Michael Netzer designed this cover as an aid so that publishers would take the project seriously. Ultimately the cover was rejected by Mike Esposito himself due to the fact that the large Superman image wasn't an Andru & Esposito drawing; rather it's an Andru & Giordano. I knew who the artists were at the time, but felt that the image was striking and would draw attention to the book if it were on a bookstore shelf. I offered up several solutions, one being that Mike could ink the Superman figure himself, he began to do this but then stopped saying that he was still against the cover. The more I pointed out the covers positive aspects the more Mike argued against it. I pointed out that the forthcoming Superman Returns movie would provide a great cross promotion, but to no avail. Mike's wishes had to be respected and the cover was rejected.
Interestingly enough the 1st publisher for the book, TwoMorrows, stated that they loved the cover. I still prefer it over the final cover.
Why did Michael do it? There's a simple reason: he wanted to see the project succeed. Michael refused to take any form of payment for this cover design, showing once again why he's always one of my favourite people.
THE FIRST ADVERTISMENT
Once TwoMorrows had pulled out and Hermes Press had entered the scene an ad was prepared, using the Netzer designed cover as the alternate cover had yet to be designed and approved. This ad appeared in magazines such as Alter Ego and Diamond Dateline. Seeing the ad was a thrill for me and seeing it in those back issues still makes me smile.
THE SHORT HISTORY
I pitched the idea of a book about Ross Andru and Mike Esposito to Mike himself back in early 2004. Mike was enthusiastic about the idea so I went right ahead and began to write the book on spec (that is without a deal or publisher set). My general theory is that I'd rather have something concrete to show any potential publisher, also I didn't want to be tied down to having to write a book from scratch to a deadline as I'd never undertaken a project this large before. With all of that mind I waited until I'd prepared about 80% of the book before I began to approach publishers. The first publisher that I spoke to was TwoMorrows. John Morrow, the head of the company, wasn't entirely sold on the idea, but decided to take a punt on the project. I was given a deadline of June 2005 and off to work I went. John was specific with what he required - a cover with only characters from the one company (something about Marvel and DC not wanting to share) and loads of content. Although he expressed interest, he was clear that he felt that the book would have limited appeal. Ross Andru had passed away over ten years previously, and Mike had made it clear that he wouldn't be appearing at conventions to promote the book.
By late March, 2005, I'd finished the text, had gotten it edited and was ready to send it to John Morrow when he emailed me and said that he was pulling out due to concerns about sales - he mentioned that at least one other similar book he had published about an older artist had pretty much failed and that he'd lost money. My heart sank and I expressed my disappointment however I could fully understand his stance - a publisher has to be ruthless and exists to make money, not to publish vanity projects. Thus if there's any sembelance of risk attached and the possibility of a loss arises then naturally they have to withdraw. I passed the news onto Mike and he was also disappointed, but realistic. Another publisher would have to be sought, but this time I had a complete book.
I then approached more publishers. Out of the five that I approached I personally spoke with Greg Theakston (Pure Imagination) and then Daniel Herman (Hermes Press). Theakston was interested but was more interested in seeing if there were full comic book stories to be included, something that he does very well. Herman phoned me several times, including calling me while we were halfway between Adelaide in Melbourne in a hotel room where he began to map the project out for me. Ultimately Herman seemed the most keen on the project, he had some good ideas and promised both myself and Mike full involvement and agreed to all our terms so both Mike and myself decided to go with him. Stupidly I never pressed him for a written contract until it was too late, but the pressure was on to get the book out into the marketplace as fast as possible, plus he insisted that he'd "look after me" and that I would have complete control over the book from submission through to publication. He insisted that his word was his bond. As Bob Segar once sang, 'I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then' because his words would return to haunt me.
Along the way I managed to buy a fair share of Andru & Esposito art. A lot of it was previously unpublished, such as the Count Varicose character sketch by Ross, Garlic Man and It's A Man's World syndicate strips and much more. Sadly not a lot of this art appeared in the book itself, but that was more to do with familiarity and space constraints.
