John Romita Sr., the groundbreaking comic book artist who co-created some of the most influential characters in Marvel Comics history and drew some of the company’s most celebrated stories, died Tuesday, his son announced. He was 93.
Romita was already an established comics artist in the late 1960s when he took over as lead artist on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” but soon he established a unique, era-defining style for the character and helped create the title’s most enduring love interest, Mary Jane Watson. He would later co-create the mutant Wolverine, the criminal overlord Kingpin, and the vigilante antihero The Punisher, creations that would become staples of a billion dollar entertainment franchise, immortalized for generations of fans even if his name never became as widely known as his frequent collaborator, Stan Lee.
“I say this with a heavy heart, My father, John Romita passed away peacefully in his sleep this Monday morning. 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,” John Romita Jr. said in a message posted on Instagram. “He was the greatest man I ever met.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1930, Romita entered comics as an artist when he was just 19, in 1949. Drafted into the Army in 1951, he continued working as an artist in his spare time and ended up being hired as a freelancer for Atlas Comics, the company that a decade later would become Marvel, by Stan Lee. Among his work during this era, he drew the short-lived “Captain America” revival, in addition to horror and western comics. He also worked for other companies, including DC Comics during this period.
Romita nearly left the comics industry in 1966 in order work in advertising, as he’d grown tired of the rough grind of working in comics and could make more doing less. But as he explained in an interview with Alter Ego magazine, he was convinced by Lee to work full time for Marvel with the promise of matching pay and perks like working from home.
Sooner after, original “Amazing Spider-Man” artist Steve Ditko abruptly quit after growing creative differences with Lee. Romita was put on the title and soon enough managed to carve out his own take on the character, drawing among other things the iconic “Spider-Man No More” story. It was during the late 60s that he also co-created Mary Jane Watson; while she’d been referenced more than once in “Spider-Man” and depicted with her face obscured before this, Romita designed her face and distinctive red hair.
He went on to co-create Kingpin, Rhino and Shocker. He was named Marvel Comics art director in 1972 and in that role he helped create Punisher, Wolverine, Luke Cage and more. He remained in the role through the 1980s.
He married his wife, Virginia, in 1952; the couple had two sons, including John Romita Jr., who is also a celebrated comics artist.
Responding to John Jr.’s announcement, Jim Lee, president, publisher and chief creative officer of DC Comics wrote in part that Romita “was an amazing, beautifully talented draftsman and artist who inspired and entertained so many generations of fans and creators. But for me, he was more than that. Your dad was just an incredible role model whose insightful words of advice have stayed with me my entire three decade plus career.”
“Deadpool” creator Rob Leifeld paid tribute to Romita’s legacy, writing: “With the passing of John Romita, it really is an end of the Silver Age Legends. So many left us over the past decade. Stan, Neal, Ditko, Herb, Marie, Carmine… this really feels like the final passing of an era.”