TCJ ARCHIVE

The Carmine Infantino Interview

DESIGNS AND DIRECTION

GROTH: OK, so you drew The Flash for 10 years, you were doing Adam Strange, and then you started drawing Batman. What kept your interest alive? Were you solving problems artistically?

INFANTiNO: The covers. Donenfeid kept pushing covers on me. If you remember, at that point I was doing all the Batman covers, and I was doing all of Adam Strange. I was enjoying it. Then I did some Superman covers. And every time I’d do a cover, the damn sales would jump up, you know? So I got a kick out of designing these covers. That I enjoyed.

GROTH: Is that because you were designing bigger picture?

INFANTINO: I don’t know; I enjoyed designing. The covers I enjoyed because I would create something, you know what I mean?

GROTH: I understand that you became the art director on —

INFANTINO: What happened was, they liked the covers I was doing, so Donenfeld spoke to Liebowitz, and he got him to agree to make me art director. That meant I would design all the covers in the company. Period. I liked that, that was fan for me. Shortly after that, Donenfeld leaves. Liebowitz says to me, “You’re running it now. You’re the editor.” I said, “What are you talking about?” But I was the editor. Then I became the editorial director. And that’s when I started taking books apart, bringing new people in, and changing things all over the place.

GROTH: And that was in 67.

INFANTINO: Right.

Cover drawn by Infantino ©1968 DC Comics

GROTH: What was Donenfeld’s relationship with Liebowltz?

INFANTINO: Harry Donenfeld was the father Irwin Donenfeld. It was his company originally. Jack Liebowitz was the accountant originally. Then he became a partner. So he and Donenfeld were partners. Now, when Harry died, Irwin was still there, and Irwin was in charge of the comic books. He was the publisher. They seemed to have a good relationship, for all I know. I think they did.

GROTH: And eventually Donenfeld left.

INFANTINO: Well now, during this period, Liebowitz — and I guess [Irwin] Donenfeld too, I can’t speak for them — made this deal with Kinney National. That was the funeral homes and the cleaning contractors and all that.

GROTH: Parking lots.

INFANTINO: Right, all that stuff. And he sold the company. Shortly after that, Donny left. Batman got very hot, by the way, on TV, just before they sold the company. They were doing quite well with that thing.

GROTH: So Donenfeld sold the company and Liebowitz remained.

INFANTINO: No, no, no. [Jack] Liebowitz sold the company. The son, Donny, was the partner then. They did it together. It was Liebowitz’s decision to sell the company. I think he had the majority of shares. I’m not certain now, but this is the impression I got then. I liked Jack, by the way. He was a nice man. Very straight. I liked him very much.

GROTH: Did you also like Donenfeld?

INFANTINO: Sure! Irwin and I were good friends.

GROTH: My understanding is that Donenfeld suggested that you become the editorial director, and he suggested that to Liebowitz. Is that true?

INFANTINO: Yes. But I was art director. He went in and sold him. Of course, as I told you, Stan offered me more money to go over there — $5,000 more a year, I think. I was considering it, and I told them that.

GROTH: Stan wanted you to be just an artist?

INFANTINO: An artist, yeah. Then Donenfeld was toying with the idea — because Stan’s books were really taking off then and knocking the hell out of DC. So Donenfeld went to Liebowitz and said, “This guy’s covers are doing well…” This is what he said to me anyway. And that he thought it would be an asset if I stayed on, not as an artist, but as art director. And he sold the idea to Jack. So that’s what I did. So I suddenly stopped drawing The Flash and just began creating covers. It was that simple. Then of course Irwin left, and the editorial position was thrust on me.

GROTH: So you got along well with both owners.

INFANTINO: I gotta be honest with you, Gary, Liebowitz was a wonderful man, and as far as I was concerned, so was Irwin. They both treated me well. I wouldn’t say a word against either one of them. I thought they were just good people to work with.

GROTH: ‘When you say they treated you really well, can you be more specific?

INFANTINO: Irwin and I were friends. We would go out socially. And Jack hired me, he was very straight, no nonsense. He was honest and direct, and you can’t beat that. I was very happy working for both of those people.

GROTH: It’s very interesting, because someone like Jerry Siegel doesn’t have much good to say about them.

INFANTINO: Well, a whole thing went on with them. With Siegel and [Harry] Donenfeld and Liebowitz… I don’t know. Joe Simon wrote a book on that, didn’t he?

