TCJ ARCHIVE

The Carmine Infantino Interview

MAKING THE TRANSITION

GROTH: Originally you were inking Frank Giacoia’s work. But then somehow you transposed that division of labor so he was inking your work. How did that happen? Why did you change roles?

INFANTINO: I just got involved with penciling suddenly. And Frank had such a beautiful ink quality. They started giving him inking to do.

GROTH: I think Giacoia is probably best known as an inker, especially on Kirby’s work.

INFANTINO: Yeah, but I got to tell you, Frank was a very good but frustrated penciler. And he did a couple of strips, if you remember. There was a strip called Johnny Reb, I believe. It was very good. It’s just that he was quite slow. It was painful for him to pencil.

GROTH: So he probably couldn’t make enough money doing that.

INFANTINO: Probably. But so talented. And his inking was in demand all the time. So he inked mostly.

But six months later, Shelly kept his word, and I began at DC. He put me on The Ghost Patrol. Then started moving me quickly. He moved me from that to Johnny Thunder — these were all back-up features, mind you. And during this whole period, I met Joe Kubert up there, Alex Toth was up there. The young guard moving in. There were guys like [Marty] Nodell and [Irwin] Hasen already there. I went in one day and Shelly suddenly put me on the old Flash. My career from there on was strictly DC. Well, that’s not true. Later on I went on to Simon and Kirby’s for a short while when they had their company and did Charlie Chan. But that was some years later.

GROTH: I also understand that you worked at Avon.

INFANTINO: Yes.

GROTH: I don’t know if that was before or after DC.

INFANTINO: It was during. In fact, Kubert and I started doing Jesse James over there.

GROTH: Kubert inked you.

INFANTINO: Yeah, and I’ll tell you something. There was one Jesse James book that I penciled the whole thing in one day, and he inked it in one day. [Laughs.] We did it so fast, he didn’t even put borders on it! [Laughter.] It was funny. I told Joe, “Joe, I did this in one day!” He said, “I’ll match you!” And he did! It was unbelievable.

GROTH: Did you start at DC around 46? You would have been 19 or 20?

INFANTINO: It had to be about that. I’m very uncertain about my starting age.

GROTH: The American involvement in the War started in —

INFANTINO: 1941.

GROTH: Were you drafted?

INFANTINO: No, not yet, because we were too young at that point.

GROTH: So the War did not affect you.

INFANTINO: No, not then.

Cover for The Flash #165 drawn by Infantino ©1966 DC Comics

GROTH: Now at DC I understand that basically Julie Schwartz was assigned as your editor.

INFANTINO: Yes. But we were dealing strictly with Shelly. They would hand their scripts to Shelly, and then we’d go into Shelly’s [office]. We never met Julie or Bob [Kanigher], or any of those people. Because Shelly would oversee everything, make corrections, and taught us worlds. He taught us to think. He was a brilliant editor.

GROTH: I wanted to ask you if you could tell me what Mayer was like.

INFANTINO: The first time I met him, Frank and I went in, we’re sitting in his office with our portfolios in our hands, and he’s sitting in his chair, his desk between us, talking to us and looking at our artwork… Suddenly, behind us — he had an office that was one solid wall, then the rest of it had those half glass windows — so we heard the door opening behind us, and we hear, “En garde!” We didn’t know what the hell was going on! We look around and there was Irwin Hasen; he’s got a T-square in his hand, and with that, Shelly leaps upon his desk with his T-square, and they start dueling! Over desks and across the room. Welcome to Shelly’s World!

GROTH: [Laughs.] That’s great!

INFANTINO: And Frank and I are sitting there literally stunned. These two start dueling away, then I think Shelly tags him on the butt or something, and the thing was over. And he left just as suddenly as he came in, without a word, and Shelly went back looking at our work as if nothing happened. It was the weirdest experience! [Laughter.] It was a madhouse, that place!

GROTH: Now Shelly must have been about 10 years older than you?

INFANTINO: More than that. In those days he was about 30. Very young. But Jesus, he was brilliant. Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, myself, Frank — we can thank him for whatever advancement we got. He was that great, this man. He was your mentor…

GROTH: Can you tell me what he did in terms of editing? How did he work with you?

INFANTINO: He’d always insist on storytelling. If we missed the boat, he’d make you explain why you did it that way. But he would show you if you were wrong. He wouldn’t just say, “Go away and do it.” He’d show you why and how you did it incorrectly. He was great.

