think it was very fortunate for the character.