Spidey’s greatest artist turns 91!
UPDATED 1/24/21: Jazzy John Romita turns 91! Perfect time to re-present this groovy piece from last year. It stands as well now as it did then. Dig it. — Dan
There have been few artists better paired with a character than John Romita Sr. was with Spider-Man.
Steve Ditko made Spidey hypnotic, Gil Kane made him cool, Todd McFarlane made him kinetic but Romita made him perfect.
The drama, the pathos, the dynamism and the beauty all make Romita stand out for me as the essential Spider-Man artist. And he was a killer cover designer to boot.
Today, Romita — who was born Jan. 24, 1930 — turns 90. He’s one of the last living links to the Silver Age, and of course, he defined Spidey in the Bronze Age.
For years now, we’ve celebrated Romita’s birthday with 13 COVERS dedicated to Peter Parker and the gang, even though the artist worked on plenty of other heroes and villains in his storied career. That’s because I love his Spider-Man that much.
Now, generally speaking, our 13 COVERS birthday features are typically pretty democratic: a representative selection in no particular order. But every once in a while, I like to shake things up and go out on a flimsy limb and rank the TOP 13 COVERS an artist did on a signature character.
Like the TOP 13 NEAL ADAMS BATMAN COVERS (click here) or the TOP 13 CARMINE INFANTINO FLASH COVERS (click here).
A couple things to get out of the way before we get started, though:
— Marvel Treasury Edition #1, the Spidey “Rockomic” album and the 1973 Ideal playset are my three favorite Spidey images ever — and ordinarily, they’d qualify for this round-up. But I’ve decided to challenge myself and leave them out because they are basically static images, gorgeous though they may be. Instead, I wanted to show off Romita’s dramatic chops.
— Spidey #142 is a personal favorite but according to the Grand Comics Database, it’s not clear whether Romita or Kane penciled it, so I’ve put it aside. That was a tough decision because Romita at least inked it. But I want to be consistent.
OK, so here we are.
Then dig THE TOP 13 JOHN ROMITA SPIDER-MAN COVERS — RANKED:
13. The Amazing Spider-Man #39. Romita’s first Amazing Spider-Man cover, from 1966. The artist himself has acknowledged that he was intimidated when he took over the reins from Steve Ditko and you can see in the linework a penciller who’s holding back a bit; Romita would become far more daring with his layouts in the years to come. That said, this is an iconic, historic cover and no selection would be complete without it.
12. The Amazing Spider-Man #75. The anguished hero is a comics-cover staple but you’d be hard-pressed to find an example more evocative than this one from 1969: It’s the very picture of quiet agony. And just look at the difference in Romita’s work across three years.
11. The Amazing Spider-Man #78. Usually, you see Spidey swinging and swooping, leaping or falling, but here we get blazing, close-quarters combat. And yet Petey is still his agile self — just check out how he avoids the Prowler’s shots in this 1969 brawl.
10. The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5. Romita embraces psychedelia and employs another cover stand-by — floating heads — in surrealistic fashion. How very 1968.
9. The Amazing Spider-Man #135. There are a lot of Spider-Man covers broken down in this style, with vignettes sandwiched between spider or web imagery. But this one from 1974 tops them all.
8. The Spectacular Spider-Man #2. If this 1968 gem is this low on the list, imagine what still lay ahead. The painted cover is sort of a re-do of Issue #39 but bolder and far more confident.
7. The Amazing Spider-Man #67. Another one from 1968 and another one that plays with surrealism. The image is at once breathtaking and terrifying, utilizing bizarre scaling and perspective. It also speaks to Mysterio’s powers of illusion without a single word necessary. Side note: I saw this issue on sale at my comics shop just last week at a great price and snapped it right up. Straight impulse buy. Can you blame me?
6. The Amazing Spider-Man #70. Here’s where it gets really hard. This (cover-dated) 1969 image is beautifully framed and choreographed. Those beautifully expressive color contrasts are likely the work of the great Marie Severin.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man #136. Here’s where it gets really, really hard. This 1974 cover is probably my favorite of the TOP 13 though I recognize there are several more that have greater historical heft. But just look at that layout with its oddly competing, yet dramatically compelling, perspectives. This is a brilliant payoff to Harry Osborn’s decline and fall — an image of palpable, personal rage, two friends now bound by relentless conflict.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man #121. Here’s where it gets really, really, really hard. One of the most famous covers ever, this 1973 classic is another that employs the floating-head technique — but in very high-stakes fashion.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man #122. Go ahead, make your arguments for #1. I’ll listen. And I’ll probably agree with you. But I still have two more ahead of it.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man #100. Best floating-heads cover ever. I could stare it this 1971 masterpiece for hours. The negative background brilliantly plays off Spidey’s primary-color jumpsuit, giving you an image that is surprisingly dramatic and threatening for what is essentially a tribute poster. One of Romita’s greatest strengths was his ability to step up to the challenge of creating covers for occasions that demanded something powerful and unforgettable.
1. The Amazing Spider-Man #50. My son Sam walked in as I was writing this and he asked me what #1 was. I told him I didn’t know, that I was making it up as I went along. He said that’s sometimes how you have to do things like this. I agreed but then he paused and said, “Wait, it’s gotta be Spider-Man #50. Has to be. It’s been homaged so many times, from covers to movies, you name it. It’s like the Batman cover with the Monk.” That’s good enough for me.
— JOHN ROMITA: How a Golden Age Comic Strip Helped Inspire the DEATH OF GWEN STACY. Click here.
— ROMITA, DITKO, KANE and MORE: The Greatest SPIDER-MAN Art Exhibit You’ll Ever See. Click here.
Cover images and credits from the smooth Grand Comics Database.
January 24, 2020
Happy 90th to Mr. Romita, a true legend. Here’s to his good health and many more birthdays to come.
My top three covers are all on your list; ASM 50, the greatest comic book cover ever, Spectacular 2, and ASM 39. Some other favourites are ASM 40, 52, 54, 64, 97, 121 and 136.
January 24, 2020
Happy birthday to Mr. Romita. ^-^
January 24, 2020
A very Happy Birthday to the supremely talented JRJ!!! I’m happy to say that back in the day I had every one of those issues above. So many good memories, except for the issues when someone died that was close to Spidey. But I wish I still had all of them.
January 25, 2020
Kids say the darnedest things. Bless ’em.
January 25, 2020
JR is as much Spider-Man as Ditko in my mind’s eye. He took Spidey to the next logical level. Issue #135 is also a favorite of mine. It’s the first or one of the earliest I ever discovered growing up. Can’t ever forget that cover.
January 25, 2020
62 with Medusa is my favorite
January 27, 2020
Great selections! I’ve always liked #60 with the Kingpin swinging Spider-Man and the black background. I think eight of yours would have made my list of the top 13.
January 27, 2020
Oh yeah duh! Happy Birthday, Mr. Romita. You are a living legend!
January 31, 2020
Yeah, 50 has widened the gap in the past decades. I like you love the treasury edition version! I think his debut cover is really strong, and that Mysterio cover on 7 is a stunner. Numbers 134, 135, 141 and other solid bronze age issues tug at my heartstrings as well. It would be tough for me to rank them – so many great choices!
February 28, 2020
It’s funny, but my Top 13 Romita Sr Spider-Man covers would probably only include 4 or 5 of those. But none of your Top 13 are less than excellent. The problem is that Romita did so much great work, but on the covers and inside the comics, that it’s almost impossible to come up with a definitive list!