Carmine Infantino, 1925-2013

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Jason Sacks

Grace and beauty. Power and energy. Speed and dynamism and personality.

Carmine Infantino's artwork seemed to symbolize all that we comic fans love about our super-heroes.

Infantino's characters, from Black Canary to the Elongated Man, from Han Solo to Spider-Woman, from Supergirl to Batgirl from the Jay Garrick Flash to the Barry Allen Flash and the Wally West Kid Flash and all the members of the Flash's famous Rogues Gallery embodied true heroism and villainy, power and energy. He drew some of comics' greatest heroes and some of comics' worst villains.

And now he's gone. Carmine Infantino was an artistic hero to all who saw his gorgeous art, and now he's gone. But the grace and beauty, the power and energy and the speed and dynamism and personality of his work lives on in all who loved his artwork.

It seems almost unfair that any man whose work seemed to virtually symbolize life and energy and grace and power should slow down to nothingness, like a racecar driver who ends up in the slow lane or a baseball pitcher who can't lift his arm. Somehow Infantino seems stuck in the minds of those who love his work as being continually in the middle of motion, full of energy and playful creativity, hands pointing all around comic pages and covers endlessly screaming at you at the local corner drugstore selling copies of Flash and Mystery in Space for a paltry 12¢ each, an incredibly cheap price to find out why the Flash has the strangest feeling he's turning into a puppet.

 

Flash Puppet Cover

 

And isn't that the true legacy of any really great creative person, that their work lives on long after their body has left our mortal plane? Doesn't the true legacy of an artist lie with the immortal material he's created, the millions of hours of joy that he's brought about with his work, the fact that his work remains continually in print, reminding thousands of readers every year of his own very particular vision of the world as delineated in carefully created lines on paper?

Yes, Carmine Infantino was, by all reports, a bit of a difficult man at times. Our own Beau Smith reminds us that Carmine had his moments of prickliness. And during his tenure as Art Director and later Editorial Director at DC, Infantino made his share of controversial decisions. Suffice it to say that, like all of us, Infantino had his share of moments for which he could be proud and those for which he likely had regrets.

But isn't that what makes us human? Aren't our imperfections exactly what ground us in this difficult world of tradeoffs and daily battles, of trying to stay alive in corporate snake pits and in the always difficult life of a freelancer?

But all the politics and wars are not the most important aspect of the life of a man like Carmine Infantino. Those things are transient and the bailiwick of historians and the men and women who hold grudges.

 

 

No, the most important aspect of the life of a man like Carmine Infantino, and the reason why we mourn him today, lies in the material he created that transcended daily life. The important stuff is the way that he lifted us from our daily concerns and placed us in the real joy he created on the comic page. We were lifted when we got to watch the Flash battling his wonderful Rogues Gallery as they created nefarious plans in Central City or watch Luke and Leia escape the long arm of the Galactic Empire. We were lifted when we watched the kids from “Dial 'H' for Hero” turn into wacky heroes and when we knew and feared Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman and her very strange villains. We were lifted up when we spent time with Gorilla Grodd and Elongated Man and Detective Chimp and Animal Man and the characters from the TV series V and oh so many, many more characters that Carmine Infantino drew throughout his career.

Carmine Infantino started drawing comics in 1941 with a "Jack Frost" story that appeared in USA Comics #3 (cover dated January '42), penciled by his childhood friend Frank Giacoia and inked by Infantino. That project began a run of over a half century of great comics at a slew of publishers of the day with names like Prize and Hillman. But the majority of Infantino's work was done for the largest comics publisher in the U.S., DC Comics.

Infantino's sleek and exciting artwork was a perfect fit for the clean, solidly professional in-house DC art style, and for a decade his work made some of DC's finest titles shine on series like "Adam Strange," "Detective Chimp," a fateful revival of Detective Comics in 1964, and of course on the sublime Flash, one of the great comic runs of its era. Gradually the managers at DC noticed the quality of Infantino's work, especially on covers, and elevated him to Art Director and later to Editorial Director and then Publisher.

 

 

And while Infantino had a mixed record as DC's publisher, there's no denying that he helped bring about such great comics as Steve Ditko's Creeper, Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics, Swamp Thing, the revival of Shazam! and many more memorable titles. And after he was let go by DC in 1976, Infantino returned back to penciling, with work for Marvel, DC, Warren, Pacific and many other publishers. Anyone who saw Carmine Infantino work on Spider-Woman, Nova, "Dial 'H' for Hero" or his extended second run on The Flash remembers that the master cartoonist became even more stylized and exciting as his career went on, delivering thrilling work as his career moved onward.

The great artists live on, and that's no truer than it is in comics. The great creators have work that never goes out of print, that never stops influencing the next generation of comics artists to achieve some of the greatness that Carmine Infantino seemed to achieve almost effortlessly.

Like all great artists, Carmine Infantino will live forever through his artwork.  

 

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