GROTH: Yeah, he did write about that.

INFANTINO: He covered it, too. See, I heard Jack [Liebowitz’s version, I heard Siegel’s version, I don’t know. When you’re not there personally, it’s like the fish story, you know? The fish is this big, and then it’s only this big. So I don’t like to make comments on things I just don’t know personally.

THE SYSTEM

GROTH: Now, the system was pretty much in place at that time, the way artists sold their work lock, stock, and barrel and they were paid a flat page rate and so on. Given that the system was in place, and you felt you were treated well within that system...

INFANTINO: Oh, I didn’t think I was treated that well.

GROTH: But Liebowitz represented this system.

INFANTINO: Yeah, I made a good living at it. But you know, as an artist, you always want more.

GROTH: Especially if you think you deserve it.

INFANTINO: Well, we used to talk about reprints, all kinds of things, but it never came to anything, you know what I’m saying?

GROTH: Did you ever talk to Liebowitz about it?

INFANTINO: No. I must be honest with you, I never spoke to anyone about it.

GROTH: Is that just because you didn’t feel you could get anywhere?

INFANTINO: Well, they tried that union thing a couple of times, and of course when you sign the back of the check, you’re signing your life away. So I think it was a foregone conclusion. I got news for you: you think the system’s changed very much today? Have you ever seen a contract that they sign today?

GROTH: Well, I think it’s changed substantially.

INFANTINO: I don’t think so.

GROTH: They get what amounts to a royalty.

INFANTINO: Well that’s something else. They’re not getting the full ownership.

GROTH: DC has granted ownership to certain creators in the recent past —

INFANTINO: You didn’t read that contract, did you?

GROTH: No. But I don’t think there’s one contract now; I think there are many.

INFANTINO: I saw a contract where it says you have ownership. You own it, but they have to sign the licenses for 50 years. And then if they want it, they can renew for another 50 years. So what do you own? You understand what I’m saying? Now there may be different contracts, I don’t know.

GROTH: I think they cut different deals for different artists. I think it depends on how much clout —

INFANTINO: But knowing Warner... They won’t let you own anything. That was a firm, firm, firm condition. They give you royalty money, they give you reprint money, they cover something that gives you hospitalization and all that, but you don’t own anything.

GROTH: They would essentially own and control...

INFANTINO: That’s the whole key.

GROTH: I wanted to ask you how you felt about that when you became publisher?

INFANTINO: I couldn’t do very much about it. The only thing we did do, I got raises. As we started making more and more money...

I want to take exception to statements made by Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz about some areas of my stewardship at DC Comics. First, Ms. Kahn claims she began the payment of reprint rights at DC. Not quite! DC has been paying these rights in one form or another for as long as I remember. Some of that came as bonuses given. Second, Paul Levitz asserted in that large DC book published last Christmas [DC COMICS, Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes], that my “tenure was a sea of red ink.” Not according to a memo to me from the late Warner chairman [Steven] Ross, congratulating me not only on winning every award in the comic business, but also for bringing in a very profitable DC in 1974. For this reason I must now thank the late Bill Gaines for insisting I keep copies of memos, notes, and sales figures relating to my time at DC Comics. He told me you never know if one day you may need them.

Cover for Amazing World of DC Comics #8 drawn by Infantino ©1975 DC Comics

So that was not true. We had a couple of years there in a row where we did very well. In fact to the point that I was giving out raises constantly. That’s my point. I kept raising rates, and contrary to popular opinion — Ms. Kahn claims that she started reprint money, and that’s not true. We did it. And Bill Gaines was working with me, do you remember that? When I took over, Bill came in to help,

GROTH: Yes, didn’t Warner buy Mad at some point?

INFANTINO: No, it was there right from the beginning. When they bought DC, they bought Mad. They bought the whole thing.

GROTH: Oh, I see. So had Kinney bought Mad?

INFANTINO: Yeah. They bought Mad, they bought DC Comics, Independent News…

GROTH: How did you and Gaines work together?

INFANTINO: We sat down together and we checked out all the bills, and then we’d start talking about policy. He’d want to know what I was going to be doing, and I would tell him, “I’m going to be planning these characters, and this kind of book…” So he kept out of editorial, really.

GROTH: So he served as a consultant?

