"I had nice meetings with Neil Gaiman, with Jonathan Ross, with Robert Kirkman, and some other guys. There's another project with Mark [Millar], but that's still a couple years down the road. I spoke to Joe Straczynski, Brian Vaughan…"
John Romita Jr. is quite the busy man – he's a brand-new free agent after having spent years under exclusive contracts with Marvel Comics; the second film adaptation of his co-creation "Kick-Ass" opened in theaters nationwide this past weekend; he's in the process of finishing the art for the final "Kick-Ass" comic series; and he's in talks with some of the comics industry's finest writers to collaborate on new original projects. We caught up with him to discuss all that's going on in his career, and ask some questions about his future plans and creative process.
MTV Geek: What were your thoughts upon seeing "Kick-Ass 2"?
John Romita Jr: I really enjoyed it! I was probably a little more amped for the first one, 'cause it was the first time seeing everything on the big screen, but I was really excited to see what they did this time around. I think Jeff Wadlow, the director, is amazing, and he did a really amazing job. He put a lot of his own spin on it, he didn't stay in lockstep, it was all in character. But at the same time, there was nothing outrageous… It had the spirit of our story, it was true to everything we came up with, I had no problem with it!
The other thing is, with the first one, they got ahead of the comic as they were making the movie, and they ended up happening at the same time. But with this one, they had more material to go from. They saw my pencils as I was doing them, and they could use the parts they liked. And they did a great job! I think people will like it.
Geek: Now that you've finished up your long-term Marvel exclusive contract, how are you choosing what you do next? Are you looking first and foremost at the collaborators, the publishing companies, the characters, the degree of creative freedom…?
JRJR: I don't really know yet. There's a lot to think about, and I haven't made any firm decisions, I'm just looking at all the options. Right now, I have a lawyer who's helping me with the offers and everything. I want to do some more creator-owned stuff, and I know I'd like to keep my hand in the work-for-hire field at the same time. I've been talking to a few creators that I'd love to work with, but at this point, it's still all speculation. There's some amazing people I've talked to, and I know I have ideas for at least four or five different creator-owned projects… Really, as soon as I finish up the "Kick-Ass" run, I'll need to get off my butt and decide. I just know I want to do some more creator-owned things and still keep some work-for-hire on the side.
Geek: So what would your dream projects be at this point? I know you mentioned Doctor Strange at your San Diego spotlight panel, but are there any other things you're itching to work on?
JRJR: Well, certainly doing more creator-owned stuff, working on my own things. With the creator-owned projects, it comes down to if the writers are interested in my pitches, and if I get along with them personally and professionally. And I'm really looking forward to creating things from the ground up, but I can't get out of work-for-hire completely. It's what I do, and I like the costumes and working on these things. So there's a few characters I feel I'd like to take a crack at – one is Doctor Strange, the others… Well, it doesn't matter, we'll figure all that out when we get there. But there's still plenty that gets me excited in superheroes.
Geek: I've seen it hinted that you're talking about doing new projects with Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross. Any clues about those projects, or any other things you might have in the back of your mind?
JRJR: Yeah, I had nice meetings with Neil Gaiman, with Jonathan Ross, with Robert Kirkman, and some other guys. There's another project with Mark [Millar], but that's still a couple years down the road. I spoke to Joe Straczynski, Brian Vaughan… There's always that conversation, 'we should do something together', and when we find an idea we both like, we'll do it. A few of them had projects in mind that they wanted to talk to me about…and that's when I said, 'would you mind listening to my pitch first?', so that's what we did. We threw ideas around. I gave them my pitches and talked about my ideas, and maybe they'd say yes and get excited, and maybe they'd think it wasn't so great and suggest some thing they had instead. But there should be some great things to come out of it. We're really just breaking ground, me and all these guys. There are projects we will do, we just don't know exactly what yet.
It's also down to what happens in what order, because the schedules need to line up. And it depends on what the project is, and how much space it needs…if they're six issues each, we can do three a year. I draw fast, but I can't do everything at once.
