Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur

A book review article by: Jason Sacks

Editor's note: in honor of the passing of the great Carmine Infantino, we thought we'd rerun this review of a wonderful biography of the brilliant cartoonist. We hope you enjoy this article. We'll have more articles tomorrow about the life and career of this amazing cartoonist and comics industry veteran.
Carmine Infantino is one of the classic cartoonists of the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages. In Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur from TwoMorrows, the great artist receives the treatment he deserves in the form of a lavishly-assembled combination of interviews and artwork edited by Jim Amash.

Amash does a terrific job of surveying Infantino's life and career--hitting all of the high and low points of the man's long professional life. Readers get to learn about Infantino's youthful influences, his early days working for Hillman, DC, and other publishers; his very popular runs illustrating The FlashDetective Comics, and many other series; his term as Publisher at DC; and his late career.

It’s a perfect tribute to Infantino and his incredibly influential artwork, as this 200-page book never becomes boring. Amash does a great job at probing deep in his interview and getting the real stories of many phases of Infantino's career. In doing so, he presents a good portrait of the man as a cartoonist and professional craftsman. 

It's clear that Infantino saw himself for much of his career as a working professional rather than an artistic prima donna. He saw himself on the same level as a sign painter or other professional craftsman, rather than a man creating art. Again and again in the interview, Infantino takes obvious pride in pointing out that he never missed his deadlines. He was a real child of the Great Depression, much like his good friend Jack Kirby, and he saw his most important task in life as the need to keep working rather than to create great Art.

Infantino was lucky in that he was one of the few artists to work straight through the Golden Age and never be badly hurt by the comics witch-hunt of the 1950s. He began working at DC Comics (National) at just the right time--starting in 1947 (after three years at Marvel following World War II), and staying with DC until 1977. During those 30 years, Infantino was able to work steadily on the projects that made him into a living legend. 

In fact, what makes Infantino an especially interesting creator is that his illustration style continually evolved for two decades but then suddenly stopped evolving. Amash’s book goes into real depth about how Infantino's style evolved in the early 60s from a somewhat rough, Milton Canniff-influenced style into a highly illustrative and streamlined approach that perfectly epitomized a specific era of Flash and "Adam Strange" comics.

Infantino started embracing what is generally thought of as his classic style during the 60s with open and attractive designs, much use of silhouettes, and his very quirky use of hands. Thanks to some very smart selections of artwork by Amash that perfectly illustrate the evolution, we get to see the evolution in Infantino's art as it develops. Much of the material presented in this book is reprinted from original art, which helps readers who wish to study every line. Thus, we can clearly see his derivative early work evolve into muddled experimentation and then into full-realized sleek gorgeousness through adroit selections of artwork. 

It's tantalizing to wonder how Infantino's style would have continued to evolve had he continued to work as an illustrator from 1968 to 1977, but just as his work was reaching its apex, he was suddenly appointed as publisher at DC Comics. Infantino served a long and influential term as publisher at the company, and he shares some interesting behind-the-scenes stories about those days in this book. However, while that phase of Infantino's career was both professionally and financially rewarding, it also served to stunt his evolution as an artist. How could it not? How could he have time to draw when he had to worry about sales figures? In fact, he only illustrated nine stories from 1968 to 1972, and then nothing from 1972 until his first new work for Marvel in late 1977.

As the interviewer, Amash does a great job of balancing his questions. We get a lot of behind-the-scenes stories about people like John Broome (Infantino's favorite writer), Frank Giacoia (his best friend but a bit lazy with his work habits), Murphy Anderson (Infantino never liked his inks much), and Julius Schwartz (ultra-professional almost all the time). The book also digs deep into Infantino's artistic techniques and approaches. Having the book take two equally interesting approaches gives it a nice sense of variety and does a good job of presenting the diversity of Infantino’s life and career.

Of course, a lot of a pleasure of a book like this one comes from all the art that's presented, and this book lives up to that standard. We get smartly chosen pieces from all phases of Infantino's career, including much of his work on Batman, a full "Airboy" story from the 1940s, even samples of Infantino's warm-up sketches that he did on the back of many of the actual pages of work he did over the years.

One thing that was striking in its omission is any information about Infantino's personal life. I couldn't find anything on the web that talks about the artist being married, and there's almost nothing in this book about his girlfriends or friends or any other aspects of his social life. Maybe that has something to do with the era that Infantino grew up in, when people tended to be more private in the details of their lives, but the omission of any information of this nature seems a bit glaring. However, that's a very minor complaint. 

This book is another instant comics-history classic from the good folks at TwoMorrows. They've set a high standard for themselves, and this book exceeds those standards. I thoroughly enjoyed this survey of Carmine Infantino's long and illustrious career.
Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him atjason.sacks@comicsbulletin.com or friend him on Facebook.

 

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