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.

PREVIEW: The Batman Who Laughs #2

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