Jack Kirby Collector Edited by John Morrow Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.

The Incredible Infantino Interview

Interview conducted by Jim Amash

From Jack Kirby Collector #34

Carmine Infantino has done it all in comics. From his early days working for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, through his fondly-remembered DC Comics work of the 1960s (including inaugurating the "new look" Batman, and drawing numerous Flash issues), to his years as publisher of DC, where he successfully lured Kirby away from arch-rival Marvel Comics in 1970. For this interview, we asked Carmine to elaborate on what it was like working with Simon & Kirby in the early days. This interview was conducted at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC on June 16, 2000, and was copy-edited by Carmine.

1972 photo of Carmine Infantino taken at a San Diego con by Vince Davis.
Courtesy of Richard Kyle. ©2002 Vince Davis.

THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: What was your first experience with Simon & Kirby's work?
CARMINE INFANTINO: Oh, Captain America. The first Captain America. Frank Giacoia and I saw it and we were so excited. We had to find them. We went up to the city where they had this office where they worked, Joe and Jack, and they were very sweet. They invited us in, they let us look at their work, talked to us for a while, and Jack was very sweet. He showed us his artwork. We were two kids in those days.

TJKC: About how old were you then?
CARMINE: Sixteen. It was a nice day we had-they didn't throw us out. (Jim laughs) They were busy, too-and a kid can be a pain in the ass.

TJKC: But they had a studio, right?
CARMINE: Tudor City in New York.

TJKC: Were a lot of people working for them?
CARMINE: No, just Joe and Jack and the letterer-who was the famous letterer they had?

TJKC: Howard Ferguson?
CARMINE: Ferguson. He was unbelievable. Great letterer. Cranky, very cranky, old guy. You
say hello, he would say, "Go to hell." (Jim laughs) They were doing the stuff at DC then-The Boy Commandos, "Manhunter," and what was the other one?

TJKC: "Sandman."
CARMINE: And the "Newsboy Legion." They were churning out stuff like crazy.

TJKC: They were fast. So do you count them among your bigger, earlier influences?
CARMINE: Yes, extremely. Jack
especially, but Joe, too. Joe was a very sharp writer. People don't give him much credit for that. He wrote most of his stuff; he would take-his idea would be take classics and turn 'em into comic book stories. Remember the Boy Commandos with the Trojan Horse? He did that all the time. He'd take a classic, twist and turn it around, and use it and it would be great. He was very clever. I don't think he got enough credit in his whole process. But that's not to take anything away from Jack, obviously-the combination was magic.

This Infantino splash page from Charlie Chan #1 evokes the S&K feel. The Kirby Checklist lists this "Land of the Leopard Men" splash as Kirby art, but considering the Infantino signature (and the lack of telltale Kirby in it), we believe it's all Infantino. Richard Kolkman, time for another update!
©2002 Crestwood Publications.

TJKC: So when you went to meet them early, you saw Jack draw. What was it like to see him draw?
CARMINE: What he would do, he never laid anything out. He'd start at the top of the panel and just draw. (laughs) I'd go crazy. I said, "I'll never be able to do this." It was incredible.

TJKC: How long after that did you start working in comics?
CARMINE: About a year or two. In fact, two years later, I went up to Timely Comics. No, no, I met them before, I'm sorry. I met Joe two years before that at Timely. He was the editor of Timely and they were doing Captain America. That was before the studio. But I did not meet Jack then; Joe I met before. I'm confusing this thing, I'm sorry. I did a story called "Jack Frost" with Frank Giacoia at Timely Comics for Joe Simon, and I said to him, "Can we meet Jack Kirby?" and he said, "He's busy," but we met him later at Tudor City.

TJKC: How did you know they were at Tudor City? Was that common knowledge?
CARMINE: No, someone told me. I don't know who the guy was that told me, but we tracked 'em down. When you're a fan, you track down your idols.

TJKC: When you started working in the business, did you cross paths with them very often?
CARMINE: Let me see... yeah, years later I ran into them at Hillman Comics. When they came out of the Army, they didn't go back to DC. They worked for Hillman, and so did I. That's when we met. Then they went to Crestwood and they invited me over to Crestwood to do Charlie Chan for them and I went over there.

