GROTH: Is there any dream project you would have liked to do at the time?
INFANTINO: No…. What do you mean by “dream project”?
GROTH: Something you always wanted to do?
GROTH: I wasn’t quite certain when or if you retired.
INFANTINO: When did I actually retire? I don’t think I ever really tried. I always did some work, and then I went out and started teaching. I taught down there at the School of Visual Arts.
GROTH: Oh yeah? I didn’t know that.
INFANTINO: Oh sure. I started out with one class, and ended up with about five classes after a while. The classes were loaded with students. Eventually I gave it up, I just couldn’t take it any more.
GROTH: When would that have been?
INFANTINO: Let me see, I stopped two years ago, so the beginning of ’95.
GROTH: What did you teach?
lNFANTlNO: Composition, design. And a cartooning course. I got many letters from youngsters who I taught who were very appreciative. Even while I was teaching I always did a lot of work. I did a lot of the licensing work at DC. I did tons of that stuff. The Batman licensing. You’ve seen that stuff around.
GROTH: Right. That would have been the late-’70s, early-’80s?
INFANTINO: All the while l’ve been doing it. I did tons of that stuff. I didn’t mind that, you know, why? Because it paid very well — I’d only do a thing or two a week and probably make a ton of dough on it, a lot of money. They contacted me; I didn’t go after them for this.
GROTH: And you enjoy doing it?
INFANTINO: Yeah, I didn’t mind doing that. The pay was good. You got to understand something. I was never the pure artist. Never. At any point. I’m very honest about that.
GROTH: You always applied your drawing to commercial assignment.
INFANTINO: Absolutely. That’s me.
GROTH: [Laughs.] Right. Now, I think you said earlier that one of the things you enjoyed most was humor.
INFANTINO: I enjoyed doing humor, yeah.
GROTH: I was wondering if you would have enjoyed doing a humor strip after DC.
INFANTINO: I tried a couple for syndication before that, many years before. But they never quite sold. I could never sell them, you know? And besides I did one — this is very funny — many, many years ago. It was called Buddies. It’s very similar to this Friends thing on TV today. A bunch of youngsters living together and kidding around and all that sort of thing. Isn’t that weird? Now, don’t misunderstand, they didn’t steal that from me. They couldn’t have because it was never sold! But I had tried that concept myself as a humorous thing. But it just didn’t sell at the time.
You know, the most important thing about my artwork: It never matured. Because just before it reached maturity, I stopped and became an editor. Because a good friend of mine once said to me, “Why don’t you ever talk about your artwork? Why don’t you have any around your apartment?” And the answer is very simple: My artwork to me is like an unfinished symphony, a painting that has never been completely done, a baby that never was produced… You understand what I’m saying?
INFANTINO: So it’s something that I never actually completed. And I really can’t connect with it. Does that make sense?
GROTH: Yeah. Now, when you say that you don’t think it quite matured, can you tell me where you think it was going, what maturity would have meant in terms of your drawing?
INFANTINO: You never know with something like that. But it was growing like hell at that point. It was growing and changing rapidly.
GROTH: This would have been in the ’60s.
INFANTINO: Yeah. Just before I took over as the editor. Because there were all kinds of things that come out of this stuff. I was applying it very differently… And I could see the growth there, you know?
GROTH: Right. Can you tell me in what ways it was evolving and growing? In terms of actual drawing skills?
INFANTINO: It was something I didn’t have control of any more. It was getting good. It was really getting good. But it never completed. To this day, I never know what it was it would have become, you understand what I’m saying? Or it may not have grown any further. It could have just stopped at that point. You never know with this sort of thing. I think I’m confusing you now.
GROTH: No, no, no. This is fascinating.
INFANTINO: Well that’s why I can’t relate to it. I really can’t relate to it any more.
GROTH: To your own drawing.
INFANTINO: Right. I can’t. I don’t see the completion of anything, you understand?
GROTH: Right. Do you think part of that might be because, as you said earlier, you applied it to mostly commercial ends?
