John Romita…And All That Jazz! by Roy Thomas and Jim Amash (book review).

December 21, 2014 | By | Reply More

Comicbook artist John Romita always defines himself as second tier at Marvel, despite working nearly forty years exclusively there and whose previous work was mostly at DC Comics drawing romance comics. Considering he took on ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ after Steve Ditko left and made the book his own and became a major influence on other titles he drew, Romita downplays himself a lot. Reading the extended interviews and seeing his work covering many of the titles there and at other companies, ‘John Romita…And All That Jazz!’ by Roy Thomas and Jim Amash brings insight into the artist and his career. Stan Lee in the introduction points out that Romita is just a nice person whose only failing is not liking the colourful adjectives he added to his name.

JohnRomitaAllThatJazz

The interviews overlap a little which the editors apologise for as they bring them all together from various sources where they interviewed him with updates but there is such a mine of information that if you haven’t picked them up, then you’ll still want this book for the art, from layout to finishes and the fact that it’s in a hardback suitable for the bookshelf.

I never realised before just how nervous an artist Romita was and how he had push himself to draw to deadlines all the time and used the self-discipline of going to the Bullpen to work which Stan Lee obliged him with to keep up. Mind you, when you consider Lee had an art director on hand to explain to artists what they were missing in vitality and action this also becomes clearer as well. His plaudits for various people and some reflected comments of some of his own flaws like Marie Severin pointing out that he didn’t age his buildings, etc, is fascinating and not something I realised in context.

What is interesting when it comes to where Romita discusses the people he associated with is not only his insights into them but also samples of their art to get at what he means with some astute observations. Even many of these earlier artists he regards as legends that he was able to associate with shows his appreciation of the comics he was brought up with.

Romita’s insight into the freedoms Stan Lee gave his artists showed why they were attracted there from DC off the secondary titles and pepped up their action. Mind you, this also gave similar insights into DC Comics who compartmentalised and their editors had their own empires and didn’t allow their artists to move around. It does make me wonder what would have happened had the top tier artists had been able to switch titles there as well would have allowed their art to refresh itself and prevented them just churning the material out. From my perspective, this was what divided the two companies and something DC for a long time couldn’t recognise as to why they lost sales due to the collaborative process. I know comicbook artists felt they were let down financially with collaboration but the difference in freedom made the art sell because they could interpret more freely.

Something Romita points out about Gene Colan who couldn’t recopy an illustration if he had to redraw because it was in the wrong position in a panel is something I recognise in my own art from time to time as only being able to get the right line once. On page 110, there is a beautiful page pencils by Colan from Captain America # 256 which is awe-inspiring to draw that way even now.

His insight into Stan Lee’s brother, Larry Leiber, who could switch between writing and art is interesting. Likewise, the fact that comicbook writers earn more than the artists simply because it took less time to write than draw. I loved his clue to spot Artie Simek’s lettering when he put jagged speech balloons and around tiles.

Romita’s observations of the 1980s artists who looked like they were going to have a great future in comics but decided to move onto other pursuits certainly rung a bell with me because there was no baseline of artists there to guide the new generation into the business. In many respects, seeing the art from particular people all the time was a reassurance when I was young of stability and harmony in my life. When creative teams went, it does feel jarring. Having such attachments is important in people’s lives.

I never knew that Jack Kirby had all of his original artwork back and never gave any to his inkers. Romita says this was mostly because he didn’t want to be taken advantage of but from what he says, I doubt if any of his inkers would have sold such pages.

From his comments on inkers, he points out and there is sample page of Tom Palmer as penciller/inker before soley becoming an inker only because there was no pencil assignments available at the time. Romita is also very proud of getting so many pencillers and inkers started in the business. His insight into the various editors-in-chiefs over the decades does indicate that it’s not an easy job and why so many resigned or were moved on, mostly from having to deal with the business people upstairs who knew little of the business of comicbooks.

There’s an interesting sketch of Superman by Romita where the Man of Steel is wearing gloves which the editors were clueless about why he drew them in. After a little think, it dawned on me that Superman’s fingerprints had to be all over the place and how long would it take before they were compared to a certain reporter at the Daily Planet.

As you should be able to tell from all of the above, this is a great book and a total treasure house of material in black and white and even a few in colour, including a collaborative between John Romita and Alex Ross which totally took me by surprise. With two columns to a page, there is a lot of reading to be had. If you’re my kind of age, this book will bring back a lot of memories and tell you a lot about what happened behind the scenes. It was wonderful having a wander down nostalgia lane and from one of the best in the business, John Romita. If you can identify all the characters on the cover then you’ll realise just how effective Romita was in putting their personalities into your head. If you’re younger but with an historical bent, then the insight into early Marvel should have your heart racing.

GF Willmetts

December 2014

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 189 page illustrated large hardback. Price: $44.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-893905-76-4. Direct from them, you can get it for $ (US))

check out websites: www.TwoMorrows.com, http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=561 and http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=562

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Category: Books, Comics

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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