Paying tribute to John Romita Sr: How he Changed the life of writer, animator and comic creator Dave King

Since artist John Romita Jr. announced the passing of his father, artist John Romita Sr., aged 93, last week, there have been many tributes to the hugely influential comic creator, perhaps best known for his work on Marvel’s Spider-Man. Many were extremely moving, from John’s close friends in the business who had worked with him down the years, and not least from his own son.

Many, too, were from creators influenced by John’s work, paying respect to a dedicated artist much admired around the globe for his work, and working practices, particularly as Art Director at Marvel, an example to many “in the trade”.

One, for me, stood out, by animator, artist and comic creator Dave King, and I’m delighted he has given downthetubes permission to feature it here. We’ve also included a very small selection of the many tributes to John from other industry professionals and fans.

John, where ever you are now, thank you for bringing so much joy to so many through your work. You will be missed.

John Freeman

Remembering John Romita Sr., by Dave King

Animator and comic creator Dave King

Quite simply, John Romita Sr changed my life.

I was introduced to comic books at a very early age, they were always around the house and my parents were smart enough to know these stories were deliberately created to help young readers punch above their weight with the dialogue and situations they utilised. Marvel, at this point in the late 1960s really understood this, and as an avid reader it was a ploy I eagerly responded to.

But words are only half of what make comic books fun, and I was equally enraptured by the vivid visual storytelling of artists including Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Curt Swan.

And then I encountered John Romita Sr.

I became utterly enraptured by his work on The Amazing Spider-Man, and my already budding talents with drawing were unknowingly encouraged by Romita, as I sat and faithfully copied entire pages of his work – without fully comprehending it, starting off on a journey of narrative and storytelling that would shape my entire career and therefore, my life. I still use several pages of his art when I teach storytelling to animation, film and graphics students (including the all-time classic from The Amazing Spider-Man #42, from 1967, where he and Stan Lee reveal the character of Mary Jane Watson).

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #100, published in January 1975, cover dated. 11th January 1975, original cover by John Romita Sr.
Spider-Man Comics Weekly #100, published in January 1975, cover dated. 11th January 1975, original cover by John Romita Sr.

For me, Romita, with his clean, unfussy and elegant style, with a clear focus on narrative, is the definitive Spider-Man artist (Spidey is one of my three favourite Marvel characters, along with Doctor Strange and Howard the Duck), and it’s Romita’s version I see when I think of him.

I was never fortunate to meet my unwitting mentor, though I did meet his talented artist son, John Jr, and was able to express some small measure of appreciation.

Although the resale value of Romita’s original art places it firmly beyond my humble means, I have a mass of his published work in my collection, including every issue he drew of The Amazing Spider-Man, but the pieces in the photo included in this feature are some of my favourites: my Mum bought me the poster in 1975, from Woolworths in Clapham Junction, and it hung on my bedroom wall for many years, while the copy of Spider-Man Comics Weekly #100, represents the only original cover Romita would create for the UK reprints that were a staple of my childhood.

I will be forever grateful to John Romita Sr, for the gifts he gave to the world, and for what he did for me, without even knowing.

Thank you, John.

Dave King

• John Romita Sr., 24th January 1930 – 12th June 2023

Dave King is a writer, animation director, producer, storyboard artist and lecturer in film and animation. He is online at Dave King Creative on Facebook. My thanks to him for permission to run his tribute

Other Voices

John Romita Sr. was a pillar of the Marvel Universe. As an artist and art director, his talent defined decades of Marvel’s most well-known storytelling, spanning hundreds of unforgettable comics that brought now iconic characters like Wolverine, Black Widow, the Punisher, Kingpin, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and Mary Jane to life and he co-created characters including Mary Jane Watson, the Punisher, Wolverine, and Luke Cage.

It would be impossible to feature snippets of every memory and tribute shared about John here, but here are a small number, reflecting how so many feel.

The death of John Romita Sr., who was 93, was announced by his son, fellow comics artist John Romita Jr.

“I say this with a heavy heart,” Romita Jr. wrote. “My father passed away peacefully in his sleep. He is a legend in the art world and it would be my honor to follow in his footsteps. Please keep your thoughts and condolences here out of respect for my family. He was the greatest man I ever met.”