Geek: On the creator-owned topic, the last time we spoke, you told us a bit about "Shmuggy & Bimbo", your upcoming project with Howard Chaykin. How far along is that? And what's the format? Will it be a graphic novel, a mini-series, an ongoing series…?
JRJR: It's gonna be a mini-series. I haven't really started working on it much yet, but I believe I'll have it done sometime in 2014. And it's going to be great. Howard is just amazing, I think he's one of the best writers in the business, and he's really run with this. I went to Howard with a pitch, I gave him the idea, he liked it, and he's made it into an excellent, excellent story. I have the script he put together, and first issue is really…it's ballsy. It's based on these old guys that my parents knew, that my family knew, back in the 40s. They were rough characters. I was thinking about the stories they'd tell, and how if these characters were older people, this is what could happen to them.
There were a lot of these types of guys around in those days…they were colorful, funny, and a little chilling sometimes. Guys with names like Shmuggy, Bimbo, Boonie. Just the people around the neighborhood. And I had this story in my head, it was about these two guys, and then I had it coming to the present-day, showing where their lives went. When I brought Howard in, he had the idea of bringing it to the 70s instead of the present, to take advantage of that era. So it works really well. It's gritty, there's this organized crime stranglehold that was still in the city at that point. And it also allowed us to bring some real-life characters into the story. You'll see Giuliani, the PLO, Yasar Arafat…all sorts of things. It's really a reality based crime drama, with all these elements, and the real-life history is the backdrop of the story. And it's not gonna be inked like a normal comic. It won't be inks and colors, it's pencils and charcoals, shot right from the artwork.
Geek: How are you breaking down the work, since you had the concept but he's actually doing the writing…?
JRJR: Basically, I had a treatment I'd written up, I sent him my treatment and all my notes, and he took it and ground it up into a quality story. And that's perfect, because I honestly think Howard is one of the best writers out there.
I mean, people have asked if I want to branch out into writing, and really, I haven't even gotten to the point where I'm happy being an artist yet! I feel like I'm always improving, pushing myself a bit more, and I'm still not where I want to be with that, so I can't see myself taking on writing a comic myself. I like this way of doing things – I take ideas, I feed them to the writer, he runs with it, they throw their version of my idea back at me, and we see what comes of it.
Geek: That actually sounds like an interesting method – it's almost an inversion of the 'Marvel method'.
JRJR: That's a good point! It does kinda work like that. I have ideas, but I think getting a good writer is really important, if the stories are going to work. I can't see myself doing the stories justice w/ my dialoguing skills, which are nil. So I'd rather get someone to contribute what they do, and then we can get all these ideas out there.
That's how I'm hoping that a lot of these projects end up working. And if they all catch on, then that would be fantastic. I like the idea of coming up with ideas and then seeing what comes back. I enjoy it, and shows that writers and artists aren't averse to working in any way, so long as it makes for a good comic!
Geek: So before we finish, are there any more projects you have locked down that we can look forward to?
JRJR: Well, I have four more issues of Kick-Ass to go, and two are going to be double-sized, so it's actually like six issues of work. And that'll take me well into the fall. Then, I can move on to what happens net. I've just been talking to a lot of people, and figuring it out. Superman has been mentioned, Marvel has mentioned characters, premises have been discussed, there's a lot of things to consider, and I'm just trying to figure out what will work best. It's not like I'm holding out or playing games, it's not pretentious, it's just a matter of letting it play out properly, and seeing what happens. There have been times where things have lined up, and then opportunities arose that threw a monkeywrench in things, and I want to make sure that whatever I'm doing and whoever I'm working with, we're on the same page professionally.
We do have a new edition of 'The Gray Area' [Romita Jr.'s first creator-owned work] on the way, with new art, new writing, remastered. That's one thing I know is coming.
But mostly as I get closer to the end of Kick-Ass, and I realize that I'll need to line up some work-for-hire, that's where it will get serious, and start to feel real. I'm excited about it, because I know I want to work on my own ideas, and at the same time my guts will say 'let's do something w/ a costume on'. I can't walk away from superheroes, because that's so much of what I do. Really, there's a lot of opportunities open right now, and I'm really excited to see where things go. I'll finish up Kick-Ass, and then anything can happen!