From the Amazing Houston Comic Con this weekend, comes a rather uncomfortable report from the John Romita Jr/Mark Bagley "Architects Of Pop Culture" panel. These are two comic book creators most associated with Marvel Comics, though Bagley did a stint on Justice League Of America for DC and Romita is now drawing and sometimes writing the Superman monthly comic, though he confirmed at the panel that he is leaving for a yet-unclosed DC project, and he is still working on Schmuggy & Bimbo with Howard Chaykin.
The pair discussed the change of plot-script to full script, how they work with artists, how things have changed over the years, and what you have to do in order to keep long runs of corporate comics keeping going. Bleeding Cool has received full video of the event, filmed by one of the audience members.
We sought it out because a number of people reported the same sequence of events to us at the panel. Beginning the panel in high spirits, the two creators seemed competitive on stage, with plenty of crosstalking, but the problem really began when the two creators expressed differences on aspects of their comics work, Mark Bagley stating that he got into comics by winning a competition, and teasing Romita that he got in through his father. It appeared to be the usual banter, but then things changed.
Bagley had confessed that his daughter had made his granddaughter cry to get some photo reference for Ultimate Spider-Man. Romita called out his grandfather skills, but Bagley stated he hadn't known anything about it until after.
Romita later had to correct Bagley, when he referenced his character Carnage being "son of Spawn", rather "son of Venom" telling him "having a grandkid really messes you up". Bagley responded "having a wife really messes you up." It's not particularly clear whose wife Bagley is talking about but Romita suddenly pulled back, went silent and became restrained. When Bagley talked about the difficulty of being able to express Carnage's emotions with the costume designs, the following happened:
Romita snarks: "because Carnage needs so many emotionally important moments, the way he's sad."
Bagley: "My point is if you're going to do artwork you want to have something to focus on. You're a real pain in the ass, you know that?"
Romita: "Which is exactly why I'm here, you'd be boring if I wasn't a pain in the ass."
Bagley: "I'm so not. Your wife didn't think I was boring."
Romita. "Wow. She would beat the shit out of you. She's much bigger than you."
Bagley: "I've never met his wife, so…"
Romita: "That was very good, I'm impressed."
Bagley: "So was your wife."
Romita: "I'm thinking, I don't want to start picking on your wife, she's a sweetheart."
Bagley: "She is a sweetheart. And she has guns."
That was the end. Romita suddenly moved back to talking about the Hobgoblin design but he seems visibly pensive, he's no longer happy to be on stage.
There is one last interruption of Bagley when a question is asked of them both and Bagley starts to answer. Romita jumps in "You want me to talk first, so you can make fun of me? I'm thinking about something about your wife."
But Romita is angry. He is keeping it together for the panel. An attempt at humour it may have been, but it totally soured things. Romita was visibly angered by this comment and, if it wasn't for the restraints of the panel, it looked to members of the audience like it may well got a lot worse.
Bagley's subsequent attempt to walk things back by saying "I've never even met his wife, so I can't say" doesn't seem to mollify things. When Bagley interrupts Romita later, Romita responds "By the way, you're a pain in the ass." But the joking tone has gone. Romita stops even looking at Bagley for a while, save for short interjections, "He didn't mean what he said. He's going to be in trouble for it later. Don't start your car without thinking about it."
Later, when Bagley talks about how he sees Romita's work method, Romita interrupts "if I say something that's counter to what you say, are you going to get mad?"
Bagley: "I'm not going to get mad at all."
Romita: "Are you going to call me any names?"
Bagley: "I haven't called you one."
Mark seems amused that this situation is even happening. Romita… is not amused. A Rubicon has been crossed. The panel continued for another half hour, and it did recover especially during the Q&A, but the banter had gone. And as the panel finished, so had Romita.
Don't expect them together on a panel again any time soon.