Kick-Ass Interview: John Romita Jr. and the Redemptive Easter Mass

By  · Published on April 13th, 2010

John Romita Jr. has been working in the world of comics for over half his life, and almost all of that time has been spent with Marvel. He’s acted as co-creator on several stories and characters, but his main contribution has been as a very prolific artist (or penciller) on characters as wide-ranging as Spider-Man, Daredevil, the X-Men, the Punisher, and many, many more. In that time he’s also found the energy to work on a handful of projects outside the Marvel universe where and the writer share ownership of the title. One of those side projects is Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass.

FSR: You’ve been involved on the comic side of things for decades, but Kick-Ass is your first move into the film side of things. What is it about Kick-Ass that made you finally make the jump from comics to the movies?

John: As soon as I started working on it I wanted it to become a film because it was owned by Mark and myself, so on the economical side it’d be great. I also thought about the film because it was more real than any other comic book film before. Whereas Spider-Man comes from Stan Lee’s mind and its the real kid that becomes a superhero? This is a real kid that becomes a superhero, which is every kid that ever read a comic book which is perfect. And then all of the struggles with teenage angst and adolescence and all that adds into it, and on top of that there’s a little bit of action, lot a bit of action, and controversy. To me that’s the perfect story to become a film. We can add any amount of action and fantasy to it as long as it’s underneath that aegis that it’s not superhero fantasy. Any superhero fantasy de-legitimizes the whole reality of the story.

Speaking to that superhero fantasy, the film and its players seem to go out of their way to discuss the realism of the story in the sense that Dave is a normal teen who becomes a superhero as opposed to someone with special abilities. But after his first incident puts him in the hospital it’s discovered that he’s lost nerve endings thus diluting the pain he feels, and he’s given metal reinforcement to his bones thus making him ostensibly stronger and harder to hurt. Doesn’t that conflict with the whole idea of “normal?”

That’s a good question, however if you do reach a certain point where everybody agrees that’s out of whack… there are people that argue that the jetpack takes away from the reality, and yet there are jetpacks. I think the only thing you could argue possibly is that the jetpack flew too far, which is certainly splitting hairs. And I think it’s the same thing with what you just asked. Maybe if he had become extra strong from being beaten up, if he had gotten metal parts that made him indestructible… he makes the little comment about wolverine, “i look like wolverine!” If you go beyond that maybe, there’s a certain point where everybody agrees you’ve gone too far. It happens with free speech, you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but until that point you’re allowed to do this. Same thing with this. That’s a great question but I think we haven’t gotten past that. The interesting question is when we do the 2nd and 3rd arcs, Hit-girl is gonna have to reach a point of not being able to go any further and Mark and I already discussed that’s a great story point. When she runs into the wall so to speak.

Is that strictly just for the character’s sake, or because you run the risk of her becoming kind of fetishized as the character gets older?

Both, and that’s a perfect point. We’ve both discussed the fact that Chloe [Moretz] is getting older quickly. She’s a matured little lady. The character’s getting older, so she should run into another little girl so to speak, or little boy. That’s a great story point, and then at some point it gets to her being sixteen or seventeen and she’s no longer the novelty of being the little assassin so it all plays together. It’s a great point and you have to use it in the story because in reality it’s actually happening and in the story it’s a real point where she suddenly may not want to do this anymore. It happens to work that way and that’s the best part about being real. If you use fantasy too far it negates those little points so you caught that right away and it’s a great story maneuver point. I think that’s why reality works so well in this. you can ignore the reality if you’re doing a fantasy, but you can’t ignore it here.

Speaking of Chloe and Hit-Girl, the controversy over Hit-Girl obviously hasn’t come as a surprise to you guys. Was there any point where you thought maybe it needed to be toned down for the transition to film? Even if it was only because you feared no studio would want to touch the film?

