(This is expanded version of an article which was printed in Back Issue #11)
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
The above quote was all well and good for John Ford, however at times the legend becomes the truth and the discovery of the actual facts become all the more harder. After all, memory is a tenuous thing at best.
In early 2004 Mike Esposito and I were talking about the Andru and Esposito book that I was in the process of preparing. We’d spent a considerable amount of time talking about various aspects of the pair’s career and the artists that Mike had worked with over the years. As is the norm whenever Mike and myself would speak, a lot of the conversation was taken up by subjects other than comic books, and it was during one of those conversations that Mike made an off-hand comment about the Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man treasury edition that saw the light of day in 1976. Mike’s comments were about how his art partner, Ross Andru, had made the book into something more than a comic book, and into an experience that was almost cinematic. To me that was an opening to discuss the book and I started by asking if Mike had ever been considered as an inker for the project, considering his history with both Ross and Marvel and DC (at the time very few artists had worked on both Superman and Spider-Man – Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were amongst them). Little did I know that I was about to open a can of worms that would take nearly a year to close.
Mike instantly came back with the following: “I was supposed to ink the first Superman/Spider-Man cross over. However, I got into a big argument with Marv Wolfman, who was the editor at Marvel at the time. They kept changing editors; Roy Thomas was the editor at one stage, then Marv, then Len Wein. I got a call from Sol Harrison at DC and he said, ‘Mike, we want to team you and Ross up together. We’re going to do a cross over with Spider-Man and Superman and since you guys were known as Andru and Esposito up here we figure it’d be perfect for you guys to do it’. And it was all set to go and then Marv Wolfman, and I’m not doing this verbatim, I’m paraphrasing what happened, he called them up and said, “You can’t have both guys”.
“It was like they were trading ball players from one team to another. He said, ‘You can have Ross but you can’t have Mike, or you can have Mike but you can’t have Ross. You can’t have both of them’ So Sol Harrison called me up and he was very apologetic because he really enjoyed the idea of having the two guys from years ago coming together on the project. He said, ‘It looks like you’re not going to do it, I’m sorry Mike. It looks like Dick Giordano is going to be put on it’”.
So far so good? Well, no. For the record, and before we go any further, Mike only has good words to say about Dick, “Dick Giordano did a good job. It’s a very nice book”.
However, this is only the start of the legend/fact part of the story. I then contacted Marv Wolfman and included a copy of Mike’s comments for clarification as the journalist inside of me knows that in order to get all the facts, you have to at least ask anyone and everyone that’s being mentioned in your story. If they tell you to take a hike, well at least you’ve asked, so they can’t then come back at you. So I emailed Marv. I’ve never met Marv, but I have emailed him more than once and he’s always been friendly, courteous and more than helpful, which is why I was taken aback slightly when this reply came in, only a few hours after my email left. Marv’s reply read as follows: “Mike’s quote from Sol is wrong. I was on the Marvel Black and White books at the time, not the colour comics. I had absolutely nothing to do with deciding who was on the Superman/Spider-Man book.
“Len Wein was the editor, as he will tell you because I had to hold him back when he nearly strangled the guy from Cadence Corp. who told us about the team-up and that Len, as the Marvel editor, would not have any say in the matter. I may have later inherited the project when Len left Marvel, but I don't remember. At any rate, I know the team had been selected without us, and that the idea, as little as I remember of it now, was that there would be a Marvel penciller and a DC inker on it so I doubt that Mike would have been considered, despite his years with Ross, because they wanted people from both companies working on each step of it. Gerry Conway was the writer because he had written both Superman and Spider-Man, the only one to do it at that point.”
There was more, but I’ve decided not to let that go to air, so to speak. Marv might have been having a bad day, or perhaps he felt that I, or Mike, were accusing him of something that he’d clearly not done. As it was I emailed an instant apology to Marv as he’d commented that he wished people would get their facts right. I assured him that I was indeed working hard to get the facts down pat, and that I’d not be letting anything go to print without everyone involved giving their side of the story. Marv replied that I perhaps should contact Len Wein and ask for his side of things. I thanked Marv, apologised again, and contacted Len and included everything I’d gathered thus far. Len had a read of it and came back with the following, “I'm pretty much with Marv on this one. I was the Marvel Editor-in-Chief at the time, not Marv, who had nothing at all to do with the Superman/Spider-Man book other than saving then Marvel Publisher Al Landau's life when I threw myself at him, determined to rip out his throat. Landau told me when I complained about losing Ross Andru's pencilling services off the Amazing Spider-Man title for a couple of months, that, despite my position as Marvel E-I-C and also being the current writer on Amazing Spider-Man, what went on in the S/S-M team-up book was, quote, “None of your f*cking business!”
