The legendary comic book artist and co-creator of Kick-Ass discuses the film adaptation
John Romita Jr. was born into a comic book dynasty. The son of John Romita Sr., legendary Spider-Man artist and co-creator of many of the web-slingers seminal stories, Romita Jr. began his career in the late '1970s as a comic book artist for Marvel Comics. In the thirty odd years since he began in the industry, the artist has primarily worked for the "House of Ideas" drawing some of the most recognizable images of characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk and the X-Men ever created. He also is the man responsible for co-creating such long-standing Marvel villains as Daredevil's nemesis, Typhoid Mary and Spider-Man's foe, Hobgoblin. In 2008 Romita joined long-time collaborator, writer Mark Millar, to co-create the creator owned series "Kick-Ass" for Marvel's Icon imprint. The eight issue series was a huge success and even spawned a film project based on the comic, directed by Stardust's Matthew Vaughn and starring Nicolas Cage, before the final issue had been written. The film, Kick-Ass opening in theaters on April 16th, marks Romita's first producing credit on a major motion picture as well as a co-directing credit for an animated sequence in the film that the artist directed himself. We recently had an opportunity to speak with the legendary comic book artist and creator about an array of subjects that included the new film, adapting his comic for the screen, the differences between the two, directing the film's animated sequence, writing the comic's sequel, collaborating with Matthew Vaughn and his feelings about the recently announced Untitled Spider-Man Reboot. Here is what the talented artist had to say:
To begin with, the geneses of this comic book adapted film is different than any other comic that's ever been adapted to the screen before because the film and the comic were really conceived at the same time, can you talk about that process, how co-creator Mark Millar brought you on to the comic project and how your evolvement grew with the feature film?
John Romita Jr.: This one reflects on the project, the quality of the story because it couldn't have happened if it wasn't a quality story, that's easy to say. It's also a good bit of luck that Mark ran into Matthew Vaughn the way he did at a party and Matthew was looking for a project. It was a perfect storm, so to speak. Mark ran into Matthew, he needed a project and Mark mentioned this one, which he and I had just begun. The stars were aligned and Matthew liked it. I was working on number one at the time and that's the way it worked out. There's no other way of putting it other than "good luck." However it has to be a really good story to have this kind of "good luck" because Matthew wouldn't have liked it if it were not a good story. It wouldn't have turned out the way that it did as a comic, as a graphic series, if it wasn't a really good story. No matter how good I could be or how good Mark can dialogue, it wouldn't have turned out as good if the story weren't good.
At the beginning were the two processes kept separate, you and Mark creating the comic and Matthew and Jane Goldman writing the screenplay, or was there a lot of crossover between the two where you found that Matthew and Jane were influencing the comic as much as you and Mark were influencing the film?
John Romita Jr.: I think we might have influenced them at the beginning because Mark had already done several scripts. I had been working on the first one and had also been doing character sketches early on. I think we influenced them in the beginning because that opening sequence is right out of the first issue for sure, the opening sequence of the film. So we influenced them and if there is influence on the second half of the series because of the screenplay then so be it. It really turned out well and there is a minor difference in two spots between the series and the movie. Normally people will complain and say, "Ah well, you know, you're derivative of the film. You're really demigod-ing it, you're trying your best to capitalize on this and vice versa." This ends up being parallel and yet the two distinct entities are distinct enough. The similarities are there you can tell. It's not hawking away from one or the other. It's not stealing anything from the other. People can roll their eyes about the timing but its just because I was late (delivering art for the comic) due to working on the film. It would have been done well in advance of the film being done. We would have finished the series early had I not worked on the film itself. I just ran into a wall. I had too many things that I could not keep up with.
What can you tell us about the animated scene that you directed for the film?
John Romita Jr.: The animated sequence is a flashback origin of Nicolas Cage's character, Big Daddy. Matthew wanted, and these are his words, he wanted homage to the comic series within the film. Other than the fact that there were drawings, Nicolas Cage's shrine to his victims had drawings on his wall in his layer, which is a shrine to all of his conquests. So other than that he wanted something that was strictly out of the graphic novel. He asked for an animated sequence that was just based on the illustrations of the comic. So I did a separate set of drawings for that and then I did a wall of villain characters. So I was considered a small "p" producer to begin with but then I was given a small "d" directing job and I say small because I'm one of the directors not the director and the same with the producers.
What was your role as a producer like on a day to day basis or was the producer title just a reward for co-creating the comic and being involved with the project?
John Romita Jr.: That's for being involved. Having the project come from our series. Getting out blessings in many ways and consulting in many ways. Asking for designs and input. So that was less work than the directing of the animated sequence and any other art that I threw in that you see in the film.
