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A Really Bad Week With a Lot Of Goodbyes

What a crappy week this was. Just one damned obituary after another.

First of all, Bob Clarke, from MAD Magazine, died on Sunday. He was 87.

If you read MAD at any point from the early sixties on up through the nineties, you knew Clarke’s work.

He could do anything but where he really shone was as MAD’s in-house forger. He was brilliant at doing art parodies and could work in any style a piece called for.



He was retired but still doing shows and was a sharp, funny, spry old guy by all reports. He’ll be missed.

So that’s one. Then, a couple of days later, we lost George Gladir.

He was a fixture at Archie Comics, the co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (with the late Dan DeCarlo, another of the great old guys that’s still missed around here.) Gladir had also written for Cracked, and he worked on the new Three Stooges book at Papercutz. And he was still working at Archie and having as much fun as ever.

I only got to meet him once, briefly, at San Diego in 2002. He was great fun to talk to and seemed to be really enjoying the show. I asked him to do something for our student scrapbook and he gave us this:

The kids liked it– they recognize Archie, even though they mostly prefer manga– but the people that really loved it were the other comics professionals signing the book who, flipping through it, would get to that page and stop and smile. “Hey, George Gladir! He’s a great guy, you know,” was the usual comment.

I did know, and I was pleased everyone else seemed to know it too. Another one of those guys whose work was everywhere and yet hardly anyone other than comics professionals knew his name.

Then on Thursday both Roger Ebert and Carmine Infantino left us.

Mr. Ebert doesn’t really fall under our purview here… except that I think of him at some point every week when I produce the column for this space.

Here’s why. I disagreed with Roger Ebert about movies in almost every way. Whenever I read one of his reviews, I never quite understood what the hell he was judging stuff on, especially when it came to genre films; his criteria for liking a film seemed wildly inconsistent and arbitrary to me. But his columns were nevertheless always fun to read and especially, in his later years when he turned to blogging, showed what an extraordinary writer he really was. I always got something out of his work, and I had enormous respect for the willingness to talk about things that most people would not have had the guts to write about– his alcoholism, his failing health, his struggles to get through each day as his body continued to betray him. Through it all, the writing remained paramount and he did it with consummate skill.

That’s my idea of a great columnist and it’s the example I always try to keep in mind when I sit down to write one of my own– the work should be readable just by itself, whether or not you know anything about the subject or whether you agree with the columnist or not. Ebert was on a very short list of reviewers that could write like that.

But the one that stung was Carmine Infantino.

Infantino is a polarizing figure in comics for many, and it’s a tightrope walk to write about his contributions to comics as an artist– which are undeniably brilliant– while acknowledging his tenure as DC’s publisher in the late sixties and early seventies, which was, perhaps, less so, particularly considering the way creators were treated at DC at that time. It’s a mixed-signals thing.

I really don’t want to get into a long dissection of Carmine Infantino’s career. There are eulogies all over the internet today and I don’t think I have anything to say that isn’t being said better by people like Mark Evanier.

But the reason it hit me so hard is because Carmine Infantino was my First Artist. The guy that drew the book that made me fall in love with comic books in the beginning, long ago.

Specifically, Flash #178.

On the stands in February of 1968. I was six and a half years old.

Infantino didn’t draw the cover– that was Ross Andru– but he drew everything else inside. It was classic Silver Age Flash stuff, with everything that implies.

Flash and Kid Flash in an adventure with time travel and giants and dinosaurs…

Parallel universes and supervillainy with Barry Allen and Jay Garrick…

And fighting alien invasion with guest-star Green Lantern.

By the way, at age six and a half, I had no trouble with ANY of the science-fiction weirdness in these pages. Time travel, parallel universes, continental drift, whatever, bring it all on. Modern readers have a hard time with the characters constantly narrating and explaining what they’re doing, but it worked just fine for little me. I adored it.

See, it’s not about the clunky, textbooky narration, it’s about the ideas, the BIG! SCIENCE! that was in play. That was what I latched on to. (I have to confess I still love comics that use BIG SCIENCE, real or otherwise; it’s why I have such a soft spot for the Michael Holt version of Mr. Terrific.)

And that vibe was all there in Carmine Infantino’s art, the sleek modern look he gave everything. It didn’t matter to me that it was sort of insane that Central City apparently had some sort of weird metallic plain surrounding it on all sides where you could stand diagonally and not fall down… it LOOKED COOL and I wanted to GO there.

