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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.