I was sent two art scans of Ross Andru penciled Spider-Man pages, which were previously unseen at the time. As virtually no penciled pages exist by Ross, this was a boon. You can see one to the right.
Another piece of art that I bought when offered was the only exisiting Spider-Man pencil sketch by Ross in existence. At one point I toyed with the idea of getting it inked by a number of artists. I approached, and got commissions by, Norm Breyfogle, Al Bigley, Joe Rubenstein, Bob McLeod, Mike Netzer, Don Perlin, Mark McKenna and others, but this idea was also scrapped. I then had the idea of getting Mike to ink it and using the results as a signed print for the hadback copies of the book. This was agreed to, Mike was paid in full and he inked two scans of the original art. I have both the pencil sketch shown here and the Esposito inked version, both of which you can see in their unaltered form for the first time.
The idea of Mike and Ross working together, even by distance, in 2005 was irresistible.
During their careers Andru & Esposito attempted to launch syndicated (newspaper) strips. Back in the 1950s and 1960s this was the pinnacle for a cartoonist, the prestige, secure employment and money would flow if a strip became popular. As both men trained under the guise of Burne Hogarth, the idea of a successful strip would have been formed. Sadly the pair was unable to launch a strip despite many attempts. Collecting the syndicate art became a challenge for me as I wanted to get a representitive strip from each and every time they tried to crack that market. I believe I succeeded, yet there still remains a lot more out there.
Also shown here are examples of Garlic Man, a strip that Andru & Esposito prepared, drew but never sold. Nearly 20 of these strips exist. Some of the strips weren't inked and only exist in Ross's original pencil form. The pair would revisit the character for their 1971 magazine, Up Your Nose, where the strip was revisted, redrawn and formatted to fit into a book/magazine format.
Mike recalls, "We wanted to make a TV show out of it. We wanted Buddy Hackett to play Garlic Man. It would have been great typecasting, but at that time you couldn't show anything like that. The whole idea of it was he was like Plastic Man. He was sensitive to garlic and he wore these garlic pellets on his belt and any time he'd get into trouble he'd explode one. If he wanted his arm to get long, it'd get long. And his feet would get long so he could jump and he was like Plastic Man. It was a bit ahead of its time for TV, but years later they had something like that, but when we went to CBS and NBC they said, "How can you do it? We can't do this", and "Buddy Hackett? You can't get Buddy Hackett". I damn well would have gotten Buddy Hackett, I know I would have because he looked like Garlic Man. But, of course, he's dead now so we can't use him anymore."
IT'S A MAN'S WORLD
The strip shown here is the duo's 1950's syndicate strip, It's A Man's World. This also wasn't sold. Eventually these strips should be collected in the one volume - if anyone's interested then contact me, I have the original art.
Another strip was also prepared during this time, the late 1950s. Frustratingly it appears that no copies exist, at least I couldn't track copies down. As Mike recalls, "There was another strip we did in 1952 for the New York Post. I can't quite recall the title, but it was a racial thing and we wanted to incorporate a black person, which was very seldom seen in comics at that time. The guy who wrote it was a black person who Ross and I knew personally. It was about a guy who went to Korea and became a reporter. The Hagen Syndicate was so excited about it but they couldn't sell it because the hero was black. Ross and I were two very liberal guys that loved the idea and the writer was our friend. The Hagen Syndicate eventually went bankrupt. Two young men were running the syndicate and they wanted to be like King Features. I remember we once went to their office and they had promotional things on record to promote the strip. We then did another one, a science fiction strip, for the Hagen Syndicate. We designed a few pages for him and that just vanished as well. It was ready to go to press because Hagen had newspapers lined up to publish it."
Somewhere out there exists pencil sketches for all of the characters that appeared in the 1971 magazine Up Your Nose. Sadly I was only able to find the one, this one of Count Varicose. I'm still looking for the others.
The other sketch here is a back of the page sketch from a page of original art for the comic Blue Beetle. Who it is and why it was done I have no idea.
