Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part Two

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 …

LOAC: Sure.

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.

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part One

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.




The Return of the King of the Tunes

My first job was in radio broadcasting. I started as a copywriter at the top-rated album-rock station in my home state, 100,000-watt WIGY-FM. Today – last I heard, anyway – WIGY is an all-religious station, but back in the day we played (and sometimes helped make) Top 40 hits, mixed with album cuts and plenty of standards. Jack O’Brien, our program director, would sing along in the studio every time he played Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and never stumbled over a syllable, even when he was doing Phil Rizutto’s staccato play-by-play part. Believe it or not, our midday man was named Steve Rogers. Our morning drive jock, Bob Anderson, was a thorough-going professional and one of the funniest persons it has ever been my pleasure to know.

We did some fantastic promotions at WIGY. I caught for the station softball team and coached the basketball team (it was a great chance to do my Tommy Heinsohn impersonation, tossing my clipboard and jawing at the refs). We staged a “fantasy day parade” in the studio that sounded so realistic, police officials in the towns we had announced on our route were calling the station to ask if they should put officers at key intersections to handle traffic control. The jocks took over the station on July 4th, declaring their independence and playing whatever music they wanted to play. For years, I never watched the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati – I was living WKRP in Cincinnati.

Like everything else, radio has changed a lot since those days. I’ll get a small taste of how it’s changed starting at 3PM Friday, October 29, 2010, when I’m Scott Katz’s guest on his Internet radio show at www.ustownhall.com.

WIGY’s evening jock, wild-man Willie Mitchell, won’t be on hand to do two-man shtick with me, but Scott and I will be talking classic comics in general and The Library of American Comics in particular. The odds are mighty good we’ll discuss “coming soon” attractions such as Polly and Her Pals, popular favorites like Bloom County, eagerly-anticipated upcoming projects (including our Alex Toth biography, Genius Isolated), plus a sneak-peek at what to look for from LOAC as 2011 unfolds.

If you haven’t been to www.ustownhall.com, why not zip over and take a look? Extensive coverage of the New York Comic Con is available on-site, including a photo gallery containing a snapshot of Dean Mullaney and me manning the LOAC section of the IDW booth. And our resident expert on all things Dick Tracy, Max Allan Collins, has already appeared on Scott’s radio program; you’ll find a link to their interview, so be sure to listen to that informative and entertaining segment.

In my WIGY days, a lot of us talked about being, “The king of the tunes, the duke of the doo-wahs, the man with the stacks of hot wax.” Though I still have my FCC license, I won’t be playing any Warren Zevon or Rolling Stones, but I’m definitely looking forward to my return to radio!

I’m dialing in to talk with Scott Katz of www.ustownhall.com at 3PM on Friday, October 29th. Check the site to hear the show …

I Just Flew in From New York, and Boy…

…You know the rest. Rather than regale you with warmed-over Henny Youngman shtick (go ahead — Google him), here are my rapid-fire recollections of the whirlwind that was the New York Comic Con:

• Greatly enjoyed my first face-to-face meeting with fellow LOAC scribe Brian Walker and his father, the legendary Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey fame. Brian’s brand-new book on Doonesbury(done for another worthy publisher) looks mahvelous.

• Here’s the graphic IDW prepared so passing fans would recognize Dean: STANDEE1

Note his extra-curly hair and pupil-less eyes. I warned him not to eat that bagel leftover from Friday morning, but would he listen to me? Noooo-o-o-o …

• Guess which ultra-talented, ultra-cool, ultra-popular artist walked into the IDW booth on Sunday carrying a green satchel bearing the shamrocked logo of the winningest team in NBA history? Though we’d never previously met, that satchel prompted me to immediately approach him, introduce myself, and say, “Celtics, bay-bee!” To which he affirmed: “Celtics rule!”

• Memo to Lorraine Turner: no special apple juice in evidence all weekend long. Boo! Hiss! Boo!

• Very gratifying that Jim Steranko remembered we had once talked about the possibility of my working for him on his media magazine, Prevue. Some team-ups are meant to be: we combined efforts on 2008’s Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. Made my day when Jim grinned and said, “We finally gave Scorchy the treatment it deserves!”

