John Romita Jr. is one of the today's top artists in the comics world having drawn nearly every major superhero for Marvel. Romita is finally taking on the original superhero joining DC Comics and Geoff Johns for a brand new Superman comic.
1: What’s it like to work on a character as iconic as Superman?
John Romita Jr: The iconic part, I’ve actually gotten past the iconic part because I’ve done characters that have been done by geniuses before when I worked over at Marvel. The thrill of working with a character that has been around for so long, well it’s more intimidating because it’s been around so long. It’s been done by so many people. It’s not so much I’m thinking about it as Superman the great character, it’s just ‘oh my god this guy’s been done well by so many different people, how am I going to do something different?’
Fortunately, I’ve got this great writer to work with [Geoff Johns] and that helps. It really took some of the fear out of it. I’m always intimidated, and I like to be intimidated because it makes me work harder. I’m actually so thrilled that this is something so different. I’m in the same job, doing the same kind of work I was doing before, but it is different enough that makes it really thrilling.
2: You mentioned that obviously Superman has been done so many times before because he is so iconic. Are there any Superman illustrators that you looked to for inspiration or ones that you really look up to?
JRJ: To tell you the truth, Jim Lee’s. I’ve managed to follow Jim Lee on a couple of runs on characters. Not that I’m the smartest man in the world to follow Jim Lee, but Jim Lee’s work I think is brilliant. I’m a big fan of his work. The funny thing is, is that the very first Superman I saw was in 1960-something and it was Curt Swan’s Superman. I actually saw Ross Andru’s Metal Men before I saw any Superman issue. The Superman I saw was a couple of years later, after being a Metal Men fan for so many years. My father, when he was working for DC doing romance comics, was bringing home some of the mainstream books. He brought home the Metal Men, Ross Andru’s work, and then of course he brought home some Superman. But I saw Superman in the barbershop, I saw Metal Men in the barbershop, you know, without the covers and they were torn apart, and I remember that when I was very young, those were the first superhero comics I ever saw. But I was so young, until my father started doing superhero books it didn’t register with me, but the very first superhero books I ever saw were Metal Men and then I saw the images of Superman.
Neal Adams, huge fan of Neal Adams. Gotta mention Neal Adams. Loved Neal Adams’ art before I ever saw his Superman. The one that stuck out was the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali book. Neal I think is one of the best artists to ever work in the industry. And Ross Andru’s work, he’s done so much, he’s done Superman, he did Spider-Man, and I’m a big fan of his, but the very first image of Superman I saw was Curt Swan’s.
3: You said that Superman is one of the first superhero comics you ever saw, was this your first introduction to the character as well?
JRJ: I think what happened is the comic book was there for me to talk about with my father, but since he was doing the romance books and it was not something that anybody was extremely interested in at the moment, he never really got into it with me. Then there was the Superman TV series, and then it became something that ‘well yeah, it’s Superman! Everyone knows about Superman, he’s been around forever!’ I watched the TV series like everybody did, and then I watched the Batman series in the later 60s. So that was the chronology that way, and what was interesting to me was my lack of interest as an amazed child until I saw my father drawing superhero comics. But the introduction to Superman was almost as if ‘well yeah, it’s just like the Washington Monument. Of course, it’s Superman! Everyone knows.’
4: Was Superman a character that always wanted to work on since you saw him so early on?
JRJ: I’m going to be brutally honest, I didn’t. That was all because as it became such a perfect character and nobody could beat him, it was almost laughed at because he’s Superman, he’s perfect. And there were the jokes about him and Wonder Woman, and the invisible man, all sorts of jokes because Superman was perfect. So when Spider-Man came around, it put things into more perspective. Spider-Man was the average kid and he was always getting the snot beat out of him and he was losing, but Superman never loses. So for the longest time, I actually thought Superman was a ridiculous character because of that, but it occurred to a lot of people my age that that was the case and Superman has been improved to the point where now it’s one of the best characters. Because he’s got the imperfections. Everything is on a larger scale because he’s this amazing character that is cosmically known as that amazing character. So you raise the level of the competition so to speak. Superman doesn’t tackle muggers, Superman tackles super-villainous, super-powered muggers *laughs*.
Everything is relative. If you raise everything to that level it makes more sense, and since that point, I’ve dealt with it in my head and it’s a much better character. You know, DEATH OF SUPERMAN, etcetera. But I still never considered doing it because I didn’t ever do that type of character before. I did Thor, which is a demigod that was somewhere near it. But I was so used to doing street level characters. And then when I had a chance to speak to the DC people, to Dan DiDio and so on, I was totally intent on asking to do something with Batman and the conversation just got around to doing a Superman story. I had never considered that, and that’s the reason why I wanted to do it. Because I never considered it. And that’s what I’ve been looking for, something I’ve never done before. And here we are.
