UP YOUR NOSE AND OUT YOUR EAR: THE FORGOTTEN MAGAZINE
(This article originally appeared in BACK ISSUE #13 in slightly different form. Don't bother looking for that issue of Back Issue though, it's been withdrawn for some reason)
As the 1970s rolled around Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were well established in the comic book industry both individually and as a team. They’d been handed some of the biggest titles at DC as a duo, and, despite a failed attempt by Ross, Mike was a fixture at Marvel. However they began to feel stifled both as artists and writers, and as a result they began to look towards the future. Realising that in order to reach their goals, which were always to create a Mad Magazine style satire book and any saleable syndicate strip, the pair would have to look further than the comfort that the big two offered them.
Into this climate entered old friend Sol Brodsky. Brodsky had recently teamed up, again, with odd job publisher Israel Waldman. Instead of Brodsky merely working for Waldman, this time the pair would form a whole new company titled Skywald. Brodsky realised that he’d need dependable artists and writers at the new company, and approached Ross and Mike to be art directors, with the opportunity to write and draw whatever projects that they might be assigned. As an extra carrot Waldman promised the pair that, in time, he would print and publish a new satire magazine created by the pair. It didn’t take much to convince Ross and Mike and they duly signed on.
While fulfilling their duties as Skywalds art directors, the pair began to map out the new magazine. First they’d established what the book would be: satire. They’d always wanted to work on a Mad style book since the failure of 1954s Get Lost comic. This time instead of publishing a comic book, they wanted a magazine format. As Skywald were publishing magazines this was easily done. The magazine format would also allow the pair to avoid any problems with the Comics Code, a fact that would come in very handy as work progressed. The next problem was the name for the new book.
As their excitement grew, the pair talked about a name for the new book. Mike had some ideas, Ross, as was his wont, didn’t have many ideas for a name other than he wanted the new book to have nothing to do with anything that they’d produced previously. Mikes wife, Irene, floated the idea of naming the book Get Lost II. Ross was against this as he’d always felt that Get Lost was a failure (lasting only three issues) and that the name also reminded him of a past that he’d have preferred to forget. More than once he’d told people that if given the chance to relive his youth, he’d pass. Mike then suggested a phrase that he felt was both topical and catchy: Up Your Nose And Out Your Ear.
Mike Esposito recalls: “My wife was mad at me. She wanted to call it Get Lost, like the book we did in 1953, and she was right. There was no reason why we couldn’t call it Get Lost, or Get Lost II: The Comeback Of Get Lost. One morning Ross called and said that we were going to work on this new idea and he asked, ‘What are we gonna call it?’ and I said, ‘Let’s call it Up Your Nose And Out Your Ear’, only because of Johnny Carson, who used to say, “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose”. So Ross said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”
The next issue to be resolved was the books contents. Although Ross had no great love for past events, he wasn’t above using art that had previously appeared in other books, or, in the case of the bulk of the contents of Up Your Nose, art that had been prepared for elsewhere but had yet to be published.
Some of the characters from the different storylines included The Garlic Man, Thelma of the Apes and Count Varicose amongst many others. As the book was free of the Comics Code, it allowed Ross and Mike to adapt a previous idea, Thelma of the Apes. Revisiting and touching up the art to Thelma, Ross went all out and created a more adult strip than he’d previously done, complete with panels depicting nudity. However at the last minute Mike got cold feet and refused to ink in the more racier parts of Thelma’s anatomy, such as her nipples.
Garlic Man was another personal favourite with the pair. Created in the mid 1960s as a syndicate strip, it revolved around the trials and tribulations of Wilford Klutz, a man who’d been exposed to a new secret government weapon: a Garlic Bomb. The result of this exposure was that each time Klutz came into contact with any form of garlic, he’d hulk out. The results were as funny as anything on the market. Ross and Mike took the existing, unpublished Garlic Man strips and adapted them for the new magazine. Towards the latter part of the story they merely lifted panels from the strips and touched them up. Both men were happy that Garlic Man was finally seeing print in the manner that they wanted.
