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Mike Esposito, 1927-2010
posted October 25, 2010
 

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Mike Esposito, a workhorse of the second half of the 20th Century in mainstream American comics, died Sunday morning according to reports emanating from his home community of Lake Grove, New York. He was 83 years old.

Esposito was born in New York City, and attended the High School of Music and Art. One of his classmates was the artist Ross Andru, with whom Esposito would partner to great commercial and artistic effect at various points in his comics career to come. Like many young artists he was enamored of Milton Caniff's work on Terry And The Pirates. Esposito and Andru dreamed of going to Disney and finding work as animators, but Esposito's father spoiled those plans. Esposito was eventually drafted and sent overseas.

Esposito pursued work in the vibrant post-War comic book field upon his release from the military in 1947. He attended Burne Hogarth's Cartoonists And Illustrators School, which had been set up in large part to facilitate the training of art-interested serviceman like Esposito. While there he re-established contact with star student Ross Andru. Esposito initially found work at publishers such as Standard, Key and Martin Goodman's publishing company (eventually Marvel), where he provided pencils and inks on a few comics stories.

He and Ross Andru co-founded a studio in the early 1950s and set about finding work that Andru could pencil and Esposito could ink. Their first major collaboration was apparently a story in Mister Universe #2, which came out in the second half of 1951. Mikeross Publications came about in 1953. They published 3-D comics (the trend of the moment), more traditional romance comics (with the great title Heart and Soul), and perhaps most famously the humor publication Get Lost. Esposito told an interviewer in 2008 that the pair was sued for Get Lost by EC for its similarities to MAD, that the suit was tossed out of court, and that the publication cost them any shot at future gigs with MAD. Mikeross published its last comic in 1954; the Esposito and Andru studio was a casualty of the late 1950s Comic-Code and distributor-collapse era.

imageBy this time, Andru and Esposito had started to steamroll into regular work at industry giant DC and reliable stalwart Marvel, more DC than Marvel as the decade wore on. At DC they worked on that company's array of war titles and enjoyed a significant run on the Wonder Woman character. Other titles that received the solid Andru/Esposito treatment in the Silver Age were Rip Hunter, Brave and the Bold, and the Metal Men feature in Showcase. Esposito described working on Andru's pencils in 2008. "Ross was a difficult guy to ink. First of all he'd dig into the paper so much that if you had a pen or a brush the grooves would stop your line. He was really hard to ink. But good. His stuff was so beautiful when you looked at it, you wanted to ink it. But when you tried to ink it, it's not easy." Esposito developed a style of inking that remained completely faithful to the effect of Andru's pencils despite the difficulties in routinely achieving that effect, and their work together remains among the best of the mainstream comic book Silver Age.

Esposito began to branch out in his inking duties in the 1960s, supporting the prolific Mike Sekowsky at DC on several comics and inking a number of books at a rising Marvel under various pseudonyms so as not to to tip his hand to his employers at DC: "Mickey Demeo" and "Mickey Dee," which I believe were holdovers from the 1950s, and "Joe Gaudioso," which I think was a new one. In his remembrance at News From Me, writer and comics historian Mark Evanier notes that Esposito enjoyed fruitful collaborations with Jack Kirby on Hulk and John Romita Sr. on Spider-Man.

imageAlthough they had largely gone their separate ways by the end of the 1960s, Andru and Esposito reunited for a few projects, two of which were notable. One was a run on Marvel's Spider-Man title that gave the character rock-solid craft appeal following the extended, initial 1960s/1970s run of Lee/Ditko/Conway/Kane/Romita and kept it near the top of the company's best-looking titles. The other was another effort reminiscent of MAD, only this time the super-successful magazine of the 1970s as opposed to the comic book from the 1950s. Taking their title from a semi-obscure Johnny Carson catchphrase, Up Your Nose And Out Your Ear was a kind of hyperactive cousin to MAD drenched in more overtly liberal political sensibilities. The Andru/Esposito comics in the publication certainly looked terrific; digital copies of a number of that publication's features can be found here. It never took off, although Esposito later claimed it did well with college students and even sold quite a few t-shirts to that crowd.

By the time Up Your Nose faded, Esposito had become one of those unsung industry figures that knew everybody, worked on any number of projects with any number of pencil artists, and then very likely unofficially worked on even more by pitching in a hand on this job or that job for a peer or a younger artist. His resume of titles worked on is one of the grander such lists in comics artist. Like his peer John Romita, Esposito was an important player in some of the less glamorous but crucially important projects in Marvel's expansive 1980s and 1990s, such as some of their commercially licensed comics.

Esposito was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall Of Fame in 2005. A book about his collaborations with Andru, Andru And Esposito: Partners For Life, was released by Hermes Press in 2006. An Andru/Esposito Wonder Woman drawing was part of a DC Comics related stamp series released that same year.

He is survived by his widow, Irene.

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