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.
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 —
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.