TJKC: Did you do Charlie Chan directly for them?
CARMINE: Yep, for them directly.

TJKC: So how did that work? Did you ask for the assignment or did they call you?
CARMINE: No, no, Joe called me and he said-and he knows I'm working with DC-"Will you come over here and do Charlie Chan?" I said, "I make a lot more money than you can pay for this thing," but then I thought about it. I could be there working with Kirby and Mort Meskin. I thought it'd be worth it. I worked for less money and I worked for him for about a year. It was a great learning curve.

TJKC: Did you work in the studio?
CARMINE: In the studio and I would go home and do DC's work at night. After a year, I was collapsing, I couldn't continue.

TJKC: What was it like working in the studio with them?
CARMINE: Oh, Jack taught me-tremendous. He was unbelievable.

TJKC: When he worked, did he ever make conversation?
CARMINE: He'd make conversation. You'd ask him a question and he'd answer you. One time I did a story-it was about these two guys beating up an old lady-and I was drawing it and I was having trouble with it. I said, "Jack, what do I do to get this thing right?" and he says, "Don't show them
hitting her. Have one villain on the couch smiling and watching the shadow of the other villain
hitting the old lady. That'll work in the reader's mind more than seeing the actual action," and he was right; little things like that he taught me.

TJKC: Your figure drawing is so different than his. I assume the influence is more in terms of storytelling then.
CARMINE: No, he was in my drawing for a while; and then he and I did a comic strip together. I drew it and he wrote it-a western. We tried to sell it-a newspaper strip.

TJKC: What was the name of it?
CARMINE: I can't remember now, but we couldn't sell it.

TJKC: When, late '40s?
CARMINE: A little later. It was in the '50s-sometime in the '50s.

TJKC: So you had a relationship ongoing-.
CARMINE: Yeah, a long time, and Joe and I and my family were very close. I was close to both of them for many years.
TJKC: Your brother Jimmy worked for them, right?
CARMINE: He worked for Simon. Joe wanted him to stay in the business, but my brother didn't want to. He wanted to go into advertising, and he did.

TJKC: With Jimmy being your brother, did that help him get in? He's your younger brother, right?
CARMINE: I called Joe and I said, "Joe, my kid brother would like to get a job working in the industry." And we were friends and Joe said, "Well, send him up." And then he took to liking him-my brother was very likable and also he was very talented. So Joe called me up, he said, "Hey, I'm taking him on." I said, "Well, thanks." He said, "Well don't thank me, you did me a favor sending him here." And he was very friendly with him and Mort Meskin and Marv Stein and they used to go bowling at noon. They would have a good time. And then when Jimmy decided to move on, Joe wanted him to stay. He'd say, "But, Jimmy, you're making a mistake. I think you'd be a hell of a cartoonist"-but he wanted out.

TJKC: Did you socialize with them after hours much?
CARMINE: No, we didn't socialize that much. We'd talk every once in a while. Joe used to love to buy and sell houses and build houses. So weekends we'd go out together looking at houses, he'd buy a house. He and my father were very close-my father knew plumbing and he knew construction-and on weekends we'd go look at houses and if they liked it, they'd get the plans and they'd build it.

TJKC: Oh, my gosh. (laughter)
CARMINE: Joe is a wonderful guy.

TJKC: I remember Jack Kirby telling me that at one point-I think it was on Long Island-he and Joe lived across the street from each other.
CARMINE: They did, in Westbury, but actually it was a different-right across the street was over the line. One lived in Nassau, one lived in Queens, and it was one block away. Nice houses, nice. They worked very closely in those days.

TJKC: When they had the studio and they had other people there-.
CARMINE: You mean in Crestwood.

TJKC: Was it a big office?
CARMINE: It was fairly big.

TJKC: I want to get a sense of the times there.
CARMINE: I would say about twenty feet and Jack would be in the corner. Mort Meskin would be next to him. Marv Stein-he's an inker-he would be there. They'd have Ferguson and two other guys-I can't remember their names right offhand.

TJKC: And where-?
CARMINE: I had a spot in the corner.

TJKC: You were on the other side of the room.
CARMINE: The other side of the room, but once in a while I'd get up and go watch Jack. He was terrific. He always helped.