“Nobody in Marvel editorial had anything whatsoever to do with determining who worked on the Superman/Spider-Man book and, to the very best of my memory, Mike Esposito's name never came up. And, frankly, I doubt it would have. As mentioned, the idea was to make this one-shot a true cross-company book. That meant splitting the creative services between the two companies. Thus, the writing came from DC (Gerry Conway), the pencilling from Marvel (Ross Andru), the inking from DC (Dick Giordano), the colouring from Marvel (Glynis Oliver) and the lettering from DC (Gaspar Saladino). Even the cover was laid out by DC's then-publisher, artist Carmine Infantino, pencilled by Ross, and inked by Dick, and coloured by Glynis.
“Despite whatever line of bull Sol Harrison might have fed Mike (Sol had his own agenda at the time, having been passed over for the publisher position), I don't believe for an instant it ever happened. The best I could imagine was Ross (always a wonderful man) suggesting his buddy Mike as inker and being overruled for the reasons mentioned above.
“Also, it should be noted that Mike inked the two issues of Amazing Spider-Man that Ross missed while pencilling the crossover. The fill-in penciller for those issues was Sal Buscema”
I thanked Len and promised that he could have a look at the final draft of this article in case there might be some comments he’d rather not allow see the light of day.
So, there it was. My theory is that Mike had been asked to ink the book by Sol Harrison, and had then been told, again by Sol, that the editors at Marvel had refused to give permission. My best guess is that everyone is right – the events that Mike, Marv and Len recounted all happened. However it more than likely happened like this: Ross Andru is asked to pencil the cross-over and elects Mike as his inker of choice. This wouldn’t have come as a surprise as Mike and Ross went back to when they were kids. They’d published together, they’d drawn and written together, they even got married at roughly the same time. Ross and Mike did pretty much everything together, and Mike’s inks did complement Ross pencils, and Ross must have felt that on a project of such magnitude he might need a sympathetic inker, and, knowing how lucrative a project this would be, wanted to include Mike. So Ross asks Sol Harrison who then calls Mike and tells him how everyone at DC wants to re-unite the Andru/Esposito art team for this book.
Now, as Len recounts, Sol had more than a few hidden agendas at that stage, perhaps Sol did indeed ask the editors at Marvel only to be told no. More likely he didn’t, and was told who the creative team would be: Gerry Conway (at that stage the only man to have written both Superman and Spider-Man for any length of time), Ross Andru (the only man to have drawn both characters at that stage), Dick Giordano (pretty much the pre-eminent inker of any era) and so on, taking people from both Marvel and DC.
Sol probably found himself in a bind. He had made a promise to Mike and now had to break that promise, so he called Mike and gave him the line that Marvel had turned down DC’s request for Andru/Esposito. At that time Andru/Esposito had established themselves as the main art team for the book The Amazing Spider-Man. Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein had all edited the book, albeit Marv only editing the one issue (#150). Gerry Conway had written the book until March 1975 when Len Wein took over, with the one fill in issue, 150, which was written by Archie Goodwin. Other than one issue written by Marv, Len would remain as the writer/editor on the title until Marv replaced him in mid 1978, well after the Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man book had been published. Mike simply has his names mixed up, but he does believe that someone at Marvel had him taken off the book. But at the end of the day it wasn’t Marv Wolfman, and we might never know for sure, but it appears that Sol Harrison in all likelihood pointed the finger at Marv and used him as a scapegoat.
Mike does have regrets about not doing the book, the sheer cool factor of seeing the Andru/Esposito name on one of the biggest projects that either of them would ever be likely to be connected to is one of them. But there’s another: money. In Mike’s own words, “It would have been nostalgic and it would have been a landmark thing for us two guys to come back together to work for DC on Superman, because we had done Superman together in the late ‘60s and we both were doing Spider-Man at the time. Our names were still going together with the old days of Metal Men and Wonder Woman and so on, and now we were finding a new audience with Spider-Man. The book did very well and Ross got a lot of money for it, I think he got around $27,000, which is pretty good as a royalty and later he got more from the reprints”.
A nice tale, with a happy ending? Far from it. Once I had fairly well established who had actually said what and to whom, another spanner was thrown into the works: who actually drew the book?
In the book are the credits. The credits read: Writer: Gerry Conway. Artist: Ross Andru. Inker: Dick Giordano, and so on. The book was edited by the then two editor-in chiefs at the respective companies, Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino. Infantino even laid the cover out for Ross to follow. Again, as simple as it looks, nothing is quite as it appears.
