In 1966, comic artist John Romita Sr. had settled in quite comfortably with his work on the »Daredevil« series. But Marvel guru and editor-in-chief Stan Lee was urgently looking for a replacement for Steve Ditko on »The Amazing Spider-Man«: Lee and Ditko, who had created the most popular Marvel superhero to date together in 1962, were at odds, Ditko left the publishing house head over heels. Romita Sr., then in her mid-30s, was supposed to take over, but had no great desire to follow in the footsteps of the cartoonist legend.
What started as a rather annoying temporary job became the defining moment in Romita's career – and a godsend for Marvel. John Romita Sr. is now considered one of the defining artists of the superhero era. The artist created the look of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man as we know it today. He gave his iconic design to supporting characters such as Parker's eternal on/off girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson, as well as villains such as the Kingpin, Vulture or Bullseye. From the early seventies to the eighties, as Marvel's unofficial art director, he was also involved in the look of heroic characters such as Wolverine, The Punisher and Luke Cage.
"People laugh when I say that, but I didn't want to draw 'Spider-Man,'" Romita Sr. once said in an interview. "I wanted to stay with 'Daredevil'. The only reason I did 'Spider-Man' was because Stan asked me and I felt like I should help out, like a good soldier." For years, he had felt uncomfortable in the role of Ditko's successor, because he was firmly convinced that the famous colleague would return after two or three editions at the latest. At that time, »The Amazing Spider-Man« was the second most successful Marvel comic after »Fantastic Four«. » Daredevil« had moved up to third place, also thanks to Romita's drawings. » After six months, when I realized that it was not temporary, I finally stopped imitating Ditko," the artist said.
Spider-Man became more muscular and romantic
He began to give the previously asparagus-thin, still quite cartoonish-looking comic book hero a more muscular appearance. The villains that Romita created and drawn, in addition to Kingpin Wilson Fisk and characters such as Rhino or Shocker, were more threatening, seemed less surreal than Ditko's creatures. Within a year of Romita's takeover as an illustrator (Stan Lee remained the author), »The Amazing Spider-Man« became the most successful Marvel comic. A mainstream and pop culture phenomenon that continues to resonate today. Just two weeks ago, the current "Spider-Man" movie "Across The Spider-Verse" was released with great success.
Romita Sr. also defined the look of the hitherto rather inconspicuous Mary Jane Watson, for whom he took the then popular actress Ann-Margaret from the 1963 film musical "Bye Bye Birdie" as a model. Under his aegis, nerdy teenager Peter Parker became more adult and romantic. Spider-Man's former girlfriend Gwen Stacy died in 1973 in one of the most famous "Spider-Man" stories in a traumatizing way, this classic was also drawn by John Romita Sr.
More on the subject
New »Spider-Man« Epic: A Triumph of the Art of AnimationBy Andreas Borcholte
On the Death of Steve Ditko: A Shy Super IllustratorBy Stefan Pannor
On the death of comic book giant Stan Lee: Excelsior! By Andreas Borcholte
Born on January 24, 1930 in Brooklyn, New York, Romita Sr. began his career as a ghost artist for horror, war and other pulp comics at Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics, but then moved to competitor DC, where he worked for various romance comics. It was there that he also learned his talent for directing beautiful women in the comic strip, which later stood him in good stead in the creation of pop art icon Mary-Jane Watson.
Last Monday, John Romita Sr. apparently passed away in his sleep. His son John Romita Jr., also a famous comic book artist and currently the lead artist of the current "Amazing Spider-Man" series at Marvel, confirmed his father's death on Twitter and Instagram. John Romita Sr. was 93 years old.