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Remembering comic book legend John Romita Sr.


Last week, the world of comic books lost a legend. John Romita Sr. died at the age of 93. He took over the art for "Amazing Spider-Man" in 1966 from the original artist, Steve Ditko. Romita's work helped define the life and style of Spidey, including the introduction of his longtime love interest, Mary Jane Watson.


KIRSTEN DUNST: (As Mary Jane Watson) He saved my life twice, and I've never even seen his face.

TOBEY MAGUIRE: (As Peter Parker) Oh, him.

DUNST: (As Mary Jane Watson) You're laughing at me.

MAGUIRE: (As Peter Parker) No, no, I understand. He is extremely cool.

RASCOE: And it wasn't just Spider-Man. Over Romita's decades-long career, he co-created heroes like Luke Cage, The Punisher and even Wolverine. As a big comic book fan myself, I wanted to talk about Jazzy John Romita, who was so influential in this industry. Joining us now to talk about this is Nick Lowe, executive editor of the Spider-Man office at Marvel. Nick, thank you so much for joining us.

NICK LOWE: I'm so glad to be here, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what made John Romita Sr. such a force in comics?

LOWE: Oh, I mean, he was an artist's artist and a consummate storyteller. Not only could he draw anything - his roots were in romance comics, and that played so into what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko set up on Spider-Man, especially. One of the best things about Marvel is it's less about Spider-Man than it is about Peter Parker. And then there was the fact that he could draw Spider-Man doing anything, and he took what was at the beginning of what Steve Ditko did so wonderfully of a lot of small panels packing a lot of story in - John, after he came into his own, shattered the panel borders - went to just, you know, a couple panels a page - three panels a page. He did more splash pages, and he made the action so huge and then could grind it down with a personal scene between these wonderful characters like nobody else could.

RASCOE: That's interesting because Romita started out as a brush man, not a penciler. And we have a clip here of him explaining to SYFY WIRE what happened when he took over "Spider-Man" from the original illustrator, Steve Ditko.


JOHN ROMITA SR: I tried for the first year to use a pen, which was hard for me. I lost my flair. Maybe the beginning of the second year, I started to cheat and use a brush a little bit more. And then slowly but surely, Stan said, you know what? Don't try anymore. Do it the way you want to do it.

RASCOE: And Stan, of course, he's referring to is Stan Lee, who created so many classic Marvel characters, including Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and everybody else. Can you explain what Romita meant there about, you know, the difference between the brush and the pen and, you know, how...

LOWE: Sure.

RASCOE: ...It changed the way Spider-Man looked on the page?

LOWE: Steve Ditko was a pen guy, and it gives you a - it's a smaller line that it gives you. It allows you to pack more details in and a different kind of structure, whereas with the brush, you can be a little bit more expressive. The lines can sometimes be more beautiful, and you could do different sorts of things with the brush, and that's what took it from being the second-most popular to the most popular book at Marvel.

RASCOE: I mean, many comic characters, you know, are known for their iconic poses or moments or covers. Like, can you tell us about some of the iconic moments that Romita created?

LOWE: Oh, sure. Another thing of differentiation - when Steve Ditko drew Spider-Man, he was spindly. He was insectlike. When John Romita drew him, he was athletic. He was a little bulkier. He drew Spider-Man for hundreds of issues. He did hundreds of covers. But he was such a master of composition, and he would put Spider-Man into these poses that looked heroic and flexible and dexterous and would make him look so cool and powerful.

RASCOE: He did Peter's wedding, too, right?

LOWE: He did.

RASCOE: The wedding issue.

LOWE: Yeah. He did the cover, and he drew that when that happened in the '80s. And that's a story in and of itself of how that came to be, but, I mean, when you wanted Spidey to look right, they went to John. He became Stan's go-to when something had to look right.

RASCOE: And nowadays, you know, everyone's going to think about the "Spider-Man" movies. Did he have any influence or his artwork have influence on those?

LOWE: You know, he didn't work on those. He'd retired from Marvel by the time the first "Spider-Man" movie came out, but you can see poses in every "Spider-Man" movie that's come out, poses that are based on John Romita drawings. And to be honest, it's so funny - when you think of Spider-Man, like, you know, sometimes, people think of him as, you know, as Peter Parker - as, like, you know, the nerdy guy. And then sometimes, when they'll cast these wonderfully handsome men as Peter Parker - and, you know, some fans will complain like, that's not what Peter Parker looks like. But to be honest, that's how John Romita drew him.


LOWE: You stopped wondering how he could get Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane to date him when John Romita was drawing him.

RASCOE: (Laughter) I mean, it feels like in the last few years, we've lost a number of these quintessential comic creators - Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, artist Neal Adams and writer Denny O'Neil and now John Romita Sr. You know, what goes through your mind when you think about the passing of these giants?

LOWE: It makes you so grateful that they shared their talents as they did with the world. It makes you want to treasure those still with us. They give such a wonderful example of how to be - as great as John was as an artist, from the few experiences I have with him and from every single story I hear from other people, he was an even greater man.

RASCOE: That was Nick Lowe, executive editor of Spider-Man at Marvel Comics, remembering comic legend John Romita Sr. Nick, thank you so much for joining us.

LOWE: Thank you, Ayesha. This was a true joy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.