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April 5, 2013

Carmine Infantino, 1925-2013


Carmine Infantino, a comic book artist best known for a distinct style and several lengthy runs on major Silver Age titles, a publisher of DC Comics during a tumultuous period as the company shifted from its traditional to a more modern comics publishing role, and a designer of comic book covers responsible for many of most iconic images from the commercial mainstream comics realm, died on April 4. The news roared like a wildfire through various comics' social media expressions before finally being confirmed last night. He was 87 years old.

Infantino was born in Brooklyn. Although he would later join the Art Students League and took classes at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Infantino began his career while still in high school. Similar to many of the younger artists that came immediately after the first generation of comics makers, a pair of generations Infantino straddled, the artists was in general a fan of the work he was now being hired to do. Infantino worked for comics packager Harry "A" Chesler and received a professional inking credit with Timely in 1942. He was partnered on that assignment with Frank Giacoia, who would be a longtime and frequent partner of the artist. Infantino also worked for Charles Biro on the Hillman material Biro was putting together, and contributed to books at prominent publishers Fawcett and Holyoke.

Infantino's first assignment for DC Comics, the company for whom he would do most of the most prominent work of his career, came in a "Johnny Thunder" story in Flash Comics that was published in 1947. The DC characters affiliated with Infantino during his run at the tail end of that first sustained industry sales period included Green Lantern and The Flash.

In the 1950s, Infantino's art changed to reflect a smattering of different artists ranging from Edgar Degas to Lou Fine. He was moved to DC's other genre books during the first half of that decade, becoming an adept contributor to books featuring western, romance and horror stories. One prominent sideline was the "Charlie Chan" feature for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon at Prize.

A method of marking the history of North American comic book by the relative popularity of superhero comic books offered up what would be its first split in 1956, when a resurgence at DC Comics featuring new versions of old characters like The Flash began to appear: later known as The Silver Age. Infantino did the cover to the first issues featuring one of those prominent, revamped superheroed and thus provided that era with its first image: Showcase #1. In addition to working on that character's comics, working from scripts written by the late Robert Kanigher, Infantino also enjoyed lengthy runs on the Adam Strange and Deadman characters, and eventually moved to the Batman comic book for a major revival effort beginning in 1964. His work was already distinctive in that it diverged in noticeable ways from dominant styles of the day; Infantino's figure-drawing was also more elegant than powerful.

Infantino's skill with cover design resulted in his being the DC line's primary designer in the mid-1960s, a role for which he was ideally suited. His covers were rock-solid assemblages of strong images, cognizant of where the eye might travel. He had also picked up on a successful element of comic book covers more generally of revealing an outrageous plot point or pivotal moment from the story inside the comic book as a sales inducement.

Eventually made the line's editorial director, Infantino's tenure included Bat Lash, The Shadow, a ballyhooed run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, a solid run of Tarzan books and the hiring of Jack Kirby away from his hugely successful run as a primary driving force at rival Marvel. Infantino made artists like Joe Kubert and Dick Giordano editors, and negotiated publishing moves such a poorly conceived price increase that saw the publisher out-maneuvered for the eyes of what many now saw as a declining audience.

After leaving DC when he was chased from his directorship position, Infantino enjoyed a successful run as a freelancer, working at Marvel and Warren, perhaps most memorably on the Star Wars book and Spider-Woman. He then moved back to DC where he worked on several titles including another rfun on The Flash. He was one of the artists that worked on a Batman newspaper strip -- Infantino's run came in 1990-1991. The early 1980s work is particularly interesting to view now because of how relatively stylized it was for mainstream comics art, including these figures and faces that seemed almost more sketched than penciled/inked. In some ways the later period Infantino work almost captured the cultural zeitgeist and its emphasis on superficial physical beauty as much as his 1950s work had nailed down an element of science-fiction influenced action-adventure art. He remains a deeply under-appreciated creator, and what covers he created almost always remained compelling.

Infantino was also one of several working artists from his generation that taught, in his case at School Of Visual Arts.

Current DC Comics editorial/publishing leadership remembers Infantino here.
posted 12:20 am PST | Permalink

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