Only four photographic stats exist from this unpublished Edgar Rice Burroghs strip now. It was done by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito - the inking of Mike on this is some of his best work. Pity this one also failed to be picked up. Roy Thomas told me that he lost the original art when he moved to California sometime in the 1970s. I was lucky enough to buy all four of the photographic stats. One is fully inked, the remaining three are partially inked.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
The cover was decided upon without my input, but it does follow the standard cover designs of other books published by Hermes Press. I did feel that it wasn't as strong as the Michael Netzer design, but there you go. A lot of the text that was prepared for the book also didn't appear, however as they consist mainly of interviews and articles, I've been able to publish them myself via this site and my blog.
The question I get asked the most about the project by people, after they read this, is a simple one - what happened? I haven't got an answer for that. Sadly my involvement with the book ended once I handed my manuscript and art discs into the publisher as they saw fit to remove me from the project without explanation. I emailed, more than once, I phoned but got no call back. The lack of a written contract bothered me and some of the attitudes that I got from certain people at the time also bothered me but I did expect Herman to stick to his word (or even his email). Since then I've heard some horror stories about my involvement with the book.
THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
As with any project with size and scope, there was a lot of material that was prepared for the book that didn't make it. The manuscript I submitted was approximately 255 pages, Tahoma 12pt text, one and a half spacing. You can imagine why all of that wasn't published. Still, it left me with a lot to play with and I've always felt that it's always better to have more than less. The first thing to be dropped was the interviews.
For this book I conducted several interviews and spoke to around thirty different people, at different times, some more than others. Naturally the one person I spoke to the most was Mike himself. Eventually I amassed around fifty hours of tape, which had to be listened to, sorted and transcribed where required. That was a massive undertaking but I got it done. I then spoke to more people, from John Romita to Peter David, Marv Wolfman to Nic Cuti, Alex Toth to Alex Saviuk - you get the idea. I attempted to track down all the interviews that Ross had done, and there's precious few of those, and I managed to get them all. Naturally I spoke to people who'd known Ross and got first hand accounts. Research for a book is a lot different to the research you undertake for a magazine article/interview.
One promising lead turned out to be a great disappointment. I got in touch with Cary Burkett who'd interviewed Ross for the Amazing World Of DC magazine. I asked Cary if he still had those tapes only to be told that at one stage he had three sixty minute cassettes of conversations with Ross, but lost them in a house fire. I could have cried. Cary did offer up an interesting titbit that didn't make the final cut, Ross's dreams of flying. According to Cary, "I do remember in the interview I had with him that he spoke about drawing flying characters. And it made him remember that in his younger days he had many dreams of flying. But he said that as he got older, it became harder to fly in his dreams, and he had to start flapping his arms. He laughed about it, and blushed a bit." I loved that section as it showed Ross as being utterly human and very likeable.
Gene Colan was also very free with his views on Ross, telling me this, "Ross Andru was a very nice fellow for one thing. He had a great personality. Very friendly. Spoke easily to everyone. Put you at your ease. I never felt awkward in his company. A sweet man to know. And VERY talented! I admired his realistic approach to his work. If he were around today, he'd give us all a run for our money. He'd be very popular! Ross knew how to 'tell' a good story with his art."
Will Murray was also a Godsend to me. It's a little known fact but the actual title of the book came from the title of an unpublished article/interview about the pair that Will had done in the early 1990s. Will not only allowed me to use the title, but sent over all of his Andru & Esposito research and told me to use whatever I needed. A good guy indeed.
The following links are for interviews and insights that I had for the book but never appeared. There's a lot more on the 'floor', including comments from Mark Evanier, Michael T Gilbert, Michael Netzer, Don Perlin and more. Eventually I hope to be able to share them with the world, but for now, enjoy the thoughts of the following:
During the writing of the book I prepared, and 'sold', two articles. I use the world sold with the little ' 's as the amounts I was paid didn't even cost the expense of a single phone call, let alone the other work. The first article sold was to Back Issue magazine and it revolved around the Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man treasury edition. For years the book had carried the credits of 'Art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano'. That was good enough for me, but I had to ask Mike, why didn't he ink it? He gave me an answer, involving Len Wein and Marv Wolfman so I decided to check it out with the men in question. Marv and Len both responded and I wrote it up. Then a chance conversation with Joe Rubenstein threw some extra names into the mix, one in particular: Neal Adams. It'd long been argued that Neal Adams had done some touch up work to the book, along with John Romita, but this had never been confirmed. I took the ball and ran with it. You can click on the link to read the article itself, suffice to say it was a long process but I think I eventually got to the bottom of things. I spoke not only with Adams and Romita, but also with Terry Austin about his involvement with the project, although Terry refused to go 'on the record', the conversations were a delight. Happy days indeed.
