We at The Library of American Comics were saddened by the news of Mike Esposito’s passing on October 24th of this year, at the age of eighty-three. Mike was a mainstay of the comic book industry from the 1950s to the 1990s. During his career Mike produced material for companies including Fiction House, EC, National/DC (Metal Men, Wonder Woman, and a plethora of war stories), Standard (Joe Yank), Skywald, and Marvel (touching most of that company’s Silver Age characters under a handful of pseudonyms, with notable runs on several Spider-Man titles), retiring at the end of the 20th Century following several years of steady work for Archie Comics.
Of course, Mike was best known for inking the work of his lifelong friend, Ross Andru. In addition to producing thousands of pages of comic book art, the “Mikeross” team packaged comics and dabbled in publishing during both the 1950s and early 1970s.
I conducted a telephone interview with Mr. Esposito in 2009 as part of our research work for the upcoming Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth. I found him personable and opinionated, very open and knowledgeable; it was my distinct pleasure to have spoken with him. I’ve extracted the quotes I need from the interview for my Genius, Isolated text, but that leaves a significant amount of our discussion “on the cutting room floor.”
To pay our respects, The Library of American Comics will run the remainder of my interview with Mike Esposito in this space over three installments. We’ll run the text in Q&A format (unusual for us) to allow you to “hear” Mike in his own words.
We hope you’ll find what he has to say as entertaining and interesting as we did.
LOAC: Mr. Esposito? My name is Bruce Canwell, and mutual friends tell me you might be interested in talking a little bit about Alex with me.
ME: Well, I don’t have too much time I spent with Alex. I can only tell you what a great artist he was. Ross [Andru], my partner at the time, when we were young – Ross Andru loved Toth’s stuff, because Toth developed that decorative look, that two-dimensional look, which Ross didn’t understand when he was starting out.
Ross would overwork – when he saw the stuff up at Standard Comics, he realized the approach would be almost like props on a stage, the flat, decorative look. Two-dimensional – but it wasn’ttwo-dimensional, it was – the design was two-dimensional, but the way Toth did it, he brought depth to it.
When he did stuff for Dell Comics, it was unbelievable. Stuff like Zorro … I couldn’t believe his stuff. And I remember him when I was a young feller, up at DC. I was a young inker with Ross, working for Bob Kanigher, and Toth’s stuff was really unbelievable. Just unbelievable.
LOAC: Right, Alex did work with Kanigher.
ME: Oh, yeah. And he worked for Julius Schwartz …
LOAC: And before him, Shelley Mayer.
ME: And I think [Murray] Boltinoff, he did some work for. He was good. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much to do with one another, but artistically, what he did … as an artist myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate what he did. He was really, really way ahead of any of the other guys.
LOAC: Right. He was a major reason DC moderated their very quiet, Dan Barry “look” from that period …
ME: At DC, Toth did some great stuff. The Westerns – I loved the way he handled horses, and he was almost Caniff-like in his design. That’s before he got decorative. That’s when he was doing complete drawings.
LOAC: Sure – he was a big fan of both Caniff and Noel Sickles.
ME: Right, right! That’s where everybody stemmed from, that period. That’s why guys like Frank Miller became so famous, later, in that psychedelic look up at Marvel. Ross, myself, Johnny Romita – we came from the schools of Sickles and Caniff when they drew differently. Now let’s face it, Frank Miller is great, but it doesn’t have the warmth … it’s not warm. It doesn’t have the warmth of the ’40s and ’50s. But you can’t knock the guy – big movie director . . .
LOAC: Exactly right. He’s done pretty well for himself.
ME: I would say so. It’s just that, you develop a taste from over the years, back when you were young, and you can’t accept some of that psychedelic approach. Today, when I look at a comic book – I get ’em in the mail, I get ’em from Marvel and from DC, and when I see ’em, I say, “Gee, we didn’t think this way!” It’s so psychedelic — I use the word “psychedelic,” because … I don’t know if you know what I mean by “psychedelic” …
LOAC: Yeah, I think so – there’s such a sense of design in every page …
ME: Right, right, right! It’s hard to read! It’s got noise. I should use the word “noise” over “psychedelic” – it’s screaming, it’s not quiet. When you look at John Buscema when he did the ant and the giant-girl – I did a couple stories with him on that, The Avengers. It’s so beautifully delineated on the page. Now, it’s very graphically different. But hey – the whole world takes a different look!
More of my interview with Mike Esposito tomorrow.