Monday, November 01, 2010

Original Art Stories: Andru & Esposito's Get Lost

In 1953 Mike Esposito and Ross Andru sought to retry their hand at publishing once again, this time with MikeRoss Publications. The duo loved writing humor and sketch comedy stories, so they thought this would be a new road for them to travel.

At this point in time the first 3D comics began to appear. The first 3D title was Mighty Mouse, as published by St. John Publishing and drawn by Joe Kubert. Mighty Mouse was no small feat, as it sold over one million copies. With this new wave of comic book style, their distributor asked that the first issue of Get Lost be done in the same 3D format.

Declining to produce Get Lost as a 3D book, the pair quickly produced romance titles in 3D. Bigger companies, such as DC Comics and Timely Comics (the forerunner to Marvel Comics) didn’t touch the 3D look with any large amount of investing. They played the market in a smart manner, whereas the many smaller comic companies saw the 3D look as their big break.

Andru/Esposito then took inspiration for a humour magazine from the most obvious source of the time: Mad. Most of the then Mad rip-offs were second rate to the original, but Get Lost featured convincing Harvey Kurtzman-like covers. Andru/Esposito also did an exceptional job of mimicking the layout, inking and even lettering styles of Mad. MikeRoss Publications produced a total of three issues of Get Lost. Two decades later, they re-packaged some of the material for a new, black-and-white, magazine-format humor publication, Up Your Nose (And Out Your Ear).

In the late 1980s, Get Lost was reprinted by New Comics with new covers from Brian Bolland and Paul Gulacy, along with re-creations of the original series covers by Andru & Esposito on the rear. Stories from Heart and Soul eventually saw reprint in the Simon and Kirby edited Prize Comics line. According to Joe Simon, Simon and Kirby never received any inventories of any artists, including that of Andru and Esposito and MikeRoss. However Heart and Soul stories by both Andru and Andru & Martin Rosenthall did appear in the Simon and Kirby packaged Prize Publications line, and Rosenthall recalls that, “Jack Kirby was interested in buying up our entire unpublished inventory. We piled up the pages, mainly from my romance book (Heart and Soul). He gave us something like seven dollars a page for it, just so we could get something out of it. Those stories were published by Crestwood publications.”

MIKE ESPOSITO: One day we were sitting around in my apartment, my wife was sitting there, and Ross and I were on the floor throwing ideas around and Ross and I said, “You know, I’d love to do satire.” Ross and I loved to write satire. “So let’s do one and we’ll call it ‘Bored With Life? Get Lost! The Magazine Designed To Send You’. And Mad had ‘Humour In A Jugular Vein’, so we did our thing and we went to a distributor who flipped out when he saw it. It turned out it was the same distributor for Mad, named Leader News. So he said, “Look, two guys came into my office in 1938, two young fellows, just like you.”, we were 22, 23, “Two guys came in and I turned them down. They went across the street”, he was on Lexington Avenue, “to DC Comics, which was then known as National Periodicals Magazines, and they sold it. It was Superman”. And he said, “I’ll never make that mistake again”. He called his secretary in, he says, “Write them up a cheque and bring out a contract”. Ross and I couldn’t believe it. When we got the cheque in our hand for ten grand, which was more money than we ever saw at that time, we went down the hall to the elevator dancing and jumping up and down like two kids with the cheque in our hands. If Mike Estrow had opened up the door and saw that he would have stopped everything. We were like two idiots. Crazy little kids bouncing off the walls. And then was when we did Get Lost.

Leader News went bankrupt too. Mad sued them because they thought he’d set up the whole thing for us to do Get Lost, which was like Mad. They thought that Leader was sponsoring us and feeding us all these ideas and beating Mad to the punch by about a month. It wasn’t that we were getting any information, these were things that we’d thought up and went ahead and did. But Mad blamed Mike Estrow and Leader News and they sued Leader News to get out of their contract and go it alone and eventually they went to DC’s distributor, National Periodicals. Then Leader News started to go bankrupt because they’d lost their main client, which was Mad Magazine. Mad then sued Ross and me to get us off the stands. We won the case but we lost the war because they knocked us out of the box distribution-wise, we had no distributor and Mad went on to be unbelievably successful. We were pretty successful in that Mad were worried. The first issue had appeared and the distributor said, “We’ve got a winner with Get Lost“. Then all hell broke lose and everything went down the tubes.

We never worked at Mad. Harvey Kurtzman had approached us to work there. We went to work for them and we met Gaines and he said to his editor to tell us he wouldn’t give us work if we were the last two guys in the world. He held a grudge.

One of the most interesting text pieces that appeared in Get Lost was a biography of Ross and Mike and how they became to be a team. The piece wasn’t signed, but Mike stated in 2005 that he and Ross actually wrote the piece in question, titled How It All Began. It marks one of the few times that the duo wrote a text piece about themselves, albeit humourous, and it does capture the essence of the two men at the time, with Mike being the incorriable gambler and Ross being the shy intellectual type with his play on words (note the use of the word chortle. According to Mike, Ross was, “…was very clinical. He was the one who created the lines in Get Lost; ‘Chortle, chortle, chortle,’ instead of laughs. He’d look for words. He had a Roget’s Thesaurus in his pocket all the time and would be looking for new ways to say something.”).  Another text piece appeared in issue #2, I'll post that later in the week.

The name Robsjohn Gluck was yet another of Mike’s aliases, in this case it was used as an alias for both Ross and Mike as a team, mainly to give the impression that several artists and writers were working on Get Lost. Artists Tony Mortellaro, Martin Rosenthall and Howard Post and writer/editor Yvonne Rae worked alongside Ross and Mike for Get Lost.

