This was a doozy of a week. Let’s get to ten things of note from the week that was in this edition of Comics Disassembled, and it’s led by the passing of a legend.
1. The Amazing John Romita, Sr.
Earlier this week, artist John Romita, Jr. revealed that his father – the iconic Amazing Spider-Man artist and former Marvel art director John Romita, Sr. – had passed away at the age of 93. What followed was an outpouring of support and love and admiration that was almost beyond compare, as it was clear that Romita wasn’t just a great artist, but a man many people loved for who he is.
Given that Romita is one of the most beloved Spider-Man artists ever, as well as the co-creator of A-list Marvel characters like Mary Jane Watson, Wolverine, The Punisher, Luke Cage, and more, that’s really saying something. Romita’s someone whose career accolades are long and impact was even greater, having worked in comics for a long time before diving headfirst into Marvel. He was the art director of the publisher for nearly 25 years, and in that time, he was arguably the defining voice of the publisher, helping dictate precisely how characters and the world should look. As Sean T. Collins noted on Twitter, there were many who (rightfully) considered Romita as important to Marvel as Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko.
But more than that, he just seemed like a remarkable man. Whether it’s in a story like former Marvel editor Nate Cosby’s tale about how Eminem wanted Romita to sign comics for him or Jimmy Palmiotti’s thread about his early days at Marvel with Romita and his eventual experience inking the legend for a piece in the Marvel Knights era of Daredevil, you just get the sense that he was a generous, kind, and remarkably down-to-earth guy. It was lovely reading stories about him, and to see just how meaningful he was to the people he touched, either directly or through his work. Romita was a tremendous talent and an incredible person, it seems, and he will be missed.
One last anecdote about him before we go. One of my favorite random things from Marvel’s history was that there was an art internship program in the 1980s and 1990s, one overseen by Romita that helped make corrections to Marvel’s comics when characters were off model or any number of other errant art details. This group earned its name when Spider-Man editor Jim Owsley (or Christopher Priest, as you likely know him as now) sent a note to Romita and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter about some corrections for a Spider-Man annual, in which he called the members of Romita’s team a “crack suicide squad.” James Fry, then one of the art correction team, apparently made a sign which gave this group its name: “Don’t call us a suicide squad! We are ROMITA’s RAIDERS!” That became their name going forward, both internally and externally. That’s not something that happens unless you’re both a legend and a great guy.
2. Ian McGinty and the #ComicsBrokeMe Hashtag
Tragically, it wasn’t just Romita the comics world lost this week, as cartoonist Ian McGinty passed away at the age of 38 this past weekend. I’m not familiar with the artist or his work on projects like Adventure Time or his own creation Welcome to Showside, but he seemed as if he was an incredibly talented and passionate creator, someone who truly loved the medium of comics and what it gave him as a storyteller. More than that, he was someone who was beloved by his family, friends, and peers. The outpouring of support emphasized that. It was clear he was a bright light in many people’s lives. And to pass away at such a young age makes it all the more tragic. My heart goes out to his family and friends during this difficult time.
The acute pain everyone was feeling and the understanding of McGinty’s underpaid, overworked nature due to how comics and its industry works led to even more heartbreak, as it inspired a hashtag – #ComicsBroke – on Twitter. This hashtag featured comic creators of all varieties sharing their stories of the long hours, astonishingly low rates, and physical and mental harm the work has caused them over the years. It dominated the social media platform for several days, acting as a reflection of the pent up frustration and emotions connected to how this industry can chew people up and spit them out. Bad actors were named – BOOM! was cited for its low rates, Aftershock for a bevy of things but most notably hoarding option money, and a bevy of others – and stories were told. They’re well worth reading, both on the hashtag itself and in coverage like what Heidi MacDonald at The Beat did.
I cannot stress to you this enough, though: that hashtag is genuinely heartbreaking. I like to think I have a better idea as to what’s going on with creators and that world than others because the work I do. But reading stories about how people had to stay up multiple days to hit deadlines so they could earn a paltry sum per page…it’s impossible to not come out of that read angry and upset about how things are. It also led to a lot of conflict, and messaging that ran in opposition of the center of the topic because some wanted to talk the realities of the situation. Which, I absolutely get. This is a complicated subject in a lot of ways, one involving the difficult economics of the medium and industry. But the core of this issue is this: comic creators are too often treated like an unlimited, renewable, fungible resource more than people by parts of the industry, and that needs to stop.
If you don’t have the money to pay people living wages to make your comics, or you can’t get by without playing the people who bring your projects to life, you shouldn’t be in business making comics. More than that, don’t force creators into work situations that generate or exacerbate health conditions because your poor planning and management created crunch. People are not disposable, and they’re not beyond breaking. The #ComicsBrokeMe hashtag is proof of that. This kind of burn out isn’t created in isolation. It’s created by an industry that takes advantage – and has taken advantage of, as Marvel’s settlement with previous four creators and their estates proved last week – of the people who make comics. Whatever else is going on, this should not be a thing, full stop.
To resolve these types of problems – and those larger economic ones I alluded to earlier, even – publishers and the industry as a whole needs to do better and be better. For all the complicating factors and the complexity that goes into the subject, that’s a simple truth, and one that has likely been true for a frighteningly long time.