Remembering Carmine Infantino
I was surprised by how deeply I felt the passing of Carmine Infantino last night. We were never close but I realize his work was woven into the fabric of my childhood and his work as an artist and an executive influenced my development from fan to comics professional. Much of what I learned about the man also came from long talks with Julie Schwartz, which made me miss him, too. Losing these touchstones to my youth really wears away at you.
Carmine was one of the most distinctive artists of his era. Like his peer, Joe Kubert, his style really began to emerge in the 1950s, distinctive enough to pick out of the crowd. When I began reading comics in the 1960s, he was drawing Detective Comics and The Flash and it was there I began to understand different art styles and the impact an inker can bring to a work. I adored his Flash, lushly inked by Joe Giella and preferred his Batman to the work of Sheldon Moldoff. But those covers inked by Murphy Anderson were a joy to behold, incredibly well-designed and eye-grabbing. It took a while to understand that the scratchier work on his Elongated Man strip was the result of Carmine inking himself, showing how he really saw his work.
Like Gil Kane, who hated heroes with belts, Carmine brought a fresh design esthetic to his heroes, heroines, and villains. The city of Rann was a sci-fi optimistic vision of the future while Central City looked nothing like Gotham.
Julie explained that around 1966 or 1967, Carmine, feeling a little bored, began sitting in on editorial meetings. He had noticed the artistic rise of Marvel, which the DC editors were dismissing as a crude fad. Carmine drove the editors to think differently about the competition, which had tripled thanks to the Silver Age revival and the Batman television series. As a result, he insinuated himself into the corporate culture, while still a freelancer, and got tapped to run the joint after Jack Liebowitz sold DC to Kinney.
I have no idea who my dad knew, but around 1970, 1971 he had arranged for me to get a tour of DC Comics. Carol Fein, Carmine’s secretary at the time, took me around 909 Third Avenue and we were sitting in, I think, Robert Kanigher’s office, as the irascible icon dressed me down for not liking his revival of Wonder Woman. As he berated me, a balding man in shirtsleeves, a cigar jutting from between his teeth, rushed by, called me “chum” and moved on.
It wasn’t until I was working with Len Wein on Who’s Who that I got to work with Carmine. By then, he was ensconced in his apartment at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, near the United Nations. Ever since he was fired in 1976, he refused to step foot in the company so for over a decade, any time he worked for me, it usually meant taking a stroll from the offices to the building, where a package was waiting for with, guarded by the doorman. As a result, we only spoke by phone, and he was friendly enough, but we never developed much of a personal relationship.
Still, he was always happy when I called with an offer of work. His wonderful design skills meant he was one of the first to grasp our intent for Who’s Who and always delivered perfectly. We moved from the Who’s Who to other projects such as a Star Trek fill-in and V. The adaptation of the TV series let him stretch those science fiction muscles a bit, and that was fun although by then, he was delivering perfunctory work, uninspired by the assignment.
It was many years later, at a convention in Westchester that Carmine and I were finally in person together. I strolled over to his table, introduced myself, and held out my hand. He was largely retired from the field at the time and was deepening his grudges which apparently included me over some heretofore unknown problem with a Who’s Who art return from over 15 years earlier. He didn’t shake my hand or really seem to know or care who I was which was saddening. His work and being able to work with him meant quite a bit to me and this was not how I ever imagined the meeting to go.
Still, his work remains indelibly etched in my memory and is thankfully mostly available in lovely Archive editions, to reread and enjoy.
Rest easy, chum.