Practitioners 24: John Romita Jr

John Salvatore Romita Jr or JRJR (born August 17, 1956) is an American comic book artist best known for his extensive work with solely with Marvel comics from the 1970s to present day.

Born and still living in New York city, Romita Jr is influenced heavily by the city around him and that he grew up in. Fittingly he has remained at the company that calls New York home, 367 Park Avenue South or Marvel Comics throughout his professional career and his work has become synonomous with its most famous characters. He was born to John Romita Sr, co-creator of several notable Spider-man stories in the 1960s and 1970s. In true New York style it could be said that drawing Marvel comics is the family business.

Oddly Romita Jr began his career at Marvel UK, doing sketches for covers of reprints. His American debut was with a six part story entitled ‘Chaos at the Coffee Bean!’ in Amazing Spider-man Annual 11 in 1977. At this point Romita Jr’s artwork represented the time it was being produced with clean linework and animation standard (simplified) detailing. But his characterisation and simple adjustments to the panel by panel and simple visual storytelling that was taking place then won him a lot of fans. His characters weightier and more rounded than others, his line work curvaceous and bold when necessary Romita Jr’s style was bold and easily digestible. Romita Jr is a commercial artist, offering bold and brash imagery that feeds the eye more for the same price as other artists.

Romita’s early popularity began however with his run on Iron Man with David Michelinie and artist Bob Layton which began in 1978. He was eventually offered his first regular run on Spider-man in the early 80s and was the artist that launched the Dazzler series. In this period Romita Jr co created the character of the Hobgoblin with writer Roger Stern – a kind of Green Goblin light with his own good / evil morality in play, Hobgoblin represented a genuinely unrestricted and unfamiliar goblin for Spider-man to play with.

Uncanny X-Men 304

From 1983 to 1986 he had a popular run on Uncanny X-Men, introducing the future X-man Bishop in his tenure in a brutal and distinct storyline that battered the edges of what was being done in comics at the time. Romita Jr returned to Uncanny X-Men in 1993 in which he pencilled the Fathers and Son’s crossover Uncanny issue in which Prof X and Magneto collide and Magneto has his mind removed. He depicted the turning of Colossus and his joining of the Acolytes and the showdown between Xavier and his X-Men and Magneto and his Acolytes on Asteroid M in the Fathers and Sons X-over that made history with the release of X-Men 25. Romita Jr’s work was bold, reminiscent of 50s and 60s pop art and exploded from the page in a way nobody else’s did at the time.

But prior to his second stint on Uncanny X-Men Romita was granted an extended stint on Daredevil with writer Ann Nocenti and Eisner award winning inker Al Williamson. In this period he began to develop the Romita Jr style we see now. Shoulders and shape became more developed and something significant happened… Romita Jr broke the rules…

Most artists use a series of bubbles in place of parts of the body in order to decide placement, perspective and shape. The leg would be perhaps five parts (the longer larger upper leg, the smaller oval knee joint, the slightly bannister like lower leg / shin, perhaps a round joint at the ankle joint to indicate a change of angle and an uneven tear drop shape to form the foot). You can achieve this easily with every body part and build an entire Human frame using these bags. You then pencil over it, define the shape clearly and subsume it in ink – hiding your working underneath all that.

Romita Jr doesn’t. His characters are effectively the same set of shapes inflated and deflated according to the size and shape of the character. The sawn off frame of Wolverine is the same as the tall powerful frame as Colossus. The Punisher from Romita Jr’s very cool run in Punisher: War Journal is the same shape as Wolverine. Art law says this is bad practice. That by showing your working and working from such a clear template is not art. Romita Jr has made one thing clear in the nicest possible way. He simply doesn’t give a shit. And neither should he.

Romita Jr’s success is built on these parameters. The characters represent mannequins on which Romita Jr applies the feelings and the events that are taking place around them. He applies garish, squared and diametrically even surroundings that draw in the eye and hold it there. He isn’t a naturalist or a life artist, Romita Jr is a comic artist and a purist and never an apologist.

He has built an incredible career with the same company (even his other company credits are Kick Ass – printed through Marvel’s Icon Imprint, Punisher/Batman in association with Marvel as well as DC and admittedly 1 credit with the Gray Area 1-3 in 2004 with Glen Brunswick for Image Comics). He is a class act and no freelancer – he has a job with a reputable company which he is doing well and there is no reason he should stop doing it.

