Updated: Jun 10
The first words Carmine Infantino (May 23, 1925 – April 4, 2013) ever spoke to me, one day in 1971, were, “Belay the ‘mister,’ lieutenant! Call me…Carmine!”
The circumstances were these: I was sixteen years old and, with Paul Levitz, friend and co-editor of Etcetera, the monthly fanzine we were then producing, I was visiting the offices of DC Comics at 909 Third Avenue. We were there to gather news for the fanzine, a chore usually handled solo by Paul, who went to school in Manhattan and had easier access than I, being both a resident of and student in Brooklyn. This wasn’t my first trip to DC; I’d been up several times in the late 1960s taking the weekly tour (yes, once upon a time, DC would open its doors to fans and visitors on a weekly basis, walking them through the offices and bullpen — even rewarding them with pieces of original art on their way out the door) and on a few other occasions. And, while I’d seen Carmine Infantino from a distance during a couple of those visits, I never had the opportunity to meet him.
Carmine, a Golden Age star who had already achieved his well deserved legendary status, was a comics hero to this fanboy. He was the artist on some of my favorite comics growing up, the man who drew the Flash, Adam Strange, the (good!) Batman stories, Elongated Man, Space Museum and other features in Strange Adventures, and Strange Sports Stories. He was, I would later come to recognize, probably the best straight-up designer in the medium, the man who conceived the simple elegance of the Flash costume, a character he set against an impressionistic backdrop of futuristic cityscapes. He was, as early as the mid-1950s, one of the few artists of the day deliberately throwing off the constraints of anatomy and conventional architecture to serve his vision of the story.
In the days before credits, Carmine was the first artist whose work I learned to recognize. It wasn’t until a two-page feature in 1963’s Flash Annual #1 that I put two and two together and came up with a name: “How I Draw The Flash–Carmine Infantino”…and, oh, how I tried, but my efforts never came out looking quite like anything even in the same universe as Carmine’s results.
As Paul and I walked down the DC corridor behind our host, assistant editor E. Nelson Bridwell, that afternoon in 1971, I saw a tall figure dressed in dark slacks, a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up on his forearms and tie coming our way. It was Carmine, who had only earlier that year been promoted from art director to DC’s publisher, and Nelson stopped him to introduce me.
“It’s great to meet you, Mr. Infantino,” (or some approximation thereof) I stammered.
Carmine shook my hand, chuckled, and said:
“Belay the ‘mister,’ lieutenant! Call me…Carmine!”
I had no idea then or now what the hell he was talking about, but what difference did it make? I was talking to Carmine Infantino, the guy who had co-created the Flash, designing in the process one of the two best costumes of the Silver Age*, and had drawn the groundbreaking “Flash of Two Worlds!” in The Flash #123 (September 1961)…and he knew my name!
About four years later, I started writing comics for DC.
Seven years after that, Carmine was assigned one of my scripts to draw. It was “E’Spirit De Corps,” a Tale of the Green Lantern Corps in GL #151 (April 1982). I couldn’t tell you now what the story is about without rereading it, but I can tell you this: Carmine both penciled and inked the job, something he loved to do but which editors seldom allowed. Carmine’s inks were loose and scratchy, but I loved them; in the olden days, editor Julie Schwartz would every now and again let Carmine do the full art job on an Elongated Man back-up or the (earlier) Detective Chimp feature to throw the artist a bone. For me to get Carmine was a thrill; to get the “full Carmine” was a fannish dream come true.
I would work with Carmine a lot over the next several years. Off the top of my head I can think of at least two more Tales of the GL Corps back-ups, a couple of random issues of Superman (including a personal favorite story of my own, Superman #404’s “Born to be Superman,” a classic “Imaginary Tale”-style story) and Star Trek, a four issue Super Powers miniseries, and, of course, our run together on Supergirl.
The last time I saw Carmine was in 2009 at the New York Comicon. I went up to his table to say hello.
He looked up at me, glowering–Carmine could glower with the best of them!–and without even saying hello, demanded:
“Are you still working for those sons of bitches?”
“I left staff in 2006,” I told him. “I’m strictly freelance these days.”
“Okay,” he grumbled. Then he stuck out his hand and smiled. “How you doin’, Paul?”
I was doing okay. Carmine Infantino, one of the industry’s originals, one of a handful of truly great artists who helped shape and define the medium and its visual vocabulary still knew my name!
*The other being Gil Kane’s costume for The Atom.