INFANTINO: …Maybe. I know that toward the end I was starting to enjoy it. I was beginning to enjoy it. I was enjoying every challenge, every job that came along. Because at DC at that time they would tell me, “Do a cover.” And I’d create it from top to bottom. Then I’d take on a story like Deadman and do it my version. Everything I touched I was doing in a different way. It was maturing, you know? You can’t tell when something’s maturing. And it was becoming something I started to like. But as I said, it was like an incomplete painting. It never reached the end. I’m not sad about this, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.
GROTH: I was going to ask you, do you regret that?
INFANTINO: No. I’m very funny about things in life. I’m a fatalist.
GROTH: [Laughs.] Still, it does sound like there’s something regrettable about…
INFANTINO: About the artwork?
GROTH: Yeah, about not achieving the maturation that you —
INFANTINO: No, no, I don’t want to give that impression. Not at all. Remember, I did that on my own volition. Nobody forced me to stop working. When that was offered to me I said, “Yes, I’ll take it.” They didn’t say, “You got to stop working” — because I could have left DC and gone somewhere else and gotten all the work I wanted. Marvel was after me to come over there, you know. So that was not the problem. No. No, I did it myself.
GROTH: Did you have any ambition to write your own material?
INFANTINO: Oh, I love writing. Don’t forget that when I took over as editor I did a lot of writing. I wrote [plotted] the Deadman stuff, I wrote [plotted] the Bat Lash stuff, I wrote [plotted] a couple of Wonder Womans and Kamandis…
GROTH: Oddly enough, you never wrote anything that you yourself drew.
INFANTINO: No. I didn’t have time then! But I did try a number of newspaper strips which I wrote and drew for myself. But I couldn’t sell them.
GROTH: Would that have been humor material?
INFANTINO: No. There was one or two of humor, but a couple quite serious. Too serious maybe.
GROTH: Do you still have those?
INFANTINO: They were stolen. I was moving into my old apartment in those days, and I looked for that stuff because somebody wanted to print it, the artwork was gone.
GROTH: To tell you the truth, some of the material that you did for Marvel in the late-’70s, early-’80s, Spider Woman and Star Wars and Nova, it didn’t look like you were putting everything into it.
INFANTINO: You’re right. Actually, you know what that was? They wanted me to work in the Marvel style. So that’s what I did! [Laughs.] It wasn’t me. You understand what I’m saying?
GROTH: Yeah, you wanted a full script.
INFANTINO: They said, “We want you to work within the ‘Marvel’ style.” I says, “OK.” But it wasn’t my style.
GROTH: By that they meant they wanted to give you a synopsis and have you…
INFANTINO: Yeah, I did that. I worked that way. But also with the exaggeration they believed in. You know what I mean? See, they believe in very strange, extreme exaggeration. That’s not my thing.
GROTH: In a lot of ways, I don’t think your approach was well suited to superhero comics, at least as they evolved, because you have a very delicate nuanced…
INFANTINO: That’s right. But yet it worked on The Flash, didn’t it?
GROTH: Yeah, it worked perfectly.
INFANTINO: That’s right. [Laughs.] Go figure.
GROTH: But it didn’t have that Kirby-esque…
INFANTINO: It worked on science fiction, didn’t it?
GROTH: Yeah very much so. Adam Strange, and it worked on Strange Sports Stories…
INFANTINO: Right. Although I did some Batman.
GROTH: Yeah, you did.
INFANTINO: I don’t know… And I did The Phantom Stranger… But you’re right. I think your analysis is correct.
GROTH: It was certainly diametrically opposed to the Kirby-esque Marvel style.
INFANTINO: It was too delicate for The Flash.
GROTH: Yeah. Which I think is one of the reasons that Nino’s inking on you was so complimentary.
INFANTINO: Wonderful work. Beautiful work.
GROTH: Yeah, it was really lovely.
INFANTINO: He said he loved working on my stuff, you know why? He thought we had very compatible styles.
GROTH: Yeah, there was an Indian strip called “Brother Hawk.” Very beautiful.