5: Now that you’ve started drawing Superman and it’s not something that you’d thought about before, what is unique about the way you approach this character as opposed to other heroes that you’ve drawn?
JRJ: That’s a great question for all characters. How do you go about the character as an artist, knowing what the character is? Well with Superman, he’s such a high level of power. That’s what you deal with. And then what I like to do is imagine how that translates to the guy on the street. For instance, I just did a scene where Superman and another character finish a big fight in the middle of Metropolis and Geoff asks for a crowd that gathers. And to me, Superman fighting these characters and the streets getting blown up and buildings getting damaged, cops and firemen are the first things to come and the crowd is further beyond. So it’s on a larger scale so there’d be police and firemen, but what are they going to do? To me, grounding a superhero in a reality is the spice of it, is the quality of it, and when I worked with Stan Lee when I was younger, he said something to me that’s stuck with me, he said it’s not so much the superhero work in a superhero part of the story, it’s balancing against the melodrama. If there’s too much of that then you really pine for the melodrama. And the reverse is also true. So you have to balance the fantasy with the reality. And when you balance reality with Superman, Superman’s fantasy is so far out there that at any minute he could be on the other side of the universe. You balance the reality with that, when you find the right balance of that, that is what makes it so fun. But that fantasy of Superman is unlimited--he’s an alien! From another planet, another universe! So this is what the excitement is, and if you bring that melodrama and that reality to that other fantasy, you have a whole other branch to jump onto. That may be different from other artists, but visually that’s what I’m trying to do.
I’ve been concentrating on Clark Kent’s construction boots *laughs*. I went in my closet, I grabbed a pair of my construction boots, and thought about ‘does Clark Kent wear construction boots?’ Well he does now!
6: So you mentioned DEATH OF SUPERMAN earlier, do you have any favorite Superman stories or moments for the character?
JRJ: Honestly the Death of Superman I thought was very well done regardless of the reaction it got from the fandom. I really enjoyed that, I think it was the overall thought, the killing Superman, it did what it was supposed to do, I enjoyed that. Big fan of Dan Jurgens and I thought the art, the writing, and the story overall was great. How I would have handled his post-death I don’t know, but I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision. Though I honestly really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed Jon Byrne’s run, I love John Byrne and I think that he’s a genius. Ross Andru’s art is special to me, very special. I can’t get into specifics, because I did not read, I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic, well I’ve read comics, but I haven’t looked at dialogue in so long because I’m a fan of artists. You know I only really look at the pictures *laughs*.
7: Do you have a favorite Superman costume design?
JRJ: There’s not much you can do with the image of Superman’s costume *laughs*. You’ve got to stick with the red cape, no mask, and the big ‘S’ on the front. But the one I’m doing right now I really enjoy because I’ve really got a grasp on it. Too much spandex starts to bother me because it’s too easy, then you start to look like a Halloween costume. So Jim Lee’s version, the New 52 version I was given to work from, I like the way it looks. It’s almost armor-like. It looks segmented and very armor-like, I really like it.
8: Could you talk a little about what it’s been like working with Geoff Johns?
JRJ: It’s hard to explain exactly other than that his stories are brilliant, and this story that we’re working on is brilliant. I like, and this is true of a couple of great writers, the balancing of that casual conversation and fantasy situations. I like the quality, or the amount, of that being pushed in, we have a casual conversation between two supervillianous or superheroic characters, and there’s a colloquialism to it. It brings it down to, if there’s going to be fantasy in this world, that’s how they would speak, so to speak. To me that balance is important, and I love that about Geoff’s stuff. And how he handles the melodrama in the Superman book is amazing. It makes me feel comfortable when I draw the images, because the quiet scenes in the clothes and in the office or walking around Metropolis is important, if not more important, because it makes the fantasy shine. Fantasy would be boring if you couldn’t really buy into the everyday stuff. So that’s what I like about Geoff. And the stuff that’s going to get really wild, he hasn’t done just yet. I can see it, he’s tasting it, but we’ve just begun and I’m really enjoying it. I love his descriptions.
Plus he loves widescreen panels. He loves that movie screen panel image. And I would work for the rest of my life in the comics industry with only the widescreen panels, as if we’re doing story boards. Because, think about it, that’s what your peripheral vision sees in the world, is that widescreen. So I would do it that way. However, I don’t know if it would work *laughs*. I’ve got to try it though.