John Romita Snr., the man who for generations of fans defined the look of Spider-Man — and, arguably Marvel Comics as a whole, thanks to his decades of work as the company’s art director — has died, aged 93.
The iconic artist, best known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man — where he followed co-creator Steve Ditto as series artist — started in comics way back in 1949, with his first work appearing in Eastern Color Printing’s Famous Funnies anthology; within months, he’d started work for a number of different publishers — most importantly, Timely Comics, the company that would one day become known as Marvel, beginning an association that would last the rest of his life.
Romita continued to work at Timely as it became Atlas Comics, with his work appearing in everything from war comics to romance, to science-fiction and westerns and more, as the publisher tried to find its niche. Ironically, that would happen at a time when Romita was busy working for the company’s competitor, with the artist becoming an exclusive artist for National Publications’ romance line in 1958. (National would be officially renamed DC Comics a decade or so later.) He’d stay at National until the popularity of its romance line started to fade in 1965, at which point Stan Lee came calling.
Reinstalled at what had, by this point, become Marvel Comics, Romita went from inker on The Avengers to penciler on Daredevil and then penciler on the Amazing Spider-Man in less than a year. His impact was notable, both to fans — who embraced his lush, romantic artwork filled with handsome men and beautiful women moving gracefully through the world even in the midst of superhero fights — and internally at Marvel, where he would be asked to do corrections and fixes on other artists’ work, in addition to designing characters for other creators and titles.
Officially, Romita became Marvel’s art director in 1973, but he’d been performing the role for years before that in practice. Amongst the many characters that he co-created are Mary Jane Watson, the Kingpin, the Prowler, Luke Cage, the Punisher, and Wolverine; he also designed the iconic Black Widow look fans are familiar with today, updating the character’s look from her original femme fatale villain incarnation.
Beyond his Amazing Spider-Man run, he worked as penciller or inker on Captain America, Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, Uncanny X-Men, and a host of Marvel’s western and romance titles, in addition to training up new generations of artists in his role of art director; 'Romita’s Raiders,' the in-house training program he ran throughout the 1980s, included creators like Greg Capullo, Scott Kolins, Kevin Maguire, and Deadpool artist Scott Koblish. His influence on Marvel, and on the comic book industry in general, is almost impossible to calculate; his work inspired countless creators and fans, and his direct mentorship and teaching shaped the career of a great many artists who have done the same across the last few decades.
Romita is survived by his wife, Virginia, as well as his two sons, Victor and John Jr. It was John who announced his father’s death on Twitter on Tuesday night, writing, “He is a legend in the art world and it would be my honor to follow in his footsteps. Please keep your thoughts and condolences here out of respect for my family. He was the greatest man I ever met.”