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Star 'Spider-Man' comic-book artist John Romita Jr. talks LI upbringing, career path

John Romita Jr., a prominent comic book artist,

John Romita Jr., a prominent comic book artist, awaits fans before a signing event on Thursday at Midtown Comics in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who famously lives in Forest Hills, Queens, visits Europe in "Spider-Man: Far from Home," opening Tuesday, July 2. And one of the character's star comic-book artists makes his own home in a friendly neighborhood here: John Romita Jr., raised in Bellerose and for years a resident of Port Jefferson.

A winner of the Eisner Award, the comics-industry Oscar, for his work on Marvel Comics' "The Amazing Spider-Man," the 62-year-old Romita Jr. has drawn celebrated runs of series including "Daredevil" and "Iron Man." For the Marvel imprint Icon, he co-created the comic "Kick-Ass," adapted into a pair of films. And now for rival DC Comics, he and writer Frank Miller have just released the first of the three-issue miniseries "Superman: Year One," re-imagining the Americana character's early career. 

Growing up in Bellerose, "It was about as quintessential or prototypical a Long Island upbringing as you can get," Romita Jr. reflects. He and his 3-years-older brother, Victor, played sports, built plastic models, raced slot cars — all the hallmarks of suburban '60s childhood. "I joke about the fact that geniuses generally are from troubled childhoods — that means I'll never be a genius!" he says, laughing. "I had a wonderful childhood. We were just so fortunate to be raised by these two wonderful people."

Those would be parents John Romita Sr., the acclaimed Spider-Man artist who succeeded character co-creator Steve Ditko during the 1960s Silver Age of Comics, and Virginia Romita, then Marvel's traffic manager in the production department. In their 80s, both still live in the Bellerose family home.

"We would drive out to visit relatives in Connecticut and the conversations would be about my father's job and working with Stan [Lee, Marvel's editor-in-chief and head writer at the time] and what a lunatic Stan was when it came to plotting. He would jump all over the office and describe things to my father," Romita Jr. remembers. On such road trips the family "would even come up with solutions to some storytelling blockage. It was just glorious and so much fun."

Born in Brooklyn, Romita Jr. spent his early years in Queens Village, where he attended the Saints Joachim and Anne School as a child. When his family moved to Long Island in 1965 — "which felt like moving from the projects to the countryside" — he transferred to the Floral Park-Bellerose elementary school. He went on to Floral Park Memorial High and graduated from Farmingdale State College in 1976 with an associate degree in advertising art and design.

His plan to obtain a bachelor of fine arts at SUNY's University at Buffalo got sidetracked "when I got a chance to do some work for Marvel as a freelancer — against the better wishes of my parents." Romita Sr., by then Marvel's art director, told his son's bosses to offer no special breaks or help, Romita Jr. recalls. "And nobody did anything extra in any way — in fact, [being his son] worked against me. I got treated pretty poorly by several people."

Not his editors, who were supportive, he quickly clarifies, but some of his peers, "There were just a lot of unpleasant people who were unhappy with me getting work. I joke to people that if I took a swing at everybody who deserved it because of the way they treated me, I'd still be in prison." His father advised him not to bam-sock-pow anyone in the kisser. "He said to me, 'Keep your hands in your pockets and your mouth shut and do your job.' "

He listened, and soon began working for the Marvel department that prepped existing material for reprinting in the UK, where that country’s different comics format often required art touch-ups and the occasional filler art or cover. Romita Jr. made his story debut penciling a six-page backup in the stateside "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #11 (1977) — turning in what he says now was "a really lousy job that was saved by Al Milgrom, the inker," the term for those artists who, in the assembly-line nature of comics, draw in ink over pencilers' work in order to complete the process and add their own complementary style.

Romita Jr. began drawing "Iron Man" in 1978, including the classic alcoholism story "Demon in a Bottle," and years later took over the penciling of Marvel's flagship title, "The Amazing Spider-Man."

"I was terrified," he recalls. "The opportunity was big and wonderful and I don't know how many times I sweated over feeling I wasn't going to be up to snuff. But my father was very supportive and said, 'I'm not going to offer any advice unless you come to me and ask me questions.' The intimidation and the fear — that was all self-imposed."

He says all this with a bada-bing verve, a sort of confident humility. And after going on to iconic runs on characters including the Hulk, the Black Panther, Daredevil, the Punisher and others, Romita Jr. — who has a grown son, Vinnie, with his wife Kathleen, and two grown stepsons, Tony and Joey, in California — has nothing to prove.

Even so, he says, "I heard just a short time ago from somebody who said, 'You wouldn't be in this business without your father.' At the time I was in my late 50s, and I looked at the person not in anger as much as incredulity — you can't really be saying this all these years later. And I managed not the get angry. It was amazing!” Just like Spider-Man.

'SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME':WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

In the aftermath of "Avengers: Endgame," all the disappeared people have been returned, but at a terrible cost. Now the world longs for another Tony Stark / Iron Man — and in "Spider-Man: Far from Home" could this be the mysterious Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom one character describes as looking "like Iron Man and Thor rolled into one?"

Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) doesn't know. On a European school trip with classmates including Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya) and Flash (Tony Revolori), all he does know is that he misses his metallic mentor, Stark -- and feels inadequate when SHIELD chief Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells the teen to step up, because the time/space-altering events of "Endgame" "tore a hole in our dimension" and let in both a catastrophic menace and the apparently heroic Mysterio, a.k.a. one Mr. Beck. "Beck is from Earth," Fury says. "Just not ours."

And with that the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces the comic books' "multiverse" of alternate realities, as seen in last year's animated "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." Beck tells Peter that four monstrous Elementals embodying fire, water, earthand air destroyed his world. Now they seem hellbent to do it here. With Fury needing replacements for his superpowered defense force the Avengers, Peter personally welcomes Beck into a new Avengers. Can he do that?

We'll see. In the comics, Quentin Beck / Mysterio is a villainous special-effects artist who creates hyper-realistic illusions, so who knows what's really happening. And with actor Numan Acar playing a character named Dimitri,/ could this be the slightly differently spelled Dmitri Smerdyakov, aka master of disguise the Chameleon?

However things turn out, "Far from Home" concludes what Marvel calls Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 23-film serialized story. But with a Black Widow prequel upcoming and several movies in development for release through 2022, it's all still far from over.

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