I'd been thinking of doing some manner of Scenic Route for comics but couldn't figure out how to make it work. The criteria I use doesn't quite apply for comics, so after a few fail-to-launches in draft mode, I punted.
Then I thought it'd be fun to take my favorite artists and track their work over the decades. Which is what we'll be doing here, but I'm not sure if there will be any more after this. The problem is that every artist I thought of - in no particular order, Walt Simonson, Alex Toth, Marie Severin, John Buscema, Michael Ploog, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, George Perez, Don Heck, many more - did a whole lot of stuff I don't actually have, so any excursions of mine through their work would be disagreeably incomplete or prohibitively expensive.
While scouring my digital archives though, I found I had almost everything John Romita, Jr. has done. Not 100% of it but enough to represent each decade fairly faithfully. I've always been a big fan - he was the guy on Spider-Man when I first started reading comics, and then he was the guy on X-Men for those pivotal years in the 80s when I was always reading my brother's copies - but this surprised me. I didn't realize I'd tracked down as much of his stuff as I apparently have.
So hey! Let's have a go. All quotes below and from subsequent posts from Comic Book Artist #20 and the equally great 30th Anniversary tribute that Marvel put out except where noted.
|I opted not to include or even link to any covers - too many great ones (like this one. Or that one), not enough space. Here are some memorable splashes or panels, though.|
I've met quite a few JRJR haters over the years, some who feel the "Jr" in his name is the explanation for his long career at Marvel, others who just don't like his art. Of the former - personally, I feel artists are like athletes. Influence might open some doors, but you need the goods to compete at the professional level. You can fake it or coast for awhile, but sooner or later comes the pivotal test of ability. You can't stay in the game on name (or brand) alone. The record speaks for itself on that one.
As for those who just don't like his art, what can you say? I disagree, but if you don't like the way something looks, no verbiage or combination of screencaps is likely to change your mind. I used to work with a guy who singled out JRJR as not being able to draw women. This baffled me. JRJR? Not being able to draw women? Can an artist survive in the comics industry for four decades without this ability? I think you can probably be a crappy artist for everything but women and still have a career, but if you can't draw women, forget it. And yet, I heard the same complaint earlier tonight while googling for this post.
|What do you think? Is there something about the way JRJR draws women that disengages you?|
|As a non-illustrator, this all looks fine to me. I don't refer to "hotness" or anything silly, I just mean the physical likeness of women seems well within the artist's skill set.|
|As a kid I always noticed the particular way JRJR drew hair.|
|I had about a dozen more examples but it'd likely be overkill.|
|Like Matisse (I'm serious! Or at least, I'm serious about one always making me think of the other) he has a particularly recognizable leg-shape he uses, as well.|
My former co-worker's comment has stuck with me over the years, though, and I want to use this overview opportunity to see if he was onto anything. I suspect he was not. That's my prediction. Let's vote at the end of it.
THE EARLY WORK
JRJR's first work for (US) Marvel was "Chaos at the Coffee Bean!" from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 (1977.) He came to more prominent attention the following year when he hooked up with David Michelinie and Bob Layton on Iron Man.
Of this experience, he later said "(Bob and David) didn't want me to do pencils. I wasn't really treated that well. Not poorly, but I was kind of not taken as an equal. Bob Layton was also plotting as well as inking, doing finishes over my breakdowns and obscuring any of my stylization. It ended up looking like Bob Layton to me, though it was a great experience working with the two of them, a great learning process, but I didn't see my work in the finished product."
|Some of these caps are from the color-enhanced versions released later.|
|Both look kind of cool to me, but I'll always prefer the originals.|
|This story in particular (Iron Man #150) - along with Amazing Spider Man 222, X-Men Annual 4, Defenders 100, and a handful of Daredevils and some others- is to blame for my lifelong dependency on comics.|
People who are five to ten years older than me * tend to think Gene Colan when they think definitive Iron Man artist. People my age ** usually say Bob Layton. Unquestionably, it was Layton's version of the character (and all those fantastic covers I remember from the very early 80s) which formed my own conception of the character. It's interesting to discover JRJR was artist in name only, really, or how much someone else's style can be added on top of breakdowns.
