BAPTISM BY FIRE
GROTH: It seems to me that before you became the editorial director, you didn’t have a lot of contact with your peers and your fellow artists, and once you became the editorial director, you must have been right in the middle of things.
INFANTINO: [Laughs.] You have no choice!
GROTH: And you had to keep up with everything, and be aware of everybody.
INFANTINO: Oh, sure.
GROTH: This must have been a significant change in your life.
INFANTINO: It was a roughie. It was like a baptism by fire, you know? It was a tough thing. There’s a whole transition you go through. Suddenly I wasn’t working — see, just before this period when I was freelancing, I had gotten myself down to a system: I would do two pages a day, which was about six hours a day, and then I was finished for the day and I’d go off and roam play and do what I wanted. Suddenly I’m up here for 12 or 13 hours a day, doing all kinds of things, working all hours. It was a drain on me.
GROTH: Julie Schwartz has been quoted as saying, “When Carmine first started working regularly for us, he asked and received permission to do his work in the office. Every day he would sit at his desk and do two pages.”
INFANTINO: That’s true.
GROTH: “And he always did them to perfection.”
INFANTINO: Well I don’t know about that.
GROTH: [Laughs.] That might not be true.
INFANTINO: Remember when I told you I was going to leave DC and go over to Marvel? They offered me a better deal. I said, “But I’d like to work here. I don’t want to work at home any more.” He said, “Wonderful! Come on in.” They gave me space there, it’s true.
GROTH: So you were going into the office every day as a freelancer.
INFANTINO: I don’t know why, but I felt I wanted to get out of the house. So I’d go there, work, and go home. The terrible thing about being a freelance artist is, it never ends. There’s no cut-off period, you know what I’m saying? You should know. It’s a tough thing. I suddenly wanted that change. So Irwin, as I said, was a good friend, and he said, “Absolutely. Come and work in the office,” And then a little altercation came where I wanted to go to Marvel because of more money, and then they talked me into becoming art director, and bang, bang, bang.
GROTH: When you became art director, was that technically a management position?
GROTH: How did you feel about that, as a freelance artist, suddenly going to the other side? Did you have conflicting loyalties suddenly?
INFANTINO: Not really. See, there were a lot of unhappy people up there at the time. Marvel was killing them. The artists were unhappy, they felt they were beaten from the strain. The place was in a knot. And my job was to loosen it up. So that’s what I did.
GROTH: I see. Now Sol Harrison was there at the time.
INFANTINO: Yeah, he was a production man. That’s all he ever was.
GROTH: Didn’t he become a vice-president?
INFANTINO: I made him one. But he was a production man.
GROTH: He was pretty conservative, wasn’t he?’
INFANTINO: Oh yeah, very much so.
GROTH: Was he a conservative element at DC in terms of restraining —
INFANTINO: That’s what they allege. I never had much problem with him because I didn’t deal very much with him. But I understand he was pretty conservative. He did pick and choose. He had favorite artists, things like that. He could make things very comfortable for them if he chose. But I had no problems with him. He didn’t bother me, and I didn’t bother him.
GROTH: When you became art director and then editorial director, was this a suit-and-tie job, as opposed to the freer —
INFANTINO: Oh yeah.
GROTH: Did you take to that?
INFANTINO: Well, not at the beginning, [Laughter.] I’ll tell you, even right until the end, I walked around there… You see, the one thing I had to do was make the artists and writers up there feel that they could talk to me. That was very important. That was my feeling, anyway. Some people don’t work that way, but that’s the way I worked. And I would take my jacket off the minute I got in there and open up my tie, and keep it very loose and keep the doors open, anybody could walk in. I felt contact was very important there. And I couldn’t come across very stiff, you understand what I’m saying? With a jacket it would be a suit. So the best thing I could do, because I did have to go to meetings sometimes, and needed the suits — I couldn’t wear blue jeans. So I’d take the jacket off and loosen up the tie. It worked. The guys were fairly comfortable. I think if you speak to Joe [Kubert], who was an editor in those days, and some of the others, they’ll tell you that there was none of that feeling of, “He’s the boss,” and all that kind of garbage.
