John Romita ... and All That Jazz!

A book review article by: Jason Sacks
John Romita is a true comics living legend, so it's wonderful to see this book published. And it's also nice to see this book because Romita seems like a really wonderful person who gives a great interview.

This book features three separate interviews with Romita: one by his longtime collaborator Roy Thomas, and two others by Romita's longtime friend Jim Amash. Altogether the three interviews amount to some 175 pages of content, an astonishingly large amount of conversation. That's also enough time for a conversation to become repetitive and dull, but somehow this interview never becomes boring. Instead, Romita's obvious modesty and charm flow through the book, helping the reader to understand why the man was so loved by his peers.

If there's one flaw in the book, however, it's in the interviews. Romita is obviously such a pro, and so completely of his generation, that he seldom talks about himself. We learn about Romita's poker parties and his lunch dates with colleagues, but readers don't get the pure, warts-and-all, type of interview here. Romita talks only a little bit about his childhood, and even less about his sons. Even his life with his wife is mainly told as part of their decades-long work in the Marvel offices. By the end of the book I found myself wishing I could read more than a few words about how Romita feels about his son’s success, but as Roy Thomas admits in his introduction, that stuff just didn’t make it into this book. It’s a minor flaw that this book is such a portrait of John Romita as a professional and not John Romita as a man.

Maybe "flaw" is too strong a word to use in this context, though, because a real portrait of Romita seems to emerge from the conversation. Simply put, Romita seems like a professional, a man who truly loved spending his career in the Marvel offices, doing art corrections and making other peoples' work better. He seems to have loved coming into the office every day and dealing with the unique people who came through the doors at Marvel. Amash's second interview with Romita focuses a lot of its attention on some of the unique people who came through Marvel over the years. Romita shares his impressions of such people as Barry Smith (Romita admits he was wrong in thinking Smith wouldn't make it as a pro), Gene Colan (Romita loved his artwork and was always slightly amused that Colan feared the industry going under), Gil Kane (a great pontificator), Archie Goodwin (a real professional who always put quality before deadlines), Bill Everett, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Todd McFarlane and many, many more.

For any fan of Marvel comics from the '60s to the '90s, this is all wonderful, page-turning stuff. It's wonderful, for instance, to see Romita's intense admiration for the art of Frank Robbins, who was a particularly controversial figure in Marvel's Bronze Age crew, or see his view of the career of Vince Colletta, which is very thoughtful and well-balanced.

Added to that is the fact that this book is packed with literally hundreds of pieces of artwork by Romita and his colleagues, as well as a virtual treasure trove of photos. Nearly every creator mentioned has their photo shown, which really helps the reader connect to the people discussed.

But it's all the previously unpublished artwork that makes this a real treat. Romita worked for many years as Marvel's main production artist, and it's great to see dozens of pieces of art by him. This book contains such pieces as Romita's character designs, including an amazing character design template, romance sketches, cover pencils, and much, much more. This is a real treasure trove of exciting and unique artwork, and that artwork made this book very hard for me to put down. I only wish there had been a color section in the standard edition of this book, as many of the pieces shown in color on the back cover are tantalizing suggestions of other work that would have been exciting to see in this book. I understand that the deluxe hardcover has a 16 page color section, but it's a shame that buyers of the standard edition don't get to enjoy that section as well. Of course, that might have made the price too high for the average reader.

John Romita... and All That Jazz! may not be the definitive biography of one of Marvel's signature artists, but it is a wonderfully entertaining book that is a must for any fan of Silver and Bronze Age Marvels. Once again, TwoMorrows has released another book of the type that fans once could only dream.

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