* Among those with an opinion, I mean, and ** likewise.
In between JRJR's stints on Iron Man he did Contest of Champions and helped launch the Disco Dazzler.
|Guess which one I read and enjoyed as a kid.|
|Shameless self-promotion. (Me, I mean, not Marvel. Though maybe Marvel too.)|
|Although Dazzler's Ace Frehley-ness greatly amuses me as an adult and almost makes me want to download the series.|
|Almost but not quite.|
JRJR's most prominent work in the 80s - or at least his most royalty-earning work - came on Uncanny X-Men. Although there, too, he felt like a fifth wheel. "Dan Green was doing finishes on the majority of my stuff on that book, and he did beautiful work on my breakdowns. Once again I was completely dwarfed by Chris Claremont's scripts and plots and finals; I almost felt like I wasn't even part of it."
|I love and grew up on this particular run of X-Men, but it's true, there's little of JRJR in the art. Dan Green rocked, though.|
|Oh dear. Forge was never a fave. Sort of Claremont's own Terry Long although at least Storm wasn't underage. Cover on the right by Barry Windsor Smith.|
This era of X-Men (early to mid-80s) is probably the most-imprinted on my mind. My favorite is probably the Cockrum and Byrne stuff that preceded it, but as far as what formed my impression of the team and the book, it was God Loves, Man Kills and most especially X-Men Annual 4: the X-Men go to Hell.
|Which doesn't hold up quite as much as I want it to, but it's still fun. And the panel on the right actually looks a little like the JRJR to come, so it's an intriguing early glimpse of his later style.|
|Speaking of endings, here are three of the most memorable panels your 12 year old host had yet encountered from X-Men 211, JRJR's last issue.|
X-Men was the most popular Marvel comic of the 80s. I was a kid for almost the entirety of the time I read it. So all of this kind of stuff below went completely over my head, but it amuses me now to think of the many comics fans I've met over the years who are five to ten years older than me who get really excited about every female character from X-Men. I never quite got why Rogue was so fondly remembered, for example, nor why if she was, how come no one seemed to remember her complicated backstory with Ms. Marvel and Mystique and all the rest?
A spin through these issues in 2017 suggested a possible answer to me.
|Even Charles Xavier gets in on the act.|
|More JRJR hair.|
I mean, it was a great comic and there was more to its popularity and impact than all this, I'm just saying.
I covered JRJR's years on Amazing Spider-Man in greater depth elsewhere, so I'll spend less time on this. Here's how the man himself characterized his run on the book:
"I was also doing breakdowns on Amazing Spider-Man and Jim Mooney, bless his heart, was doing finishes over me. I was working from plots, but I was so thrilled about doing Spider-Man that I didn't care that I was doing breakdowns again, and Jim Mooney's inks were covering me up again."
|It's not just me with the hair, right? You see this. (Black Cat, not Cary Grant/ Spidey.)|
|Keeping his comments in mind, the pictures strike me as a pretty decent blend of Mooney and JRJR.|
"Jim Shooter came to me and said 'I've got a new character called Star Brand that's going to be the Superman of Marvel, and you're going to make a fortune on this character.' I quit X-Men to work on it (but) it didn't work out very well, because I was working with Jim Shooter directly and we kind of rubbed against each other. I did eight issues and then quit."
|Of all of Romita Jr's work in the 80s (outside DD) this looks the most like his later work.|
|Not a terrible series, all told.|
I'm not going to spend much time on the writing and plotting of the various series covered in this project, except where the storytelling/plotting was orchestrated specifically by JRJR. Shooter was (and is, I guess) notorious for his meticulous instructions to his artists, so it's tough to tell what was JRJR or Shooter looking over his shoulder (so to speak.) If anyone out there is looking for a perfect storm/ all the good-and-bad of Shooter's storytelling preoccupations, look no further than these issues of Star Brand.
|This whole love triangle with Ducky and Barb was a rarity in comics at the time: Ken (Connor, aka the wielder of the Star Brand) came off really badly, and it seemed uncomfortably personal and realistic. Kudos to him, though, for breaking new ground.|
|While we're here the amount of dudity in Shooter's work is remarkable. He's got to be a big prog rock fan.|