Carmine Infantino Interview
This was originally published in May, 2007. I feel I should note that some Filipino artists have given a different version of events regarding their working for DC.
Carmine Infantino is a legend in the comic industry. He’s best known for drawing/co-creating the Silver Age Flash that first appeared in Showcase Comics #4, which gave birth to the Silver Age of Comics. He was also the artist involved in Batman’s “New Look” and his work on Batman spurred the famous Batman 60s camp TV show. In the 70s he was promoted Editorial Director of DC Comics. As Editorial Director he would make many changes to DC Comics, among them promoting artists into editor positions.
Infantino would also be an uncredited contributor for the late 70s Superman 1 and 2 movies and personally approved Christopher Reeve as the actor to play Superman. This interview was done live at the HobbyStar Toronto Comicon on Sunday April 15th. Along with me was my friend Nancy asking questions and along with Carmine was publisher J. David Spurlock helping Infantino with some details of his career.
Jamie: You mentioned in another interview that you had created your own superheroes when you were younger?
Carmine Infantino: Yes.
Jamie: What Were those Superheroes?
Carmine Infantino: That I worked on?
Carmine Infantino: Jack Frost was one of the very first ones I created, that was sort of a Superhero. That was around 1941 – 42. That was the first thing I worked on. No, I worked for Fox before that. They gave me a script, I did it, they didn’t like it and didn’t pay me. That was my beginning.
Jamie: You mentioned that you created a character named Captain Whiz..?
Carmine Infantino: I was a fan of Captain Marvel. A big fan. In fact, when I took over DC I brought him over remember? So I was fan. I created a character called Captain Whiz and the Colors of Evil. I created a whole bunch of characters, I forget the names, all I used were colors. Purple, Orange, Gray, so on and so forth. Then Julie (Schwartz) was looking for a character, the Flash, I told him I had this thing, I couldn’t sell it. I did everything I could to sell it.
We had a tradition, Julie and I, where we created a cover we were always trying to one up each other. We always did cliff hanger covers, you know like in the old serials, at the end you’d the guy in a car and it would go off the cliff and that’s how it ended. The next week you’d see the guy outside the car, hanging onto the cliff. So finally one day I decided “I’m gonna fix this bum” and drew a cover with both Flashes on it (Flash #123, introducing the concept of Multiple Earths). But by the time I got home, he already had a script for me.
Julie was a very good editor. I worked for him for about 35 years. We did a lot of work together, he and I. We did Adam Strange. I didn’t create Adam Strange though, I was in Korea at the time. Someone else did. What else did we do..
J. David Spurlock: Pow Wow Smith, Detective Chimp.
Carmine Infantino: That was all before the Flash. Comics were dying at that time. The Flash opened up an all new era for comics.
J. David Spurlock: Elongated Man. Super-Chief.
Carmine Infantino: Oh yeah yeah, Super-Chief. It was not an incendiary character. From there we tried Sports too. Strange Sports. Remember that? It was a very difficult one to do, with the captions and everything. To promote Action, that’s why I did it that way.
J. David Spurlock: He also did Airboy and the Heap in the Golden Age.
Carmine Infantino: Yeah I wrote some of those.
J. David Spurlock: Animal Man.
Carmine Infantino: Animal Man. On the Flash I did little hands pointing at the captions. You don’t read captions as a rule, so I drew hands (laughter). It was just a gimmick.
Jamie: I understand you created Poison Ivy?
Carmine Infantino: Yes. The only reason she came about was because of Catwoman on the Batman show. They wanted more female villains. What was the other one I did.. the Silver Fox! And then Batgirl. That show, because of it we were selling a million copies a month. But that show, when it died, so did the comic books. Because it was so corny, y’know, Pow! Zam! You couldn’t take Batman seriously for a while. So we had to rebuild him.
