Longtime comic book inker Mike Esposito has died at the age of 83. In the above photo, which I took at a mid-seventies New York comic convention, Mike is the gentleman on the right. The fellow on the left is his good friend and frequent co-inker, Frank Giacoia.
I wish I'd also taken a photo of Mike with his best friend and more frequent collaborator, Ross Andru. Ross and Mike were lifelong friends dating back to high school, bonding over their mutual desire to become professional cartoonists. Esposito got serious about it after his discharge from the Army in 1947 when he attended the (then) newly-formed Cartoonists and Illustrators School run by Burne Hogarth in New York. Andru was also a student there — one of the best, as evidence by the fact that Hogarth hired him to assist with the art on the Tarzan newspaper strip. In the meantime, Esposito began to get work as a penciller and an inker for Fox Publications and Timely Comics. In 1951 after Andru's Tarzan job ended, he and Esposito decided to team up and try to establish themselves as comic book publishers. Mikeross Publications did not last long but it produced one highly memorable comic — Get Lost!, which was one of the first and best imitations of Harvey Kurtzman's new comic book, MAD.
Thereafter, Andru and Esposito became primarily an art team for other publishers. Ross pencilled and Mike inked...and since Mike's end of it went faster than Ross's, Mike also picked up work inking other artists. They worked for most of the major houses but became best known for their long association with DC, particularly with editor Robert Kanigher, for whom they did Wonder Woman, Metal Men and hundreds of war comics. Later for DC, they drew Superman, The Flash and dozens of other features. During the sixties, Esposito began inking for Stan Lee at Marvel, working under the pen name "Mickey Demeo" so DC wouldn't find out. He inked almost every comic they published then and almost every penciller but especially stood out when handling Jack Kirby pencils (or layouts) on The Hulk and John Romita pencil art on Spider-Man. Eventually, Esposito did so much for Marvel that he began using his real name...but he also inked many comics under the name "Joe Gaudioso" and there were others. His friend Ross joined him at Marvel and they collaborated on Spider-Man and other strips. Andru passed away in 1993.
Mike was a jovial, dependable gent who was trusted by editors and liked by his peers. In the seventies, he gave assisting work to a number of young artists, helping them to learn the industry and gain a foot in the door. He was also a good friend to other inkers, always ready to aid a colleague with a deadline problem. For many years, friends tried to persuade him to travel to San Diego to be honored and interviewed at the Comic-Con International but he always declined, citing health problems and a reticence to fly. I'm sorry we never got him to make the trip because I think he would have been surprised and overwhelmed to learn how many fans he had.