It’s possible, of course, that I might have picked up some other comic to start with and been just as blown away. But it wasn’t. It was Flash #178, with its prehistoric giants and freeze rays and flying saucers and meteors that could block deadly rays from space, and smart people winning against impossible odds because they were smart. It was probably one of the best starter kits for the joyous world of comic-book superheroes that a nerdy kid like me (who was often made to feel shame for being smart and bookish, even by my parents) could get.

Carmine Infantino drew it all with class and style. And I’ll always be grateful. That book changed my life.

I only met Carmine Infantino once, briefly, at the 2000 San Diego Comic-Con. He looked a bit befuddled that anyone was interested in his work, and especially at how the younger pros at the convention all looked up to him. To him it was a job. The idea that his work actually inspired anyone seemed to come as a surprise.

But even so, Infantino gave me one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen at a convention. It was that same San Diego show, and he was the subject of a spotlight panel, being interviewed by David Spurlock. Everyone in the crowd was my age, pretty much, and we were there just because it was awesome to be in the SAME ROOM as, well, Carmine Infantino. But it rapidly became clear that Mr. Infantino himself did not share our high regard for his work. Asked what his favorite comic was that he’d worked on, at first he claimed not to remember, and then shrugged, “Detective Chimp. I always liked those. They were fun.”

This kind of threw most of the fans, who were, I guess, expecting him to love Adam Strange and the Flash and the Golden Age Black Canary as much as we did. (Later, my friend Jim MacQuarrie, who was sitting next to me in that audience, would observe, “Well, why not Detective Chimp? It was a challenge, and a great change of pace. For an artist, it was probably the most interesting assignment.”)

But the really hilarious moment came a few minutes later, when a fan stood up and asked, “How did you feel about DC killing off the Silver Age Flash?”

“Huh?” Infantino was clearly baffled.

“Barry Allen,” the guy added. “From Earth-One.”

Infantino still was at a loss. Jim and I were both starting to snicker at this point. Jim called out, “Your Flash.”

“Oh. Oh, okay.” Carmine Infantino shrugged. “Well, y’know, it’s their character. They can do whatever.” He seemed to become aware that he had disappointed the fan somehow with his utter lack of interest in the matter. He held out his hands helplessly, then added, “Uh… well… you got another one, didn’t ya?”

Jim and I both collapsed into hysterics. It was partly the delivery– the helpless shrug and the line, which really sounded more like You got anudder one, dincha? As in, You like the Flash, you got a Flash, he wears a red suit and runs fast, what the fuck you want from me? Weirdo. And partly the wounded, baffled look on the face of the fan who asked the question, completely aghast that CARMINE INFANTINO HIMSELF really just didn’t give a shit about the Flash.

We still laugh about that, over a decade later. (Even now, just writing it up, I’m laughing again.)

I will leave other writers the work of examining Carmine Infantino’s legacy as an artist and as a publisher. For me, he’s the curmudgeonly old guy that drew Big Science and did it brilliantly, even though he didn’t think it was that big a deal; oh, he liked it well enough, but, y’know, it was no Detective Chimp.

That’s the fellow I was sorriest to lose, in a week full of losses.

See you next week, and I hope to God it’s a better week than this one has been.

20 Comments

I wasn’t even there, I don’t care much about the Flash… And I laughed out loud at that convention story.

Les Fontenelle

April 6, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I must admit that as a kid, I didn’t appreciate Carmine Infantino’s works on Flash, Adam Strange and Batman. It just didn’t appeal to me for some reason. Many years later he started doing Spider-Woman for Marvel and THAT was when Infantino finally won me over. I loved the atmosphere, the bizarre villains (Infantino could make even a ludicrous concept like Gypsy Moth seem convincingly dangerous), Spider-Woman’s strange sensuality even when costumed from head to toe, and the distinct way in which she flew under Infantino’s pen – not rocketing straight ahead like Superman, but floating weightlessly, which perfectly complimented the comic’s creepy mood. It was awesome, and it was the precise moment when I became a fan of Carmine Infantino. (and I have a weak spot for Spider-Woman to this day, mostly thanks to Infantino’s work)

Mr. Infantino also drew the exhausting but underrated “Trial of Barry Allen”, the long storyline that closed the Silver Age Flash’s series. Good stuff. He will be missed but his contributions to the genre will not be forgotten. May he rest in peace.

you got another one don’t you love that carmine who created barry proved that he really did not care what after he was done with his characters what dc did with them after words a nice way to remember a lengend. hope this week has no more legends like carmine or roger ebert pass away for a bit.