GROTH: Joe had a funny story in the interview we published with him. I think I’m remembering it correctly: you made him an editor, and I think at one point you said, “Well Joe, because you’re an editor now, you’re going to have to start wearing a suit to the office.” And according to Joe he said, “Absolutely not!”
INFANTINO: [Laughter.] Yeah, that’s right, that’s true! I didn’t care if he came in naked. It was a joke. By the way, Joe didn’t come in every day. He only came in a couple of days a week, and he insisted on keeping on doing his drawing at home. Which I wanted too, because I didn’t want to lose that valuable artist.
GROTH: Yeah, he had to be one of the best artists working there.
INFANTINO: He was an editor, which I thought was wonderful. But Joe was very talented.
GROTH: How were superheroes doing in the late-’60s and early-’70s? Because you tried a lot of comics that were not superhero comics.
INFANTINO: Yeah. They were doing well, though. But I was trying to prepare for the inevitable. In my mind, “What if these things die? What if we’re back in the old days and suddenly superheroes drop off?” The reason I threw out a mess of different titles was, I wanted to sneak in The House of Mystery and The House of Secrets without people much realizing what was going on. Which I did. And also we had a chain of them out there, if you remember, and they were all successful before anyone at Marvel realized what was going on. So we had those going for us, and the superheroes going for us. Meanwhile I kept experimenting with different things.
GROTH: When you became editorial director ’67, can you tell me roughly how you ran things? You were basically in charge of the editorial direction of the entire company.
INFANTlNO: Mort Weisinger was still there, and he was still handling the Superman stuff. That was fine by me. Eventually he left and I put Julie and Murray [Boltnoff] on the Superman books.
GROTH: Perhaps you could answer a few questions about DC’s distribution. My understanding was that Marvel was distributed by Independent News at one time, and that Marvel overtook DC when they broke from Independent News, and were distributed by Curtis.
INFANTINO: No, what happened is that they broke their contract with Independent News because they took them on and they allowed them to do I think 10 books, and all of a sudden they kept pushing it up to 12,14, 16,18, and then they finally said, “OK, that’s enough,” and they broke off their relationship.
GROTH: Independent News broke off the relationship with Marvel?
INFANTINO: Yeah. And Marvel went elsewhere, too.
GROTH: I see. Because the story I heard was that lndependent News, because it was owned by DC, was keeping Marvel’s distribution artificially low.
INFANTINO: Well, that’s what Stan [Lee] used to allege. But if Independent News were not giving Marvel a fair count, they would be only hurting themselves since they only got paid for each book sold.
GROTH: But you think perhaps the Burroughs book didn’t do as well as it could have because of the distribution?
INFANTINO: That had something to do with it. Because, I tell you, they even complained to me in the town where they lived, in [Tarzana] California. I said, “We don’t have any of those Tarzan books out there!” So I went to Independent News and said, “For chrissakes, I’m dealing with this man! [Bob Hodes, at ERB, Inc.] He can’t get the books in his own town! What the hell’s going on?” I was fighting with them constantly. And you know, their attitude was, “If it doesn’t sell, it’s the product. It’s the product,” And if it sold, it was [because of] them. You can’t win.
GROTH: It’s a Catch-22 situation.
GROTH: There are a couple of controversial elements to your regime…
INFANTINO: Go ahead. If I can answer them, I’ll answer ‘em honestly, or I’ll tell you I don’t want to get involved.
GROTH: One involved C. C. Beck and Shazam! C. C. Beck was the artist on Shazam! He was also the artist who drew Captain Marvel in the ’40s and ’50s.
INFANTINO: Right. C.C. Beck… I put him with Julie Schwartz. Big mistake. Like chalk and cheese. It didn’t work. I should have given him a shot at writing, editing, and drawing it. I didn’t. Big mistake — Period!
GROTH: There was that big recent brouhaha over Jack Kirby. And I’d like you to respond to it. You were really thrashed in the Buyer’s Guide.
INFANTINO: That is true.
GROW: For two months running.
