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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.

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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 …

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

Al Williamson, Master Artist

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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!

New York or Bust!

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The Library of American Comics is leavin’ Dogpatch and headin’ for Noo Yawk Comic Con, October 8-10 at the Javits Center. Come to IDW’s Booth 2115 and meet Creative Director Dean Mullaney, Associate Editor (and author of the forthcoming Alex Toth biography!) Bruce Canwell, plus assorted friends and sundry acquaintances. We look forward to talking to you about our favorite classic comic strips, and to show off our new releases. Get the exclusive first looks at Li’l Abner 2, Blondie, and the amazing Polly and Her Pals.

See you there!

Podcasts R Us

Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library is one of the most articulate and well-read interviewers around. This week on his 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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