John Romita Sr. - Self Portrait

Marvel Comics, Remembering John Romita Sr., 1930-2023: “Marvel mourns the passing of John Romita Sr., an iconic comic book artist whose run on Amazing Spider-Man transformed Peter Parker and his supporting cast. Romita also co-created the Punisher and Wolverine during his legendary career, in which he also worked as Marvel’s art director and served as a mentor for countless creators during his decades-long tenure with the company. Romita was more than just an employee at Marvel. He was family.”

John Romita & Spidey at Bay Con 1975. With thanks to Colin Smith

Kurt Busiek: “So, so very sorry to hear of the passing of John Romita Sr. He was not just a sensational artist, but a welcoming and supportive guy who treated newcomers with respect and the sense that we were all in this together.

“I never got to work with him on a story, aside from his cameo as a cab driver in MARVELS, but I’m very glad to have known him, and glad for all the artistic riches he left behind for us to enjoy. RIP, sir.”

J. Scott Campbell, artist: “So saddened to read about the passing of comic book legend John Romita Sr. To so many of us, he was THE Spider-man artist of our youth and it’s likely his depiction of Spider-Man and Peter Parker most of us still immediately think of as the quintessential iconic version of the character. In addition, Romita Sr. created what became the feminine standard of beauty we all aspired to draw with his stunning renditions of MJ and Gwen.” Unfortunately, I was never able to meet John Romita Sr. in person, but his influence continues to show up in my work, as you can see here in just a few of the examples in this tribute.”

Chris Claremont, writer: “John Romita and I first met over a half-century ago. I was a young cofer at Marvel (co-fer coffee, co-fer supplies, that sort’a thing — what these days are called ‘in-terns.) John was part of a bullpen quartet that was the comics equivalent of the Rolling Stones: him & Herb Trimpe & Marie Severen & Frank Giocoia, literally among the best there were at what they did, making sure the art that came thru the office left as perfect as they could make it. No mistakes.”

Brian Michael Bendis, writer: “He was a hero to me for my entire life and when I entered marvel in the late 90s, one of the first calls I got from an established professional, literally just to welcome me and just say they appreciated the work… was Romita sr. Out of nowhere. It literally scared me when it happened and I couldn’t believe how nice it was.

Author Micah S. Harris: “R.I.P. John Romita, Sr. – the definitive Spider-man artist for babyboomers like me too late for Ditko. The first year and a half or so of his run, a swinging ’60s setting rich in character relationships, with gorgeous young people spouting Stan Lee’s best banter, will always be the strip’s untouchable golden era. I’ll always be happy his Spidey is “mine.”

Walt Simonson: “A fine artist. A good man, a gentle man, at a time when I was too young to realize what a rare thing that was. He was a gift to comics who gave everything to the industry including his art and his mentorship. But to me, he was the Daredevil artist against whom I measured all comers… Thank you for the friendship and the art and perhaps most of all, for setting an example for the rest of us, John. Godspeed, pal.”

Carl Potts, writer and editor: “All of the beautiful things people are saying about John Romita Sr. are true. There is nothing much I can add. He was a major part of the great office culture at Marvel. The world needs more people like him, not less.”

Union Jack and Captain America, teammates in The Invaders during World War Two, by John Romita, from the 1976 UK Comicon booklet. With thanks to Colin Smith
The cover of Defenders #27 by Gil Kane and John Romita
The cover of Defenders #27 by Gil Kane and John Romita

“Indisputably one of the greats,” enthuses collector Colin Smith. “As a lad, I never wished I lived in a dangerous superhero universe. But JR made me long to live in Marvel’s NYC, drive mopeds through its streets,lounge in student cafes with beautiful women: crikey, but the romance of his works.

“There was nothing John Romita couldn’t draw, he adds. “He could do cosmic as well as intimate, darkness as well as great good humour. And he had the most remarkable ability to really sell the world he was depicting, to make the terrifying everyday of the MU seem also wonderfully welcoming.

“No wonder his Spider-Man sold so well. In amongst all the jeopardy and angst, there was a fundamental decency, humanity and positivity to his work. I never wanted,as a boy,to live in Ditko’s or Kirby’s New York. But Romita’s NYC was so beguilingly believable.I love visiting it still.”

Web Links

Spider-Man swinging over the New York Stock Exchange’s trading floor: John Romita’s original 1991 cover art for Marvel Comics’ third quarterly report to its shareholders.

Marvel – John Romita Sr. Comics

Lambiek: John Romita Sr.

The Guardian: John Romita Sr, Spider-Man artist and co-creator of Wolverine, dead at 93

Categories: Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Obituaries, US Comics

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