The next article, also sold to Back Issue, involved the book, Up Your Nose: The Lost Andru & Esposito Magazine. Two issues of this magazine were published in 1971 and then it vanished. The magazine boasted a great number of talents, most of all Ross and Mike. Eventually I'd like to go back and rework that article, but it help draw attention to the upcoming book.
As for the other articles...Ross Andru vs Marlon Brando was prepared for the book and I think an edited version was included. I've always loved stories of cross pollination, so to speak, and this one really spoke to me. The remaining articles I've written since the book was published. I had offered the I.W./Super Comics to Roy Thomas for publication in his fine Alter Ego magazine, but once I discovered that it'd be placed on the 'inventory' pile (to be used when a magazine was short of an article) I decided to run with it myself. The others were all spawned out of the book and are presented here for your reading pleasure:
Eventually I'll get around to writing some more articles as I certainly have the tapes, the emails and the relevant documentation to do so. Finding the time is the key, but as I enjoy writing about Ross and Mike I expect that I might well be writing about them for years to come.
Enjoy for now, and as always, do share any thoughts you might have.
PARTNERS FOR LIFE: ROSS ANDRU & MIKE ESPOSITO
Welcome to an exclusive behind the scenes look at the book dedicated to the art team of ROSS ANDRU & MIKE ESPOSITO, PARTNERS FOR LIFE.
Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were one of the pre-eminent art teams of the 20th century, with a career that spanned six decades - longer than Simon & Kirby. The duo created history when they split from Timely and DC to form their own comic book company, MR Publications (which pre-dated Simon & Kirby's Mainline by three years, and saw enter the world of self-publishing.
The duo had long careers together and alone at both Marvel and DC, helping in the creation of characters and teams such as the Metal Men, Sgt Rock, The Punisher and others. They also worked on virtually all the major icons in the world of comics: Superman, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Spider-man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Namor, the X-Men, Captain America and more.
With chapters detailing their early years, through to their classic years at DC and Marvel, their attempts at various syndicated newspaper strips, the many attempts at self-publishing through to the untimely death of Ross and the retirement of Mike, the book is essential reading. Filled with exclusive, rarely seen art, along with art that will be published for the first time, and a list of contributors that includes (but isn't limited to) John Romita, Sal Buscema, Marty Thall, Marv Wolfman, Nick Cuti, Dave Hunt, Tony Isabella, Jerry Bingham, Mike Netzer, Bob McLeod, Alex Saviuk, Len Wein, Josef Rubenstein, Don Perlin, Dick Ayers, Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Mark Evanier and Jim Mooney, Stan Goldberg, Jim Salicrup and more to come, along with posthumous contributions from Ross Andru himself, Bob Kangiher, Don Heck and Gil Kane, this will be a book for ALL fans of both Andru & Esposito and comic books.
Mike Esposito recalls, "Ross and I did eight weeks of Martha Hart. It was about a blind guy who used to sell newspapers in a newsstand and a dog. He'd have all the newspapers and he had a dog, a German shepherd, and it was a beautifully drawn dog by Ross. The guy who owned the property wanted to build a house there and he had to get the guy out. Every time he'd go to talk to the guy and try to get him to sell the stand the dog would growl every time he'd see him. What he didn't know was that Martha Hart had given the blind man the newspaper stand in the first place. Ross did some great designing with the old man trying to hit the dog with his cane."
"Burne Hogarth wrote it and he asked Ross and me to do because he didn't want to draw anymore. He wanted to write it, syndicate it and make a lot of money. He said to Ross and me he'd give us fifty percent that we'd split evenly, so it'd be twenty five percent each. We said ok and we knocked ourselves out, we did eight weeks of it and Ross broke his back on it."
