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JOHN ROMITA JR.: Drawing Superman? Artist’s new gig surprises even himself

From the hand of John Romita Jr. (used by permission of DC Comics)
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IF YOU’RE one of the many comics fans who thought you’d never see John Romita Jr. draw the world’s most famous Kryptonian for DC Comics, you’re in good company. There’s another person who thought the same thing:

Romita himself.

In one of the bigger surprises to hit the industry in a while, DC Comics recently announced that Romita — one of the most popular and polarizing artists in comics —  would be teaming with DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns on “Superman,” starting with issue #32, which hits stands and tablets Wednesday.

“I never thought I would draw Superman,” said Romita, who of course for years has been known for his work at Marvel Comics and creator-owned projects (Kick-Ass). “At one point when I was younger, I thought [Superman] was the silliest character because [he] was perfect. What do you do with a perfect character? I honestly never imagined I would [draw] the character.

“So getting into this was exactly what I want — which was to try something I’ve never done before.”

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This all-star collaboration came about when Romita was trying to decide what to do with his professional future. He was considering getting into more creator-owned properties, but decided that the Man of Steel was a possibility after a conversation with DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio.

“If I was going to work at DC, I always thought I was going to be working on Batman,” Romita told The Post’s Comic Riffs. Batman “is visually an exciting character. But I was told by Dan DiDio that the character has [multiple] series going on, and that everyone wants to do Batman.”

So DiDio asked Romita whether there was anything else he might be interested in, and Romita told him about an idea for the Silver Surfer that he thought would be applicable to Superman. DiDio loved the premise, and Johns was brought aboard.

Romita admits to not being completely familiar with Johns’s body of work. “I did not read a lot of Geoff’s stuff until I knew I was going to get the chance to work with him,” Romita said. “I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m trying to be honest — I did not look at his stuff.

“I knew who he was. I knew about his stature in the industry, and when I was told he was able to work with me on Superman, that really connected all the dots for me. I wanted a chance to work with that kind of ability. I was so happy to find out that his name connected to his talent.”

Having got a few issues of Superman under his belt, and having seen the plot for the entire storyline, Romita is excited for fans to get a look at his work with Johns.

“It’s amazing, and if I can come up to about 75 to 80 percent of that quality [of the written story], this is going to be great,” Romita said.

Romita says younger fans – particularly those who might only know him from his art on “Kick-Ass” — could be surprised if they follow him to the pages of Superman.

“They might be disappointed there’s nobody’s head getting chopped off, no naked ladies and no foul words,” Romita said. “But then again, variety is the spice of life, so maybe they’ll come over [to Superman]. We’ll see if they are happy or sad about me doing mainstream work again.”

One might think that because of Romita’s exit from Marvel, maybe there’s something more to his taking on one of DC’s biggest properties. Romita says that’s far from the case.

“It was not a contentious separation from Marvel … ,” Romita tells Comic Riffs. “I wanted to try something different. I was thinking of going freelance to do more creator-owned properties. And when I got a chance to do this with Superman, I said the creator-owned properties will wait.

“It was really not to do anything malicious in any way. It was more or less, I’m trying something new that I’ve never done before, and that was ultimately what I wanted to do.”

There is one thing that always sparks debate when Romita is on a project: his art style. Few artists in the industry have such a distinguished and unapologetic style as Romita. While realizing his art differs from every other artist in the industry, he says he’s not going out of his way to be different from everyone else.

“I have deadline style. If it gets done on time, I’m happy with it,” Romita said. “I try to get the work done on time. I try not to look like myself, because I always want to be different than the stuff I’ve done before. I realize I have a unique style, and it’s not because I’m trying to be unique. It’s because I’m not capable of doing it any differently. This is the way it comes out.”

“I think storytelling makes the art look better,” Romita continued. “I call it sleight of hand. Pay attention to the storytelling. Don’t look at the artwork, because it might suck today. I think storytelling is my strong point more than the actual art itself. And maybe that makes my style recognizable, because I do certain panels a certain way. I don’t know that I have a style that I try to replicate every day. I try to do what I can the best I can, and come up with a different look. I’m trying to get it done on time.

As for this project specifically, Romita said: “I hope the quality lives up to the hype in people’s eyes.”

So what was it like when Romita drew the Last Son of Krypton for the first time?

“It was a strange feeling at first,” Romita said. “The first time I drew the cape, I said, ‘Wait a minute ,I’ve done capes before.’ There’s the grace of the character and the power of the character, and I’ve done that before. It was less traumatic than I expected in my mind after a while.

“At first, I was a little bit nervous. I’m taking all of this Marvel reference off of my desk and now I’m putting Superman reference on it. I eventually adapted to it.”

Romita said he is also convinced that the Internet noise of his arrival at DC Comics will subside. “I’m in the same business,” he said. “I didn’t change planets. I didn’t move to a foreign country. All I did was change a character, but it’s fun. And that’s due to Geoff Johns and the guys up at DC.”

You can follow Betancourt at Twitter: @ADCFanboy.