John Romita Testing Paper

Recently I was asked by artist Rick Parker if I wanted to contribute a page to a comic he wanted to make about working at Marvel Comics. The idea is to get a whole bunch of cartoonists to contribute a singe page story about our days working in the Marvel offices. I know Rick from my days in the 1990s working in the Marvel Bullpen. Rick had worked in the marvel Bullpen before me but when I knew him he was a freelance letterer for Marvel and the artist on Bevis and Butthead comic book that Marvel published in the 1990s. I said I would do a page.

The first thing I had to do was to figure out which Marvel story I wanted to tell. A few of them came to mind but the main one I wanted to tell was the story of my geekiest moment at Marvel. I wrote about this moment here on this blog about a years ago. Marvel- Memories Summer 1992 I had a few other ideas but that seemed like the most interesting one. It has to do with me getting a piece of art from John Romita that he threw in the trash can.

Even though I wanted to do the John Romita story I thought about other stories I could do for a few weeks. I think I was trying to avoid the John Romita one. The main problem I had with that story was that I would have to draw 1992 John Romita. We’re the only two characters in the story.

Some artists are better than others at drawing what is called a “likeness” of someone. A likeness is just a drawing of a person that a viewer can immediately tell is that person. A drawing of Elvis that people can’t tell is Elvis can be a problem. Any artist worth his or her salt can get a likeness but it takes time and reference photos. If you want to draw Elvis it’s good to have photos of Elvis to look at.

I’m not particularly strong at likenesses. I knew it would take me a lot of time to get my drawings of John Romita right. I also knew that if I didn’t get them right it would turn people off. No one would care if I didn’t get a drawing of me wrong but everyone would care if I failed at drawing John Romita properly.

The first thing I did was to use the internet to find some photos of John. Most of the photos of him that I found were from a period later than 1992. He was clean shaven in 1992 but bearded after he retired in 1996. Most of the photos I found were with the beard. After some looking I found a couple of them that reminded me of my memory of how he looked in 1992.

After finding reference photos I started doing sketches to see if I could get a good likeness. It took a while and with my simplified drawing style it took quite a bit of work but eventually I got comfortable with it. That gave me the confidence to move onto doing some layouts for the story. Since it was only one page I needed to put a lot of panels on that one page. Twelve panels.

Next I drew the small layouts I blew them up and printed out the page on a 9×12 inch sheet of paper. Usually a comic book page is drawn on a 11×17 inch piece of paper but sometimes I like to start small. Not this time though. As I was drawing the first panel I got frustrated at the small size and abandoned it.

I decided to draw each panel individually on a 6×9 inch pieces of paper. First I was going to tackle the John Romita likenesses. That took me forever. There were four main panels he was in and it took me a few days, on and off, to draw those panels. I drew them a few times each. I would draw one, scan it in, and then draw it again. I didn’t have nearly as much trouble drawing myself.

I was also trying to decide if I was going to assemble all the pencil drawings into a page and ink the page as a whole or ink the panels on the individual 6×9 inch pieces of paper. At first I wanted to ink them as a single page but then since I was struggling so much I decided on the individual panels.

Once again I started with the John Romita faces. It took me a long time to ink them and get them right. As I finished the inking I scanned them in and set them up digitally as a single page.

I this point in time none of the pages had backgrounds in them. The background to the story was John Romita’s office in 1992 which I had no reference for so I knew I was going to have to make that up. The problem is that offices are boring so the Will Elder idea of “Chicken Fat” kept entering my mind. That is what Elder called it when he was drawing early issues of Mad Magazine in the 1950s and he’d add visual gags into the background. But what type of visual gags?

I’m not a gag writer nor a gag artist. That’s a whole specialized world of cartooning. But the concept kept entering my head and I couldn’t escape it. I though about what type of drawings John might have around his office and what type of gags I could make out of them but I kept coming up with nothing. It was take days of research fo me to pull something like that off. I wasn’t interested in doing that and knew my failure rate would be high with it so I got a little frozen with the page. And I hated the pages with no backgrounds on them. They just weren’t rich enough.

I wasn’t until I came to the conclusion that I should make the “Chicken Fat” my own that I got to work again. It would be impossible for me to make interesting John Romita drawing but I could make interesting Jared Osborn drawings. So I went about filling the backgrounds of John’s office with tiny little drawings of my own. Spontaneous things that could give the panels some visual interest. It took a couple of days to do since I made a lot of drawings but I finally was enjoying making the backgrounds.

After finishing the background inks I scanned them all in and arranged them onto a page. I still have one small panel of a hand holding a piece of paper that I have to draw but the rest of it is done. I have to script it now and color the page. There is still a lot of work to be done but none of it is going to take me nearly as long as the pencils and inks. That’s a good thing.