One of the great writers was Eddie Harron. He was the Editor in Chief of Stars and Stripes, a famous newspaper during WWII. He worked on Captain Marvel and did a lot of work at DC. He and Bill Finger were brilliant writers. Eddie was just as good, if not more creative.
Nancy: One thing I rarely hear anybody talk about in interviews are the colorists. I love the coloring on the old DC covers from the 60s.
Carmine Infantino: That was Jack Adler, but he didn’t do the coloring. He farmed it out to different people. Tatjana Wood, she was a terrific, unbelievable, brilliant colorist. She was Wally Woods Wife, then ex-Wife. There were 3 other people besides her and I had to approve it.
She knew I hated the color purple. And she would purposely stick it in there, she’d fight me all the time. She was a wonderful colorist. Sorry I can’t remember the other guys name.
Jamie: When you were promoted to editor, did any of the other editors have a problem with that?
Carmine Infantino: No, no, no, they bought it right away. If they didn’t, they kept their mouths shut.
J. David Spurlock: They wanted to keep their jobs, so they kept their mouths shut (laughter).
Carmine Infantino: There was no fooling around, they accepted it immediately. I didn’t have any problems. If I had, I would have thrown them out (laughter). I did get rid of some of them. I reshaped the company because I wanted more artists as editors. There wasn’t enough of that at DC so I brought them in, [Joe] Orlando, Dick Giordano, and that helped quite a bit.
Jamie: Joe Kubert as well.
Carmine Infantino: Joe as well, I’m sorry. Bob [Kaniger] got sick at that time. Kaniger was a fine editor. So I asked Joe, could you please take over? And he did and it worked out quite well. They were all good, all 3 were excellent.
Jamie: In the 70s, were you involved at all with the CCA, the Comics Code? The guideline changes?
Carmine Infantino: No, I wasn’t involved in that at all. We just went right through it. What happened was we just ignored it after a while. Y’know when it broke? When Stan and I both did the drug stories, you remember that? Stan did it first.
J. David Spurlock: They couldn’t do any type of drug story and they both did an anti-drug story.
Carmine Infantino: Only thing was different was I got some guy in there to make sure it was wholesome first. Stan did it crazy, having some guy jumping off the roof. It was haphazard. He got yelled at for it. I was a little more careful.
Jamie: Going back to Captain Marvel. What are the details of you using the character?
Carmine Infantino: I just went to them [Fawcett], said I loved the character. They said, fine, take it, just give us a percentage. It was that simple. I put Julie Schwartz as an editor of that book and that was a mistake I made. C. C. Beck wanted to be the editor but he never said a word to me. He should have said something, I would have given it to him. He knew what the character was about and how he worked, he knew the flavor. Julie didn’t know the flavor of it.
J. David Spurlock: Julie’s background was in science fiction. Everything he did was based in science fiction really.
Jamie: So you didn’t have to convince Kinney [then DC owner] to buy Shazam or anything?
Carmine Infantino: I didn’t ask anybody, I just did it.
Jamie: You went over to the Philippians to get some artists. Who came up with that idea?
Carmine Infantino: Me, because we ran out of decent artists. There was a Filipino named Tony De Zuniga who was already working for DC. He said there were a lot of cartoonists over there making peanuts. Unfortunately, I put him [De Zuniga] in charge in the Philippians. The rule was, you paid them a certain rate, a good rate, and you get 10%
J. David Spurlock: They set up a studio, De Zuniga and his wife set up a studio in the Philippians and they would hand the scripts out to the artists there. The artists would turn in the artwork there and they would forward it to New York.
Carmine Infantino: I wanted certain artists and I wasn’t getting them.
J. David Spurlock: He was wondering why am I not getting Nester Rodondo and Alex Nino, who were the top guys and instead getting other people? Then Carmine went to San Diego and one of the Filipino guys went to him and wanted to know why he was ripping off the Filipinos? They asked, why are you only paying us $5 a page? He said, no I’m paying you $50 dollars a page. She [De Zuniga wife] were keeping $45 dollars a page and paying them $5 a page.
