Thursday, September 15, 2011
Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
“What did Ross Andru and Mike Esposito do to be remembered?” That was a question that was posed recently on a mailing list, albeit by a person who feels that Ross and Mike did nothing with their lives, weren’t that good as artists, were borderline hacks at best, and has been pushing a line stating that Mike Esposito was a habitual liar, all the time admitting that he never spoke to either man. I think my stance on the duo is very clear, and has been for a very long time, but, for the record, let’s look at what Ross and Mike did do, both as a duo and alone, and why they are still remembered, both as a duo and alone, to the point of being awarded an Eisner Hall Of Fame award.
I could continue on in the same vein, but I will say this – anyone who has to ask, belittle, or question Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s place in the history of comic books clearly does not know anything about the history of the industry, nor are they likely to. It matters not if you liked their art – taste is subjective - what matters is what they achieved, and the doors that they opened along the way for others to walk through – Jack Kirby and Joe Simon may never have gone into self-publishing if not for the example that Ross and Mike set. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito deserved to be remembered, both as a team and alone, for decades to come, and they will be remembered. On a personal note, I was proud, honoured and thrilled when Mike asked me to be his and Ross’s official biographer. I spent a number of years writing that book and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, as it is I’m in the process of revamping and revising the book with the view of publishing a second edition. Mike was a gentleman to the end and I’m a better person for having known him. On my wall is an original pencil sketch from Mike, dedicated to me, calling me his ‘Pal’. I have a lot of art, but that is one of my favourites.
First off, they were possibly the longest running art team ever. They did their first work together in the late 1940s and, off and on, worked together until their last job as a duo in the early 1990s. The only decade when they didn’t work together on a regular basis was in the 1980s, Mike was firmly entrenched at Marvel Comics and Ross was working at DC Comics, so the opportunities were limited, although they did oversee the reprinting of their earlier work, Get Lost, and recreated art and covers for that project. Together they worked on over seven hundred comic books, by my count, with over five hundred at DC alone. That includes 85 issues of Wonder Woman, 82 issues of Star Spangled War stories and many more. When they hit Marvel they were thrown together on Spider-Man, where they produced 27 issues. Those numbers don’t include issues that they worked on separately – that number comes close to 2,000 comic books. They worked together as a duo longer than Simon and Kirby managed to do, in fact they probably worked together longer than any other art team. So there’s that.
They were the first artists to break away from the major companies and self-publish, with Mr Mystery and Mr Universe in the very early 1950s. They tried again, in the mid 1950s, with the humour comic Get Lost (still a classic) and the romance titles, Heart And Soul, along with 3D Love and 3D Romance. An unstable industry and threats of legal action from Mad Magazine saw the later venture fail. They tried again, in the early 1970s, with their under-rated magazine, Up Your Nose. It lasted a mere two issues before being pulled, mainly due to accusations of drug references that just weren’t there. Each time they broke away they took a major risk, and, in relation to the first two times, had to return to the relative safety of DC Comics, on reduced page rates.
They were highly rated at DC Comics, becoming one of the regular art teams to continually work. They replaced H.G. Peters on Wonder Woman (almost bringing John Romita with them) and remained then regular art team for over ten years, a run that is still looked back upon with fondness. At DC they did westerns, war, superheroes and everything inbetween. They replaced Carmine Infantino on the Flash, drew Batman, Superman and helped in the creation of The Rose & The Thorn and a team called The Metal Men. You might have heard of the latter. At DC they were rated highly enough to remain in steady work for over twenty years – and that was during a time when artists were discarded on a regular basis.
Once Marvel Comics became popular in the early 1960s Stan Lee attempted to woo both Ross and Mike over. He succeeded in getting Mike, and assigned him as the regular inker on The Amazing Spider-Man, where he inked Stave Ditko’s replacement, John Romita. “He was my regular inker on the book,” said John Romita, “I figured that having a guy with his track record was a great boon to me. He wasn’t going to labor over it, he had a nice free style and I don’t think that our styles matched at first, but he made it work. I was very pleased with the stuff.” While at Marvel Mike was handed many assignments, from finishing Jack Kirby layouts for The Hulk, through to inking any number of artists, in fact Mike Esposito was the third regular artist to pencil The Hulk, after Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (Dick Ayers did one story between Ditko’s original Hulk run and his Tales To Astonish relaunch). Ross stayed at DC, occasionally straying over to Marvel, before he moved there in the early 1970s.
Before Ross moved to Marvel they attempted, once more, to launch their own book, the aforementioned Up Your Nose. They were also approached, and accepted, to be the art directors at Skywald when it started up. At Marvel Ross and Mike were reunited on Spider-Man, creating a look that polarised the comic book community, and still does. Professionals loved it. “Ross would take these wonderful vertigo shots,” said Gerry Conway. “He photographed every scene that showed Spider-Man web-slinging over some fantastic canyon in the city.” “He was also incredibly talented and one of the most underrated artists in this industry,” said Len Wein. “Ross had an amazing sense of design and story and he was a stickler for accuracy.” “I inked many of Ross Andru's pages myself,” remembered Jim Mooney, “and was impressed by the amount of research he did on the locales he depicted.” Frank Miller was moved to write a fan letter to Marvel at the time. “Not since Ditko has there been a conscientious a penciler on the strip, nor one as successful in capturing the mood and style that made the strip the most popular of them all. Comic book fans are rarely as appreciative of honest craftsmanship as of flashy techniques or special effects, so the care and skill Mr. Andru has brought to the strip have gone largely unnoticed.” “Ross Andru was superlative,” said Gil Kane. “Andru understood structure and design and composition better than most of the other artists I ever knew. He had to be one of the two or three best comics designers I ever saw in my life; maybe the best.” “Andru did a marvellous job on the title,” Mike Weirngo said shortly before his untimely passing. “He kept enough of the traditional look to make for a smooth transition-- but he also put his own distinctive stamp on the character that has made an impression on ME even all these years later. Todd McFarlane was always given huge credit for creating so many wildly impossible poses for SPIDER-MAN but managing to make them work. Ross Andru did the same thing when he worked on the book. He put the character in some really wild poses that no one had managed to do up to that point. And there was a dangerous quality to his drawing style.... his bad guys looked CRAZY and very intimidating. You could certainly believe that when one of them was out to do SPIDER-MAN in, he meant it.” “Good guys, artist, pencilling, inking and writing,” said Alex Toth. “I was their fan – Ross had a nice ‘bigness’ to his work! Mike’s inks pops – so dense.”
There were more accolades. Possibly the highest compliment that Ross was paid was to be selected as the artist to draw the first ever superhero cross over between Marvel and DC – the first Superman Meets Spider-Man treasury edition. Chosen over any number of artists, Ross was in his element, drawing a story that was epic, no matter how you looked at it. “I think the greatest thing Ross did was the treasury Spider-Man vs. Superman cross over,” remembered John Romita. “I have told many people at many conventions that I don’t know of anybody who could have done a better job on a huge project like that. It’s high profile, you’re out there exposed, and he did the best job I’ve ever seen on such a big project.” Neal Adams, who did some uncredited work on the book, later told me that he believed that, “As far as anybody is concerned that’s a terrifically professional job by Ross Andru.”