As part of my web-site project I take it upon myself to interview artists. In early 2004 I was flattered when none other than legendary inker, Josef Rubenstein, approached me and asked if I’d like to interview him. I leapt at the chance and placed the call. It was a lovely chat and in the process of the interview we spoke about more than I’d actually use, and one of those subjects was, you guessed it, the Superman/Spider-Man book. I had asked if the rumours were true, that Josef had helped ink the book, along with Terry Austin, and the reply was a resounding yes; “Terry Austin did ALL the backgrounds and I may have done the blacks and touch ups. Terry certainly did the blacks on the backgrounds; I just don’t remember the figure part. It was done same size. That’s the story”.
Then Josef took things one step further by telling me that Ross wasn’t the only penciller on the book and that Neal Adams had also done uncredited work on the book.
No way was I going to allow that one to slide. I sat on it for a while, and had a look at the book. Certainly the book had that glossy Neal Adams like feel to it, but then there’s not that much difference between Ross’ Superman and Neal’s. Plus anyone inked in the Continuity studios at that stage came out looking like Neal Adams – after all the studios did belong to Neal and Dick Giordano, and Dick was the inker on the book.
I ran it past a few people I knew and was told not to be as silly as to believe it. An ex-production staffer at DC at the time told me that there was no way known that Neal could have had anything to do with the book, as the production staff had seen the pages, both before and after inking, and there was no evidence of tampering. I brought it up in an on-line conversation with Mark Evanier, who also told me that it was impossible, as he, too, had seen the original pencilled pages and they were the same as what was published. Mark’s views were, “John Romita did redraw most of the heads of Peter Parker and other supporting Spider-Man characters...even though the Andru versions were good enough to appear for years in the Spider-Man comics. That whole book had a ‘too many cooks’ mentality about it”.
Far from solving a mystery, Mark had opened yet another can of the proverbial. I’d known for a while though that John Romita had re-drawn the Peter Parker heads (you only have to look at them). This was bugging me though, and the question still remained: did Neal Adams re-draw the Superman figures, and if he had, how did he do it? If everyone who’d seen the original pages agreed that there was no way known that Neal could have re-drawn the figures between the pencil and ink stage, then what was the truth?
One thing I’d always been taught when I started working as a journalist at the ABC here in Australia – if you keep going you’ll end up at the end of the line. Don’t bother working your way up the pole to the top, go straight to the top at the first opportunity and don’t bother with the underlings. With that in mind, and it did take me a while to recall it, I decided that there was pretty much only three people who could probably answer the question of who drew the book for me: Ross Andru, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.
Asking Ross was out of the question, sadly he passed away in 1993. So the next step was going to the two people who might be able to answer me. First stop was Dick Giordano.
I’ve been conducting an interview with Dick for months now, off and on, via email. I decided to sneak the question into the interview because I felt that if he said yes, and elaborated, that Neal had re-drawn some figures, then it’d make the interview all that more interesting – if indeed you can make an interview with Dick more interesting than it’s going to be. So the question was asked and I left it at that.
Dick had been answering my questions when time permitted, so there had been gaps between my questions and his replies of up to a month. So I sat and waited, all the time finding more and more resistance to the idea that Neal had indeed re-drawn the book. I had emailed Neal’s son Joel, who suggested I email Neal – that’s like asking me to email the Pope. I sent the email but deep down I didn’t expect that much of a reply, if any at all. I know that Neal is a very, very busy man, and in the context of things I’m just another person.
Two replies in two days. Vindication. Josef had been right all along. Mark Evanier was wrong – for probably the first time in his life. The people I’d spoken to who’d worked at DC at the time had been wrong. Neal did have a hand in drawing the book.
The first reply I got back was from Dick. It read, “No one asked Neal to re-draw the Superman figures but the pages were sent to me at Continuity and were mostly left on my desk or thereabouts when I went home at night or on weekends and Neal took it upon himself to re-draw the Superman figures without telling me that he was going to do it. I didn't complain but I also never mentioned it to anyone at the time and really never spoke of it until now...mostly out of respect for Ross and his work. Ross was one of the very best storytellers in the business as well as great at composition, layouts and design. But his drawing was a bit quirky and somewhat distorted as a result of an eye problem that affected his perception. He often drew on one side of the paper, then, on a light box, turned it over and re-drew it on the other side, correcting the distortion, then reversed the page again and traced the corrected version from the back side of the art board onto the copy side. This took a great deal of time and slowed him down greatly toward the end of his career. But...