GROTH: Of course, he was a cartoonist as well.

INFANTINO: Yes, absolutely. A great one, too. And he wrote, and he drew some beautiful things.

GROTH: You know, this was so early in the history of comics, I wonder how he became so expert in the craft of visual story telling so quickly?

INFANTINO: God, I wish I could help you there, but I don’t know. But I know I revered him. We all did. He was sheer genius. He could pull a story apart in 10 minutes and tell you what was wrong with it. And he was very young at the time. And the same with the artwork. He took us four or five kids and molded us. He just thrust us right into the damn thing. But he groomed us first, then moved us forward quickly.

Cover for The Flash #133 drawn by Infantino ©1962 DC Comics

GROTH: Would he hand you scripts?

INFANTINO: Yes. Julie [Schwartz] and Bob Kanigher did their work and handed it in to him. He’d go over every script, correct them and change them. Then when we came in, he would hand us the finished script.

GROTH: Bob Kanigher was writing at the time?

INFANTINO: Yeah, he and Julie sat in another room. They were just editors and writers.

GROTH: And they would write in the office?

INFANTINO: Yes.

GROTH: Did you meet Julie and Bob then?

INFANTINO: No. We didn’t see them. Just strictly Shelly. I mean, I saw them there, but we never said hello because we never dealt with them. It was a little strange. But then we got notice one day that Shelly was going to leave the company. He wanted to go back to cartooning. We were in shock because he was like a father, you know? Then they told us we’d be working with Julie and Bob, and they introduced us to them. And Julie became my editor.

GROTH: How long after you started working for DC did that happen?

INFANTINO: Not long — two or three years at most.

GROTH: So what kind of a change was that?

INFANTINO: Well, at the beginning it was a little tough. It was tough and it wasn’t that tough, because while Shelly used to go over everything we did, these fellows didn’t. They would just hand us a script and we’d go. We were on our own, actually. I guess we were ready at the time. But I tell you, we used to meet constantly, Joe, Alex, myself, and Frank. In the office, we’d talk to each other, look at each other’s work, always comment, always appreciating different people. Frank Robbins was a big favorite at one time, and Noel Sickles. Frank loved Alex Raymond. So we’d just debate with all this artwork.

GROTH: Was there a sense of healthy competition?

INFANTINO: Oh, yes. Nobody was jealous of anybody else. That was the interesting thing. It was a friendly competition.

GROTH: Can you tell me the kind of qualities that everyone looked for and liked in the art at that time?

INFANTINO: At that time I was a fan of Sickles and Ed Cartier. I had gotten onto Ed Cartier’s art.

GROTH: Can you tell me a little about what Joe [Kubert] and Alex [Toth] were like then?

INFANTINO: Very nice. We didn’t really socialize that much. We’d meet at the office and we’d have coffee together, we’d enjoy each other’s work and talk. Then we’d go our own way. So it was mostly an office thing. Well, that’s not quite true. We did meet once in a while, but not often. I went to Alex’s home sometimes, he came to mine. Joe had an office in the city at one time, and we’d go meet him up there. Everybody used to hang around in the city. But it was a friendly competition, nobody was out to do anybody, you know?

Cover for 80 Page Giant #4 drawn by Infantino ©1964 DC Comics

GROTH: l assume that you primarily looked at the art; I assume you didn’t get excited over the stories so much as you did over the art.

INFANTINO: Primarily the art. I had given up the storytelling. After I left Cronin, I didn’t bother with storytelling any more. But I got onto Somerset Maugham’s writing. I read him and Mark Twain. I was told, “If you really want to learn how to write, you got to read these people.” So that’s what I was on at the time. But on my own.

GROTH: This must have been when you were in your early 20s.

INFANTINO: Right.

GROTH: That’s interesting. Somerset Maugham must have been quite a departure from the scripts you were given!

INFANTINO: Yeah, but he was a great short storyteller. His work was marvelous. And of course Mark Twain was sheer genius. I learned so much from them.

GROTH: Were you aware enough at the time to make a distinction between Somerset Maugham and the kind of writing you were given to illustrate?

