John Romita Jr. Interview: How to Draw Beat Up Faces Like a Pro

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Last week I spoke with John Romita Jr on the phone about his involvement in the upcoming film Kick-Ass. The film, for those of you who don’t know is based on a comic book that was drawn and co-created by Romita Jr. (There’s even a making-of book from Titan.) The book was written by Mark Millar who Lev interviewed last week.

I talked with John about being a first time director/producer, what it means to work fast, and just what exactly is going on with the batons that Kick-Ass brandishes.

MIKE: The movie is getting a lot of news for being self financed. No studio execs giving notes, how involved have you been in that process?

JOHN: I did some artwork for it and I directed an animated sequence. So I believe I’m considered a producer and a partial or assistant director of some sort.

MIKE: You’re not sure? You got a director’s credit and you’re not sure?

JOHN: I’m not THE director, I’m A director. I’ve learned these little terms. I’m not THE producer, I’m A producer. We’re going to make you a producer, we’re going to make you a director but don’t get too full of yourself because you’re only ‘one of’. Nicholas Cage’s character is a vigilante and in a shrine to his victims he draws them and puts them up on a wall with a red X through them. So I did all the illustrations of his conquests. And then I had to work on the animated sequence which meant doing a lot of model sheets for a lot of the characters. It took about a year and a half of total work and I was happy to work on the film in that respect but boy, it was not a lot of fun to add to my normal work load.

MIKE: You’ve said that Kick-Ass is Mark Millar’s baby. How much freedom were you given to create the world that Dave Lizewski lives in? Did Mark give you any thumbnails or anything like that?

JOHN: No, no. It’s his baby but he left all the visuals up to me. I took the baby out of his hands. That’s one of the good things about working with Mark. He knows me and he knows he can pass on whatever he comes up with. And I’ll take it from there. I’m a good running back.

MIKE: I love the idea that the Kick-Ass costume is a wetsuit. I was always bothered by films like Spider-Man where a broke high school kid but together what is obviously an outfit worth several thousand dollars. Who came up with the wetsuit idea?

JOHN: As a matter of fact, Mark did not mention wetsuit. He said surfer’s suit. I think the impression given to me was to remember that these are amateur people. The idea was to create something that an average everyday person would make, not a superhero. These are just normal people that don’t know how to put a costume together.

MIKE: When can we expect new issues of Kick-Ass? At the end of issue number 8 it said ‘End of Book 1’.

JOHN: I believe sometime during the summer. I think if I can clone myself or get somebody else to help me I might be able to get some done this summer.

MIKE: Even with your Avengers duties upcoming?

JOHN: Sleeping’s overrated. Who cares. I’m gonna find a way. I gotta strike while the iron is hot.

MIKE: There were some big lags between issues of Kick-Ass. How important is it for a comic book artist to ‘work fast’?

JOHN: Very. My reputation in the eyes of the readers took a hit. I’m not ashamed of it. Unfortunately I was given all of the work to do on the movie while I was doing Kick-Ass and Spider-Man at the same time. I wasn’t going to tell Matthew Vaughn sorry I have to work on a comic book I’m not going to work on your film. The Kick-Ass work is what suffered. The guys at Marvel said listen, you’ve gotta do the Spider-Man book monthly. You’ve gotta keep up with it. The Kick-Ass work took a hit. It’s my fault. I’m not ashamed but I apologize to anybody and everybody.

The readers are unforgiving. They deserve it. They’re the ones who purchase everything they have every right to be that way.

MIKE: Well, we’re a tough crowd.

JOHN: Honestly, you gotta have a thick skin. I’m told not to read the online reviews. I can’t help it. I gotta pay attention to what’s written. And they’re cruel. They’re nasty. There’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s their dime. They have every right to say what they want.

MIKE: Kick-Ass has become notorious for some of it’s over the top violence. Has Millar ever written a death or decapitation that you didn’t think you could draw?

JOHN: No, no. It’s sick to tell you this but I have risen to every distorted occasion he’s asked for, and he hasn’t always asked for it.

MIKE: Well, I’m thinking of course, of the meat cleaver in issue seven or eight?

JOHN: Issue eight. All my idea. And it wasn’t because Mark couldn’t come up with ideas, it’s just some of them were repetitive and as the issues wound down he would just say, “and she dispatches him with some sick twisted idea that you can come up with.” He left it up to me to be different. After that first issue I should not be able to come up with new ways to slaughter people. Unfortunately, I actually found a way.

MIKE: This question is almost just for me but what are Kick-Ass’s batons made of? They seem to be just mop-handles with electrical tape wrapped around them.

JOHN: I used to have a roommate, a New York City cop. Rest in peace, dear friend of mine passed away. He brought home a couple of billy clubs from work. We used to call them Enforcers, you wrap in duct tape and put em in your car. You wrap em in duct tape so no other cop will see that it’s a billy club. It’s the first thing I thought of when I was making Kick-Ass.

MIKE: David spends most of issue number seven tied to a chair getting beat up. It made me think of Spider-Man vs Morlun and the 19-hour fight they had and the way Peter looked when it was over. Was that good practice for this scene?

JOHN: I know that I got repetitive with my bruised faces because the stuff that I did with Spider-Man I had done with the Punisher. And suddenly I have to come up with a different way for a face to look beaten. They end up looking the same, y’know a cheek gets swollen or an eyebrow gets swollen or an eye is swollen closed. That’s why I wrapped his face in the strapping that was holding him to the chair. I couldn’t come up with a new and inventive way to show a face twisted up.

MIKE: What’s harder to draw? Talking heads or fight scenes?

JOHN: Ooh, that’s a great question. It used to be everybody struggles with quiet scenes but then they struggle with it and eventually you get good at it. It’s the same thing with the female body. You never could draw it as a male. When you’re a kid you learn how to draw the male body first, the male figure. You have to struggle to draw the female figure and you eventually get very good at it because you had to struggle at it. That being said I would say the quiet scenes are more difficult because you have to make them interesting.

MIKE: One last question, what comics are you reading? Do you have time to read anything?

JOHN: I look at the pictures on everything. Honestly, I don’t have time to read as much as I have time to look at the competition. I legitimately don’t read anything except the books that I work on but I look at the artists and I want to see what my competition is.