INFANTINO: Remember that one? The one I did with Bernie Wrightson, that was a lovely thing. You know who wrote that? Bill Dubay. When Bill was on, I thought he was brilliant. And that was one of his brilliant moments. If you read that thing about the kid — I thought it was an absolutely stunning story.
GROTH: Titled “Dick Swift”?
INFANTINO: Dick Swift. Right. Beautiful writing. And I really worked hard on that one. I enjoyed it. That one I enjoyed doing. I think it shows.
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.
INFANTINO: Oh, that was garbage, that other stuff. Not garbage, I shouldn’t say that. But it was ordinary, you know? The writing was ordinary, the artwork… I don’t know…
GROTH: It was pretty mediocre stuff.
INFANTINO: Yeah, mediocre’s the word. From top to bottom.
GROTH: Now, I understand you also did some work for UK Marvels?
INFANTINO: Did I…? I did Star Wars. I did that whole series. I enjoyed working with Archie [Goodwin] by the way. He was very good. I enjoyed working with him. I think that showed in some of the Star Wars, not all of it. That was tough stuff.
GROTH: I looked at some of your work that you did in the ’50s, and earlier you were talking about how you didn’t think your work matured, but it certainly seemed like it grew in the 10 years between about ’58 and ’68. That was an enormous growth where it looked like you defined your style, and defined your approach to story telling and drawing and design.
INFANTINO: I went back to school at that point. I went to study with a gentleman named Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts. Jack was pure designer, nothing else. And he taught me so much about design. That’s when you see the big change coming in the work. To me he’s a genius. You go through a strange metamorphosis, working with him. You sit there and you start to get very confused. And he tears everything you do apart. And all of a sudden your stuff is so bad you can’t even draw at one point. But then it’s like a light bulb goes off, and wham! You move ahead. So I can thank him for whatever big change went on there. I think he still teaches down there by the way.
GROTH: I assume Hogarth was there at the time.
INFANTINO: He died, didn’t he?
GROTH: Yes, he did.
INFANTINO: That’s what I heard. I never met that man, by the way. I heard he was a fine man, though.
GROTH: Yeah, he was great.
INFANTINO: That’s what I heard. I never met him, but I liked his work. I think his work influenced Gil Kane more than anybody else I can think of. Did you get that impression?
GROTH: Oh yeah very much so.
INFANTINO: Yeah, that’s my feeling. But I didn’t know anything about him. I just know he took over the [Tarzan] strip after [Hal] Foster. I was in love with Foster’s stuff at that time. I used to copy that stuff night and day.
GROTH: Now, when you studied with Jack Potter, at the School of Visual Arts, first of all can you tell me approximately when that would have been?
INFANTINO: I don’t remember the exact time. When did you see the stuff changing visually?
GROTH: I’d say sometime around 1960 or so.
INFANTINO: Yeah, that’s about the time. Because all of a sudden my stuff started to jump ahead leaps and bounds.
GROTH: Yeah, it achieves an individuality and an authority that it didn’t have before.
INFANTINO: If you notice at that stage you see what I did — I threw all the artwork out the window and went to pure design. Everything I did was just design, nothing else. That’s a very tough thing to achieve, by the way. To make something unreal look real, you know? And that’s what he was good at teaching. Like a muscle that wasn’t there, and it still looks like a muscle. If you look at my figures in that period, they really didn’t work. Because they were designed. They were more like ballet dancers.
GROTH: The few strips I’d seen by you in the ’50s were so ordinary that they weren’t quite recognizably you.
INFANTINO: Which ones are they?
GROTH: I can’t site them off the top of my head, but I saw them.
INFANTINO: Strange Sports I think was interesting. It was different.
GROTH: Yeah, that was recognizably you. I guess I’m talking about before that. I read several strips you did in the DC hardcovers.
INFANTINO: That you didn’t like?
GROTH: It’s not that I didn’t like them, but they weren’t recognizably you.
INFANTINO: There were a couple of ordinary things that I did during that period…
GROTH: The silhouettes you used in Strange Sports Stories —
INFANTINO: Yeah, that was a different thing!
GROTH: Was that your own invention?
