Carmine Infantino: Real Talent. Real Human BeingA column article, Busted Knuckles by: Beau Smith
Hall Of Fame comic book artist Carmine Infantino has passed away.
Carmine Infantino was a master craftsman of comic book art. He was a hard-nosed tough guy editor and publisher. He was a man that believed that good enough was never good enough. It had to be the best. He let you know it with his words and with his example.
I wasn’t a close friend or co-worker of Carmine Infantino. I knew him from a couple of unique situations. I learned a lot from those experiences.
The first time I spoke to Carmine was in the early 1990’s when I was VP of marketing for Eclipse Comics. At the time, we were producing a pretty successful line of specialized, non-sport trading cards. One of those sets was Famous Comic Book Creator Trading Cards. The publishers, editors and a board of retailers and creators put together a wish list of comic book creators that we thought would be a true representation of the best and most unique talents who worked in comic books. We covered iconic creators, rising stars; mainstream, independent and obscure artists and writers for the set. Of course, Carmine Infantino was at the top of the list of icons we wanted in the set.
We had set a flat rate of $25.00, sets of the cards and multiples of their own card as payment. This was across the board, from Will Eisner to Todd McFarlane. Almost everyone we asked to be a part of this list said yes. A couple said no -- very nicely, but no. It was a big part of my job to contact the creators on the list and ask them to be a part of the trading card set.
Carmine Infantino was on my list.
I called Carmine up, he answered, and our conversation was quickly off to a very good start. He thought the project was a good one and noted that it was something that should be done. He liked the idea of a baseball card format mixed with that of comic books. I also told him about some of the other creators that had already signed on. When all that was said and done, Carmine asked me what the project paid. I was very upfront, like I was with each creator I spoke to. I told him of the flat rate and the comp copies.
That was when the tiger came out of the cage.
I’ll put it very simply, Carmine tore me a new one right then and there. There’s no need to go into detail about his exact words, but I found myself on the phone with a genuine Bronx tough guy. He couldn’t believe that some of the creators that had already signed up -- ones he was personal friends with -- had said okay to that price. I explained to him that we weren’t Topps Trading Cards and that we had a small budget and we were up front about it. I apologized to him and told him that I never meant to insult him by any means. I then went on to explain to Carmine that he was someone that I had always admired since I was four years old and had Showcase #4 (the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash, by Carmine) bought for me by my parents. I told him that as an adult, I also admired the way he stepped up from behind the drawing board and took over as DC Comics publisher.
We talked a bit more and he calmed down. He then understood just how really sorry I was. We parted in the phone call as we started out. He still didn’t want to be a part of the project, but he was calm.
After that talk, I could see how he had been raised in tough times that my generation had never had to live through. I could see as a businessperson that Carmine had been in the trenches doing deals with people that must not have always been on the up-and-up. I understood his viewpoint. There were no hard feelings and I didn’t lose any respect for the man. In fact, in a way, I had more respect for him. Carmine shot straight with me -- I’m glad he didn’t have a gun at the time -- and I appreciated that. I knew where he stood. Not a lot of folks give you that respect these days.
My second experience with Carmine came a few years later in San Diego at ComicCon. He was there promoting the book about his career. At that point in my career I was VP of Marketing and promotions for Image Comics and Todd McFarlane Productions. I stopped by Carmine’s booth and introduced myself and reminded him of when we first talked on the phone about the Comic Book Creator Cards. He remembered that conversation.
I told Carmine again how I was sorry about that I may have insulted him at that time, Carmine was very, very jovial and told me there was no need for me to say I was sorry. He said that he was just used to a lot of folks not being straight with him on deals in the past and that he thought this was just another one of those times. We had a really nice talk about his career, our mutual friends in the business and what new trends were developing. Even though the conversation began with us talking about his art, we drifted more into the business end of comic books and publishing in general.
It was a pretty fascinating conversation and Carmine, even though he had been out of the publishing end of the business for a few years at that point, was right on top of the stuff that was going on then. He spent a lot of time talking to me about my accent and what part of West Virginia I was from. He was pretty interested in that, I was impressed with his kindness and his interest. I was happy to walk away from that table knowing that I had been given some very special time with a man whose art I truly admired and who created many memories for me as a comic book reader and now as a professional.
That was the last time I spoke to Carmine or saw him. It was a grand way to end my time with him. Now with Carmine’s very recent passing, most people will be talking about his talent as an artist and some will be talking about his stint as publisher of DC Comics. But my memories of him will be highlighted with the knowledge that Carmine Infantino was a human being, one with a massive amount of talent as well as a few, real, human flaws, just like the rest of us.
Carmine Infantino did not disappoint. In a world that reaches all too easily for the rose colored glasses, Carmine took those glasses off and stared you right in the eyes. What you saw was what you got. Unless you looked at the comics that he created. Then you got even more.
The Flying Fist Ranch