Superhero Superstar: Celebrating the Art and Career of John Romita Jr
Born on this day in 1956 in New York City, New York, John Romita Jr. is one of comics' most distinguished artists, whose multi-decade career has seen him take on many of the medium's most iconic properties, collaborate with many of the finest writers the industry has to offer, and lend his distinctive visual sensibility to a vast number of best-selling storylines. He's defined many of Marvel's best-known characters, and helped reinvent the DC Universe for a new generation of readers.
Following in a parent's footsteps can always be a hazardous proposition, as one tries to establish one's own identity while also living up to standards already established for those who bear your name.
For John Romita Jr., it was likely doubly daunting to embark on a career in the comics industry in the 1970s. His father, the elder John Romita, was not only one of Marvel Comic's best-loved creators, but also the company's de facto art director and designer; while his mother, Virginia Romita, was Marvel's "traffic manager" for many years, ensuring that the books came out on time and the office ran smoothly.
Yet, JRjr carved out his own niche, not just living up to, but adeptly expanding the family legacy.
The younger Romita's first contribution to the world of comics took place in 1969, when he was just 13 years old. He came up with a character named The Prowler, his father took the idea to Stan Lee, and Lee liked the name enough to use it for a new character that debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #78.
After graduating from college in 1976, he began his comic career in earnest, first working on packaging comics for Marvel's UK division, then taking on assignments closer to home. His first full story saw print in 1977's Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11, and he took on his first regular assignment with the following year's Iron Man #113, teaming with writer David Michelinie and writer/inker Bob Layton for a groundbreaking storyline that detailed Tony Stark's struggles with alcoholism.
From that point on, Romita Jr. became one of the company's go-to talents. He launched Dazzler's solo book; turned out scattered issues of Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, and What If?; did a second stint on Iron Man; worked on Marvel Super Hero Contest Of Champions (Marvel's first-ever limited series); was the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man from 1980 to 1983; took over as Uncanny X-Men's lead penciller from 1983 to 1986; and helped establish the ambitious (if ultimately ill-fated) New Universe as artist on the Star Brand series.
Through this time he began to develop a more personal technique, shedding many of the traits that had stamped him as one of the primary practitioners of Marvel's "house style", and honing a thin-lined approach that melded dynamic layouts with sparsely detailed, carefully defined figures. In 1988, he began a trendsetting two-year run on Daredevil with writer Ann Nocenti, telling stories that ranged from street-level narrative to social commentary to supernatural saga, taking Matt Murdock from Hell's Kitchen to the gates of Hell itself.
By the time the '90s arrived, JRjr seemed to be everywhere. He hopped back onto Iron Man for a third go-round, pencilled Cable's solo debut (the two-issue Blood And Metal miniseries), launched a new Punisher title (Punisher War Zone), returned to Uncanny X-Men for a short time, delivered a pair of prestige-format crossover specials (Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts Of Darkness, and the Marvel/DC joint production Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights), as well as producing art for trading cards and other special projects.
In 1993, he joined forces with Frank Miller for the hugely influential five-issue Daredevil: Man Without Fear limited series, which retold and expanded the story of the character's formative years. And his style continued to evolve throughout, growing ever-more powerful and direct, his characters and settings imbued with a weight and solidity that few artists could match, pushing the boundaries of every page.
He delineated futuristic technology with the same authenticity and attention to detail that he used to portray the streets of New York --- depicting Kingpin as a towering force of nature, Cable as a mountainous hybrid of flesh and cybernetics, Wolverine as a tightly-coiled ball of animal fury, Elektra as a believably battle-honed warrior.
Throughout the rest of the '90s and 2000s, Romita Jr. solidified his status as Marvel's #1 superstar. He re-established himself as one of the premier Spider-Man artists, with extended turns on both Peter Parker: Spider-Man and the flagship Amazing Spider-Man title. He drew the first six issues of 2005's best-selling Black Panther series, and handled defining runs on the Thor and Incredible Hulk titles. He collaborated with Neil Gaiman on a seven-issue Eternals series, joined with Mark Millar for a year's worth of Wolverine, pencilled the World War Hulk event, and spearheaded relaunches of The Avengers and Captain America.
He also delved into creator-owned work, first with 2004's The Gray Area from Image Comics, then with the 2008 release of his and Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, which went on to spawn a trio of follow-up series and two well-received feature films.
In 2014, Romita broke new ground, stepping away from his lifelong creative home of Marvel Comics to embark on a number of new projects for DC, including a year-long Superman storyline, a number of covers, a one-shot tie-in to Dark Knight III, and the All-Star Batman title with writer Scott Snyder.
Throughout his career, Romita Jr. has continued to push himself as an artist, while never failing to entertain his audience. He's a master storyteller, equally adept at depicting thundering cosmic battlegrounds and moments of intimate emotion, blending showmanship and craftsmanship to a degree that few have ever managed, filtering an auteur's instincts through an innate blockbuster sensibility.
He's one of the all-time greats of the medium, and it's our great pleasure to wish him the happiest of birthdays.