Carmine Infantino died today at the age of 87. He has been a part of my cultural life since I first became a comic book collector, and I rank him alongside Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Curt Swan, and Gil Kane as one of the five artists who hooked me on comics and demonstrated to me just how exciting and captivating the comics medium could be.
One of the first comics advertisements that motivated me to hunt down the comic book itself was a DC house ad for Mystery in Space #65. The alien assault vehicles, reminiscent of images I had seen of Martian war vehicles from War of the Worlds, was unforgettable; as soon as I saw this comic, I had to have it. That was the strength of Carmine Infantino's artwork; he created a world that, while distinctly comic-book in nature, was close enough to our own world that it seemed real enough to draw the reader in.
Shortly after that, his cover for Flash #123 made this a book I had to own. Of course, I already recognized Infantino's art from The Flash--it was one of my favorite comics because he conveyed the essence of speed in a way that no other artist did. But who was this second Flash? What about these two worlds? Infantino's image of understated heroism, complete with little touches like Jay Garrick's jauntily tilted helmet, transformed this story in an essential bit of comics reading.
And when Infantino's art showed up on the cover of Detective #327, offering a very different vision of my favorite hero, Batman--well, at that point, I was enthralled! Batman had never looked so real; as much as I loved the Jack Schiff era with its giant props and strange aliens, this was a Batman I could truly appreciate and admire.
I was sad when Infantino left his drawing board to take a position as editorial director at DC; while I'm sure he deserved the promotion, it seemed almost cruel to take their best artist out of service as an illustrator! Even worse, they brought in a wholly inappropriate art team to replace him on his signature series, Flash. This meant that every issue reminded us of what a wondrous illustrator we once had on that series... and how we didn't fully appreciate him until he stepped away.
I've had several chances to speak with Carmine Infantino over the years. Some had warned me that he might seem brusque, but I never go that feeling; he was witty, personable, at times gregarious, and always generous with his time and his memories. He seemed to appreciate the fact that I had genuinely loved his art, and he was willing to humor me by talking about some of his memories of those years at DC.
So few of comics' greats are left now--and today, we lost one of the finest.