The story that comes after Mike's text piece was later redrawn and re-used for Mike and Ross's Up Your Nose (And Out Your Ear) magazine, but that's another story...but I Killed Cock Robin shows that Ross Andru and Mike Esposito could produce humour that could not only hold it's own with Mad Magazine, but actually go past it - Alex Toth told me that he how impressed he was with the pair's parody of Shane, Strain, over fifty years after the event.  That's high praise indeed.

(originally appeared in Get Lost #1, March 1954)
by Mike Esposito & Ross Andru

It’s a success story a real old fashioned American success story, the sort of story that brings a sob to your throat and a tiny little clutch to your heart. A story that begins in tragedy and ends... well nobody knows the end yet.

The story begins in Hell's Kitchen, that crummy, run down slum section of that great city New York City. Two waifs of the street meet by accident. Little Mike with boyish good humor puts his zip gun in Tiny Ross' mouth and pulls the trigger ... but something stops his finger. There's a look in Tiny Ross' eyes, a friendly, lost look. Ross' little eye balls spin, particularly the little red eyes in the middle of his forehead. Little Mike looks on entranced, the gun drops from his limp fingers, suddenly with mad frenzy he shouts; a nickel on Red Eye to win! Tiny Ross’ eyes slow down in their crazy spin, one by one they stop ... and. and ... RED EYE WINS BY AN EYELASH! Tiny Ross spits a dime into Little Mike's hand, he pays off two to one.

Little Mike has won his first bet.

Thus do tiny things change men's lives. The boys are now chums, they grow up to¬gether. They go to P.S 138 together. They go to reform school together; they go to the High School of Music and Art together.... why they even go on their first date together and then have the same cell in Sing Sing together.

They are grown men now and for business reasons they call themselves Mike Esposito and Ross Andru. (It was a bum rap, and be¬sides it was two other guys what done it.) But to their friends they will always be Little (love the ponies) Mike and Tiny (four eyes) Ross.

It was at C&I that they first got their start. It was in life class, they were copying figures from the wall of the little room on the second floor. An idea struck Ross he dropped his pencil and clutched Mike by the windpipe. His little red eyes fluttered and he said in his own charming Hells' Kitchen manner, "Let's drawr pitchers fer comic books!"

Mike smiled at the idea; all he could do was smile because Ross was still holding him by the windpipe. In a vain attempt to break the grip his head dropped forward. Ross thought he had nodded yes. That's how it all began.

Oh they were an instant success ... well; maybe not an instant success. It is true that they were turned down by all the publishers in the city but that was only prejudice. Then they hit on a plan that was an instant success. They borrowed a car and took an editor for a ride ... just a simple little ride in the country, when they returned the lucky editor was happy to buy their work. That happy editor was Mr. X. X. Wolf.

Mr. Wolf bought everything that the boys turned out, which wasn't much. They were slower than youngsters trying to get along, tough little champions turning out no more thin two or three pages an hour. But the good times wouldn't last. Mr. Wolf folded and all of his checks were sent to Akron to be made into automobile tires. The boys lost the car at Jamaica and there was a short lag between jobs.

Nine years later Mike was still selling knishes on 14th Street and Ross was posing for the before pictures in the Charles Ulysses ads. Then came their lucky break.

Mike sold a blind man a knish and (by mistake of course) short-changed him two dollars. An hour later, when he noticed the bill wick to the palm of his hand, it was too late to catch the man. It is of course unlucky to spend a two dollar bill so he threw it away. It was a lovely day at Jamaica. Mike threw the bill away in front of the $2 window and found a ticket stuck to the palm of his hand that said. HAIRY NOSE to win ... 269 to l. He laughed and laughed and showed the ticket to the man in the window. The man paid off while Mike had been laughing Hairy Nose had won by a hair.

Mike swallowed and said; "Well I'll be SNKFUDEW”. The man gave him a ticket on Snkfudew, a real dark horse that was pegged at 592 to 1.

Snkfudew won by a fssded.

As lucky Mike staggered out, his pockets stuffed with greenbacks, he spotted Ross touting behind a pillar. Ross had lost his job, a steady diet of Won Ton with double kreplach had made him too fat for the before ads. They embraced and tears of sheer joy ran from all six of their eyes.

How to spend the money that was the question. Having a keen grasp of world, a piercing insight into business problems and being essentially simple minded, they went into publishing.

Ross said, with a flash of inspiration, “What'll we publish?" Mike was thinking, always a painful operation for him, and re-sented the interruption. "Get lost!” he growled.

“Dat's a good title!” Ross chortled, carried away by the painful brilliance of the remark.

Thus a great magazine was born.

No expense was spared in preparing the first issue. As much as 11cents a day was spent on postcards to artists. Only the finest artists were considered for the position of staff artist. Leon¬ardo daVinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh and Robsjohn Gluck. Robsjohn Gluck was hired.

A trained crew of men was sent to scour the bowery. There, under a garbage can, taking the cold turkey cure was Harrischlamer Har¬rikramiflammis. He had a typewriter clutched to his narrow chest and was waiting for the pawn shops to open. At first he thought Mike was a mouse and Ross a bat, but fresh air and black coffee dispelled this illusion. He agreed to work on the magazine.

Three years of patient effort produced this result. The red ink is made from ground rubies; the paper is manufactured from a secret formula and consists mainly of Redwood logs, Ry Krisp, and Won Ton soup. This magazine is distributed by trained anteaters and is found only on every newsstand.

That is how it all began, all that can be said now is:


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