Ross created Count Varicose in the 1950s. As work progressed on the book, they found themselves over committed (at the time Ross and Mike were working at Skywald, putting together Up Your Nose from the ground up, in addition to the pair working at DC and Mike also working at Marvel) so they passed the baton to one of their recruits – letterer and more than capable artist John Costanza.
“John was a letterer at Marvel, but he could design and draw as well and he did a pretty good job. Ross was editing the book and he went over John’s pencils, and then John inked it himself. I didn’t touch it because I was involved with the business end. I liked John’s stuff and once Ross did the lay-outs for him it was kind of cute.”
Varicose featured some amazing ink wash effects. The existing original art for the strip is more impressive than the printed product, and marks one of the few times, if not the only time, that Costanza would ink Ross Andru.
Greta Garish was a personal favourite of both Ross and Mike. “I loved the Greta Garish strip,” says Mike now, “the little fat guy singing was supposed to be Marty Allen. Marty Allen was a comedian who didn’t go too far, but did a lot of stuff, and he actually looked like that. Ross created that whole story. He wanted the look of the 1929, with the clothes, the car and I think we got that look. The strip has a dated look throughout the whole story, the look of that period. We were always able to adapt and understand a period that we needed to capture. We were very versatile.”
By this time the book was almost complete. Wanting to set it apart from its competitors, such as Mad, the pair fielded ideas from everyone, even if some of those ideas weren’t as family friendly as they might have appeared to be on the surface. Again, freed up from the Comics Code, the pair allowed imagination to run wild, and in one case Ross took a disgusting habit performed by Mike’s dog and turned it into a private running joke throughout the book.
Mike remembers, “My wife, Irene, created the idea of ‘Pick Your Nose’. We had all these noses and you had to pick your nose as a contest and the answers were all in the back. We had Barbara Streisand’s nose, Jimmy Durante’s nose, all different people and we fooled them on one of them. We figured they got fooled. It looked like Mickey Mouse and it turned out it was Minnie Mouse.”
“On the back inside cover of the book there are all these photos of people and they’re all giving comments about the book. They’re all real people and Dr Killymyoung is my father. Sol Brodsky’s wife is there, his son, my son is in there. Now the little dog, ‘Essence Of Nurd’, is my dog Mishi. The reason why we called it Essence Of Nurd is because the dog loved to eat shit. She’d crap in the back yard and then eat it. She must have had a traumatic, frightening experience as a pup, she must have been starving or something. That’s why we called her ‘Essence Of Nurd’ because she was so full of it. And Nurd, to us, was turd.
“Nurd was Ross’s invention. The Queen Of Nurd, she sits on her throne and there’s all shit all over the ground. You have to know where Ross was coming from; he felt the world was full of it. There’s a lot going on in that book than what first appears on the surface of it.”
The photo routine would carry on through the book. Another of Ross’ ideas was to have a running commentary through the book, one that would link the various stories and provide an interesting juxtaposition to the printed art. Despite its innocent beginnings, this idea would eventually lead to the downfall of the book.
Recruiting his daughter and her friend, Mike set up a photo shoot. His daughter also brought in another friend, an aspiring actor who went by his real name: Joe Snow.
Mike wasn’t convinced that Joe Snow’s name was indeed Joe Snow. “I looked him up and his father’s name was Snow, and he was so proud of what he did in that book. I paid him $25 and we had a contract in case we did more of them. He was featured all the time: Joe Snow and The Tribe. The Tribe consisted of my daughter and her friend Caryn and I paid each of them $25 for the one shoot.”
At the photo shoot, Ross’ frustrations as a director came to the fore. Not one to merely sit back and watch the action unfold he began to direct both the action and the photographer, much to the amusement of Mike.