Mike recalls, "Libby Nation was done with Roy Thomas's wife. We were doing a syndicate strip and Jeannie Thomas wrote it. She had the idea, and I don't know how much of it was actually Roy because Roy is a writer, but she had this idea of Libby Nation, which was kind of tripe, but it worked, and we were going to do it. We went to see a woman who ran ideas for syndicate strips and she was directing us on how to do it and how to go about it. Ross and I did the character studies and we really didn't get into a strip as such.
"You have to remember the time it all came out. Characters like Poindexter and Stanely look great, and Max, who was obviously a lesbian. The sign she keeps holding sounds very much like Jean's writing; "We are sick of being hounded by beauty lovers!""
All that remains of Libby Nation today are photocopies of the original artwork, including the style guide, which is seen here.
Mike recalls, "We did another strip called Genesis. Genesis was a Biblical satire with Adam and Eve. Eve was always naked but had hair covering her breasts, and he's always behind bushes. Adam was a jerk. He was always going out and she'd say, "Where are you going today Adam?" and he'd reply, "I'm going out to name the animals". He spent the whole time naming lions and animals like that. It was pretty funny. We went to the Daily News and the guy said, "This is very funny but I wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole. You try and sell this in the Bible belt, Middle America, they'll never read the newspaper anymore." We said, "We're not saying it was bad, we're just saying how it might have been".
"We had plans to go further with it. We had a poet in there who was going to be a philosopher, like John Carradine in Grapes Of Wrath, that kind of a guy, always sprouting philosophy. We had a character called Pembroke and he was going to tell everybody about the flood and nobody believes him. Eventually everybody starts going off and building boats and he's stuck by himself on an island. When they finally realise there is a flood he's all by himself with an oar in his hand and no boat. Typical of the small guy in life that nobody believes. We did twelve strips and they're done in a style that you'd never recognise as Andru and Esposito.
"I designed the whole thing. Ross and I trying to decide how to make it look like the Garden Of Eden and so on. We were after something that we could stamp it without having to re-draw the same backgrounds over and over and over. So I said, "What about putting a frame of flowers on the whole panel?" Ross liked it and it was one of the few times where he didn't mind at all when I did something on my own. It was simple stuff but when Ross and I were writing it we decided to make it like two kids growing up never knowing anything and they were making it up as they went along. It was like children in real life."
Here's the previously unseen, fully coloured, pitch art for the Andru/Esposito/Wolfman strip, The Unexplained. This was done in the late 1970s. Despite serious interest it wasn't picked up. Upon reading the strip it's hard to see why and oddly enough the strip appears to mirror the television show, The X-Files, a good fifteen years before it was launched.
Mike recalls, "Ross Andru and I with Marv Wolfman had a strip. Marv wrote it and Ross and I designed it and put it together. Marv had left Marvel at that stage and we'd go visit him at his house and pick up the scripts. The Daily News advanced us for eight weeks of continuity before it was going to be printed, before we got our contracts. It was all set to go. It was called the Unexplained. The girl was a college major, graduated and her career was being a ghost hunter, like Ghost Busters, she'd hunt ghosts and spirits. It was a pretty good idea, a pretty good script. A damn good script actually, probably too good for a newspaper, and the Daily News in New York flipped over it. They loved it and said, "Go ahead and start it". We got paid for the first eight weeks and then a big strike came at the Daily News. I think it lasted for like months and months, so when finally the strike was over the head guys at the Daily News said, "We can't do it. Forget it; we're not going into this". So it's the old thing again about timing."
Writer Marv Wolfman also remembered the strip. "'The Unexplained' was done in 1979. The female lead was Raven Winters - I used both names in comics later on, Raven in the Titans, Winters in Night Force. She was a parapsychologist at a university with a male associate. It was a decade or more before the X-Files and almost exactly the same. Mike is right - the paper did flip for it and paid us to do a Sunday strip.
"However the Copley Syndicate didn't pass. They loved it. We couldn't sell enough papers to make it financially feasible for Ross. Same happened with the Chicago Tribune Syndicate that wanted it - and printed the color pages. It just didn't sell enough newspapers."
