Carmine Infantino

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POSTED: April 5, 2013

Carmine Infantino died today, aged 87. He was born on May 25 1925, and became one of the greatest mainstream comic-book artists of the twentieth century.

Although Infantino drew the stories the cover is actually by Lee Elias!

His first published work was Jack Frost in the third issue of USA Comics, in January 1942 when he was sixteen. He inked the feature and his friend Frank Giacoia, who was seventeen at the time, pencilled it. By October 1947 Infantino had switched to pencils and drew The Secret City in issue 31 of All-Flash, thus beginning a lifelong, and profoundly influential, association with the Flash.

In the nineteen forties he regularly drew other strips including Green Lantern and the Justice Society of America. In the nineteen fifties, when superhero comics almost disappeared in the wake of the Wertham witch hunt, Infantino switched to drawing westerns, mysteries, and science fiction comics.

In 1956, in the words of Wikipedia,

DC editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Infantino to the company’s first attempt at reviving superheroes: an updated version of the Flash that would appear in issue #4 (Oct. 1956) of the try-out series Showcase. Infantino designed the now-classic red uniform with yellow detail (reminiscent of the original Fawcett Captain Marvel), striving to keep the costume as streamlined as possible, and he drew on his design abilities to create a new visual language to depict the Flash’s speed, making the figure a red and yellow blur. The eventual success of the new, science-fiction oriented Flash heralded the wholesale return of superheroes, and the beginning of what fans and historians call the Silver Age of comics.

This included the cover for issue 123 of Flash, which reintroduced the original Flash, now posited to live on Earth 2. This cover became iconic, and has been referenced in many subsequent comics.

Flash 123: arguably one of the three most famous covers in comic book history

In the nineteen sixties he also produced a look for Batman and Robin that would remain definitive for many years, and is still referenced today.

Flash 123: arguably one of the three most famous covers in comic book history

I can remember both of these images from my childhood.

I am certain that it was Infantino’s art that played a large part in establishing Flash as my favourite superhero. Even when the stories were dopey the art made the comics worth looking at.

Since the Flash’s superpower is essentially the ability to run very fast, his depictions of speed formed an essential part of the narrative. His graphic depiction of motion blur, and his decision to make this blur a key component of many panels, was, at the time, unprecedented, and gave the stories a distinctive look. The comic artist Matt Seneca has written a precise and interesting analysis of this.

Interestingly, when Carmine Infantino returned to the Flash in the late 1980s, he changed his style dramatically. Where his faces and bodies had been rounded, they were now sharply angular, with perspectives more harshly exaggerated. Even in his sixties he was still pushing forward and experimenting.

He was a powerful creative influence on my early years, as I’m sure he was for many others. Stumbling upon his work at the age of eleven or so helped turn me into a lifelong comics fan. I am forever grateful.

Update 1

Kelson at Speedforce has published a detailed obituary, which includes a story that I had not heard before about the genesis of Flash 123, and the re-emergence of Jay Garrick, the first Flash.

Update 2

At Comic Book Resources, in the Robot6 blog, Tom Bondurant writes about Carmine Infantino, and points out something that I had forgotten.

In 1987 Infantino penciled the “elegaic Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt (written by Robert Loren Fleming as a direct homage to the original Showcase story, and inked by longtime Infantino collaborator Murphy Anderson). It contended that at the moment of his ‘death’ in Crisis, Barry was transformed into the time-traveling lightning bolt that struck his shelf of chemicals all those years before.”

Although this story was later ignored it seemed to me to provide a wonderful conclusion to Barry Allen’s life. In a moment of wonderful circularity he became the fluke lightning that caused him to become the Flash in the first place, thus retrospectively making the rather lame origin story make perfect sense.

It seemed fitting that it was Carmine Infantino who drew it.