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Growing up with Spider-Man
RIP John Romita. 1930-2023. I can't imagine growing up without John Romita's Spider-Man. It meant so much to me. An absolute legend has left us.
Thinking back to when I first discovered American comics, there were three of us at Junior school who decided to adopt our own secret identities. We each made a costume to wear beneath our school uniforms. Unfortunately, lycra or spandex were not an option, and mine was made of rather itchy wool. It’s a wonder we didn’t all pass out in the blazing heat of summer, but I got my special moment as I was leaving school one afternoon. A girl in my class (who knew my secret) said to her mother who was waiting beside the school gates, ‘Look, Mum... look at this boy’s secret identity!’ and forced me to pull back my school shirt and tie to reveal a rather pathetic home-made attempt at a Spider-Man costume.
I never could find anything suitable for a mask. The closest I got, was one of those string net bags that you buy oranges in, but to be frank, it looked ridiculous, so I gave up on that.
This very same ‘costume’ had one more outing the night my father discovered a burglary was in progress on the other side of the street, and was on the phone to the police. It took me 3 minutes to get changed and run down the stairs to the front door, and 3 seconds for my father to yank me back in by the scruff of my neck to prevent any heroics!
I have another tale that relates to my Spidey costume fascination. You see, there was a great cut-away by Larry Lieber and Mike Esposito, in my favourite issue of Spider-Man showing the costume hanging in Peter Parker’s closet, and I always wished I had one to hang in mine.
When I decided to leave my staff job at Marvel UK in 1988 and go freelance, Robert Sutherland, the MD offered me free studio space in the basement as a sort of incentive to continue doing freelance for them, which was very much appreciated. A few months later, Marvel decided to relocate to another part of town, leaving me behind until I found another space of my own. Anyhow, they’d left a lot of old rubbish down there in their haste to vacate the premises, and one night I was packing up to go home after working late on a particularly urgent deadline. I was fumbling around looking for loose change for the underground journey home, and a coin fell out of my hand and rolled across the floor to rest behind a big old cardboard box in the corner of an abandoned office space. As I shifted all the rubbish to get to it, my heart began to race when I saw, in the dim light, a red webbed hand hanging over the edge of the box. I peered in and there was a complete (if a little ragged) Spider-Man costume. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
I knew that the publicist had invested in a new one for public appearances a few months back, because we used to share an office, but it hadn’t occurred to me that she’d just binned the old one. A bit of a wash and some needlework renovation and my childhood wish had finally come true!
When I mentioned this to John Tomlinson, who I’d worked with at both Marvel UK and 2000 AD, he said:
‘I never knew you rescued that old Spider-Man cozzy from the bin... Somewhere on VHS I still have its appearance on Data Run, a Saturday morning kids show (with Timmy Mallet) in which 'Spider-Man' visited the Marvel UK offices in Jadwin House. I was in it too as a student on work experience, as was (UK Spider-Man editor) Jez Meteyard and (artist) John Higgins, who pretended to draw Spidey. The costume was so knackered, they had to do it up with masking tape – Spidey backed out of the room at the end to avoid showing it!’
I’m pretty sure that reading about Peter Parker’s exploits as a photojournalist spurred me on to be a photographer with a press card myself, coupled with my first viewing of the Antonioni film, Blow-Up which was also a major influence, and one of my all-time favorite films.
As much as I was into Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man initially, I grew to really love the way John Romita drew the strip. As I went from junior to senior high school, the stories about Peter Parker’s college and personal life became far more interesting to me than the battle scenes. Stan Lee’s witty, snappy dialog worked so well with Romita’s hip, and groovy looking characters, and that panel of the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson has most definitely become THE most iconic comic book panel of all time IMHO. In fact, I created my own photographic homage to that panel which I will share at some point.
There's no mistaking a Stan Lee script! The Amazing Spider-Man #55 - Doc Ock Wins! (1967) Script: Stan Lee. Pencils: John Romita Sr. Inks: Mike Esposito Letters: Sam Rosen.
Another of my 'rescued from the rubbish pile' items from Marvel UK. It's a shame it's so stained, but maybe that's why it was discarded. I had this bromide print on my office wall for a long time, slightly out of view in this photo below, by Marvel’s managing editor, Jenny O'Connor. I think I must have worn the shades as a joke, it was never that bright in the office, plus the fact that I always wore a Walkman probably explains why I now have extremely annoying tinnitus!
Another vintage production stat from my collection: Amazing Spider-Man #54 - November, 1967 'The Tentacles and the Trap' Script: Stan Lee. Art: John Romita Sr. Inks: Mike Esposito. Letters: Sam Rosen.
I’m thinking back to when I was kid, sitting on the pavement outside my Uncle Bill’s house on a sunny day in Edmonton, London. I was reading the Terrible Tinkerer story in Amazing Spider-Man annual #2 that he’d just bought me from a local newsagent called Sands. I’d never have thought that one day I’d have my own name on a Spider-Man comic, so when I did, I made sure to send him a copy and thank him for the inspiration he gave me all those years ago.
In my opinion, apart from John Romita Jr., nobody else has surpassed Steve Ditko or John Romita Sr. when it comes to Spider-Man, but maybe that's because I grew up enjoying their interpretations of the character.
All artwork © Marvel Comics
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