TCJ ARCHIVE

The Carmine Infantino Interview

DREAMS

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?

INFANTINO: No.

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?

GROTH: Yeah.

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?

Sketches drawn by Infantino ©1966 DC Comics

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.

Panel from “Dick Swift” published in Creepy #86 written by Bill Dubay, penciled by Carmine Infantino and Berni Wrightson ©1976 Warren Publishing Co.

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.

REFINING STYLE

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?

From “The Phantom Prizefighter” in The Brave and the Bold #47 written by Gardener Fox, penciled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella ©1963 DC Comics

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?

GROTH: Yeah.

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?

Cover drawn by Infantino collected in Star Wars Omnibus Vol. 1 ©2010 Marvel

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.

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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!

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    • 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.

  6. R. Fiore says:

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

  7. george says:

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

  8. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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

      • 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)

      • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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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