Carmine Infantino: That’s what she was paying them. I got rid of her immediately. She wrote to me ‘How dare you tell me what to do. Don’t tell us how to run our business.’ And that was the end of that. Then I put Nestor [Redondo] in charge and he started doing the same thing.
J. David Spurlock: They actually felt like, because the Filipinos were used to being paid so little, it was a waste to pay them anymore.
Carmine Infantino: It was so bad, Nino walked around with no shoes.
J. David Spurlock: When he and Orlando and DeZuniga first went over there, artists from all over the country shoeless and with their families would show up.
Carmine Infantino: They were starving, starving. It was a very sad thing to see. When we got there, I knew there was going to be a problem. The car that we had alternated as a cop car and had a machine gun sitting on the roof. The hotel said, this is a big problem, you shouldn’t be riding around that way. That was when the Marcos was in charge, the dictator. They got a little piece of everything too. After a while everybody came here. Alex Nino is in Japan now, that’s what I heard.
Jamie: In the 70s there were a lot of returns coming in from the newsstands…
Carmine Infantino: You know who complained about that? Neal Adams. Neal had a fan, a big heavy fan, he was a dealer. He came yelling at me ‘You killed the Deadman.’ I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ He says, ‘300,000 copies of that was sold, you shouldn’t have killed the book.’ I said, ‘that’s interesting, I only printed 275,000 of them.’ (laughter) Neal was spreading that story around. It was his writing that ruined it.
J. David Spurlock: That was just fluffed up stuff. That was when people started to figure out that when there was a new book or a Neal Adams book there was a greater market then what they were seeing at the newsstands. People were finding out where these comics were coming into town and were making deals to pay somebody off, and take stacks of hot new comics and they wouldn’t make it to the newsstands. He [Adams] was talking 100,000, 200,000 a book and yeah some of that did happen, but Carmine, he amazingly remembers a lot of those numbers.
Carmine Infantino: It was maybe a couple thousand of them. Neal was imagining things. It wasn’t major. I remember those numbers. Bat Lash, was my favorite book. I couldn’t make it work. I wrote it. I desperately wanted to keep it, but I couldn’t do it. The numbers talk, you don’t talk.
Jamie: Were you at all suspicious about the returns?
Carmine Infantino: We knew they were stealing some, but it was a minimal amount. When you print 300,000 or 400,000 and they steal maybe 5000 it doesn’t mean that much.
Jamie: Comics were 10 cents for so long..
Carmine Infantino: Then 12, then 15..
Jamie: Do you think the industry hurt itself by keeping them so cheap for so long?
Carmine Infantino: What they are doing now with the thick ones? That’s a pretty good bargain. Black and white, 15 dollars. I had some work in them and they are selling quite well ain’t I right?
Jamie: Yeah the Showcase books.
Carmine Infantino: So are the Marvel ones. I get paid well for them so they must be selling well (laughter).
Jamie: But do you think it was a mistake to keep them so cheap for so long?
Carmine Infantino: You couldn’t do anything about it. The distributors would really dictated the price. Plus the newsstands, they had to make a certain amount on a book and if they didn’t make that, you were off the stands. You know, there was a diminishing space for comic books. Can’t make money, they don’t want it. Used to be you’d sell over 6 million books in a month, now you sell 250,000. There’s something wrong. The whole business. The creativity part doesn’t mean anything. It’s the business end that dictates what happens, unfortunately.
Jamie: I know you tried other formats.
Carmine Infantino: I tried everything. Big, small, everything. It didn’t work. The big ones, we even gave them boxes to put them in. Even that wouldn’t work. We tried anyway.
Jamie: Did you go to any of the early comic conventions?
Carmine Infantino: No. Well, I think I went to some as an editor, but not as an artist. There was a teacher that started all that, you remember his name?
Jamie: Phil Suiling.
Carmine Infantino: Suiling. He began the market that never existed before. That was Phil.
