How a Golden Age Comic Strip Helped Inspire the DEATH OF GWEN STACY

John Romita Sr. tells a tale of Milton Caniff…

The things you learn.

I was browsing through Jon B. Cooke’s new Comic Book Creator #21 for our regular EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT and came upon Jon’s interview with John Romita Sr., who just happens to be my all-time favorite Spider-Man artist.

Jon talked to John in 2014 for the short-lived ACE: All Comics Evaluated magazine and decided to run an extended version of that interview in the new CBC.

Anyway, two parts of the interview caught my eye. One, I’ll return to soon enough. But for this EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT – I decided to carve out Romita’s recollection of the decision to kill off Gwen Stacy – a version of the story I’ve never heard.

So, check it out – but before you do, take a gander at the issue’s cover…

… and table of contents:

Comic Book Creator #21 is out now. You can get it at your local comics shop or directly from publisher TwoMorrows. (Click here.)

Oh, and one last thing: This is but a fraction of the interview, so by all means pick up the issue for the rest of it — and the rest of the good stuff you see above.


John Romita: I have a long list of people who I think are great. All of my contemporaries, all the top guys, who are so great. I learn from everybody!

But I took most from Milton Caniff, and Caniff was in my mind almost all the time. It affected the way we plotted stories because, when I plotted a story with Stan, I constantly brought Caniff into the picture though Stan never knew it.

Jon B. Cooke: Can you give an example?

Romita: Sure. For instance, the death of Gwen Stacy. Stan and I didn’t plot that. I was working with a young guy, (writer) Gerry Conway. He was 21 years old and we were instructed to kill a character. Stan Lee had just gone to Europe for his first vacation in about 20 years and (editor-in-chief) Roy Thomas was in charge. He said that he and Stan were talking about that they were thinking of killing Aunt May.

When I got with Conway, I told him I don’t think we should. He said maybe Aunt May. So, I told Conway and Conway and I plotted as equals. He did not try to dominate me on plots. He actually gave me top billing and we’d actually plot it together. I was very influential in the plot by that time. I had been that way with Stan, but it was more pronounced with Gerry Conway.

And I said no, there’s no way we should kill Aunt May because all of Peter Parker’s apprehensions and fears would disappear, and the character wouldn’t even have to worry about his identity anymore. I said Aunt May was crucial even though I know everybody wrote in and said that old lady drove ’em nuts (including John Buscema, who used to say, “That ol’ lady is crazy to draw!”). But I loved that old lady.

The thing is, we needed to kill somebody important and that final decision was based on Caniff. When I must have been 13, Pat Ryan’s love died (in Terry and the Pirates).

Cooke: Raven?

Romita: Raven Sherman died. And now, I’m 13 years old and I felt it like a member of my family had passed away. I’m in the grocery store buying groceries the next day and I hear two grown-ups talking. One of them says, “Did you hear Raven Sherman died?” I jumped out of my shoes  because I thought this was kid stuff! I didn’t think adults cared about Raven Sherman! That never left my mind. So you kill somebody important or don’t kill them at all. If Aunt May had gone or Mary Jane had gone, most readers would’ve taken it easier because neither one of them was as important as Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s love! I said, “That’s the one you kill.”

Conway at the time agreed immediately. Since then his memory has gotten a little mushy and he thinks he thought of it.” (Laughter.) But I think I even told him that Raven Sherman was the reason for it.

Let me tell you, after 40 years, people are still asking every time they meet me. They ask, “Why did you kill Gwen Stacy?” And I tell ’em, “Because nobody would have cared if it was anybody else.” That’s right out of Caniff!

ASM #121. Conway script. Gil Kane pencils. Romita and Tony Mortellaro inks.

And you’ll see when Snake Tumbler dies and when two or three other characters die in Terry and the Pirates, it’s all calculated to shock you and make you believe this is real life, this is not a panacea of good times. This is life! He reminds you that life is fragile and life is tenuous. You don’t even have to analyze it.

All you have to do is feel it in your gut. This is important!

Comic Book Creator #21 is out now. You can get it at your local comics shop or directly from publisher TwoMorrows. (Click here.)


— The Timeless Brilliance of GERRY CONWAY’s SPIDER-MAN Launch. Click here.

— 13 COVERS: A JOHN ROMITA Birthday Celebration. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Great topic! I recall the prequel to the popular issue: it said to the sorts: “Someone close to Peter is going to die…not a dream!”personally, I was hoping it was Jonah!

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