INFANTINO: I refuse to dignify [Mark] Evanier and his coterie of gnats who live in their own bizarre world of exaggeration with any further response. As far as I am concerned they no longer exist.
GROTH: A number of letter writers subsequent to that actually said they saw Kirby’s pencils, and that his version of Superman’s head looked perfectly in keeping with…
INFANTINO: …with them. With them. I don’t know where these people saw Kirby’s pencils, because they came right into the office, they went to the inker, and from the inkers to the printer. So I don’t know where they saw these things along the way. And by the way, you know Jack himself never objected to this. He understood about when you had a licensed character like Superman, you don’t mess around with him. He didn’t make an issue out of it. This jerk is making an issue of it. But think about it. Do you think Walt Disney would allow Mickey Mouse to be changed or altered in any way?
GROTH: Well, of course not.
INFANTINO: That’s my point.
GROTH: How did you feel about a number of contemporary artists taking umbrage over you defending the practice of changing an artist’s work? I think you said in your letter that you didn’t like doing it at the time, but you felt it was necessary.
INFANTINO: I just explained it. I refuse to pursue it further. Enough! In the long run, I consider the self- serving ramblings of Evanier and his sycophantic followers no more than a dead end in the history of comics. The unprofessional ignorance by this group on this matter does not warrant any further discussion.
GROTH: One thing that was said was that DC assigned Kirby to draw Jimmy Olsen. But in Kirby’s interview [Journal #134], he told me that he requested to draw Jimmy Olsen…
INFANTINO: That’s true.
GROTH: That is true?
INFANTINO: Yes, that’s true. Yeah, he requested it. I didn’t offer it, he requested it. In fact, he wanted the whole Superman line to do.
GROTH: Is that right?
INFANTINO: Yeah, and I said, “Well, we’ll try you on Jimmy Olsen, and if it works, you’ve got it. Let’s see what happens.” And strangely… well, his version didn’t sell. The artwork was not great on Jimmy Olsen before he did it. But it was selling. Go figure. I don’t know how you figure these things. So, I gave him how many issues to do? A couple, right?
GROTH: It was several, yeah.
INFANTINO: And the book sank. I took him off it. Jack was a great talent and he had more success than anyone else in this business. But, unfortunately, these books did not make it. That’s the simple fact. If Jack were a ballplayer, he would be batting 750. Since Ted Williams batted 400 and he was a superstar, what would that make Jack? Remember — nobody hits 100%. Anything else?
GROTH: Well, actually, there was one more quote I wanted to read you and give you a chance to reply to. It was from Richard Kyle, who wrote a letter to Buyer’s Guide and said “It’s clear now that Infantino hired Jack Kirby solely because of his success at Marvel, not because he understood his work or even liked it.”
INFANTINO: That is too ridiculous to deserve an answer. Mark Hanerfeld wrote a letter [to the CBG] in rebuttal. Did you read that one?
GROTH: Oh yeah, a very lengthy letter.
INFANTINO: But they also left out a very telling paragraph, a very important paragraph and they just cut it right out of his piece.
GROTH: They tend to be very partisan about editing letters.
INFANTINO: This lady [CBG editor Maggie Thompson] loves to practice selective publishing. It took six months of waiting for her to publish Mark Hanerfeld’s response to Evanier, but first Evanier and [Marv] Wolfman called Mark [Hanerfeld] and asked him not to defend me. Mark [Hanerfeld] is a straight shooter and pursued his intention.
Only after Mark [Hanerfeld] and I both informed the publisher on these strange goings-on did Mark get a promise to publish the letter. Then dear Maggie edits him after promising not to. After Mark [Hanerfeld] complains, Maggie sends Mark a letter claiming she never prints rumors. Only the facts! This was in a copy she sent to me. I wrote to her asking how come she printed a letter by somebody named [John] Morrow who claimed a friend of his (who he never names) in my classes and said I never taught anything, I only sat there and knocked Jack Kirby all day. I called many of my former students and no one remembers me knocking Jack or anyone else. Dear Maggie never printed my letter in response. So I have been promised that letter will be printed here [for the full story, see page 93].
GROTH: Yes. Let me get back to your stint as publisher at DC. You started using Filipino artists. Did you do that during your stint as publisher?