Rolling out Spider-man, Avengers (most recently the new Avengers series), Black Panther, Daredevil, Iron Man, Cable, Punisher, The Eternals, The Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men, Ultimate Vision, Wolverine, Sentry and pretty much the only thing worth picking up World War Hulk for by ingraining it with such force and mind-bending power on each that it was a joy to behold.

The fact is with Romita Jr, you can see the workings but you can also see the most basic rules of comic book art. Clean lines reminiscent of the 60s era in comic books, graphic and bold line work that still belongs on an Andy Warhol Pop art wall hanging. Romita Jr is keeping historic conventions alive and kicking in his work. If you look at his work you can still see the influence of Ditko and his dad, Romita Jr and the reason that everything we see in comic books today comes from it. I hope Romita Jr remains at Marvel for a great many years.

He’ll be attending the Kapow Comicon in London on April 9-10th and I hope to catch him there. My work isn’t much like his but frankly I think that’s because I’m not sure I’ve fully learned how to draw comics.

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Practitioners 13: Liam Sharp

Liam Sharp has tackled X-Men, Hulk, Spider-man, Venom, Man Thing (for Marvel) Superman and Batman (for DC) and Spawn: Dark Ages for Todd McFarlane.

Sharp, more famous than near any other to come out of the early ’90s Brit invasion with Marvel UK took to the heights very early in his career, riding on top of an enormous success with Deaths Head II. Easily the best in his class on the original Death’s Head he was the obvious choice for the character. He met with success perhaps too soon – elevating him more quickly perhaps than he was comfortable with – leaving him scolded slightly by the industry he had been raised up by. From this Sharp has rebuilt an independent comics career and now uses his distinctive and enthralling illustrative style to bring clarity to popular culture – looking like Gods, facing demonic adversaries and carrying massive guns.

Born in Derby in 1968, Liam Sharp is one of the foremost names to come out of Marvel UK, arguably the most noteworthy at its peak – as primary artist on Deaths Head 2 – where he made his name. Having cut his teeth on the original Deaths Head series under Simon Furman, he was handed the artist position on its follow-up Deaths Head II. This suited Sharp as he created a skull faced blue goliath, cable dreadlocks and metal codpiece firmly secured.

To see it for the first time was rock and roll in comic form reborn; reminiscent of Bisley at his best with both the Kubert brothers (of X-Men fame) rolled in. A seven and a half foot time travelling cyborg with a right arm of liquid metal that could form into three weapon functions (blade, claw, crazy ass space cannon) and 100 disparate personalities. The counterparts of Marvel UK; Dark Angel, Digitek, Warheads etc while popular were just trying to keep up. This in no small part was due to Liam Sharp’s stunning artwork.

Sharp’s painted cover for Overkill and Deaths Head 2 and the comic strip that went with it (serialised in both Deaths Head 2 and Overkill in the 90s) features some of the best realisations of the X-men to ever be put to print – possibly the best outside the title itself. His rendering of Cyclops (broad, handsome, powerful) Wolverine (short, sinewy, rough) Beast (bestial, wild) and Psylocke (beautiful and oddly passive) standing abreast his central character and Puck made the two less established transatlantic cousins indiscernible in design and realisation next to the world’s most famous X-Team.

Whereas a panel by almost any other artist carries you to the next; a Liam Sharp panel pacifies you and forces you to stray about the page irrespective of where the next speech bubble is. Muscles burst with potential; on Male and female characters alike. Its Conan sensibilities with every panel; whether in the pages of X-Men (Sharp was responsible for X-Men issues leading into the Age of Apocalypse) or Gears of War (based on the X-Box game).

His women are undeniably pneumatic, irresistable to an artist so adept with Human anatomy. Testament (2006-2008 with Dennis Rushkoff) illustrates clearly that Sharp has a clear sense of proportion when needed – however for his most distinctive and popular work he simply switches it off. He extends the anatomy and physiology to a logical conclusion. Although his characters exceed usual shape there is a plausibility to their shape – never completely extending their forms beyond the edges of potential Human growth. His men are Conan by default, his women are Red Sonja.

