R.I.P. Carmine Infantino, a legendary force in comic books

R.I.P. Carmine Infantino, a legendary force in comic books

Carmine Infantino, a legendary figure in the Golden and Silver Ages of mainstream comic books, has died at 87. When Infantino was a high school student, he spent a summer working for Harry “A” Chesler, who ran one of the earliest comic book “packaging” studios. His first published work, inking Frank Giacoia’s pencils on a Jack Frost story for Timely (later Marvel) Comics, appeared in 1942, when Infantino was 16. The book’s editor, Joe Simon, offered him a staff job, but Infantino’s father wouldn’t let him quit school to take it. After graduating, Infantino worked as an artist for Simon and Jack Kirby’s Prize Comics, DC Comics, Hilmman Periodicals, and other publishers, working on such characters as Airboy, the Heap, and the Golden Age Green Lantern.

In 1956, Infantino and writer Robert Kanigher co-created the new Flash, Barry Allen. Their work on the series inaugurated the Silver Age and was instrumental in establishing the DC Multiverse. Infantino also updated and revived the look of DC’s fading flagship hero Batman and made the sci-fi adventurer Adam Strange his own through his work on the Mystery In Space series. Infantino also co-created such characters as Batgirl (with writer Gardner Fox), Deadman (with writer Arnold Drake), and Animal Man (with writer Dave Wood).

In 1967, Infantino was made DC’s art director, then promoted to editorial director, and finally made publisher in 1971. Infantino’s ascension began at a time when DC was losing ground, both commercially and in terms of media-certified “relevance,” to Marvel, and by the time he resigned as publisher in 1976, he had been unable to reverse that slide. His tactic of raising the prices of comics—while also inflating the packages with extra pages of reprints—backfired, and after his having spirited Jack Kirby away from Marvel and brought back the artist C. C. Beck to spearhead a Captain Marvel revival, he was criticized for having badly treated these giants. (Infantino would later claim to have a clear conscience where Kirby was concerned, but admitted he should have given Beck total control, instead of teaming him with Julie Schwartz. “Like chalk and cheese,” he said of their relationship.)

But Infantino also brought new blood to the company, hiring writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who would go on to work together on the revitalized Detective Comics (starring the post-Adam West Batman) and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. And on his watch, DC published a large array of comics that, however badly they may have sold at the time, the company would still be bragging about (and republishing) decades later: Joe Kubert’s Tarzan, the most high-profile of several adaptations of the pulp adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs; O’Neil and Michael Kaluta’s The Shadow; Sergio Aragones, Nick Cardy, and Sheldon Mayer’s Western hero Bat Lash; the earliest adventures of the Western antihero Jonah Hex; Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Detective Comics backup serial Manhunter; O’Neil and Howard Chaykin’s space adventure hero Ironwolf; Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing; and the humor comic Plop!

Infantino often said that, despite all the work he did on superhero comics, they never had any particularly special place in his heart, and he was eager to give other creators a chance to try their hand at comics that broke the increasingly familiar costumed-crime fighter mold. But that experiment pretty much ended at DC when his suit-and-tie job there did.

After resigning as publisher, Infantino continued to work for DC as well as Marvel and Warren Publishing, until his retirement in the 1990s. (His most notable later credits include Marvel’s 1980s Star Wars comic book and the Batman newspaper strip.) He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2000. In an interview with Gary Groth for The Comics Journal in 2010, he spread the wealth around, giving credit to “all those wonderful artists, writers, editors, staff people, every one of them that I worked with. I think they were wonderful people, brilliant and creative, and I enjoyed every minute with them. And they made my life a joy.” 

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