John Romita Testing Paper

I’m going to take a trip to the past this week because I recently joined a Facebook group for collectors of comic book original art and shared a piece of John Romita art that I got from him want back in 1992. I posted the story of me getting the piece from him but I wanted to write something a little bit longer about it. I want to try and remember and capture the time and place.

Back in 1992 I was working at Marvel Comics on a freelance basis in the Marvel Bullpen. We Bullpenners were the people got the comics ready to print. We were also known as the Production Department. Paste-ups, lettering corrections, art corrections, and various other behind the scene things got done in the Bullpen. We were on the tenth floor of the building located at 387 Park Avenue South.

At some time around the summer of 1992. Marvel decided that the tenth floor needed a remodel. That meant moving everybody on that floor down to the fourth floor (which I assume was vacant) for a couple of months. The fourth floor was considerably smaller and different that the tenth floor.

On the tenth floor the Bullpen was a large open area with about ten to twelve desks and drawing tables in it. Down on the fourth floor they squeezed about ten drawing tables (not the desks they went somewhere else) into a room half the size of the tenth floor Bullpen. I wasn’t even in that room. As a freelancer I didn’t have a choice of desks. I got stuck wherever there was space leftover. There were a couple of spots.

The first spot was in a hallway with a row of cubicles along the side of it. It wasn’t much of a row. I only remember George Roussos nearby. He was Marvel’s house colorist and had been in the comic book business since about 1940. It was cool to be near him.

The second spot was the worst. One of the great things about the Marvel Bullpen of that era was the camaraderie. It wasn’t a great job. It was a fairly crappy one overall but that was made up for by the fact that we could talk all day as we did our job. A dozen or more creative people in a room talking as they worked could be a lot of fun and it was. Except the second freelance spot wasn’t anywhere near that room. Instead it was in a room with the photocopiers. It was the only desk in that room. So when I sat there I had no one to talk to unless someone came in to make copies. It was just me and the dull work.

It just occurred to me that there was a third spot where I worked on the fourth floor. There was a another room where the people who did the production on the covers worked. I think there were only two drawing tables in there but there were also a couple of desks right outside the room. I worked in there some days when I was filling in for one of the cover people. It wasn’t as lively as the Bullpen but it was way better than the copy room.

The only photos I know of from this period on the fourth floor were taken by Eliot Brown. Eliot’s Website He was an ex-Marvel bullpenner at the time and he liked to take photos so he came by one day and took some. I also like to take photos too but this was long before the age of everyone carrying a camera on their phone with them everywhere they went. It was either that year or soon after that I bought an Olympus Stylus pocket camera and started carrying it with me every day. But either way I took no photos of our time on the fourth floor. I wish I did. I wish I took a whole lot more photos of those days.

So back to the story of my John Romita art. This has to be my geekiest moment in comics. It took place during this time period on the fourth floor during the summer of 1992. The drawing is dated 5/1/90 so John must have been cleaning out his office. After all we had just moved floors so I assume a lot of people took that opportunity to get rid of unwanted stuff. Especially since most people’s space got smaller.

I had some reason to go into John’s office and speak to him about something or another. I don’t even remember what. Some random production problem. I noticed the working drawing on his desk as he stood across from me. Then as we were talking, and in the middle of our conversation, he picked up the drawing and and tossed it in the trash.

I immediately blurted out “You don’t want that? Can I have it?” I’m not usually one for blurting out stuff like that but it was such a beautiful drawing and as an artist myself I love to see the guts of a piece of art. How it’s done. John, who is the nicest guy in the world, looked at me for a moment as if I had grown an extra head and said, “Sure” and handed it to me out of his garbage bin. I was, of course, thrilled.

Now for what this piece is. At the time (in 1990) John was working with the paper company Strathmore to make some new paper for Marvel. Inkers like the paper to be smooth and pencillers like some tooth to the paper. John was working on finding the right balance for the Marvel paper that gets handed out for the artists to draw on. Here he was testing out a paper sample. He used various pens, drew a couple of heads, used some white-out on it, and generally put it through its paces. I love working drawings like this that generally never get seen.

Years later I scanned it in and it was printed in the “John Romita: Marvel Visionaries” hardcover book in the back with a bunch of other sketches and such. In the end anyone can now enjoy it. Good show.