There may be no more iconic comic character than Superman. In many ways, he’s the mold all other heroes are built from. So, what’s it like to be the person behind an origin story of this titan of comic books? We asked famed artist John Romita Jr., who recently teamed with Frank Miller for the excellent Superman: Year One. Romita spoke on how he joined the project, creating the look, his favorite moments, and much more.
A new hardcover collection of Superman: Year One is out now.
AIPT: How were you brought on board for Superman: Year One? What sold you on the project?
John Romita Jr.: I sent a threatening letter to the DC guys and, being Sicilian, they took it upon themselves to let me do it. I’m joking, just to clarify. It was the chance to work with Frank (Miller). Either Frank made a comment, or I made a comment that I love working with Frank. It was a combination of things — Dan DiDio, Bob Harris, Frank, and I had a moment to talk, saying, “There’s something coming up in a year that we’d like to consider putting you guys together on — Superman. It was as simple as that, and then it blew into this, and I’m very happy, too.
AIPT: What’s your relationship with Superman? Can you remember the first time you drew him?
JRJ: The first time I saw a Superman comic was on the floor of a barber shop in Queens, New York, with no cover. Curt Swan’s image of Superman, on the floor, and I picked it up right after I had picked up a Metal Men comic from the table next to me. That was the first time I saw Superman and Metal Men. Since then, it’s kind of played itself out in a natural progression instead of me controlling it. I feel like I haven’t really controlled things, things have controlled me.
AIPT: Tell me about working with the wider art team. How do you all collaborate?
JRJ: I’ve worked with Danny (Miki) before and he’s a brilliant artist. I hadn’t worked with Alex (Sinclair) before, and I’m so glad I did because he was fantastic. I had the luck to have two other artists on this, not just that Frank is an artist first and then a writer, but there were three strong artists on the project and I’m very happy. I couldn’t be happier with Danny’s work. I saw day-to-day as he would struggle with the size — the literal size of the art — and then Alex with the intensity and complexity of what we gave him. I think everybody aged a couple of years working on this. I have more silver hairs than I used to.
AIPT: How do you bring your own style and details to this iconic character?
JRJ: It plays itself out, because I could not be consciously attempting to do anything different than what I can do. In other words, I have no choice, it just comes out. I call it “deadline style” — whatever comes out on time, I’m happy with. But any concerted effort to alter anything would be crazy. It’s a character that’s eighty years old, and that would be insane. I let it play itself out. Whatever happens, happens and I have not much of a choice in it, but if there’s a moment when I said, “I’m gonna infuse my imagery into this,” it may have been a couple of scenes — maybe the bully scenes, maybe the football scenes. There’s so much else that is established, and that we had to build from, that I didn’t have much control over it. It played itself out on it’s organic scale… I did not control as much of it as I would have a less-famous character. I wanted to give it its due reverence. Like I said, “deadline style” is what I call it.
AIPT: There is some difficult subject matter in this series, especially in the first issue. What is drawing those emotionally-charged moments like?
JRJ: Honestly, I don’t remember the overthought on it, but to me, one of the most important parts was a simple line from Frank about the destruction of Krypton “through the eyes of an infant.” And whether Frank wanted it to play out as we put it or not, I took it literally and tried to convey that destruction and horror, literally from the point of view of a baby. I thought that was — I can only imagine what a baby would react to if something like that were to happen, literally, in front of an infant. That’s what I tried to convey in that moment. That was important to me, because I thought that was different from previous versions. Slight things like that — Frank will put in an off-hand comment into a plot and I’ll play with it because of that. I got a chance to do that with the Navy scenes and the SEAL scenes and so on, and that’s the brilliance of Frank. Then, I got a chance to play with it and the editors allowed me to do that. That was vital and important and I loved every second of it, and I felt like I had a hand in this kitchen. I was one of the chefs and I’m very proud of that.
AIPT: What is the page/image in the story you’re most proud of so far?
JRJ: Oh, damn. That’s like saying, “Which one of your children do you love more?” Um, wanna know the truth? The last page. When I finished the book, I was so proud. That is the most cowardly answer I have ever given, but I gotta say, when I finished it, I reveled in the thought of having finished this project. If I had to pick one image, though, I’d say it was the double-side Mama Kraken shot.