Each time I said something about the way I'd been treated (no contract, having to buy a copy of the book, no comp copies, no payment, no involvement) a series of lies, slander and abuse would spew forth from a certain party. Anytime anyone attempted to make peace on my behalf the same would happen - lies and abuse, ultimately resulting in well known one artist being threatened with both legal action and a veiled threat of physical abuse if they dared speak on my behalf again. Next was a forged email with Mike Esposito's signature attached being sent to me asking me to stop promoting the book. How do I know it was forged? I phoned Mike to talk about it and he insisted that he never sent it, he didn't write it and he never signed it. It's a shame that a book of celebration would be mired in such vulgarities. By the time the last round of abuse and accusations came around I was both mentally and emotionally exhausted and responded with the truth at the time - I no longer cared. Too many people have tried to lay claims on sections of the book, despite it going through several editors and two publishers, for it to accurately represent the complete manuscript. There's a lot of people out there who smile when they win awards but are snakes waiting to strike when the grass is a bit long and they believe they can't be seen.
I've stopped firing back now and seriously, I wish Herman and Mike all the best with their upcoming book Get Lost (for the record - I have no involvement in that project at all, other than being the guy who hooked Herman and Mike up in the first place. I was told by Herman himself that they wanted a 'real writer' for that one. As they got Ron Goulart, I'll happily concede the point. I hope Ron gets a written contract though and I hope that contract is honoured). I'll be buying a copy, same as I bought a copy of Partners when it came out, at the local comic book store, same as everyone else (I didn't see it before publication). I have learnt from the project though, and part of that learning I now pass onto anyone and everyone who thinks about writing a book like this - by all means, do it. You'll go on a nice ride, you'll love it. There'll be ups and down along the way. You'll get a thrill out of walking into a store and seeing your book on the shelves and a bigger one when you see someone buying it. It's great. However get everythingIN WRITING. If it's not written down then don't do it. Don't believe a verbal promise. Here's another hint: keep every bit of correspondance you get - emails, envelopes, the lot, no matter how trivial and small it might seem. You never know when something as minor as a date can come in handy. I know I kept every email I ever got, and I'll keep them for as long as I want. They're not kept as threats, they're kept as reminders and promises.
I have no idea of how the book is selling, and to be brutally honest I doubt I'll ever be told. I began the book in 2004 and I'm still working on it from time to time. I spent a huge amount of money and spoke to a load of good people, and encountered a few not so good people. Don't ask me, "How much do these books pay?" because I can honestly answer, "I have no idea." I've not seen a cent from the book, I did get a handful of comp copies well down the track (not what I was promised, but hey - it was better than the alternative - nothing) and I presume that Mike is getting paid down the line. Well, I hope he is.
I'm proud of the book and I still get emails and messages from people who've bought it and said that they love it. I have nothing but thanks for all of those out there who've enjoyed it and all I can say is that there'll be plenty more Andru & Esposito content to come as I've plenty of love for both guys and want the book to totally sell out. In the meantime I hope everyone goes and buys a copy. I still have a few left if anyone's interested, but I can count them on one hand so be quick, otherwise go to the links above and get one while they last.
You know, I almost forgot this part. Shortly after the book was published Michael Netzer, God love him, took the publisher to task about the way I was treated. In doing so he read all of the correspndance that I'd kept and then made contact with the publisher both by email and phone. He also spoke to a few other people who had become involved with the aftermath and then wrote two articles on his site, both of which accurately reflect what happened.
You can read them here, and also here. I suggest you do.
I'm not saying that all publishers act this way, I'm not even saying that this publisher acts like this all the time. I do believe that distance and a small amount of greed did come into play, the latter is of interest because the same publisher is now about to publish another book featuring work by Andru & Esposito. Oh, and before you ask, that book was prepared during the time that my book was being published and I was told that I'd not be part of it because the publisher wanted a 'real writer'. At least I didn't lose money on it. I'll be buying a copy and urging others to do the same. If it puts cash into Mike's pockets then great - that was the whole idea from the start.