INFANTINO: Yeah. ’Course Julie gave me the script and he says, “We want this book to look different.” That’s all he said. And I went home and that’s what I devised. It made it look different, didn’t it? Because if you notice, the silhouette starts the action, and then when you go to the actual panel, the action finishes. You know what I’m saying?
GROTH: Right. And then of course one of the things you were most well known for were your gesturing hands.
INFANTINO: Yeah, well that was decorative. That was again, after the period with Potter. He told us to do everything very decoratively. Of course captions to me were always very dull. So I thought I’d break the captions into smaller paragraphs and use hands to make you read them. And I think you did.
GROTH: It seemed like you also got into a habit where you would push perspective as far as you could push it.
INFANTINO: Yeah, I always did that. Extremes.
GROTH: I’m wondering if your extreme angles and foreshortening didn’t have something to do with your emphasis on design.
INFANTINO: Oh absolutely. It had everything to do with it.
GROTH: When you were emphasizing design, you must have really come to appreciate Toth’s work which is so heavy on design.
INFANTINO: I always appreciated Alex. From day one. But what I did come to appreciate more and more were the Impressionists of France of that period. Especially Degas because he was the genius as far as design. He was a brilliant designer. You know who also was a designer, and who people don’t think of that way? Norman Rockwell. You look at his work, and it has such a design sense, just unbelievable.
GROTH: Were there any artists in the ’50s and ’60s aside from Toth that you particularly liked?
INFANTINO: Nick Cardy I think was my absolutely favorite. And Alex.
GROTH: That’s right. Of course, Nick Cardy was also a very delicate, nuanced artist.
INFANTINO: Yeah. You know who else I appreciated? Alex Nino. He was great. And so was Nestor Redondo. He was a marvelous artist.
EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES
GROTH: Can I ask you this: when you were working at DC between ‘67 and ‘72, was there a sense that you were trying to reach an older audience than you were previously? Because a lot of the material would suggest that you were: Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern-Green Arrow…
INFANTINO: I don’t know, but what I did think was, I think the audience itself was a lot older than people realized, and a lot more mature than people realized. That I believed. I don’t think people give them much credit.
GROTH: I think one of the problems right now is that nobody knows what audience they’re aiming for.
INFANTINO: Yeah, that’s one of many problems.
GROTH: Because at one point comics were aimed at kids, and I think that that evolved over the years and now comics are sort of aiming at the equivalent of 30-year-old kids.
INFANTINO: Is that who you think they’re aiming at now?
INFANTINO: I don’t know what the hell they’re aiming at now.
GROTH: Yeah, I think a lot of people who read comics are 30-year-old guys who started reading comics 20 years ago.
INFANTINO: Then what happened to the audience down below?
GROTH: I think they just evaporated.
INFANTINO: What do you think the result of the business is going to be?
GROTH: I think possibly comics are going to become a very small niche market, and what’s going to take over the audience for comics are video games and computers and videos and all the other things that distract kids.
INFANTINO: I’ll finish off with that one. I also think that comics are in a terrible downward spiral now. And I don’t know if they can be saved. I hope they can. I think one of the myriad of problems facing comics is too much quantity and very little quality. Strangely enough, there can be an unbelievable future for comics, and the answer is staring them in the face. For their sake, I do hope they find it. I think Mark Hanerfeld summed up the quality of comics beautifully when he said that they remind him of the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
GROTH: Are you pleased in retrospect that you chose comics as a career?
INFANTINO: Yes, and to sum up for you, I really do want to thank all those wonderful artists, writers, editors, staff people, every one of them that I worked with. I think they were wonderful people, brilliant and creative, and I enjoyed every minute with them. And they made my job a joy.
For some time now, an editor friend from a major publishing company, after seeing all my files, has been pressing me for my complete history, and especially my tenure at DC. Perhaps now is the time.
I’d like to finalize this with some quotations from two people that I think will sum up my whole world of comics. One was Charles Dickens, in The Tale of Two Cities when he said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And then, Paul Ankas wonderful line, “I did it my way.” That sums it up for me pretty much.