We continue to honor the late Mike Esposito, who passed away at the end of October, by publishing the second excerpt from my 2009 interview with him. Mr. Esposito and I spoke in support of our upcoming release, Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, and we return to the interview at the beginning of a wide-ranging conversation about Alex:
ME: As far as Toth goes, he was good right to the end. I get the Alter Ego magazine – he did a lot of articles for Jim Amash.
LOAC: Yeah, he really kept his interest in the field down through the years … and he definitely wasn’t shy with his opinions!
ME: Yeah, but he had the right to ’em, he was a real veteran …
ME: But you’re right about that. And all his articles and notes, every little thing, he would letter it himself – he wouldn’t write it, he would print it. And he had a way of lettering … he would have been a great full-time letterer, he had that knack. When you see my lettering it’s so sloppy, when I write a note to somebody or something. But he had control right to the end of his life. I used to see those little articles of his in Alter Ego – amazing! I couldn’t help but admire him for it. But I didn’t know he died so young. I never knew he was that sick.
LOAC: Well, the medical problems began, and they mounted up. And maybe he wasn’t as quick to get help as he should have been. But years before that, his wife passed away before him and that affected him, as well.
ME: Sure. Did he have any children?
LOAC: Yes, he had four children, two girls, two boys.
ME: I didn’t know that.
LOAC: Actually, we’re working with the kids, we’re doing the book with their approval, and we’re working with them …
ME: What about talent-wise? Are they art-interested?
LOAC: None of them have followed in his footsteps, obviously, but some of them work in design and photography, and there are grandchildren …
ME: That’s what I meant. Sometimes it steers toward music, sometimes it steers toward acting, but it all comes from the creative spark that gets passed along.
LOAC: Let me ask you a quick question in another area. I saw some of the stuff that you and [lifelong artistic partner, penciler] Ross [Andru] had done at Standard, some pages from Joe Yank…
ME: Oh, yeah . . .
LOAC: It seemed to me that in some of that work, the two of you were going for a Toth-like look.
ME: Oh, definitely! Ross realized that he would overwork too much, and he tried to get a more visually-readable look to his stuff. Like the way Toth would do it, with the faces, the layouts, the backgrounds, and the figures in the foregrounds.
LOAC: One of the guys who inked a lot of Toth’s work, especially at Standard, was Mike Peppe. And Peppe was the art director there, too, right?
ME: Sure, sure. You know, he wanted to ink Ross. Ross had an argument with him. He said to Ross, “I want to do your inking,” and Ross said to Peppe, “No, Mike’s my partner for life.” We were kids, Ross and I, we grew up together, all the way through high school, the Music and Art High School. He said, “Partners for life.” Ross was young, and an up-and-comer, but he said, “No.” Peppe was actually shocked.
LOAC: Sure. In most businesses, there’s not a lot of that kind of loyalty.
ME: You’re right. But sometimes loyalty is because of your own insecurity.
LOAC: That’s true.
ME: Ross might have been more comfortable with me because he knew me from when we were kids – he trusted me.
LOAC: When you get a good working relationship together … if it’s not broke, why fix it?
ME: Especially if you’re paranoid. And we were! [National/DC editor Bob] Kanigher called us, “The Paranoid Twins!”
The conclusion of my interview with Mike Esposito will appear tomorrow.