SEQUENTIAL THOUGHTS: John Romita Jr. (Mania.com)

By:John Romita Jr.
Date: Monday, November 12, 2001

Welcome to the first in a series of exclusive columns written for CINESCAPE by some of the best and brightest in the comic book industry. SEQUENTIAL THOUGHTS gives these talented creators a chance to write about anything they wish and bring their thoughts directly to CINESCAPE readers.

In our first installment, SPIDER-MAN and INCREDIBLE HULK artist John Romita Jr. takes a look at the September 11 terrorist attacks from the unique perspective of a comic book creator...



Everything that can be said about September 11 has already been said. Every emotion has been expressed and everyone has expressed them. Politicians and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers have spoken with planned eloquence. Children have asked spontaneously sincere questions. My five year old son recently asked me, "Daddy, what happened to the twins?" So, it is only natural that the next reaction to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks should come from a comic book artist!

I am a cartoonist for Marvel Enterprises Inc., formerly known as Marvel Comics. I illustrate two of their titles, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK. I was asked to write this column on the reaction of the comics industry to the 9/11 attacks. Obviously I can't speak for all the people who work in the business; I can, though, express what the reaction was, and is, in the mind of one of its artists. There will be little or no political commentary from this one-time columnist as I dislike political correctness and its opposite extreme. Therefore the opinions expressed herein will be through the eyes of a fantasy illustrator and should be taken in that light. I suppose I have just covered my posterior in the event any subsequent ramblings are offensive.

Spider-Man looks in disbelief at what used to be the World Trade Center in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36

I am a human being, an American, a New Yorker and an artist. I take offense to the cowardly acts of 9/11 in all four instances. I have never felt such rage; I have never felt such sorrow. Those innocent people were people like me; they were people like my wife, son, parents, family and friends. So were the heroes that perished. Those heroes died for me and my family; they died defending all of us. There continue to be more heroes in harm's way every day. For months and maybe years to come, there could be people like my family and myself dying in defense of us all.

Rage and sorrow. Under different circumstances these emotions could create brilliant works of art. The greatest talents in history, in all forms of entertainment, have been haunted by rage and sorrow. In this case, however, I don't think any creative minds, be they artists or writers, can be inspired by recent events. Affected, yes, but inspired? No! I've heard rumors of artists having trouble working and meeting their deadlines since 9/11; this is understandable. Writers are known for their blocks, and artists as well. Something as horrible and as close to home as this would interrupt all the creative minds in any profession.

These horrors are on the minds of every American. I hope it's on the minds of all people. I know it's on my mind constantly. I've cried more since September 11 than I have in the 44 years prior. I've cried while I worked; I've cried while not working; I've cried too much. The first week of the horror, I worked with a pencil in one hand and a tissue in the other. I was creatively stifled. The work suffered, but I worked. Then a few things happened that snapped me back to semi-normalcy.

The mortgage statement arrived. I looked at it and laughed, laughed until I cried. Funny thing about mortgage statements they arrive under all circumstances. I think they'll outlast cockroaches. The statement arrived the same day as the President's speech to a joint session of Congress. The speech moved me. It came on the heels of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's speech reminding me to get back to my life. "Get back to work," he said. I listened.

Something else snapped me back to attention. I don't remember which day it arrived, but the script for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36 showed up at my door. It brought tears reading it and drawing it; it inspired me. I felt like the proverbial child with the monster in the closet, never wanting to open the door for fear of the unknown. I've never known such evil. That script, those speeches, that mortgage statement all made me realize that I better get back to business or else. So I worked. I worked on being an artist again.

Even Spider-Man can't stop the real life disaster at the World Trade Center in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36

As an artist I am supposed to draw inspiration from all things imaginable. Should this include recent events? Artists are known to pour out their emotions on canvas or paper in reaction to everything from broken hearts to broken bank accounts. Artists are known to take the ills of human existence and use them to produce amazing visuals. There's one small problem here, though. I may be an artists but I am specifically a cartoonist. I work for a company that publishes for an audience comprised mostly of young people. Should that audience be considered when the comics industry publishes material that confronts the events of 9/11? Do we report, react, opine or pontificate? Should the subject be approached at all? The people that read comics may not want topical reality mixed in with escapist entertainment. There are newspapers, radio and television to fill their information needs. So, the question remains: should we or shouldn't we?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, when the characters and their surroundings directly affected by the tragedies are used by the creative teams in a sensible and responsible manner. Young people might not need the information given to them by comic book creators, but there is nothing wrong with a creative slant to its presentation. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36, written by J. Michael Straczynski, is a perfect example. Spider-Man is a part of New York City and New York City is a part of Spider-Man. It's only natural that he should confront the tragedy.

The 'no' side to this question would obviously apply to characters and locales which are fictitious. I do, however, embrace any and all products which create charitable contributions, regardless of what, where or who the characters are. The World Trade Center Towers are....were... a part of New York City, not Metropolis or Gotham City. The majority of Marvel's characters are based in New York, and the Twin Towers were depicted numerous times in the past. Visual acknowledgement of the destruction should be considered. I know, from here on in, I will not avoid illustrating Ground Zero or whatever is erected on the site in the future. For those of us in comics as an industry to stick our collective heads in the sand, avoid the obvious and underestimate the intelligence of the readers would be a crime.

Comic book readers have been confronted with subjects such as Vietnam, alcoholism and drug addiction. They should expect this subject to be approached as well. I don't know if the comics industry should confront any and all topical subjects, but it would be irresponsible to avoid them. I don't know if all working people were stifled, creatively or in any way, by the September 11 attacks. If they were, all they have to do is check the mail box for the mortgage statement. Trust me, it's there!