In your opinion, do you think this business model for making comics and films simultaneously could ever be repeated again?
John Romita Jr.: I think that it worked so well because of the end result. If it could be done again, it should be done this way. But like I said the way it happened seemed to be as much luck as it was quality. If two people could run into each other that early in the process, help each other along and it works out this way, fine but I can't guarantee that would happen again because the director might not have the same vision as the writer and the artist. In this case Matthew really referred to us in many ways. Jane Goldman and he scripted it with Mark's input and then they allowed me to do what I wanted to do in the comic series without asking for any differences. Then they followed that it many ways, visually in a lot of ways with the animation. I can't guarantee this would happen again but there's nothing wrong with the process being tried again. Look at the success quality wise; we'll see success wise in a couple of weeks.
Can you talk about the differences between the comic and the film, changes that had to be made and the challenges of adapting your comic series for a film audience while keeping in everything that comic fans loved about the original series?
John Romita Jr.: It didn't get that drastic. The differences, I don't know if you've seen it or not and this is going to be a spoiler alert but the differences have to do with a Jet pack and anyone that sees the film will know what I'm talking about. Also the difference between the origin and the history of Nicolas Cage's character, it's different slightly than it is in the film. He is more heroic. His history is more heroic in the film and slightly different in the series. Those two differences were the glaring differences. There are really not a whole lot of other differences. The flavor of it is the same. So whether or not that was intended on all parties to work this way, I don't know? But boy, it sure came out that way. It was such a comfortable working process and like I said it should be done again but then I can't tell you that everyone would be comfortable with every group.
Are you and Mark planning on writing a sequel to the "Kick Ass?"
John Romita Jr.: Yes we are. In fact there is a name for it already, it's called "Balls To The Wall." Yes, "Balls To The Wall." The villain has a name and I probably won't be able to use this but it's "Mother Fucker."
Is Mark already discussing this idea with Matthew for a sequel to the film?
John Romita Jr.: I think they've discussed in passing a couple of things but Mark and I are going to ultimately work out the details of the series. He may have give Matthew a heads up on what is coming however Matthew, I'm sure would love to say a couple of things. They haven't discussed it yet because Matthew's got another project first. Although who knows what will change between now and then. But Mark and I are going to be working on it sooner rather than later. In the next month or so we'll start on the next arc.
John, you really love these characters, don't you?
John Romita Jr.: I really do. The Hit-Girl character is such a great character that I think it's going to have its own entity like Wolverine with the X-Men. I really think so. The interesting part is the incorporation of the aging of the character because the actress herself, Chloe Moretz is growing and aging and the same thing will happen with the character. Then we'll incorporate that into the series and add something to offset that so there still is a younger character around. You know there are many different ways of looking at it.
Your artwork was used for some of the film's early promotional pieces, so what was that like for you to see your art on a movie poster?
John Romita Jr.: I first saw those at conventions and it was exciting because that was early on in the process. To know that I was doing posters in anticipation of the film cemented in my mind that the film was going to be released and that was exciting because that was even before the summer, it was during the springtime here. That was at the end of last year and there is always a chance that things could fall apart but I was getting excited at that point.
Mark recently spoke out about turning down a writing gig on "X-Men 4" to instead focus on creating what he calls the "next generation of super-heroes" in comics and then bringing them to the big screen. As a life long comic book artist who's primarily worked for Marvel, is that the direction most comic creators are going to take in the future, you think? Creating their own stuff for comics and film rather then working for one of the two major companies who then own forever any ideas that you create with those characters?
John Romita Jr.: Yeah, in an ideal world yes, the answer to that as a creator is yes. But in the words of someone much smarter than me, "Hey kid, don't quit your day job." Do you know that expression? I'll keep my day job and I'll keep the Marvel world in front of me because it keeps me grounded, pays the electric bills so to speak and I know where I stand. Where in this business it's such a hit or miss end result that I would probably have an ulcer the next time I work on something like this. But with working on the mainstream stuff there is a comfort zone where you have a little bit of control. So my answer is that I would love to just deal with creator owned properties and the excitement of that but I still need to have my feet in the comic's field ground.
Finally, since your are so well recognized in association with the character of Spider-Man from all your years of work on the comics, what are your thoughts on the recent announcement Sony will be rebooting the franchise?
John Romita Jr.: I love it. Anything that can be done to help out the character when there is a lull in the series, then so be it. I'm sure it's going to be great and I can't wait to get back on Spider-Man (comics) again. It's like a sibling for me. So reboot it every couple of years when it needs it and I'm excited about it. I'm sure it's going to be a quality series.