His female characters would be perfect examples of Good girl art but there’s none of the accessibility that is prevalent in that form of art. There is an innate and overpowering sexuality in the characters and yet its not a lingering one. Its not porn – most obviously as his men are as perfect specimens of the form as his women. Sharp’s point? Maybe that you can draw any physical shapes – why linger on imperfection. Why not present God-like perfection every time?

It was on Incredible Hulk, arguably the pinnacle of his career up until this point – joining a title made legendary by Peter David, its resident writer. It would have seemed the perfect choice given the shape of the title character however it wasn’t to be the match made in heaven that was anticipated and the run was short lived. Upon joining, Sharp spoke to Peter David about his likes and dislikes in drawing. He explained he disliked drawing cars and buildings and that a character he really liked was Man-thing. And Lo, the introductory piece saw Hulk in the Florida Everglades facing Man-thing (generating an indelible cover of the two facing each other in the swampland that epitomised Sharp’s styling and illustrative roots). Banner’s job however was as a mechanic, creating a need to draw cars and buildings immediately in a part of the world unfamiliar with Sharp. It became clear that it was going to be a struggle and that Sharp was perhaps unprepared for the expectations placed on a comic book artist. In a title like Hulk, after the central character, it would be impossible not to build the infrastructure around him continuously and it was clearly representing a challenge to the new artist. Peter David had reservations – uncertain that his writing matched Sharp’s artwork – but a letter to Bobby Chase from the inker on Hulk put paid to Sharp’s position with the book. Unable to find an alternative artist at such short notice, Sharp had to complete a further two issues – depicting the Abomination (happily another goliath) – though an exhausting experience knowing that his run had ended. The cover of Hulk 427 saw Sharp offered a Man-thing series with Marc DeMatties.

Given more creative opportunities with DeMatties Sharp felt more comfortable however the Man-thing series ran only for 12 issues. From his monumental beginnings with Marvel UK he was finding the world of commercial comic books more competitive and demanding than anticipated.

Undeterred, in 2004, Sharp started his own independent publishing company, Mam Tor publishing with wife Christina McCormack and published the artbook Sharpenings: The Art of Liam Sharp. The company launched Mam Tor: Event Horizon, featuring art by Glenn Fabry, Brian Holguin, Ashley Wood and Simon Bisley among others.

Becoming penciller for controversial Testament series with DC Vertigo with writer Frank Tieri he then went on to Gears of War – a title perfectly suited in style, design and content for an artist of Sharp’s capabilities and talent. Big men, big guns, big scope, desolate environments and blood thirsty action.

In September 2008 he was offered an exclusive deal with DC.

Sharp is an unnatural talent with a clear idea of how things should be done. He has found a niche and is recognised for it. If you want a mountainside gun fight between heavily armed death faced doom bringers, a hard bitten cannon wielding bodybuilder and a chewed off beauty queen from Caveman Monthly go see Liam Sharp. If one of Liam Sharp’s characters hits you, you’ll know about it. If you see one of his pages – you’ll be hard pressed to remember it.

If you think this blog has been too long – screw you. Liam Sharp was the reason I picked up Overkill at 13 and the reason I’m doing what I do now. Those looking for realism in their comic books aren’t the only ones reading them. Those looking for the raw, aggressive and visceral presented like it was standing in the room, are fans of Liam Sharp.

Practitioners 11: Frank Quitely

It would have been the simplest thing to allow the artwork above to illustrate all I would like to say about Frank Quitely. A late starter, like my good self (born Vincent Deighan, 1968, Glasgow, Scotland) he didn’t appear on the comic illustration scene until 1990 and almost immediately set the comics world on fire. Through numerous (but not numerous enough) projects he has revolutionised the look of the greatest and the mightiest of the two biggest comics companies in the world. A fan favourite – his work alongside Mark Millar and most prominently Grant Morrison has proved that the comic industry should rely less on unbreakable rules and the reliability of its staple characters and to rely more heavily on considered, respectful revolution – Quitely speeding the gradual revolution of characters and always making clear missed opportunities by less inspired or less talented artists.

Frank Quitely is a one man visual revolution. Simultaneously exciting, original and edgy he is also traditional, technically near perfect and highly detailed. There is no one in comics complaining about Quitely except that there isn’t enough of his work. Look above. Jesus. He takes the most highly recognisable characters and the sum of all of their character and previous incarnations and compounds and beautifies them – bringing forwards inherent elements that were always there and remained unearthed visually and enhancing the elements that had already been visible.