“I’ll never forget it, Ross drove the photographer crazy. He’d say to my daughter, ‘Lean this way, bend your arm the same way’ and then he’d be standing there saying ‘No, no, no, tilt your head back, a bit more, a bit more’. He’d jump on the set and interfere with the lighting and everything, but that’s the way he was.” Ross and Mike then took the photographs and drew in backgrounds. As the book had no color the pair felt they had to give it some texture and variety.
Envisioning a long life to the magazine Mike came up with the idea of printing up shirts. The front of the shirts would feature the magazines logo, Up Your Nose with a finger in place of the ‘U’. The back of the shirts featured the rest of the title, ‘Out Your Ear’. The shirts were printed professionally and eventually sold a reasonable amount, providing a substantional profit (and if anyone has one of the shirts for sale then contact me via this magazine). Mike’s son took to wearing the shirts for years to school to annoy the teachers. Mike Esposito protégée, Dave Hunt also obtained a shirt, which he still has to this day.
The problems then came with the last strip for the first issue, Ace Of Spades. Ace Of Spades had it’s origins in a conversation that Mike remembered having with a lady back in 1951.
“People are funny. All we were doing was trying to show how people are. There’s this black town that was getting upset because they’d heard the Polish were moving in.
“I got the idea because when I was a young fellow visiting some relatives in Boston this woman came to me and said, “Mike, you have no idea how the neighborhood is changing”. This is a little town south of Boston. “The town is changing, it’s going downhill”.
“Well what’s the matter?”
“They’re moving in”
“Who?” I was thinking, is it the blacks, who could be moving in to make her so upset?
“I said, “The French???” and I always remembered that. Everybody has their own enemies. Everybody has their own prejudices. It may not be the same as what people have in Brooklyn, or Manhattan, but I couldn’t believe she said the French. It was like saying the Martians are moving in. And this was a little Irish woman who had so much prejudice in her against the Italians and the blacks and then said the French! I never knew a French person. I would have loved it because I took up French at school.”
“I remembered that when I was writing the book. I said to Ross, “We’ll have all these black people on the bus line waiting for the bus to come in with a Polish family”. And they’re saying, “The Polish are moving in” and another guy’d be saying, “Yep, there goes the neighborhood. Next thing you know the Italians are gonna move in”, and the next guy’d say, “Yeah, and then the French will move in” and it moves down the line until the second to last guy says “And the next thing you know the blacks are gonna move in”. And the very last guy says “What do you mean the blacks are gonna move in? We IS the blacks!” It was a long panel with all these people waiting for the bus.
“We were trying to expose that ridiculous line of prejudice that people possess without thinking. They’re so stupid that they’re prejudiced against themselves and they don’t know what they’re talking about. I had a lot of problems with people thinking it was racist when it wasn’t. We were trying to show how stupid racism is. The college kids loved it because they understood it, but a lot of people, like the black power groups, wanted to bomb my house. Ace Of Spades was a little black boy on the plantations and he became super when he yelled out ‘Mohhamed Ali’ and pounded his chest. He blew up the KuKluxKlan, he fought them and we were trying to show how stupid it all is and some groups didn’t understand it. They started to threaten me so I took my name and address off the indicia of the second issue.”
Finally with the assistance of Sol Brodsky, John Costanza, writer Barbara Friedlander and artists Rene Atlass and Daniel Haskett, who’d have his own strip throughout the book named ‘Daniel’s Den’, something which was overlooked by those claiming the book was racist as Daniel was black, the book was ready to be published. Ross and Mike took the finished results to Israel Waldman. Mike recalls what happened next.
"When time came for the magazine to be published Waldman said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this but I don’t think I can publish that magazine. I lost $60,000 last month and projected it’s going to be another $60,000 every month if not more and I can’t keep doing that.’”
Feeling dejected Ross and Mike went and shopped the magazine to all the publishers that were left in the business, including Fawcett Publications. “Fawcett was still a big force in the industry, even though they’d cut back on all the comic books. This guy who was working up there fell in love with it. He said, ‘This is great! This is going to be another Mad Magazine. We want this’. Ross and I got so excited and went to the elevator and he said, ‘Come back at around lunchtime’. We went back and he said ‘I’m sorry to tell you this and I don’t know how to say it, but the head guy here was very upset about it’. One of the reasons why was because we had a joke about Polish characters in it and he took offence.”