“I loved the distortions! It gave his work a charm and distinction that I always believed was appealing. I learned how to ink his work to minimize the distortion without losing the charm! That became moot, as Neal changed/corrected all the Superman figures to his own frame of reference. I tried in the inking not to lose too much of the Ross Andru look (and to his credit, Neal tried, as well, to retain the ‘look’ mostly correcting anatomy errors in his re-drawing). You really couldn't lose his storytelling or compositions, so in my mind, the result was still Ross Andru at his best!!
“I questioned Neal's son's claim that Neal inked the Superman figure on the cover. He re-drew it and I inked it...and then Neal may have gone back and ‘tightened up’ some of my inks as he often did on my inks on his material. He never much liked my more organic brush inking, preferring the more controlled look of pen inking. Different strokes...”
Then the big one. Dick had confirmed what I had suspected, and what Josef had been telling people all these years, that Neal had re-drawn the Superman figures. Still one problem remained – how did he do it? If people such as Mark Evanier had seen the pages both pre and post inks and were adamant that they’d not been tampered with, then how had Neal done it? I have no reason to doubt Mark’s word – indeed I have the utmost respect for Mark, and many has been the time that I’ve sourced either his work, or the man himself, for clarification. Still Dick had said what he’d said, so how did Neal pencil the book? We all know that Neal is an artistic genius, but this was art beyond art! Then Neal gave me the answer himself.
This is how Neal Adams re-drew the Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man treasury edition. “Dick was given the job to ink Ross on the book.
“When I looked at the first pages I realized Ross had rushed some of the work and Dick, himself, had a lot of pressure deadline-wise. I thought how many times would Supes go up against Spidey? How many shots will this project get? One!
“I knew the strengths and weaknesses of the two artists. I asked Dick if I could tighten up the cover for him in preparation for inking. He said, ‘Long as you don’t, basically, change it.’ I said, ‘Never, I’ll just sorta ink it with a pencil.’ It worked out nicely.
“Then we agreed to ask Ross if I could, because I had more experience with Superman, tighten up the Superman figures in the book. Ross was delighted. Dick and I were delighted. I took great effort to keep the Ross Andru look and quality while I added a bit of anatomy here and there, chiselled a face a bit, and basically inked with a pencil, after which Dick inked with ink. I don’t think you could find a collaboration the like of this one, anywhere. I was the mustard on a ham and swiss.
“The method I used?
“I ran a kneaded eraser over each Superman figure, which lightened the pencil. Then I pencilled new lines over the old and filled in areas that were unfinished, I located the roughed in “S” symbol and made the anatomy more solid. I knew Ross Andru’s style so I kept it Ross as best I could, and Dick blended it with his ink… But if you look real close….
“Ross came up and visited me at the studio after that and we became quite friendly.”
MYSTERY SOLVED!!! Neal didn’t re-draw it as much as he embellished the pencil art – which is why anyone who’s seen the pencilled pages will swear that nothing was erased – because, technically, nothing was erased. This is why Neal Adams is an artistic genius: because the man can find a solution in any given situation.
Next on the list was John Romita. As part of writing the book about Andru & Esposito I found myself on the phone with John late one night, just talking about Ross and Mike as artists and people. In the middle of the conversation, without any prompting John came out with the following: “I think the greatest thing Ross did was the Spider-Man vs Superman cross over. 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. That’s one of my favorite books of all time. I did work with him on that book because I was the consultant for Marvel and Stan sort of insisted that every once in a while I touch up a Mary Jane Watson face, or a Peter Parker face. You might find a couple of my faces sticking out like a sore thumb in that book.”
With the art team finally now in place, perhaps the revised credits for the book could now read: Written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Ross Andru with assists by Neal Adams and John Romita, inked by Dick Giordano with assists by Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek and Josef Rubenstein. In any era those are credits that’d leave any serious comic book fan in awe.
But will it? Unlikely. It leaves us with a landmark book, one that is fondly remembered by all that have read it for the first time – who can go past that incredible double page spread of Supes and Spidey shaking hands? Who’d dare to? When you’re talking iconic images in comic books that surely ranks up there with all of them. The meeting of the two main companies of the day, the first proper superhero cross over (not counting the Rutland crossovers, and the Wizard Of Oz) and the book that blazed a trail that’s still being followed.
And it was so darn big!!!
A lot of things have happened since this article saw print and more facts have surfaced. Shortly after the article saw the light of day I was emailed a copy of a letter written by Terry Austin in which he expressed his dismay over the article because he'd not been contacted. I immediately contacted Terry (via Michael Eury) and explained that, as he wasn't active at that stage on the internet, contacting him wasn't as easy as I would have liked it to be and that I had indeed attempted to make contact. I drafted a letter of response and partial apology which was printed in Back Issue and Terry sat down and explained his side of the story.
