How I discovered Spider-Man and John Romita all in the same week
It was the fall of 1973 when I first discovered Spider-Man.
I’d been reading Batman and Superman and many of the DC heroes for a couple of years. I’d also discovered and quickly grew to love DC’s line of war comics the year before, particularly G.I. Combat and Our Army at War, but that’s for another blog post.
For some reason, Spider-Man hadn’t quite come across my radar screen. That might seem strange to most people who can’t even remember a time when Spider-Man wasn’t in the movies, in cartoons or even in the Newspaper. But this was before most of that.
We had just moved to sunny Livermore California and the school I’d just started attending was right across a big field and practically in my backyard. On the edge of that field there was a tree. A great climbing tree, or at least it was to my 9-year-old mind.
So, one day a few weeks before my 10th Birthday, I was running around with my new pal Bob and as we strolled over to that tree, there were some boys climbing and hanging out in it. I can’t remember the other boy’s names, but one of them went on to become a best pal that year. His name was Mike, but what was most important, was what he held in his hands.
It was an action figure but not like any action figure I’d ever seen. Mike told me his name was “Spider-Man” and I asked to take a closer look. I think it may have been love at first sight, that red and blue outfit with the webbing, his red hairless head with those incredible big pointy eyes. His costume was made of cloth and he had bendable joints so you could pretty much pose him however you wanted. Eventually I had to hand him back, but I’d learned one thing. I didn’t know a single thing about this “Spider-Man” but I knew I wanted one!
I rushed home and told my Mom all about what I’d seen. I’m sure I went on and on about it. So much so there was probably no way she could forget about it. I can’t remember how long it was until my birthday now, but I’m sure it wasn’t long. To be honest, I had probably forgotten about the toy I’d seen by then. But my Mom sure hadn’t.
So my tenth came and here was a wrapped box about 10 inches long. Can you imagine what was in it? I quickly unwrapped it and to my excitement here he was! Spider-Man! He was just as awesome as I remembered and though I really didn’t know who he was yet, I knew he had to be someone cool. He was made by a wonderful company called Mego, a manufacturer that would have a big impact on me over the next few years. I guess at the time I thought he was probably just a toy, not realizing the world that was about to open up to me.
The most important part about my story happened about 6 days later. My Mom came to me and said “I’m sorry, I got you something else for your birthday and I completely forgot to give it to you!” From behind her back she produced a spanking new copy of Marvel Tales issue #50 Starring Spider-Man! “Featuring: The Menace of Mysterio” it boldly exclaimed on the cover.
Here he was in action, Spider-Man! I thanked my Mom (Thanks again Mom!) and quickly ran to my room, sat on my bed and pored over every single page and panel. It was written by a guy named Stan Lee (You might have heard of him before) and that was important, but the artist who drew it was what interested me the most. Johnny Romita was his name and wow could he draw! All the action was incredible! As the story began, Spidey was already trapped and shrunk to six inches by this green guy Mysterio. A gigantic Mysterio chases him all over an abandoned amusement park, poking and prodding and trying to smash him like, well, a spider. By the end of the story, he realizes he’s been tricked then catches and clobbers the bad guy. What I loved, besides the art, was how no matter what he wouldn’t give up. Thanks for that Stan!
John’s art was so dynamic I felt like I was right there. In many instances, it quite literally jumped right off the page in a new extremely exciting way, or at least new to me. His storytelling was as smooth as glass and he made meeting new characters I’d never seen before so easy, I’d clearly recognize them when we met again.
And meet these folks again I would. Characters in Peter Parker’s life like Aunt May, Anna Watson, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe and Randy Robertson, Betty Brandt, Ned Leeds, Captain Stacy and most importantly Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy. And not one of them knew he was Spider-Man. Ok, well one did, but I didn’t learn about that till later, in fact there were a great number of changes between that issue of Marvel Tales #50 and the current issues I was soon to find out. Not the least of which was the death of Gwen and the rise of Mary Jane Watson.
But I was completely blown away and by this point, well and truly hooked. I had to have more and I couldn’t wait. Within the hour, I was wheeling my bike toward the nearest 7-11. This was not the only place I bought comics back then, but it was one of the best. There on the spinning rack I found the latest copy of Marvel Team-up with Spider-man issue #22 as well as the prize of that trip, The Amazing Spider-Man #133.
This was the start of something that stuck with me for over 40 years and while I don’t have a complete collection of the initial run, I’m certainly within a few years of one. The good part is there are still John Romita issues I’ve yet to add to my collection so there’s fun ahead to be had! Also, Jazzy John Romita as Stan Lee used to call him, worked on other classic Marvel titles such as Captain America, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four.
Issues of Amazing Spider-Man such as those seen in the gallery below and John Romita’s other works can be picked up today in brand new collected Trade Paperbacks or as individual back issues. These can all be found at Duncanville Bookstore. We have a large selection of back issues in a wide range of grades, just come in or give us a call and tell us what you’re looking for. We’ll do our very best to take care of you and fulfill your needs. In fact, one of the more recent John Romita collections we have on hand is IDW’s Artist’s Edition showcasing John’s Amazing Spider-Man stories in high resolution scans printed directly from his original hand-drawn 10 x 15-inch art pages. It’s beautiful to behold and well worth checking out!
Here’s a comprehensive list of John Romita’s published comic book work and a link to his Wikipedia page to learn more