Faced with the problem of not having a publisher didn’t stop Ross and Mike. They’d been amongst the first artists to break away from the mainstream comic book industry and self-publish. In the early 1950s they’d formed MR Publications, predating Simon & Kirby’s Mainline by a good three years. They’d followed that up with 1953s MikeRoss Publications. Ross and Mike were no strangers to the world of publishing. They brought Sol Brodsky in as a full partner as Skywald had gone under Brodsky was out of a job. The three formed a company named Klevart Enterprises and set about printing and distributing the first issue of Up Your Nose. Issue #1 finally appeared in March, 1972. The first print run had done amazingly well, shipping an incredible 400,000 copies. The book appeared to be a raging success and with issue #2 ready to go, and issue #3 already in the pre-production stage, Ross, Mike and Brodsky looked towards a future with wealth and complete creative control.
Then the hammer dropped.
Mike remembers, “Our distributor first wrote a telegram that Sol Brodsky and his wife were in tears of happiness over; it said that we were going to be bigger than Mad. We thought because we’d get so much per book that we’d all be rich. We’d be making thousands and thousands of dollars a month. We went out to celebrate and had a big dinner at a fancy restaurant, Sol and his wife and a couple of other people who were part of the book, and Ross toasted me. He said ‘I’d like to make a toast to Mike Esposito. If it wasn’t for Mike none of this would have happened. Here’s to Mike’. Three weeks later he wanted to shoot me.”
"What happened was that I got another telegram following the first saying, ‘Stop all publication’. I called up the guy and asked what happened. He said, ‘Hundreds and thousands of books are being returned in boxes unopened from Hawaii, from Alaska, from all around the world’. When they got news that something was wrong then they didn’t want them, and they didn’t want them because they thought it was a drug book.”
Why would people think it was a drug book? Of all things in the book to attack, the perceived racism, the nudity, the crudeness of some of the concepts, the book was brought down due to one person: Joe Snow. “Joe Snow was why we eventually got into serious trouble. I remember going into one stationary store and the woman said to me, ‘I’m not putting this out, it’s a drug book’. I said, ‘Why?’ and she said ‘Look, it’s Joe Snow’. But it was a legitimate name; that was his name.”
“The wind up is that they told us to stop and cease publication. Every store owner said it’s a drug book and they wouldn’t put it out. I went to different stores around where I lived, Queens and places like that, and checked it out and no-one was selling the book. I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re dead’.
Mike was right, the book was dead. Sadly it would vanish. Mike recalls being asked to pick up the returned stock and not being able to face the disappointment of seeing the book again. He left the boxes where they sat and eventually they became landfill. It’s a regret he has to this day, if only because he now realizes that he could have picked them up, for nothing, and sold the 250,000 existing copies for $5 or more. However the pain was real and it was deep for both men.
“We ended up at a convention, Ross and I, and we were trying to sell all the original art for whatever we could get. Finally we got rid of them for about $10 a page, anything we could get.”
Mike recently remembered why Ross and he decided to do the book and put so much on the line, physically, financially and emotionally. “We wanted to do the magazine because of what was on TV at the time, the ground breaking show All In The Family. Carroll O’Conner played a bigot to a T. I thought, “This guy is teaching the world how bad it is to be a bigot, but they don’t get it”. Then they started to laugh at it and they caught on. The manifesto of the book was a simple one. Up Your Nose was designed for people who were sick and tired of the way things were in the world, reflecting the ignorance behind racism and government policy. Most of the phoniness of the times became revealed in a satirical way through the pages of the magazine.”
Ross Andru and Mike Esposito went back into mainstream comics. They enjoyed one last flood of attention when they teamed up to create a critically acclaimed run on Amazing Spider-man for Marvel, but sadly they would never venture into the world of self-publishing again.