INFANTINO: Bring them over? Yes.
GROTH: Can you tell me how that came about?
INFANTINO: Sure. What happened was… I understood that some of the boys were going to start some kind of a union, and they were going to pick on DC first. They were going to break our back. So this one guy, he was working for us, he was a Filipino, and he said, “You know there is a group of talented guys in the Philippines you can get.” I said, “Well, we better get somebody because if this thing happens, we’re dead!”
GROTH: The union.
INFANTINO: Right. So I, Joe Orlando, and this guy — his name will come to me — all went out. He was the brother-in-law of somebody connected with [he can’t remember name; probably Marcos] who was in power then. The dictator. So we went out there and met all these wonderful artists. Some of them came with no shoes. It was really touching as hell to see all this, you know? So I selected a dozen I believe, maybe a half a dozen, and I said, ‘These are the boys we’ll work with.” And then this guy whose name I can’t recall [Tony DeZuniga], he said he would stay back there—this is very interesting — and he would set up a shop.
Now, we heard that these guys out in the Philippines would get $2 or $3 a page, that kind of money. So I says, “No, no, no. We got to pay these guys a fair amount.” So I think we setup something where they’d get $45 or $50 a page. But there was a 20% override for these people who were running it, to take care of this. In other words, we would send them scripts and they would get the artwork done and send it back for them. And it was going really nicely for a while. But then every once in a while I’d ask for guys like Niño, but I wouldn’t be getting any work from him; I wouldn’t get Redondo… And all these good, talented guys I wasn’t getting! I don’t know what the hell is going on.
So I was at a convention in San Diego at the time and some young Filipino comes up to me and says, “We are very upset with you in the Philippines.” “What the hell did I do? I didn’t do anything.” He says, “You’re paying us $5 a page.” I said, “What are you talking about?! I got a contract where I’m paying these people…” What happened was, the people I put in charge were ripping them off. So as soon as I went back, I wrote them a letter and told them I could not tolerate this and it’s got to change. And they wrote me this scathing letter telling me that I couldn’t tell them what to do, and how dare I, and why don’t I mind my own goddamn business, and etcetera, etcetera. So what I did was, I contacted Nestor Redondo, and I said “Nestor, do you think you can handle this whole thing? Because I won’t deal with these people any more. They’re crooked.” So he said yes, and he began to handle the thing too. He did it for a while… But then the whole thing kind of petered out. Some of these guys came to California little by little, and the whole concept faded away. But they were ripping each other off it was a terrible situation.
GROTH: But you originally hired Filipino artists because threats of a union?
INFANTINO: Yeah. There were a couple of artists at DC —I won’t mention names —who planned it, and they were going to do it. When I heard about it, I asked how come they weren’t doing Marvel and DC? [I was told] they just wanted to attack DC. I said, “Oh yeah? OK.” So I very quietly went out, got myself covered, and that was the end of it.
GROTH: Nothing came of it.
INFANTINO: No. So whether it was true or not, I really don’t know. This is all rumor. But you got to work on rumor, you can’t help yourself, you know? I had to protect myself. And that’s how I did it. It was tough stuff to handle.
GROTH: It had to be really unpleasant too.
INFANTINO: It wasn’t pleasant.
At DC Comics, I worked round the clock, including weekends, and never taking a vacation in the 10 years I served there. I not only was creating new titles, designing most of the covers, plotting stories and going on the road for the distribution of the magazines, plus doing radio shows and then running out to California to be totally included with Puzo and the producers creating the Superman movies I &II. Time got so tight that I would design covers on the way to the airport and have the driver deliver them to Sol Harrison, who in turn gave them to the waiting artists. I would be at my desk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It began to-be a destructive grind.
My tenure at DC ended very simply. In 1974, the printer told me there might be a paper shortage. Marvel was doubling up its tides. To protect my [DC Comics] rack space, I did the same. The shortage never occurred. Both companies lost money in 1975. The people above me did not agree with my decisions, which is their right. We agreed to disagree, and it was time to leave. I do not regret my decision. It was time to move on.