INFANTINO: Pretty much. But he was nice to work with. So we said, “Why don’t we first raise everybody’s page rates, and then give reprint money? And bonuses.” And what I instituted too was, any book that sold over a certain percentage got a bonus. Like Swamp Thing, That thing hit 60% or 65% one time, and I gave the editor, the artist, the writer, probably a $1,000 bonus. So every time a book would hit a certain mark, I would give out bonuses on top of everything else.

GROTH: This was when you had become publisher.

INFANTINO: Sure. We were starting to get very liberal with this thing.

GROTH: Let me skip back a moment. You became art director first, then you became editorial director in 1967, then you became publisher in 1971.

INFANTINO: Something like that. Then president.

GROTH: Yeah, a guy by the name of Paul Wendell left, and you assumed the presidency.

INFANTINO: I just fell into these things, one after another. I never really relinquished what else I was doing while I was going up the ladder. I never stopped doing covers, you know. Even when I was publisher and president, I still was doing covers.

CARTE BLANCHE

GROTH: When you became editorial director, I think one of the things you did was to install artists as editors.

INFANTINO: That’s right. It had been the reverse. Julie [Schwartz] and Mort [Weisinger] and Murray [Boltinoff] were purely literary men. They weren’t really visual people. My feeling was that you needed visual people in there. Of course, the DC books in those days were very sterile looking, if you recall. So I brought in a couple of artists as editors. I made [Joe] Kubert an editor, [Joe] Orlando an editor, and I brought [Dick] Giordano in, you remember? So now we had visual people running part of the editorial department. And that seemed to help — the books got sparked up.

GROTH: You got Giordano from Charlton, right?

INFANTINO: Yes.

GROTH: And I understand that you insisted on a package deal.

INFANTINO: That’s what I wanted — I wanted Denny O’Neil, I wanted Steve Skeates, and I wanted [Jim] Aparo. There were a bunch of people I wanted. So I said, “You’re coming, but I want them with you.”

GROTH: And they agreed to that.

INFANTINO: Sure. I got them all. We started infusing new blood into the company, you know?

GROTH: Now, in order to do that, did you have to have the approval of someone higher up?

INFANTINO: No. They trusted me.

GROTH: You were pretty much given carte blanche?

INFANTINO: Yeah. They trusted me. After that went on for a while, then I went out and got Jack [Kirby].

GROTH: That must have been after you had become publisher.

INFANTINO: Was it? I’m not sure.

GROTH: You become publisher in 71…

INFANTINO: But I got him before that. He and I had been friends, you know. So we had been talking all the while during this whole time, so there was nothing new about it. One time I said, “I’m coming out to the coast, Jack. Do you want to get together and have a drink?” He said, “Absolutely.” So we did. And when we talked, he showed me these three big covers of Forever People, New Gods, and you know the rest.

GROTH: I guess it wasn’t a surprise to you that he was very unhappy at Marvel.

INFANTINO: Well that’s what the story was. It must have been because he wanted to come over to me. I paid him more money, too.

GROTH: The story Jack told me was that you flew out to California and saw him. What led up to that? Why did you decide to talk to him?

INFANTINO: We had been talking on the phone all the while. He and I had been friends for years. But it was a social thing. Many years before I had done a strip with Jack that we never sold — he wrote and I drew. Then I worked for him and [Joe] Simon a number of years before. So we knew each other quite well. So that one year, I said, “Jack, I’m coming out. You want to get together for a drink or something?” He said, “Why not?” It was that simple. And sometimes good things happen that way, you know? All of a sudden.

GROTH: Can you tell me your understanding of what Jack was displeased with at Marvel?

INFANTINO: I don’t know.

GROTH: He didn’t tell you?

INFANTINO: No. He met me and he showed me these three book covers, Forever People, New Gods, and Mr. Miracle. I said, “Geez, they’re sensational. When are you people going to put them out?” He says, “Well, I created these now, and I don’t want to do them at Marvel. Would you make me an offer?” I said, “Absolutely.” He said, “But I want a three-year contract.” I said, “You got it, no problem.” So I made him an offer, which was more than what he got over there, and then I gave him a contract. It was that simple.

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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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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)

  5. patrick ford says:

    A better example would be Infantino finishing his own pencils at Warren on a story which is ironic in more ways than one.
    http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/2009/05/black-and-white-wednesday-last-super.html

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. R. Fiore says:

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

  9. george says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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)

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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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