INFANTINO: Yeah. I could see the difference. You see, they created characters. Julie would give you scripts that were mostly heavy plots. Julie wasn’t much for character. But Maugham was. So was Twain, for that matter. But Julie believed in a real strong plot. He believed in heavy plotting. You’ve read his stuff, you know. And Julie’s formula was: he’d start off with the villain; you’d meet the villain, he’d tell you about the villain; then he’d break off and he’d introduce the hero, who was the Flash at the time, and he’d be meeting his girlfriend, he’d be very slow to arrive or something or other. Then back to the villain; then the villain and Flash meet, and then the climax. Et cetera. That’s pretty much his routine.

GROTH: Now, when you were given a script, could you go back to Julie and say, “You know, I’m not that crazy about this script.”?

INFANTINO: No. Who would dare?

GROTH: Was there any latitude to negotiate dialogue? Could you change things?

INFANTINO: No. I never considered it, I must be honest with you. I just got a script and did it.

GROTH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like your enjoyment was primarily in the drawing itself.

INFANTINO: Right. That’s true.

GROTH: And the story was not that relevant.

INFANTINO: I got bored with the story after a point. They were repetitive.

SUPERHERO STORIES

GROTH: You’re actually on record as saying that you never really liked superheroes that much.

INFANTINO: It’s true.

GROTH: But your reputation is largely —

INFANTINO: [Laughs.] I know, that’s what strange about it. But I was definitely not a fan. And in fact I wasn’t thrilled doing the first Flash, or the second Flash.

From "Around the World in 80 Minutes," penciled by Infantino, inked by Joe Giella and written by Bob Kanigher, in 80 Page Giant #4 (August 1964 ©1964 DC Comics

GROTH: It’s funny because when I interviewed Joe [Kubert], I was talking about the Our Army At War stuff that he did, and he must have done that stuff for 20 years, and I said, “Well, I guess you must have had a real affinity for World War II stuff,” and he said, “No, not really.” [Laughs.]

INFANTINO: Yeah, I know. None of us were.

GROTH: But you did it because that’s what there was to do.

INFANTINO: You got to eat! [Laughter.] It was that simple. They’d give us a script and we’d do it. The second Flash came around, because, I think Wertham had destroyed the business for a while, remember? So we were trying everything, everything. We did war stories, westerns, romance, every damn thing. But nothing was doing well. Nothing. Everything was kind of laying flat. The business was really destroyed for a time. Then I went in one day and Schwartz handed me the Flash. Julie said they were going to try the Flash — and I didn’t care, as long as it was work. Because things were bad, and we needed work.

GROTH: This would have been 1956?

INFANTINO: Yes, that’s right. And Kanigher wrote the script, as well as designed the very first Flash cover, too. I had nothing to do with that. I just drew it. He sketched it out quite roughly. He told me to design the costume. So I went home and designed the costume. I kept it fairly simple. But that came very quickly for some reason. I mean, there was not much to do with it — the wings on the boots, and the headpiece.

GROTH: It was very sleek.

INFANTINO: Yes. And thin. Remember, he was a runner. We didn’t want him very muscular. That was one of the things they emphasized. And Kanigher picked up on that right away when I brought it in because he said he was hoping I wouldn’t make a big, overly muscular guy. He wasn’t supposed to be one.

GROTH: I’ve found that are two versions of who wrote that first issue.

INFANTINO: There is only one version: Kanigher. I know it’s Kanigher. I will swear to it. Because I saw the scripts.

GROTH: I read somewhere that Gardner Fox wrote it.

INFANTINO: Well, I know that Bob Kanigher wrote it. I can guarantee that. I believe later Gardner Fox started writing it. But the very first one definitely, Bob Kanigher. Bob created the character with the ring, and the whole thing. That was all Bob Kanigher, guaranteed. I don’t care what anybody says. This I know for fact. Because it was his script.

GROTH: What was Bob like to work with?

INFANTINO: Bob had a way of bringing the best out of you. He would prod you… There were certain people he would lean on very heavily. But he felt they needed it. And other people he wouldn’t say a word to. He felt that they would give on their own accord. I think he left Joe and I alone. I enjoyed working with him.

GROTH: Joe told me that he left him alone.

INFANTINO: It’s true. But if Bob thought you were goofing off, or that you had more in you than you showed, he’d really work you over. And he’d bring it out! So you can’t fault him for that. I thought he was great.

GROTH: Was Kanigher an editor at that time as well as a writer?

INFANTINO: Yes, he was an editor. Julie and he sat right across from one another in one office. I went in one day and Julie said to me, “You’re going to be doing The Flash,” and then Bob handed me the script.

