Anghus Houvouras chats with comic book artist John Romita Jr., co-creator of Kick-Ass….
John Romita Jr. has been in the comic book game from when issues were selling millions of copies and hadn’t been reduced to an intellectual property farm for movie studios. Not only has he witnessed massive changes within the medium, but he has helped shape it with his iconic artistry and classic runs with some of comics’ most popular characters, like Spider-Man. In recent years, he’s ventured into experimental territory with co-conspirator Mark Millar with the creation of Kick-Ass, a darkly comic deconstruction of the genre posing the question: What if masked vigilantes existed in the real world? The first Kick-Ass series became one of 2010’s most talked about films, due in no small part to the character of Hit-Girl: A 10 year old crime fighter with a penchant for brutal murder. The carnage continues with Kick-Ass 2, a cinematic sequel adapting the second comic series. Artist and creator John Romita Jr. took some time to sit down and discuss the movie, the comic, and what excites him about the industry he has helped define.
Anghus Houvouras:You’ve been working in comics for a long time. What do you like most about the state of the industry?
John Romita Jr.: The fact that comics are being considered legitimate now. The fact that it’s a legitimate form of entertainment as opposed to the ‘fringey view’ it was years ago. Now that technology is allowing everybody to consider the wildest of special effects. For so long everything was out of the realm of possibility. But once the technology caught up, and there’s no limits to the special effects, all these (comic) stories can be told. I’m really happy with the way things have changed and the way they can now make these comic stories real.
AH: It does seem like we’re living in a time where anything is possible. That comic book movies are so prevalent that a movie like Kick-Ass can exist.
JRJR: Kick-Ass is a parody or a farce. A deconstruction of those stories. And that’s how people should look at it.
AH: How do you feel about the changes between the source material and the film?
JRJR: The greatest novels of all time have looked different on film. The director is not exactly going to take a piece of literature and lock step turn it into a film. I have no problem with the changes. Jeff Wadlow is a brilliant director and I love his sense of storytelling and his sense of visuals. I’m not going to begrudge him his changes for the sake of cinema. Who am I to say that he can’t? Fortunately they had good source material to decide what they wanted to use. I loved the screenplay. I think he did a great job with the film.
AH: There’s been a lot of talk about violence this week. Do you think people dwell too much on that or miss the point?
JRJR: You have to respect people’s opinions. I remember people complaining about Tarantino movies, about Peckinpah movies. I try to be open minded about this. What’s interesting is the amount of negative to positive generally reflects the going rate for most of my work. Not that it doesn’t happen with Marvel or anyone else who makes films. There’s as many people who dislike as like, and they make noise. The squeaky wheel gets the attention. If you don’t expect negatives on your work, then you really are living in la-la land, and follow the yellow brick road, because it’s the only way you’re going to get back to Oz. It’s not going to happen. So I accept it. So unless someone says “I hate this piece of work because Romita is a slime ball.”, other than that you’re free to voice your opinion. I honestly expect negatives. Certain people didn’t like the first one, certain critics hated it. And certain people liked it. I honestly can’t control it. I’ve seen the reviews and its on par with the first film. I personally enjoyed the second film very much. It was different. The first time was like dream land for me. I had nothing to bounce it off of. I had higher expectations on the second one and I still enjoyed it immensely. I have no problem with people concentrating on the violence. The product had violence going in. Everybody knew it going in. If they knew it going in and they’re complaining about it… Okay, then you have the choice of not seeing. I watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night with my wife, and there were a couple of scenes that had me flinching… on network television. It’s all a matter of perspective.
AH: It seems odd that people complain about Kick-Ass which has violence in the source material, but the go see Man of Steel where Metropolis is destroyed and a half million people are probably dead…
JRJR: Very good point. Like somebody that goes to see Titanic and they can’t believe how many people died in the movie. I think anybody can take any form of literature or work art and pick it apart.
AH: And they do. People have made entire careers out of it.
JRJR: Absolutely true.
AH: What was the best film you’ve seen recently?
JRJR: All I’ve seen this summer was Man of Steel and Kick-Ass 2. That should tell you how much I get out to the movies these days. I enjoyed Man of Steel visually. The story, I honestly wasn’t paying attention. I was looking at the pictures. It was like watching Avatar to me. I didn’t really have much care for the story, but I enjoyed it visually. I can do that with movies. It’s like listening to music. The words are almost unimportant to me, I love the melodies. It’s the same thing with movies. I like to watch visually and look at the special effects.
AH: What’s next up for you?
JRJR: Finishing up the third Kick-Ass series, about two thirds of the way through issue #4. I have Shmuggy and Bimbo, a creator owned property waiting for me. I honestly don’t know what’s next. Which is kind of exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.
AH: You’ve had a long career and done some iconic runs. Are there any characters you haven’t tackled that you’d like to work on?
JRJR: There’s a couple. Doctor Strange, Superman, Batman, Silver Surfer. And not just because of the characters themselves. It’s less about conquering all and more about finding a good story for something. The thought about touching every series or every character and every title in the industry isn’t as appealing to me as doing something fun.
Many thanks to John Romita Jr. for taking the time for this interview.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.