In an era where many artists need as many days as they can squeeze out of a calendar to complete one comic book in one month's time, legendary Marvel penciller John Romita, Jr. spent his most recent 30-day work stint not just doubling the average artist's output but tripling it by penciling the massive lead story in July 22's "Amazing Spider-Man" #600.
"This is basically a three-issue arc because it's 60 pages. It's like a bowl of pasta. It's growing in front of me. It won't go away," laughed Romita while talking to CBR last month. And while the work ultimately took the artist more than a month to complete, Romita still planned on pulling out all the stops to turning pages out on time. "I'm on page 40-something, and it feels like I've been doing it for six months. It's loaded, very dense. But that's not something for me to complain about. I've got 20 pages to get done in the next ten days, and that's the way it's got to be."
Another in Marvel's string of milestone 600th issues partly commemorating their 70th year as a publisher, "Amazing" #600 piles on the extras with backup material written by all of the character's current "brain trust" of writers including Mark Waid and Joe Kelly as well as an all-new story by Spidey co-creator Stan Lee as drawn by Marcos Martin. Still, the main attraction remains Romita and writer Dan Slott's opening opus, which promises the return of Spider-Man supporting players both hero and villain as well as a surprise wedding.
"I'm getting wedding illustrations from the next issue, #601, that I have to adapt to this issue. It's a team thing. Stick to your plan and don't be a maverick," Romita said of balancing the issue's needs on a tight deadline. The artist enthused that getting the chance to play with a slightly tweaked version of long-standing villain Doctor Octopus also provided a challenge. "I was given the instructions to go creepier. It's not a permanent version of Doc Ock. It's a present version, but I don't have a problem with it because it's a good story idea. It's interesting. I'm a team player when it comes to books like this because it's a good story and Dan is such a good writer, but they give me the opportunity to play with it as I see fit. I am playing with it - editorially less, visually more. And that's fine. I alter it to a point where it can be adapted to the other arc's artists."
After having teamed with Slott last year for the six-part "New Ways To Die" story arc, Romita found a solid groove in working with the writer and his mix of classic "Marvel method" plotting with occasionally fully scripted pages. "It's a kind of hybrid. Dan is basically throwing the same amount of stuff into a plot that he did with a full script, but we worked comfortably the last time, and I've worked this way with several writers where they give me the leeway to play with the pacing and storytelling. In this case, Dan is giving a little less instructions visually, and I'm trying not to pick away editorially from what he has in mind. To me, it's a great back and forth. As long as you don't shock your writer and your editor with stuff that's not supposed to be there, it's pretty much fine to work this way."
As with most of his work, Romita placed his strengths in "Amazing" #600 firmly in the storytelling camp, trusting his natural instincts to bring the best parts out of his partner's plot. "My storytelling has been good because I take what's been given to me and use that to tell the story, not retell the story. The problem with a lot of people is ego, and that's fine so long as you can give the writers what they want. And when they see you've given them what they want, they'll go, 'I see what you're doing with my stuff.' If I do something that is drastic from what the writer has done, I'll call him up and say, 'Can I do this?' That's all. Just don't let the ego become a part of the equation. That's my advantage: I'm still able to bounce off what they give me.
"This is what I feel should happen with a lot of artists - there are so many writers and so many different ideas to springboard from. That's how you stay fresh. Look at what the writers and the editors give you. Look at other artists. Look at fashion and topical subject matters, and go from there. Guys that want to stay in their own iron-cast world are probably doomed to fail. You've got to go with the flow and move around, shuck and jive and tap dance a little bit here and there. Be pliable."
With "Amazing Spider-Man" #600 out the door and into the hands of readers, Romita's next assignment looks to be completing the final issues of Mark Millar's Icon series "Kick-Ass" before its film debut later this year. "I'm within a couple pages of finishing issue #7, and I've already done thumbnails on issue #8. That's how close we are," the artist explained, noting that ultimately the film and comic will have slightly different endings. "Things have to be independent because, as Mark made the great point, we don't want to look like we're 'demagoging' the film and trying to capitalize on it. We didn't want to do that."
While Millar had a hand in preparing the screenplay as well as other production pieces of director Matthew Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" adaptation, Romita's role has been more behind the scenes as filming progresses. "I only got to the set for a week over the winter, and I had the screenplay in my hands because I'm also working on some animation for the film," he confirmed. "They know what they're doing, but I'm sticking to Mark's scripts. Mark's scripts have a little bit of a different feel from the director and the screenwriters. We don't want to be so far disparate from the film, and we had a little bit of storytelling we wanted to at least parallel the film even though it was Mark's idea from the get go to give it some similarities while not looking like we're hocking each other. As long as it looks like the same subject matter, the endings will have differences.
"Matthew Vaughn is a fan of the comic, and that's where the flashback animation sequence comes from. He wanted an homage to the comic. He was a fan of my pacing and storytelling and used as much as he could along those lines. As long as you get along with people professionally and don't get too abrasive, generally you're going to find the happy medium."
As 2009 continues along, readers can expect much from the prolific John Romita, Jr. as the artist has big plans for his work both inside and out of the Marvel Universe. "I've got another arc on Spider-Man coming on the heels of this. I've also got three issue of 'The Gray Area' to produce for Marvel. [Glen Brunswick and I] are going to re-release the trade through Icon and come up with a new three-issue chapter. There are other things in the future that I'm looking forward to and working with a couple of writers on. One is mine that I'll do completely on my own. I've got to do some creator-owned stuff as well as 'Spider-Man' because I'm really excited by those projects."