• Biggest surprise: getting the opportunity to meet Nicky Brown, granddaughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (see our Monday, October 4th entry, “Two Birds, One Blog”). Nicky is, as the old saying goes, a real pistol, and I had such fun getting to know her. You can read more about her famous grandfather at: http://majormalcolmwheelernicholson.com/wordpress/.

• Biggest disappointment: I failed to meet up with pals-via-keyboard Jeff Vaughn and Joey Cavalieri. Sorry to have missed you, gents!

• Because so many industry giants are helping us with Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, the project grows bigger and grander every day. Once again, Jim Steranko has provided invaluable assistance; I also got to spend time with Irwin Hasen — who was among the first persons I interviewed for the project — and Joe Kubert, who spoke with me about Alex scarcely a week before the convention. With contributions from titans like this (and Ruben Procopio, and James Robinson, and so many others), Genius, Isolated is on track to be the most ambitious project ever published under The Library of American Comics banner.

• Cracked up to learn IDW Chief Executive Officer Ted Adams thinks my caricature on this site makes me look like Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy, Dr. Sivana. How can you say that, Ted (you big red cheese!) …

• What a deee-light to catch up with Dauntless Don McGregor on Saturday! They broke the mold when they made Don, and I was pleased to be able to tell him I’d recently finished re-reading his groundbreaking Black Panther issues, collected by editor Cory Sedlmeier in a lovely Marvel Masterworks edition. As a boy I read those stories when they were first published; if memory serves, both Dean and my by-lines appeared in the Jungle Action letters column during that run.

• Finally, I was happy to meet for the first time: Melissa Singer of Tor Books – Glenn Whitmore – Tim Ogline – Ryder Windham – Larry Shell – Ken Steacy (after a steady diet of Annie’s mutt Sandy, Dean was glad to hear about different puppies, Ken!) – Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco – and …

…And you! If you stopped by the Library of American Comics area and talked to us about our line of books in particular or the great comic strips of the past in general, it was a pleasure to speak with you. My voice is still raspy as a result, but it was well worth it!

Here’s hoping your NYCC was as good as mine —


It’s a Gorgeous Weekend


The weather couldn’t be better in New York City for this year’s Comicon—comfortable temperatures in the mid-70s outside, and all 70,000+ of us are having a grand time inside the Javits Center. Here’s the Library’s “Mutt and Jeff” (a.k.a. Dean and Bruce) at the IDW booth (#2115). We spent most of Friday talking classic strips and Alex Toth with fans, bloggers, reporters, librarians, retailers, and fellow professionals. “Talking Toth” is one of the big topics — we had a blast chatting with superscribe James Robinson and super-everything Jim Steranko about the upcoming GENIUS, ISOLATED: The Life and Art of Alex Toth tome we’re preparing. And, naturally, we’re looking forward to another two full days of the same. So don’t forget to come see us if you’re in the neighborhood.

NYCC is Upon Us!



Here’s but one example of the literally hundreds of pieces of Alex Toth original art that you’ll find in the upcoming GENIUS, ISOLATED: The Life and Art of Alex Toth. The bonanza ranges from complete stories to unpublished works to his justly-famous doodles. If you’re at NYCC this weekend, stop by the IDW Booth #2115 and talk to Bruce Canwell and me about the amazing treasures we’ve uncovered for what will be the ultimate Alex Toth collection.

Two Birds, One Blog

During the recent LOAC mini-summit in Boston’s Back Bay, Lorraine Turner suggested that a good topic for this space would be a discussion of the questions readers might ask about my job.

I admit, I’m still mulling over how to address that topic – writing is a solitary pursuit, after all. In addition, years ago a close friend said, “People don’t want to read about writers.” I recalled my high school freshman English class rebelling halfway through John Steinbeck’s autobiographicalTravels with Charley: hmmm-m-m – maybe my friend was on to something. I don’t entirely agree with him, but I’ve come to believe it takes a writer as dynamic and entertaining as, say, Harlan Ellison to successfully fracture my friend’s rule of thumb. I have enough ego to think I do a pretty decent job of putting words into print, but let’s be honest: an Ellison I ain’t.