The last point of no one wants to do it so be it is what Matthew [Vaughn] said. His words were to be exact “fuck em all, I’ll make this myself,” which shows the kind of strength of opinion about this in Matthew’s mind. Mark’s state of mind was “I wanna be this ballsy and let things fall where they may.” As soon as he injected the controversy, the provocation with the foul language and the little girl, a big alarm went off in my head. Number one was okay my son can’t watch me draw this, and second, people are gonna pick it up solely for the controversy, which means it’s gonna be a great avenue into a movie. I learned this in advertising in college… you come into a meeting with a bunch of people and spit on the table in front of them, they’ll kick you out but two weeks later they’ll remember you. That’s an extreme, but to this point the controversy gets people’s attention and if you have you have a quality story, you can go back to 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, there’s always a movie that stretches. What you have to do is come up with not just something that stretches but a quality story that gets people’s attention. And this has got so much in it, more than just a comic book that became a movie. And it doesn’t go as far as the comic, it’s not nearly as bloody as the comic. The words that Hit-girl speaks in the comic stay there in front of you, but until you get it on dvd where you can rewind it it goes by quick in the movie. You’ll flinch “holy shit that’s a little girl saying that word” but in the comic it’s right there in bold letters. You can look at it from all avenues. I thought immediately this was going to make a great project against all my sensibilities as a comic artist. But I only work mainstream, so this is a creator-owned project, and I said if this would ever become a film wouldn’t it be interesting to have a ten year-old girl cutting people up and cursing. And I had no idea it would become a film until three weeks later I heard Vaughn was interested.

Was any effort made to tone down Chloe’s language? And I had heard elsewhere that it was Chloe’s mother who offered onset for her to try some of the harsher stuff.

Mark as the writer was not interested in parsing words. He wanted to go as far as he could. If he could have gone further within the realm of his story and of our whole story I’m sure he would of. Maybe he’s holding back dialogue-wise because there’s still two arcs remaining. As far as it goes on-set, we spoke to Mrs. Moretz about this and she said the family had a long conversation. [Chloe’s] an actress, so they said “this is what you have to do and we’re gonna encapsulate this and this is where you go. You don’t go beyond it.” I would have had a difficult time as a father with a little girl. They handled it very well, and they’re getting a lot of crap for it too from friends and associates. My wife and Mrs. Moretz are supposed to attend a mass together, and there’s a little extra purpose to this in that she is facing people for the first time in this setting, Easter Sunday, with people who have made comments about what little Chloe has said. Now I don’t know how they said it. I’m sure they didn’t walk up and bang on the door and say “listen you’re a piece of shit for doing it,” but she’s a little bit concerned. So my wife said “don’t worry about it we’ll come with you.” My wife is, she’s Hulk Hogan in a female body my wife, she’s fearless. I understand what they’re going through with Chloe. They handled it very well, and I don’t know how I would have handled it with a little girl, it would have been tough. But because she is a legitimate actress they handled it very well and as long as she doesn’t turn into Joan Jett or Courtney Love I think they’re gonna be fine. She’s a sweet little lady.

You have a pretty steady schedule when it comes to your comic work, but seeing as this is your first time producing a film were you able to maintain a balance between the two?

It’s three things actually. I was doing the work on the comic book, my regular work on Spider-Man at the time, and then work in the film. The wall of villains, [Nicolas] Cage’s character has a shrine to his victims so I had to do about 60 illustrations of thugs and the animated sequence too. I wasn’t going to tell Vaughn “sorry I have a comic book deadline, I can’t work on your film.” So I accepted it. The thing that suffered most was the monthly Kick-Ass comic. It got slowed to a turtle’s pace because I had to work on other things. Marvel did not want me delaying Spider-Man monthly, shipping is a big time expense and the boss of Marvel is not going to accept it. It’s almost like I had to balance these two huge powers, unfortunately the Kick-Ass [comic] project had to hold and that’s why it was delayed nearly until the end of the film, because I couldn’t handle the amount of work. It was just too much. I took a lot of shit for it, “whats the matter you gettin old?” And yes, thats the truth, I’m getting old!

Jane Goldman has said that the project reached a point where the screenplay and the comic were being written in unison. How did that play into the developing story on both sides of the project?

There’s a time-line I’m not positive about. When they started working on this screenplay there was already a certain number of plots done. I hear they began the screenplay while I was in the middle of the first issue, but Mark had already plotted out four or five issues, and as we started working parallel there was a shift and there ended up being a nice boon to both stories. There’s some differences. And it happened by happenstance, but allowed them to parallel the stories and make them cleaner without them glomming on to each other. It worked out really well.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.