TJKC: Whenever they had a business question, I take it that was all Joe Simon and not Jack then.
CARMINE: Yeah, yeah. I wouldn't have business questions for him.

TJKC: I mean in terms of when's something due or when you need extra time or what pay, that sort of thing.
CARMINE: That was done up front at the beginning.

TJKC: So who'd you deal with?
CARMINE: Joe. Always Joe. Jack never got involved in that.

We're not sure what the old lady is referring to in this 1942 Boy Commandos sketch. There have been stories that Jack was drawing pages at night during his WWII basic training; perhaps this was a note sent to a DC editor who was waiting for him to finish a couple of BC pages?
Boy Commandos ™ & ©2002 DC Comics.

TJKC: Can you gauge-just at that time period, meaning post-war now-their popularity in terms of sales and other professionals?
CARMINE: All I know is that Liebowitz was very upset that they didn't come back to him and do more books for DC. Joe and Jack were getting a piece of the action at Crestwood, but I think he would have given them that, actually. So he was quite upset they didn't give him a chance to make an offer. He loved 'em. They made a lot of money for DC. Boy Commandos, the "Manhunter"....

TJKC: They were one of the few teams that had their names on the cover of the comic.
CARMINE: Sure. They sold well.

TJKC: So I'm assuming they and Eisner and Iger were at the top then.
CARMINE: Yeah, they were kings in the

TJKC: This might be kind of corny, but did you have aspirations of ever wanting to be like them in terms of their level of craft or-?
CARMINE: No, I wanted to go into newspaper strips. I wanted a newspaper strip. That was always my ultimate aim. It's never happened. I could never sell one. I tried them, but they all failed, one after the other.
TJKC: Considering how hard it is getting one off the ground-.
CARMINE: It's the worst.

TJKC: I am curious, when you started you were the inker and Giacoia the penciler. Why did that change?
CARMINE: I don't know. I really don't know why. What happened is we started that way for Simon and then the first time we went to DC-Frank stayed at Timely at that time and I moved on. He remained there on staff, so he became an inker, and I suddenly became a penciler; and that's how it turned about. So later he became the inker and I was the penciler.

TJKC: Why didn't you ink your own stuff then?

TJKC: Yeah, once you became a penciler.
CARMINE: They didn't want me to. DC didn't want me to do much inking, they wanted the penciling out of me. They'd give me occasional stories. I'd have done fine on my inking if I'd gone on. There was a house style and I was not the house style.

TJKC: I love "Detective Chimp."
CARMINE: Well, thank you. That was my favorite strip. But that was John Broome's writing, a wonderful writer.

TJKC: Your inking was extremely expressive.
CARMINE: Thank you. I enjoyed doing it, but they didn't want me to do too much. I had the Batman, I had the Flash, the Batman newspaper strip, licensing ads, I was doing every damn thing in the book.

TJKC: So you worked for Simon & Kirby for one year?
CARMINE: A little more, I think, but we remained friends; the three of us were very friendly.

TJKC: Did you do anything else besides Charlie Chan for them?
CARMINE: No. No, at that point I couldn't do it any more. I said, "Joe, I can't. I just can't keep up the pace." He understood, and we remained friends.

TJKC: It isn't like you suffered afterwards.
CARMINE: No, no. I could never appreciate how much Jack taught me.

TJKC: How did you view them personally? Their roles as a team-Jack didn't do the business, but Joe did everything. He penciled, he inked, he would design covers, and he was the business end as well as the creative end.
CARMINE: It probably worked well, because they didn't seem to have any problems between them. Whatever they did worked beautifully.

TJKC: So when they interacted with each other it was about brother and brother?
CARMINE: Oh, yes. They were very close, very close. Once in a while, I'd meet 'em on the subway going to work. They used to live in Brooklyn at one point-or Jack lived in Brooklyn. I don't know where Joe came in from, but they'd meet in the subway. They'd eat and probably sleep together-they had to; they had so much work.

TJKC: It's amazing the amount of work-.
CARMINE: Incredible. Jack would pencil, I think, five to six pages a day, and then Joe would outline them and Jack would go back and fill the blacks in. That's how much work he did: Penciling six and then going back and putting the blacks in.

