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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 08/10/2010

The 'Riffs Interview: Artist JOHN ROMITA JR. talks family business, Big Daddies & the 'Kick-Ass' sequel

By Michael Cavna


kicka.jpg
[Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson, left), Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) in the film "Kick-Ass," newly out on DVD and Blu-Ray.]


The man who helped bring Big Daddy to the big screen is speaking openly, frankly about following in his own father's large footsteps. Artist John Romita Jr. recalls the insults, the doubters of decades ago and freshly remembers the urge he had to lash back, verbally and physically, at the skeptics within his very building. The emotion, if not the memory, is raw.

"They were natural [insults] because of my father," recounts the son of legendary comic artist John Romita Sr. "I told somebody: 'If I had to take a swing at everyone who insulted me, I'd still be in prison.' "

As Romita Jr. shares his trial-by-fire wounds, the listener easily, rapidly reaches a conclusion: "Kick-Ass" -- the comic book turned feature film co-written by the fluidly complementary team of Romita and Mark Millar -- is not simply a superhero spoof. Beneath the film's Spandex humor and spattered blood pulses something at least a little Shakespearean.

"You really want to be a part of my business? ... Watch and learn."
-- Father to son in the film "Kick-Ass."

"My father was working on romance books when I was very young," Romita Jr. tells Comic Riffs. "One day he quit DC [Comics], went to work for [Marvel's] Stan [Lee] and was given a couple of covers that Jack Kirby had laid out. He began to do Daredevil and it exploded and I wanted to know what it was all about: 'What's that? He's got special powers and -- holy cow! -- he's blind!' If it had been Superman, I probably would not have been impressed. But [the fact] his blindness only [heightened] his other senses.

"I was 8 years old and I was completely hooked."

With all the youthful passion of awkward teen Dave Lizewski creating his homemade Kick-Ass costume, Romita Jr. began to explore the power, and empowerment, of cartooning.

"I began sketching, drawing on the floor. It began there. ... As an adolescent, you look for something that bridges the gap from being innocent and nerdy to being cool, like comedy or sports. Cartooning, that was my crutch and I got really good. ... It was a natural progression as a kid. I would forgo a lot of things to draw."

"He's his father's son."
-- "Kick-Ass"

"If it hadn't been for my father, I wouldn't have been a cartoonist," says the son of Romita Sr., who was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2002. "I went into it against his better wishes. He told me to get anything not involved with cartooning. He said the deadlines were horrible, and at the time [midcentury], it wasn't great money when he was doing it -- working for a [low] page rate demanded efficiency and speed and quality.

"My dad said: 'You're crazy -- go into advertising.' He would complain about the ulcers and bellyaches and high-stress. 'You're crazy -- go be a teacher,' he said. But I went into Marvel after a circuitous route because of my father, the artist."

"We always keep our backs to the wall, Daddy. It won't happen again."
-- Hit Girl to Big Daddy in "Kick-Ass."

Romita Jr. joined Marvel in the '70s, getting his pen wet by doing sketches for covers of reprints. By that point, Romita the Elder had sired many a Marvel comic book, so for young Romita Jr., the job was especially a baptism by fire.

"I had to put up or shut up," Romita Jr. tells 'Riffs. "For me, I took it personally, not professionally. I could see people making comments across the room. I was not a pugilist, per se, though I probably scared a couple into saying things from another room. My father said: 'Shut your mouth and take it.'

"Now, interestingly and ironically, 30 years later, I'm still getting it from the Internet," he continues. "The comments then were within the industry because there was no Internet back then. There were nasty letters. I still get those comments now: 'You're only doing this because of your old man.' I got it when I was younger because of my father's name. It just forced me to work harder."

In 1977, Romita Jr. made his American debut with "Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 11" -- the same character his father had long worked on. Was he at all nervous?

"I was terrified. Oh God, yes," the artist says. "But interestingly enough, I wasn't terrified after that. It was trial by fire. I brought that on myself."

"You're the greatest daddy in the whole world."
-- Hit Girl to Big Daddy in "Kick-Ass."

Romita Jr., of course, would go on to find success with runs on Spider-Man and Iron Man and Daredevil and Wolverine, among many other projects -- all characters who would eventually be featured on the big screen. That Hollywood success has increased the reflected glory on the original comic-book writers and artists -- which is precisely as it should be, Romita Jr. says.

"I look at things like a natural progression," the artist says. "Look at Stan [Lee's] fame and fortune ... This is the way it should be -- when a man creates what he has, it's correct. ... And the only guy who would handle it better is my father. These men were not from Hollywood. What these people -- Stan, Jack Kirby and others -- what they have done is change the medium to what it is now. It's not luck. ... They were able to draw from their era of film ... films like 'Citizen Kane' and 'On the Waterfront.' What Stan is receiving now -- the adulation -- makes sense."

Despite his experience with "Kick-Ass" the film, Romita Jr. is very proud to be not of Hollywood, but absolutely of New York. It is the city that has fed him artistically.

"I've lived in New York City all my life and I've been able to use that -- anything that I considered interesting, to use it either figuratively or literally," Romita Jr. says. "If not for living in New York, I could not have done the 9/11 issue with Spider-Man. ... It was such a gut reaction that I wanted to be able to do something [like] that."

Still, Romita Jr. has nothing but glowing words to describe his Hollywood experience with "Kick-Ass," which is freshly out on DVD and Blu-Ray (and selling briskly, according to Mark Millar himself). The artist praises the work of co-writer Jane Goldman and writer-director Matthew Vaughn (who next will direct 2011's "X-Men: First Class"). And Romita Jr. has especially high praise for the actors, including the man who wore the suit of Big Daddy: Nicolas Cage, as well as on-screen spawn.

"Think about it," Romita Jr. says. "Nic did three characters: the serious vengeful cop, the doting father and the maniacal screweball. And Chloe is the breakout character. Hit Girl is a great character.

"And they're all experienced actors: Aaron [Johnson], Christopher Mintz-Plasse -- just great people. Not everyone in Hollywood is nice, but they are the nicest people in the world. All that talent and Matthew Vaughn, too."

"Kick-Ass" might be conspicuously short of mother characters -- from hero to villain to everyday Joe, it's the father figures who loom largest -- but that doesn't mean the film can't sire a sequel.

"Absolutely, I'm very hopeful there will be a sequel," Romita Jr. says of "Kick-Ass," which received mixed to positive film reviews but a fairly tepid box-office reception.

Romita Jr. wouldn't absolutely confirm a sequel, but fans' hopes might well be substantiated. On imbd.com, "Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall" has been announced.

Sometimes, drawing well is the best revenge.


romita.jpg
"Kick-Ass" co-creators John Romita Jr., left, and Mark Millar.

By Michael Cavna  | August 10, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, Superheroes, The Comic Book, The Holly Word  | Tags:  John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass, Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn  
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