One of the most prolific and legendary artists to ever work for Marvel Comics has left us. John Romita Sr. has sadly passed away at the age of 93, on June 13. The news arrived via Twitter, in a post from his son John Romita Jr., himself an art legend at Marvel Comics. The elder Romita was especially famous for taking over art duties on The Amazing Spider-Man, redefining Peter Parker’s look. This was after Spidey’s co-creator Steve Ditko left the title. During his time with Spidey, he introduced several of his co-creations to the lore, like the Kingpin and Peter Parker’s future wife, Mary Jane Watson. Stan Lee asked Romita to draw “the most beautiful girl you can imagine” when creating MJ. Romita delivered on that promise in just one iconic panel.
In addition to his five-year run on The Amazing Spider-Man, Romita also co-created the characters of Wolverine, Luke Cage, and the Punisher. Technically Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko co-created the bulk of the classic Marvel heroes and villains. But by the early ’70s, Romita was the chief architect in how Marvel’s characters looked in merchandising. John Romita became the go-to guy when you needed images of Marvel’s pantheon of heroes drawn in heroic poses. In fact, during this period, John Romita Romita would serve the role of Marvel’s art director.
John Romita was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1930, the son of Italian immigrants. By 19, he was already working as a comic book artist. He would then find success drawing romance comics aimed at a female audience. In 1966, he got hired by Marvel, to draw their relatively low-selling series Daredevil. But after eight issues, Stan Lee hired him to take over for Steve Ditko when he left The Amazing Spider-Man.
During Romita’s time, he put his experience with romance comics to good use. He made Peter Parker more handsome, like a soap opera lead. He became a character MJ Watson would believably fall for. During Romita’s Spider-Man tenure, the title would go from Marvel’s second best-selling title to their biggest seller.
If you were a Gen-X kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s loving Marvel Comics, then the art of John Romita was the way you perceived the Marvel characters. From calendars to plastic cups to posters to lunchboxes, it was Romita’s renditions that were on almost every piece of merchandising during this era. The Marvel “House Style” ultimately wasn’t Jack Kirby or Gil Kane or any other prolific artist, it was Romita’s. The heroic pose of Spidey standing in the center of his web was an image every kid knew back in the day. Most kids didn’t know who drew it, but it was the distinctive touch of John Romita. Although Romita mostly retired for the last several decades, he drew the occasional issue or cover for Marvel, reminding younger readers that he still had it. His contributions to the art form of comic books will not be forgotten.