TJKC: Outside of the newspaper strip that you guys tried to do, you never inked Jack? There was never a deadline crunch...?
CARMINE: No, no. I never touched his penciling work.

TJKC: Would you like to?
CARMINE: It would have been interesting. (both laugh) I'd probably be too nervous. (more laughter)

TJKC: Dan Barry told me a story, when he tried to break in and he went to see Simon & Kirby and Joe just said, "Jack, can I have that?" Jack had almost finished drawing the page, and Joe hands the page to Barry and says, "Here's a try-out."
CARMINE: Really?

TJKC: And Dan Barry was so nervous that he dropped the brush onto the page and it rolled all down the page.
CARMINE: Oh, my God.

TJKC: Joe Simon saw that and he came over and put his hand on his shoulder and said, "That's okay, go see Eisner and Iger."
CARMINE: Oh, boy. That's funny.

TJKC: Well, Dan wasn't happy at the time, but when he told me it was many years later.
CARMINE: I did his strip for him for a few weeks. I did Flash Gordon for three weeks. He called me one night and said he'd fallen behind with the thing, and could I do a couple of weeks? So I banged out about three weeks worth.

When Jack had his personal copies of 1940s Adventure Comics collected into hardbound volumes in the late 1960s, he included this custom pencil drawing of Manhunter.
Manhunter ™ & ©2002 DC Comics.

TJKC: I don't want to get too gossipy here, but this is something I am curious about. I've been in the business for a number of years now, but I don't know what things were like back in the '50s, say when Simon & Kirby broke up. Was that considered to be big news? Did you associate with professionals and talk about who was doing what?
CARMINE: I never thought about it, actually. Simon was doing a Mad comic book at that point, and Jack was doing something else. Why they broke up, I have no idea. I don't think anyone knows to this day, and I never asked them, because it was none of my business.

TJKC: Was there camaraderie between other professionals? Would people go around and talk about what so-and-so was doing company-wise?
CARMINE: Not that I remember. Jack did Challengers of the Unknown, didn't he?

TJKC: Apparently, Joe was involved with the very first story.
CARMINE: That's true. Yeah, they did that. Then Joe went on to do a book like Mad-Sick, that's it-but I think it was a friendly break-up from what I understood. I don't think there was any animosity between them.

TJKC: Kirby left DC because he had problems with Jack Schiff. Did you know about that at the time? Was that a common knowledge type of thing?
CARMINE: I found out later when I wanted to hire Jack and I thought there was a taboo there. I said, "The hell with that, I'm hiring him anyway." The problem was a newspaper strip.

TJKC: Sky Masters.
CARMINE: Yeah, and apparently in the contract they had with each other they were supposed to split three ways: The Wood brothers, Kirby, and Schiff being the what-do-you-call-it-he sold the strip. I think his complaint was that Jack aced him out of the thing. I don't know the facts.

TJKC: There was also a question about the percentage that Schiff would get.
CARMINE: Something like that. Apparently, Jack was not happy and Schiff wasn't happy about the whole deal and they broke up; but this is all hearsay. I wasn't there so I can't comment.

TJKC: The reason I'm asking about this is mainly to find out whether these were subjects people were discussing at the times.
CARMINE: No, I don't think so.

TJKC: So you just wanted to go in and do your job.
CARMINE: We were just worried about making a living. We didn't worry about this other nonsense.

TJKC: What do you think Jack's greatest contribution to comics was?
CARMINE: He was a force. He was an amazing force in this industry. He affected more people in this industry than anybody else, I think. There's only two other guys, Siegel and Shuster. I think they and Joe and Jack will leave the biggest imprint on this business. That's personal, now.

TJKC: And that's covering all the creative ends, not just the art?
CARMINE: I feel they were terrific, and Stan much later. Simon & Kirby and Siegel and Shuster were the real giants.

TJKC: Do you feel Jack's best work was with Joe Simon overall? Would you make a judgment like that?
CARMINE: Yes. I think 100%, yes. Go back and read some of those wonderful stories. Together they were magnificent. This stuff sold like mad.

TJKC: Best friends.
CARMINE: Best friends. You could smell it. Genius was coming out of every pore. They were and are my heroes!

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