I’m a child of the late 80s and early 90s… and I grew up loving Infantino’s art. I came across him not as a superhero artist, but just like the work of Don Heck and Curt Swan in the early days of post-Crisis DC, I found him through toy tie in books. He worked on Inhumanoids and Spiral Zone, the first of which I owned maybe an issue, the second of which I owned the entire run. I remember being terribly disappointed i only got the four Spiral Zone issues.

I don’t think I saw his work again until the Danger Trail a couple years later and while even then, I knew I was missing a lot of back story, I absolutely loved that limited series. I miss the DC of that era and their willingness to do books like that.

Whatever the case, RIP to Carmine, a great artist even if he never quite realized it.

Growing up, all i knew was his ’80s Flash stuff, which i still don’t like. Finding his earlier stuff made me appriciate his stuff much, much more.

i am not an artist, so i don’t understand what makes him such a great artist, and even though i don’t love his stuff [even his earlier stuff at the height of his powers] i do know that his form is truly great.

i read a story that Keith Giffen when he was just starting out was brought into Carmine’s office. Carmine gave him a ~5 minute art lesson on a piece of paper. Giffen said it showed what an expert artist Carmine was.

Very sorry to see Carmine go…. :-(, and all the others too!

The Original Jimmy

April 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm

My first real introduction to Infantino’s work, in which I really took a close look at the “creator’s box” on the splash page was, of all things, Human Fly #2. I can’t say I was blown away by it at the time ( I was 6 ) but there were several panels that I thought were dynamic and eye catching enough that I was willing to copy them with my blob of silly putty. And then I transferred them to a piece of paper to trace over them. Anyone else do that kind of stuff back in the seventies?
As an adult I really appreciated his art a lot more and have gone out of my way to grab his Adam Strange stuff via Showcase. I still remember his Spider Woman run too. Very sexy Spider Woman.
It doesn’t surprise me regarding his lack of interest in the comics medium – it was just a job for most of that generation, and my experience has been that artists and writers from that time have similar reactions to the “importance” of their work. I’m sure most classic painters would feel the same way about their own work that’s worth millions of dollars today – they were just trying to pay the rent.
Mr Infantino will be missed.
And your own thoughts about Ebert echo my own. The guy, like many critics, had no idea about the scifi genre and had no insightful comments regarding many films that most of our comunity hold in high esteem.

Jimmy – Roger Ebert contributed a story to a science fiction magazine when he was young. I didn’t find in him that snobbery that some critics have regarding SF and comics. Though I should remark that I also didn’t always agree with him (he bashed THE PRESTIGE and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, two movies I loved).

But yeah, this week was tough. Ian M. Banks also announced that he has only months to live.

Travis Pelkie

April 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Man, now I want a Detective Chimp collection….

You and Mark Evanier always find a nice anecdote to tell about someone who’s recently passed, and it’s always a neat tribute.

It’s just a shame you have to do it so often, y’know?

Louis Bright-Raven

April 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Oh why stop there, Greg? These past two weeks have been so much “fun”…!

British author Basil Copper, 89, died April 4, 2013, expected of complications from Alzheimer’s. Copper was a prolific author of horror and mystery fiction, and was named a World Horror Grandmaster in 2010.
His horror novels include The Great White Space (1974), The Curse of the Fleers (1976), Necropolis (1980), The House of the Wolf (1983), Into the Silence (1983), and The Black Death (1991). Copper did much of his best work for editor August Derleth, whose Arkham House published two of Copper’s novels and collections From Evil’s Pillow (1973, a World Fantasy Award finalist) and And Afterward, the Dark (1977). Copper also wrote many stories about Derleth’s character Solar Pons. But most of Copper’s output was actually hardboiled fiction, including over 50 novels about private eye Mike Faraday.

David B. Silva, noted Editor and Author of both the Horror and SF genres, passed in early March but was only recently reported in the past week. He was 62. Silva began publishing short fiction in 1981, and “The Calling” (1990) won a Bram Stoker Award. Several of his other stories were Stoker finalists, and collection Through Shattered Glass (2001) won an International Horror Guild Award; more stories were collected in Little White Book of Lies (2005) and The Shadows of Kingston Mills (2009). His standalone novels include Child of Darkness (1986), Come Thirteen (1988), The Presence (1994), The Disappeared (1995), All the Lonely People (2003). The Family series, written with Kevin McCarthy, includes Special Effects (2001) and Into the Darkness (2002). But perhaps he was best known as the editor of the influential horror magazine THE HORROR SHOW and co-editing the horror fiction industry’s premier newsletter, HELLNOTES.