From “Television Told the Tale” originally published in Adventure Comics #399 (November 1970) inked by Bernard Sachs, written by Bob Kanigher ©1970 DC Comics

GROTH: I want to go back to the mid-to-late- 40s when you were at DC. I’m not exactly sure — I know the strips you did at DC: Johnny Thunder, Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Ghost Patrol, and then I think when superheroes ran their course, which I think would have been the late-’40s, you did something called The Trigger Twins

INFANTINO: Yes, Westerns, mainly in the ’50s. And there was Pow Wow Smith

GROTH: And King Farriday, a spy character.

INFANTINO: Right. By the way, King Farriday was again Bob Kanigher. I enjoyed working with him. He was very good. I liked his writing. It was a good script, I enjoyed it. He challenged you to be different.

FILED UNDER: , ,

19 Responses to The Carmine Infantino Interview

  1. Wow, there were a lot of comics mentioned there that I hadn’t thought about in years. Infantino and Kanigher supplied an awful lot of my reading back when I was growing up in the 1960s. Every Friday I’d go out and buy the latest comics and sit down and read them at the kitchen table. Happy times!

    • Dan Nordquist says:

      Yeah, going down to the drugstore in Cleveland Ohio to see the new comics was a big high point in my week as a little kid back then. I was a huge fan of Carmine and Murphy, and boy do I remember when the big Batman craze hit.

      It was great to finally find out about what it was actually like to be one of my heroes back in the day. I would open up the magazine then, and see the NYC address for DC as publisher at the bottom of the page, and I’d wonder how one got to know them, and how to start the ball rolling if one were a more accomplished artist.

      Funny to read that Carmine didn’t even enjoy the Flash stories.

      When I would see their recreations ( he and Murphy ) of early Justice Society characters I was so curious about the originals that had been published way before I was born. Then one day I finally got to see some interiors from back then, and I realized that it was the modern versions of those guys ( Captain Midnight etc. ) that I really liked the looks of.

      For me all of that started with the Vandal Savage story and another story called “Double Danger on Earth” that featured the “Earth One” Flash. I enjoyed both villains in that latter story, having early on picked up on the grotesque villains in Dick Tracy etc.

      To see references in DC comics to earlier stories was great, showing a whole history that I could look into, like Lovecraft making up the “tradition” of the Necronomicon, except that here there actually WAS a tradition. Something that had been going on even when my own parents were young. In the early 60′s they even had little miniature versions of the covers of magazines out at the same time that you might not have seen yet. So you could get an old comic and see in it what else was out that same month and be intrigued with it. Lovecraft’s creations were even mentioned once in the Felix Faust origin.

  2. Ed Gauthier says:

    INFANTINO: “…comics are in a terrible downward spiral now.” They’ve indeed been tanking in recent years due to the fact that there are no more great writers like Broome and Kaniger, editors like Schwarz, inkers like Anderson, or artists like Infantino, Boring, Ditko, Kirby, Colan, Kane, Cole, etc. That high quality level just isn’t there anymore. People are much better off just pulling the plug, and buying and saving as many golden and silver age books as possible.

  3. steven samuels says:

    RIP

    “GROTH: I was going to say, the work you did at Warren maybe not all of if, but certainly that strip and the stuff that Nino inked, looked like you put a lot more effort into it than say, the Nova or Spider Woman stuff.”

    100% agree with this. In the original print version of this interview there were a few other panel images from Creepy that were very nice, sadly not included here. Far more palatable than the stuff he was doing from the “Big Two.” Maybe he didn’t see it that way, but it did feel like he was putting more of a personal passion into it. Also it could just come down to his artwork looking much better in black & white. Here’s some stories from his Warren output:

    Running Wild (Infantino & Nino)

    Bloodstone Christmas (Infantino & John Severin!)

    Country Pie (Infantino & Wrightson)

  4. James Van Hise says:

    I read through this to see if I remembered correctly that there were a couple major omissions in the interview. I remembered correctly. First, as I understand it Infantino didn’t exactly quit as publisher but was either fired or forced to resign due to poor management decisions he’d made. And after leaving DC he never worked in a management position again but had to go back to drawing comics for a living. Then there were the firings. When several long time (I mean decades) DC writers, including Gardner Fox and Arnold Drake, banded together and demanded that they get employee benefits (because DC didn’t allow “freelancers” to work for the competition, effectively forcing them to be exclusive with DC) Carmine Infantino rejected their demands and fired them. This action haunted Infantino for the rest of his life (not that he ever expressed any misgivings) and rather than really defend it he’d just get angry whenever anyone brought it up. When Comic Book Artist magazine tried to ask him about this in the 1990s he began a feud with them, with threatening and name-calling.