Take Superman; a man drawn by multiple masters previously in various guises; either adapting the existing image of the Man of Steel or developing their own – however I’d claim that none have taken all of the incarnations and public awareness of Superman and collected them more or as self assuredly as Frank Quitely. At once superhuman and godlike in his actions and stance. Powerful and Human in his build and appearance; the proportions offered plausible and close to perfectly realistic for a powerful human man and simultaneously carrying an expression you could see on anyone you might meet with Superman’s personality; pride, strength, clarity of vision and purpose. In one simple line work Quitely has encapsulated almost every word and panel drawn of one of the most prominent and world-reknowned of the comic book Super heroes.

The ‘next’ at the base of the image an addition by the website I tore the image from but could as easily simply say ‘Nuff said. Move on.’ I was even tempted to simply leave this image as a testament to the natural ability of one of the foremost artists working in the field today.

Following a 14 year career alongside Morrison, Quitely has clocked up star turns with Authority (with Mark Millar) JLA, New X-Men, All Star Superman, WE3 and Batman and Robin. But Quitely didn’t start in comics at all until 1990 – coining the Frank Quitely moniker as a spoonerism of quite frankly in order to cover his real name, Vincent Deighan due to concerns his family would be upset by the content of his first book – the Greens, a rip on the Boons – a comic strip created by DC Thompson. He needn’t have worried.

His awards include;
2005 Best Penciller/Inker Eisner Award for We3 (tied with John Cassaday)
2006 Best New Series Eisner Award for All-Star Superman with Grant Morrison
2007 Best Continuing Series Eisner Award for All-Star Superman with Grant Morrison
2007 Best Artist Harvey Award for All-Star Superman
2009 Best Continuing Series Eisner Award for All Star-Superman with Grant Morrison

I’m going to stop talking and let the artwork above speak for itself. Nice and Quitely.

The Practitioners 5: Eduardo Risso

Following on from the previous feature on Brian Azzarello we’re looking at the other creative that made 100 Bullets what it was – a pivotal, gravitational piece of visceral and memorable power.


Only an artist with the craftsmanship to make a coffee machine a focus in a scene filled with tension and intrigue could have maintained the awe inspiring integrity and scope of a series like 100 Bullets. Every once in a while an artist will simply prove the power of a black line on a white canvass and no one shows the clarity and purpose of line placement better than Eduardo Risso. He is the dangerous surgeon of the practitioners – his knowledge of anatomy, feature and form informing a sharp, efficient and unflinching style that tears the page between pitch blackness and sharp simple colours – a playground for colourists Grant Goleash and Patricia Mulvihill. In a yankee-centric medium Risso is now synonomous with Brian Azzarello and 100 Bullets, however Eduardo Risso is a multinational artist reknowned in North and South America and Europe for his graphic, noirish linework and efficient and poster-natural artwork. As a western reader, embedded in American comic books anyone’d be forgiven for believing his name was made in the US. Not so.

Like a wandering Mariachi, Risso was born in Leones in Córdoba Province, Argentina and started as a cartoonist in 1981, drawing his first collaborations for the morning paper La Nación and the magazines Erotiocon and Satiricon in his home country. In 1986, he worked for Eura Editoriale of Rome, Italy, and in 1987 he drew Parque Chas, scripted by Ricardo Barreiro. The series was first published by Fierro in Argentina, comic history, and then by Totem in Spain, Comic Art in Italy and finally the complete series as a graphic novel in France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Poland and the United States – no doubt catching the attention of comic industry decision makers there. In 1988, he drew Cain, again scripted by Barreiro, again in Black and White giving rise to a clear inking style that was unforgiving to detail. With each new series Risso’s work has increased in clarity and precision.

He is prolific in his work – every year of working on 100 Bullets turfing up other work including Batman 620-625. Most recently he can be found in the pages of Logan 1-3. The canuckle head giving a character that could’ve been born with Risso in mind to Risso’s gritty and dominating style. While 100 Bullets remains Risso’s most prominent achievement (covering 11 years of his working history and earning him an Eisner for Best Artist) we haven’t seen the best of him yet.