Son of the legendary Spider-Man artist of the same name, John Romita Jr has become something of a Marvel Comics legend himself since the late 80s, carving out a reputation as one of the most definitive artists on characters including Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and, of course, ol’ Webhead.
More recently, he teamed up with writer Mark Millar to create the smash hit series Kick-Ass, and also served as producer on the highly successful film. With the DVD out this week, we sat down for a quick chat with the man they call ‘JRJR’ about his thoughts on the movie, his upcoming visit to the UK, and how Spider-Man is the greatest fictional character of all.How pleased were you with the film itself, in so far as how well it translated yours and Mark’s vision to the screen?
Well, I didn’t want it to be too strict to the comic, as I think that would have been detrimental to Matthew’s vision, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to completely disparage the comic. I think it ended up as a nice combination.
Was there any particular aspect that you were happiest with?
I think the subtlety – it wasn’t over the top, visually. The costumes weren’t ridiculous, there wasn’t one point where I felt any of the visuals were unnecessary. It could have been over the top, there could have been too much blood or too much of something else, but I think Matthew held it back.
We went way over the top with the comic, and broke through a couple of barriers, so to speak. But I think Matthew pulled back just a touch, and that’s what I was very happy with. He didn’t go beyond us, he stayed within us!You mentioned the costumes. I found an interesting difference was that, although Big Daddy was a big comics geek in the book, he had quite a non-traditionally superhero-style costume. Yet, in the film, obviously, they went down the Batman-pastiche route. Did that make you wish you’d gone a similar way in the comic?
Not really. I mean, if I’d known they were going to be so different from the comic, with the exception of Kick-Ass himself, I don’t know if it would have intimidated me at all.
When we were designing the costumes up-front, we did so with the mind of an amateur – these were normal people putting these costumes on – and it didn’t really occur to us that we would use the iconic Batman visuals for Big Daddy and Hit Girl.
But I have no problem with the difference. I enjoy my designs, but I think the costume designer for the film did a fantastic job.
It seemed to be the UK rather than the US where the film really took off, critically and in terms of box office. Was it surprising that we clicked with it more over here than in the US?
Not surprised, but when it happened, it made sense. I think there’s a little more of a comfort zone, maybe a little bit more leeway with content in the UK and Europe than the United States.
Ultimately, the reviews were “Good movie, however, really unnecessary with the little girl.” Which is comical, if you think about a movie like The Exorcist, which was 35 years ago and was equally outrageous with the little girl!
I’m confounded by people who complained about the little girl and the foul language and violence, because, you know, there are no children with foul mouths in the United States! But no, I’m very happy that the UK took to it the way it did, because even though it’s based in New York, this was a British production. I think that flair was there, and I think Matthew Vaughn doing the film gave it its strength in the UK and Europe. And I was very happy that the box office take was divided so evenly between the UK and the States.
How did you initially come to work with Mark? I know you did a Wolverine run together, but did you know him before then at all?
I was familiar with his work before we did Wolverine together, and read more of it when I knew we were going to work together. And then he sent me a bottle of scotch, and said, “This is what you’ll get if you work with me!”
His sense of humour’s what attracted me to working with him, on a personal basis, and then working on Wolverine cemented that, because he’s such a brilliant talent.
We had so much fun together professionally that we vowed to work on a creator-owned project, and here we are all these years later with the fun and success of Kick-Ass! And now we’re working on the second arc.
I’m very happy to work with Mark, and I look forward to working with him on any and all projects. The only problem is that there are people waiting in line to work with him!
I was going to say, as Mark seems to have a number of creator-owned projects going at any one time, with a variety of top artists, with Kick-Ass, did he already have that in mind and then come to you, or did the pair of you develop it together from the start?
Yeah, Mark had come up the initial idea, and came to me with the story. But he said that he came up with the idea with me in mind. You can ask him to split hairs and get into the minor details of what was in the inner workings of his mind, which will scare any human being, but basically he came to me with a different version of the Kick-Ass story. It was mostly about Big Daddy and Hit Girl, and then when he came to me it morphed into Kick-Ass.
He told me months after he first sent it to me, “Hold on a second, don’t get too carried away. I have an idea to add to this!” In all fairness, it was his original idea, but it developed as we worked on it together. I like to call it 50/50. He’ll give me more credit, but ultimately it was his original idea.
That’s the formula. I have my own projects too, and I’ll attempt to draw those as well as I draw Mark’s, but from the start it was his baby. I just didn’t want to drop it!
I’ve always found it quite interesting that you’ve never done any work for DC, having been a Marvel guy for pretty much your entire career. Is there any particular reason for that, or is it circumstance that you started out there and have been happy there ever since?
It’s a little bit of happenstance. Ultimately, until my father retired, I chose to stay with Marvel, because it was a family thing. After he retired, there was interest from other companies, and some negotiations with DC, but Marvel was adamant about keeping me and always made sure that I stayed.
I’m loyal to the people that are loyal to me, and it’s kind of chicken and egg. They’re loyal to me because I’m loyal to them. But the people I’ve been working with at Marvel since the mid-to-late 90s. Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, David Bogart, the brain trust at Marvel, they are very good to me and my family, and I will be the same way to them. So long as they stay at Marvel, I’ll be signing contracts with them.
I’m also a big fan of the characters. I think the characters are the best in the business. In all honesty, Spider-Man is the best character in creation! So, it’s a loyalty thing, too – a combination of happenstance and loyalty.
Regarding upcoming work, then, you’ve just started an Avengers run with Brian Michael Bendis. Are you on that for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, a minimum of a year, and then we’ll see what happens. I’m currently working on the fourth issue, and Brian Bendis is another one of these brilliant writers. I get to work with Mark, and with Brian, I’ve worked with Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller. I’ve had blessed luck when it comes to working with writers.
And Avengers is pretty much the top-selling book in the industry. But I’m also working on Kick-Ass 2, and I have three other of my own projects that I’m developing.
One is in the hands of a producer. It’s called The Gray Area [based on John’s 2004 Image Comics series], and two others. One is a treatment that I’m writing, and on the other I’m working with Howard Chaykin. It’s called Shmuggy And Bimbo, and it’s about two hitmen who aren’t what they seem. But I’m fully into this, and if I can survive the next ten years, then I’ll retire!
Just finally, I notice you’re coming over in November to the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds. I haven’t really seen you do much in the way of UK shows. I just wondered how this one came about.
I was in London during the filming of the Kick-Ass movie, they mentioned it then, and kept in email contact since. And I love the UK. I haven’t seen enough of it, and I wanted to come back and actually have some vacation time in London. So. my wife and I – it’s her birthday – we’re going to go to Leeds for the convention, and then we’ll spend a week in London, meet up with some of our friends, and enjoy the city the way we should. I’d like to explore the country a bit, too – maybe rent a car, get lost, see what happens!
John Romita, thank you very much!
Kick-Ass is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. John will be appearing at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds on Saturday 20th November. More info can be found at www.thoughtbubblefestival.com.