  5. Eddie Campbell says:

    About ten years ago I got a chance to tell Infantino that his Elongated Man (The back-up series in detective Comics) was the single run of a 1960s comic that I most enjoy looking back over. It had a great summery optimistic quality and the hero was married and that wasn’t a problem but a good thing, and the best of it really did catch something of the atmosphere of the mid 1960s.. He got somewhat excited and started informing me that they let him ink it himself. I said yes, I know, that’s WHY!

    • T Guy says:

      What you wrote, Eddie!

      If only Infa had inked all his work…

      I was going to disagree with ‘the single run of a 1960s comic that I most enjoy looking back over’ but I’m not sure that I can think of anything I’d rather look back over from the swingin’ decade.

  6. R. Fiore says:

    I recall enjoying that angular stuff he was doing for Marvel in the 1970s.

  7. george says:

    A few issues of Daredevil he did in 1977-78, written by Jim Shooter, have held up well.

  8. Charro says:

    I would like to see more of his mature style. Always thought there was potential there that could have been explored more, judging from the bits he did for Iron Man, and Daredevil. Janson worked well with him, seemed like they both were on a similar wavelength, this could have been a good team.

    • R. Fiore says:

      He did a number of issues of the Marvel Star Wars comics, and the place to look would be one of the Marvel omnibus books. (I kept remembering the Infantino comics I read in the 70s as being John Carter Warlord of Mars, but some Googling indicated that my memory was faulty.) I imagine the back issues wouldn’t be terribly expensive either.

      • Your memory isn’t that faulty. Infantino did some Jome Carter comics for Marvel as well, including one issue that was later reworked as a Star Wars story:
        http://www.erbzine.com/mag19/1901.html

      • Kit says:

        He did a number of issues of the Marvel Star Wars comics, and the place to look would be one of the Marvel omnibus books.

        Do these exist? Surely Marvel lost the rights to the material about twenty years before their Omnibus lines started.

        (Though presumably it’ll come back sometime now they’re both owned by Disney)

      • R. Fiore says:

        By “Marvel omnibus” I mean omnibus of the Marvel Star Wars comics. Dark Horse publishes them, big 500-page momsers. Infantino is in Volume 2.

  9. george says:

    Get “Essential Nova” for some nice late-’70s Infantino work for Marvel. And I assume his Warren work from the same period will eventually be reprinted.

  10. Paul says:

    My two cents is that Infantino’s work on Nova and Star Wars for Marvel was some of the worst comic art of that often mediocre era (Frank Robbins’ Captain America unfortunately being another low point). Such a shame as I was well aware of his marvelous Flash from when I was younger (I discovered Adam Strange later, long after the fact). Interestingly, at the time, I was also very put off by Kirby’s post-Darkseid comics for DC and Marvel, but now find those Omacs and Kamandis and 2001′s and Machine Mans and Eternals and even Devil Dinosaurs utterly fascinating, and containing some of his best, most interesting and spectacular artworks. Infantino’s late work though doesn’t improve with age.

  11. Joe says:

    I disagree with Paul.
    Some of the most astute and passionate collectors love Carmine’s work from this era. Do not be thrown off by his comments. I knew Carmine as well as anyone, as well as his circle of friends. Carmine to put it mildly, had a great sense of pride. His departure from DC was extremely painful and embarrassing. The scars remained till his death. As a result he would never admit that he did great work after his departure but the fact is that he was brilliant at layout and design and ideally suited for Star Wars in particular. Stan Lee personally sought him out as the ideal choice having grown up with the great DC sci-fi titles. His effort never lacked and his distinctive style was manifested in everything he did.

    Joe

  12. Joe says:

    Let me also add the following quote “According to former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, the strong sales of Star Wars comics “saved” Marvel financially in 1977 and 1978.[2] Marvel’s Star Wars series was one of the industry’s top selling titles in 1979 and 1980″ from the Star Wars Wikipedia page.

    Obviously, the success of the blockbuster franchise had a lot to do with it but it was Carmine’s tenure on the book that shined. Not coincidentally, the same thing happened after Carmine took over Batman (which was going to be cancelled) and launched the silver-age Flash.

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