J. David Spurlock: He became a distributor, Seagate.
Jamie: Did you ever think the Direct Market would ever overtake the newsstand market?
Carmine Infaninto: No, never realized it. It was never that big. When I was there it was selling a couple of thousand a month, at most. We didn’t change to it all that much. But I heard it grew like hell later on. Comics couldn’t exist without it now. Different, lots of changes.
Jamie: Are you surprised they are still publishing comics books these days?
Carmine Infantino: Well they aren’t making money that’s for sure. It’s the tail wagging the dog now, they have to put them out for the copyright. They gotta do it. They make their money back 10 times over with the toys and games and films and everything.
As I said, the tail is wagging the dog. They have to keep doing it. Pulps began, then comics took over. Comics will have to develop into something different.
J. David Spurlock: The Graphic Novel format is doing well in bookstores. Most of it is Manga.
Carmine Infantino (to Nancy): You read any Manga?
Carmine Infantino: What is the secret behind it? I can’t figure it out.
Nancy: I don’t know. I used to watch the cartoons and I used to like those. The Manga I don’t know, I read more comics.
Carmine Infantino: They are very popular for some reason. And they’re very static you know?
Jamie: There is a lot of emotion in it.
Carmine Infantino: Is that what it’s about? There is a lot of sex too isn’t there?
Nancy: It depends on the book. There are some more extreme genres. Manga plays on the girls a lot with the drama. But this got me thinking, were you involved in the romance period?
Carmine Infantino: I drew them, yes. We tried again to bring them back, the titles. Joe Simon created them, so I made him do them. They collapsed like that. In those days it didn’t interest them. It couldn’t touch what they do on TV. Forget it, y’know? It’s too calm.
Jamie: Siegel and Shuster.
Carmine Infantino: I never met them. They got screwed badly, no question about it. They both died. Joe had bad eyesight. He was coming home from a movie and he got mugged. But they settled with DC, and what they get.. 25 grand a piece I think, and some licensing. There is a lawsuit still going on about Superboy. They haven’t settled it. DC made an offer but the family wants a lot more. I have no idea what they are offering.
Jamie: You went and worked for Marvel.
Carmine Infantino: Yeah, I worked for a lot of people. Marvel, Hanna-Barbera, I’m all over the place, I never hang around for very long (laughter).
Nancy: Did you only retired recently?
Carmine Infantino: No, I’m retired… Jesus, David.. when did I retire? I was retired and then he made me come back (laughter).
J. David Spurlock: Well, it was a gradual thing. On occasions and even recently he’s accepted special projects. He recently did a cover for DC. He was still doing the Batman comic strip up until the early 90s. He was working steadily early 90s, and he was teaching at the same time.
Jamie: Where were you teaching?
Carmine Infantino: The School of Visual Arts.
J. David Spurlock: That was the school that Hogarth co-founded. A lot of people taught there. Joe Orlando, I taught there. Kurtzman, Eisner, the greatest comics people all taught there. And some of them went there as students. Ditko went there, Wally Wood.
Jamie: Did you go to school there?
Carmine Infantino: Yes. I studied there with Jack Potter. He too was a big fan of design. But he had such a complex way, he just threw in everything that you knew.
J. David Spurlock: It’s a different orientation. Most people think of, what I refer to as draftsmanship. They trying to put dimensions into the drawings. He wasn’t worried about that. He wanted to do something more interesting. Something to keep you artistically aware, so he was looking for something different. His teachers gave him a different orientation. He’s a big fan of art, you go into his apartment he’s got art everywhere.
Carmine Infantino: The French Impressionists. I’m a very big fan of their work. And Amedeo Modigliani especially. You know his history? After they brought his casket through the streets of Paris his girlfriend jumped out the window. There is a plaque on the street marking where she died. Now that’s true love (laughter).
You can read more about Carmine Infantino’s life and works in his biography The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (Amazon link). The book is also available at Vanguard Publishing.