Beloved comic book artist John Romita, Sr. has died. His son, artist John Romita, Jr., announced his father’s passing on Twitter on Tuesday night, June 13, 2023. Romita was 93 years old.
“I say this with a heavy heart, my father passed away peacefully in his sleep. He is a legend in the art world and it would be my honor to follow in his footsteps. Please keep your thoughts and condolences here out of respect for my family,” Romita, Jr. wrote on Twitter. “He was the greatest man I ever met.”
Romita, Sr. was a comic art luminary known for his work in Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil, and for co-creating iconic characters like the Punisher and Wolverine. He had a strong, distinctive, character-rich comic book style that has influenced successive generations of Marvel artists.
Romita was born on January 24, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from Manhattan’s School of Industrial Art in 1947. He entered the comics industry just two years later with a story in Famous Funnies and became ghost artist for Lester Zakarin at Timely and Trojan Comics.
“John Romita, Sr. was the consummate professional, an artist whose work defined for generations of fans and his fellow artists what good comics should look like. It’s impossible to think of the ascension of Marvel Comics among the ranks of publishers without remembering his bold, strong, fluid style and his amazing storytelling abilities. We as an industry were blessed to have his presence and his guiding hand for as long as we did. My condolences to his wife, Virginia, his family, and his many friends and fans,” said Steve Geppi, Chairman of Geppi Family Enterprises.
In early 1951, Romita was drafted into the US Army, and after he showed his art to the art director on New York Bay’s Governors Island, he was stationed there to create layouts for the recruitment posters. While in the army, he visited Stan Lee’s office in search of work and was tasked with penciling a short science fiction story for Atlas Comics.
From there, he worked on Westerns, war stories, horror, and romance comics at Atlas in the early ‘50s. Some of his prominent early work was in Young Men and Captain America, and creating human robot M-11 in Menace #11. Romita moved over to DC, where he specialized in romance comics like Secret Hearts, Heart Throbs, Girls’ Love Stories, Young Love, and Girls’ Romances in the late ‘50s to early ‘60s.
Romita joined Marvel in ’65 by inking Don Heck’s pencils and Jack Kirby’s cover to The Avengers #23. At the same time, he sought work in advertising with well known ad agency BBDO where he became an art director. Stan Lee reached out to him, expressing his interest in bringing Romita in to pencil Daredevil. The success of that book laid the groundwork for Romita’s transition to Amazing Spider-Man, via a Daredevil guest spot.
Initially, Romita tried to mimic Steve Ditko’s style in case he returned to the title, but after a few months, he started transitioning the art into his own style. Romita took over on Amazing Spider-Man #39 (August 1966) with Mike Esposito as the inker, and the pair stuck together until issue 66.
During this period, Romita designed the look of Mary Jane Watson, using Ann-Margret’s appearance – the red hair, shape of her face, and clothing style from Bye Bye Birdie. He and Lee co-created villains like Rhino, Shocker, and Kingpin, and they told stories not just about Spidey’s exploits but also about Peter Parker’s personal life and issues of the time like the Vietnam War.
“Easily one of the greatest artists to work in the comic book industry, John Romita, Sr. defined the look of Spider-Man for a generation of fans, but that was just one of his many accomplishments. So many classic characters found their most popular looks under his pencils and brushes, and so many artists found their professional voices under his tutelage. What would Marvel have done without him? We were honored to have him work on three of our covers over the years. He was always, as you would expect, a peerless professional. From everyone on the Overstreet team, our condolences to his wife, family, friends, and fans,” said Robert M. Overstreet, author and publisher of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
Romita’s work load on Spider-Man started to be reduced as he spent more time doing corrections and touch-ups for other Marvel artists. He pulled back to doing layouts and covers around Spider-Man #57-95, returned as the penciler for #105-115, and then dropped back to some inking and most of the covers through #168. One of his biggest contributions during that period was suggesting to writer Gerry Conway that Gwen Stacy be killed by Green Goblin. He was also the artist on the Spider-Man comic strip from early ’77 to late ’80.
He officially became Marvel’s art director in ’73 and held that position until the late ‘80s. Romita designed or helped design characters like Wolverine, Luke Cage, Punisher, Tigra, and Bullseye. He did art corrections on Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, inked Monica Rambeau’s first appearance as Captain Marvel and the debut of the Hobgoblin, and penciled the story, “I Remember Gwen,” for Amazing Spider-Man’s 30th anniversary issue. Romita penciled and inked a 10-page story about Peter and Gwen’s first kiss for Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man #1 in ’99 and drew alternate versions of Spider-Man characters for the one-shot Spidey: A Universe X Special in 2001.
“When I think of John as an artist, I focus on his work as the man who codified the Marvel style into a single universe. He was the immediate successor both to Steve Ditko on Spider-Man and Jack Kirby on the Fantastic Four, and in both those assignments and in his long tenure as Marvel’s art director he took what Jack and Steve created and evolved it into a workable style both for the comics and licensing,” Paul Levitz, comics historian, and former President and Publisher of DC Comics, said.
Later in his career, Romita contributed to milestone issues of Captain America, Iron Man, and Daredevil. In 2007, his Spider-Man art and a Hulk image he inked were part of the US Postal Service’s Marvel commemorative stamps. He provided three covers for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, including a Marvel anniversary cover on the Guide #16, a Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin cover for the Guide #22, and a Marvel heroes cover for the Guide #41 Hero edition.
“At his retirement dinner, he spoke with such gratitude for the career he’d had and the people he’d met. He humbly lamented the ofttimes he was asked to make alterations on guys like Kirby or Buscema (something for which many uninformed fans and pros still take him to task). He had less of an ego than almost anyone I’ve ever known, though a multitude of artists have learned and benefited from his knowledge, talent, and tutelage,” artist Joe Jusko said.
Romita was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2002, the Overstreet Hall of Fame in 2008, and into the Inkwell Awards Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame in 2020.
“He was a gift to comics who gave everything to the industry including his art and his mentorship. But to me, he was the Daredevil artist against whom I measured all comers. Probably imprinted by it. My first issue of the book as a reader was also John’s first issue as the penciller. Although he wasn’t on the book long, I loved his approach to the character. Appealing drawings of Matt, Foggy, and Karen, and figure work with Daredevil as a long-limbed acrobat who soared across the city almost as if he were flying, full of grace and energy. And one of the most impressive things about John’s art is that every line always seemed to be in exactly the right place all the damn time! I still can’t manage that. A precision that belied the skill it takes to do that. Thank you for the friendship and the art and perhaps most of all, for setting an example for the rest of us, John. Godspeed, pal,” writer-artist Walter Simonson said.