Tuesday 9 February 2010

Carmine Infantino And The Offer He Couldn't Refuse

In January 1976 Carmine Infantino was in the slightly incredible situation of looking for work. Incredible because for the best part of twenty years he had been one of the guiding lights at D.C. comics. He, it was who had helped launch what became referred to as the silver age of comics, when his dynamic artistry injected new life into The Flash, a feature he had previously worked on in the 1940's. The success of The Flash was such that a whole host of new and old superheros were launched in the pages of D.C.'s premier try-out comic, Showcase. If the sales returns on the new features were deemed good enough they got their own comics - simple as that. So in addition to the beautiful artwork that he had been creating for features such as Adam Strange in D.C.'s Mystery in Space, Infantino had a lot more work headed his way.

There was one property which had been once a flagship of the D.C. Empire but was now more of a leaky and rudderless wreck soon to be consumed by the waters that it seemed so incapable of navigating if the sales figures were anything to go by. Batman was by the time that Infantino received the call sometime in early 1964, a mess. In fact it was in such a parlous state that it was seriously being considered for cancellation. Bob Kane who with the help of his father some twenty five years earlier, had cut a far better deal than his contemporaries Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had when they signed away their rights to Superman, was making enough money to farm out the assignments he received to produce Batman to a succession of ghost artists and the work had been on a slow decline for much of the previous decade.

Infantino's brief was simple, the character that now looked like an embarrassing anachronism in the face of the competition emanating from the offices of arch rival Marvel Comics, needed a complete makeover. The first issue to receive the Infantino treatment was Detective 327 which effectively ushered in the "New Look" as it was being referred to, the sales returns were sufficiently promising for Infantino to be assigned as much in the way of Batman scripts as he could handle. Infantino who was already very busy, could only manage complete stories for alternate issues of the monthly Detective Comics, and no interior artwork for Batman. But what he could do was produce all the covers whilst Kane's "ghost" was instructed to at least try and match the more contemporary style of the Infantino revamp.

The formula worked, the new covers were just amazing and interest in the comics grew exponentially until suddenly D.C. comics had a hit on their hands with a T.V. series, a movie and a mass of merchandising all as a result of Infantino's revamp. Naturally the powers that be at D.C. in those days: Jack Liebowitz and Irwin Donenfield, were more than delighted with Infantino's efforts and with the realization that in terms of cover design alone Infantino seemed to have a magic formula that propelled comics off the newstands and into buyers arms, he was elevated to the role of overall art director at D.C. comics.

The promotions continued until one day he found himself publisher and president of D.C. comics, by this stage of his career he was working thirteen hour days, with no time to actually draw strips anymore although the evidence of his remarkable cover designs were to be seen everywhere as he continued to produce layouts as he raced from one executive meeting to another. His creativity and love of the medium being such that he was constantly generating new ideas, encouraging and hiring new talent and generally giving his life to the company and medium he so loved.

The end when it came was brutal, but then the employers he was working for were no longer the family run business that D.C. comics had been when he first commenced working for them some thirty years earlier, a series of takeovers and mergers had resulted in D.C. comics being part of Warner Bros media empire. In 1975 a surge of new titles being launched by Marvel with a predicted paper shortage put Infantino in the unenviable position of having to go head to head with Marvel and launch a string of new titles himself or see D.C.'s market position wither in the face of the sure knowledge that the distributors would favour the new titles in preference to the current output. He reckoned on a short term battle of attrition until Marvel came to their senses and realized that D.C. were not about to roll over.

The inevitable happened and both Marvel and D.C. lost their shirts in the subsequent newstand slug fest and with the resultant dip in Warner's share value, the bean counters wanted their half pound of flesh and Infantino who had literally poured his life into the company was obliged to leave.

He was of course going to be courted by Stan Lee but the offer Marvel were making wasn't sufficiently generous to really enthuse him and it was Jim Warren who came up with the page rate and terms of employment that motivated Infantino to come and work for Warren.

With an office to himself and a brief to produce as much or as little as he wanted, he proceeded over a relatively short space of time to produce some of the finest work to grace the pages of Warren's magazines and there was a host of talent just itching to ink his amazing pencils, including his young protege from Nightmaster days Bernie Wrightson who was delighted to see Infantino back at the drawing board.

So here's one of those collaborations with Bruce Jones scripting and messrs Infantino and Wrightson handling pencilling and inking duties respectively.

I ought to mention that if you want to check out more of Carmine Infantino's extraordinary career then there is no better starting place than David J. Spurlock's "Amazing World of Carmine Infantino".

A new book on the great man is due shortly.


  1. Carmine Infantino now! Peter, you seem to have an unerring ability to turn the spotlight on the defining talents who shaped my youthful imagination.

    And a story drawn by Infantino, written by Bruce Jones and inked by Bernie Wrightson - did I die and go to heaven!?

  2. There is another Infantino/Wrightson collaboration, which I'm going to try and track down and it really is another stunner.

    BTW Dave, I really love the Martin McKenna pic on yesterday's Mirabilis blog.

    Sue - Bleedin' - Purb!!!

  3. I still have hopes of getting Martin to draw the Frankenstein's Legions comic that he and I have been talking about for a good ten years now. Some of his concept paintings for it are the best work he's ever done (which is saying a lot) and our "Wrong Turning" short story at Christmas showed how masterful his pencilling is. But when he gets to the inking he can't stop himself from lavishing meticulous attention on it, and that means a full strip would be absolutely stunning but would just take too long...

  4. Btw do you think he intentionally drew the car driver to look like Stan Lee?

  5. Hah! Reminds me of Jack Kirby's merciless depiction of Stan Lee as "Funky Flashman" in "Mister Miracle" No. 6.

    I think out of the two of them (Infantino and Kirby), Kirby was by far the most bitter and the lampoon of Lee is so vindictive and personal, that you could just sense Kirby's disillusion with the way that the industry and more specifically Lee had treated him.

    Going back to Mr McKenna - I think the sound of a "Frankenstein's Legions" comics just sounds too amazing for words.

    Love to see just an episode of that if it ever happens.

  6. I've just had another look at this strip and you know Dave, I think you're right - it's definitely old Stan. The wig would have eventually floated off and ended up downstream if he hadn't been rescued.

    Bit of a relief all round really.

    Thank God for psychics!