Editor, author, and fan Paul Williams, 64, died March 27, 2013. He entered hospice care in February, suffering from early-onset dementia, likely a result of the brain trauma he suffered in a 1995 bicycle accident.
Born May 19, 1947 in Boston, Williams was a founder of the Philip K. Dick Society, and was incredibly influential in getting Dick’s work into the larger world; he wrote Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick (1986), for which he was nominated for both a Hugo and a Locus Award. He put together the Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon project (and edited it while he could), of which various volumes earned him six Locus Award nominations as well as two World Fantasy Award special award nominations. He was also known for his rock criticism, and founded music magazine CRAWDADDY in 1967.

Also of note is that Scottish SF author Iain Banks announced on April 3rd that he has terminal late stage gall bladder cancer and isn’t expected to live out the year. Banks writes, “It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.” So if any of you are fans of Mr. Banks’ work, I suggest you seek him out online and say your goodbyes and thank him for his contributions to this world while you still have time.

(Source for all of the above: Locus Online)

“That’s my idea of a great columnist and it’s the example I always try to keep in mind when I sit down to write one of my own– the work should be readable just by itself, whether or not you know anything about the subject or whether you agree with the columnist or not. Ebert was on a very short list of reviewers that could write like that.”

Greg: Very, very often your columns do just that for me. I read your reviews of books and I want to read them based on your exuberance. I feel smarter for reading your columns; you bring me worlds and authors and books I’ve never heard of. I won’t call you the Ebert of the comicsphere, but you do a damn fine job of this. Your column is one of the few I consistently look forward to every week.

And nothing of value was lost.

Wow, just wow: that comment above from “Rulk616″ has to be one of the nastiest I’ve seen on a comics blog in quite some time…

Otherwise, yes, bad week indeed. I didn’t even know about Bob Clarke until now, but I definitely recognize the work. I saw the news about George Gladir and thought, ‘how sad,’ and then on Friday morning (Cent. European time) I saw the news about Ebert as soon as I opened my browser, and then an “RIP Carmine Infantino” headline on the first comics site I opened. In the course of less than a minute, I found myself saying “Oh, no way!” to my computer screen. And several others here mentioned it as well, but I was also very unpleasantly shocked by the news of Iain Banks’ terminal illness. So yes, bad week indeed.
And even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Infantino’s art, like Travis I now find that I’m very interested in Detective Chimp.

So I was going to compare you to Ebert as well, but Jon stole my thunder. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi and I’m pretty iffy on fantasy stuff but I’ll always read your blog because you just write so well.

I’d never heard of Bob Clarke or George Gladir until this week but now I feel like I’ve been missing out. As for Mr. Infantino, I’ve only sampled a small portion of his work. That design on the Flash costume has really stood the test of time, though. That alone is worth pointing out.

Bob Clarke is for me the closest one of these, though unlike many other MAD artists he didn’t have an instantly recognizable style, he was one of the best chameleons in comics.
And Ebert too should also be remembered for his work on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a wonderful film like nothing else.
Another casualty of the week is French artist Fred, whose Philemon is delightfully outre comic series…

Outside comics field it’s worth mentioning also that this week has claimed also Jane Henson, co-creator of Muppets, and movie directors Jess Franco and Bigas Luna. Oh, and author Iain Banks has cancer which has a strong chance of being terminal.

Yeah, not a happy week.

Can you imagine what Infantino might say to continuity nerds?

I can only wholeheartedly agree with those commenters who see you as the Ebert of comicbooks and general nerdity. I look forward to your column every week, for a number of reasons, chief aming them your unflinching honesty about your past mistakes and the many ways in which the many wonderful worlds of comics and literature have brought you to your present life of reading and teaching that you allow us to live through vicariously from time to time. If I ever visit the US, I feel like I already know some regions and can authoritatively direct my co-travelers to the best bookhunting spots. So, thank you very much, is wht I am saying.

Travis Pelkie

April 7, 2013 at 5:27 am

In the nice timing department, this upcoming week DC is releasing volume 4 of the Flash Chronicles, which includes Flash of Two Worlds and other Infantino stories. I was considering picking it up anyway, and now I think I definitely will if I see it at one of my local shops.

[...] week was a sad week for comics. Carmine Infantino’s passing was marked by the New York Times, and I include it as tribute to [...]

Does Margaret Thatcher warrant a mention? She influenced Judge Dredd, V for Vendetta, Watchmen…

Gavin,

This was written before the Iron Lady’s passing.

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