Recently, however, I finished reading a slender volume worth recommending to you that will also allow me to reflect a bit about how I approach my text features for LOAC titles. Submitted for your approval: Our Hero – Superman on Earth, by Tom DeHaven.



Our Hero examines Superman’s history, his growth and evolution as a cultural icon, and his major appearances in media outside the comics (the movie serials and feature films, the live-action and animated TV series, the Broadway musical). It offers an insightful look at many of the key creators behind the Big Red S’s comics adventures – with emphasis, of course, on the amazing saga of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

I’m a long-time DeHaven reader – his novel Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies is an outstanding recreation of the Golden Age of Comic Strips and is also well worth reading – but my efforts for LOAC would put me on the side of Our Hero even if I had never previously read anything by this fine writer. The sheer volume of information DeHaven researched, read, distilled, and organized into a cohesive whole is staggering. I have a first-hand appreciation for this sort of thing, of course, and my reaction as I made my way through the book was consistently the same: “Wow!” DeHaven provides significant new information about pulp-era impresario Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, provided by the Major’s granddaughter, Nicky Brown – fascinating, not-to-be-missed stuff. And there are photos and illustrations sprinkled throughout the essay’s 206 pages.



The book is hardly all facts ‘n’ figures. Rather, it’s a fast-paced, engaging, thoughtful assessment of the Man of Tomorrow, sprinkled with personal reflections that are insightful or humorous, sometimes both at the same time. Here is DeHaven on the gestation of the Broadway play, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman:

The songwriting team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, who’d been successful with Bye Bye Birdie in 1960 and the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy in 1964, were looking for a next project when they asked magazine writers David Newman and Robert Benton … did they have any good ideas? It was Newman’s wife, Leslie, who suggested Superman after picking up a bunch of Action Comics from their kid’s bedroom floor. Newman and Benton thought it an inspired recommendation – this was, after all, the Pop Art era of Warhol lithographs and Lichtenstein paintings – and so did Strouse and Adams. Although usually it had taken the composers at least two years to write a score, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman was finished in just thirteen months.

After listening half a dozen times to the original cast recording, available again on CD, I think maybe they should’ve taken those extra eleven months …

• • • • •

Another reason Our Hero resonates with me? DeHaven does something I continually strive to do in my LOAC work: he has found the story that makes the information compelling, and he does his usual excellent job of telling that story. No matter how impressive the research and how revelatory the new information brought to light, when an essay is written in the manner of an eighth grade social studies paper, my interest quickly wanes and I start asking myself why I’m spending my all-too-precious reading time on a snoozefest when I could be reading one of the John D. MacDonald paperback originals beckoning me from my To Be Read shelves.

Fortunately, LOAC books don’t put me in that frame of mind: our writing staff consistently delivers the goods. Jeet Heer knows how to entertain readers while he makes us all smarter about Harold Gray, Orphan Annie, and the worlds in which they both inhabit; you’ll soon enjoy the distinctive Heer touch in our first Polly and Her Pals volume, as well. Meanwhile, over in Rip Kirby, a lifetime spent inside the comics industry allows Brian Walker to write about Alex Raymond and Der Ripper with great confidence, while his work in Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Seahelped that book earn its Eisner nomination.

And me? I do my thing, striving to make readers want to keep turning the pages. I don’t want a future high school freshman English class to rebel against one of my essays the way my English class rebelled against Travels with Charley…

Read more about Our Hero here. And about Derby Dugan here.


Al Williamson, Master Artist



Alex Deuben has written a loving tribute to Al Williamson at Comic Book Resources. Definitely worth checking out. Our first volume of Al’s amazing collaboration with Archie Goodwin on X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan is now on sale. This not-be-be-missed collection is the first comprehensive edition of the series, reproduced from Al’s personal syndicate proofs. Above is the cover for the second volume, which will be published next February.

Dean Mullaney Interviewed

Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library is one of the most articulate and well-read interviewers around. On his latest podcast, he turns his attention to The Library of American Comics. Check it out, as we discuss the whys and wherefores of our books, our general philosophy about archival work, and what new projects are on the horizon!

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