Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A Crowded Life in Comics –


by Rick Marschall

We learned that John has died, aged 93. 
Death comes to all, but in John's case, anybody who met him feels it came too soon; that he was too young; that he had more to give. Maybe Johnny was ready... but we are not. This good-bye hurts.

When I joined Marvel in the mid-'70s, I had known Stan Lee outside the superhero world, but didn't really know the Marvel Universe. What a collection of people that office was, what an impression I had of legends, kids, wannabees, hangers-on, future superstars, nervous nerds, confident wonks. A great and fascinating time of my career. My assistant Ralph Macchio and I had our office in the geographical center of the floor, within glass walls, opposite the bullpen, and the sea of Marvel-humanity floated by for our delectation... and commentary.  

Within the colorful cast were the "sorta normals" as I called them lovingly, and sometimes desperately. Marie Severin; Eliot Brown; the old-timers who still reported to work in ties, Tartaglione and Roussos; the freelancers Tom Palmer and Gene Colan; Ralph, Jim Salicrup, and Mark Gruenwald. John Buscema, sensitive Renaissance man masquerading as a dese-dem-dose workman.

But this is about John Romita. Buscema was a "cartoonist's cartoonist"; there were a few of them -- John Severin, Alex Toth, and Curt Swan were others in the business -- who could draw any thing, any time, any way, but always flawlessly. Impeccable instincts. John Romita was one of them too. Styles and fads came and went, but John always understood, always mastered, always TAUGHT. By example... but (one of his many utterly unique gifts) also by generous, helpful, masterful, arm-around-the-shoulder tutelage also. 

John had no ego. There was no room for it: his talent crowded out every other possible tendency. He did not only convey the "house style"; he WAS the house style. 

Soon after I joined Marvel I was properly impressed by Stan's instincts as he explained storytelling, composition, balloon placement, even color schemes. At that point, Stan basically concerned himself with business and covers, not characters or interiors; however I soon learned (and I am not denigrating his genius or accomplishments) but his great pointers and virtual lectures were essentially translations of what Buscema and, especially, Romita, taught HIM.

More than that -- getting back to what I called (and to their faces, BTW!) the "sorta normals" -- John Romita was envied as the Guy you wanted as a next-door neighbor. In that lovable zoo, he was always the modest, quiet, nice guy, never a prima donna, never displaying an artistic temperament, always the nicest person you'd meet that day. Except maybe for his wife Virginia, who worked in the office too. And except maybe for John Romita Jr (Gruenwald called him JR-Squared), also the nicest guy within laughing-distance at all times.

I was lucky to work at Marvel when I did. I was privileged to meet and know so many great people. But I was blessed to know the Romitas -- just as fans were blessed that he was a Guiding Star of the Marvel Universe -- and a great part of my life was to call John a friend.



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