Terry's main problem was that he felt his involvement was downplayed somewhat. At the time of the book being produced he was working at Contuniuty Studios as an assistant to Dick Girodano and as such worked on a lot of projects totaly uncedited. This was one such project. He explained that he'd done more inking on this book than virtually anyone else other than Giordano but didn't see how Neal Adams could have re-penciled some images. On reflection he stated that it was now obvious to him. One thing he did mention was that the original art pages were done at almost the same size as the printed treasury. He then sent me photocopies of the art, at the original size, to illustrate his point and these pages are what you now see accompanying this current article. Terry mentioned that Bob Wiacek also had a hand in the inking stage. As Terry is loathe to fully go on the record I'm not able to include his actual comments, but perhaps one day. As it stands Terry is the unsung hero of the book and his work, and efforts, should be recognised.
I thought it might end there, but one Sunday morning, at 6am, the phone rang. On the other end was Neal Adams himself. He'd also read the article and wanted to clarify some points. He reiterated his points, that he had indeed repenciled some of the Superman (DC) figures, but he'd kept the basic designs of Ross Andru intact. Neal did pass a few more comments on about another artist but, again, as he wasn't on the record I won't repeat them here. Still, a phone call from Neal Adams? Colour me amazed! Neal managed to confirm a few facts for me, namely that Ross had indeed asked for Mike to ink the book and this had initially been accepted, but when the project was underway Mike had been removed. Neal went on to tell me that, "When it came to the studio it was kind of a surprise because it was just naturally assumed that Mike Esposito was going to ink Ross Andru, it was like a marriage. When Ross came over and talked to me about it he said, 'No, I asked for Mike and they told me that they wouldn't let it happen.'"
Neal then revealed the events as he remembered them. "The real story is Ross Andru came to my studio well before this project and I had heard about this project. I discovered that he was working on this Superman Spider-Man thing and in fact it was going to come to the studio and Dick was going to ink it. So when he came in it was come and have a cup of coffee, just relax, I've been a fan of yours and I really like your stuff, since the Metal Men since I was a kid and he said, "Well, you know this Superman Spider-Man thing is sort of a fluke. If I had my way on this book of course Mike Esposito would be inking it."
"Why isn't he inking it?"
"They said, well, you know, they want to share the work between the companies." And I said, "That doesn't seem right." He couldn't get Esposito in as an inker even though he'd asked. When the job came through the studio, it came in and Dick had mentioned some of the Superman logos on Superman's chest were done kind of quickly and apparently Ross was under a tremendous deadline. I thought, gee, you know, some of these things ought to be just tighter. Now that's half the reason I did it."
Neal further went on to tell me that, as far as he was concerned the book was, "a terrifically professional job by Ross Andru."
In 2006 Michael Eury released his excellent Krypton Companion in which he spoke to Gerry Conway about the Superman/Spider-Man book. Conway denied any knowledge of the art situation on the book but did comment that John Romita had often retouched some of Andru's Spider-Man faces. The interesting comment here was that Conway felt that Giordano was heavily influenced by Neal Adams with the result being that almost everything he inked came out looking like Adams. So when Conway saw the end result, "it looked like Neal Adams' drawing, it didn't occur to me it might actually be Neal Adams' drawing."
In February 2007 Roy Thomas printed a letter from Marv Wolfman in Alter Ego #65. The letter was in response to a series of interviews that Mike Esposito had given to the magazine in question. During the course of those conversations Mike mentioned the Superman/Spider-Man book. That came as no great surprise to me as the interviewer for Alter Ego and myself were speaking to Mike, at times, on the same day about the same topics, hence a lot of what was said Mike duplicated. Marv took offence at Mike's claims that perhaps it was he (Marv) and Len Wien who blackballed Mike from the book. Marv's letter, in part, said, "He (Mike) obviously holds a grudge against us (Marv and Len) because he thinks we were the ones who took him off the Superman vs Spider-Man book, costing him royalties; but I wasn't even in the colour department, and Len was allowed to have any say on anything connected to the book. I wish he'd stop bad mouthing us totally mistakenly".
Clearly not. If anything all the fuss that the article provided just goes to show that even after over 30 years this is one story that refuses to lie down. The whole saga brings forth emotions in everyone involved, and a lot of people who weren't involved. One day, when the time is right, I'll sit down and re-write this article with all of the information that I've been given and hopefully, FINALLY, put the definitive story down on paper and lay the saga to rest. Come that day perhaps both Marvel and DC might want to use it as an introduction to an Absolute style edition of the first major superhero cross-over between the two companies.