Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Carmine Infantino

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 4

I don’t have nearly enough books in the category that this post covers: Books about the art and lives of specific artists. I think there are a lot more out there, but for some reason I don’t have as many of them as I thought I might.

I’ll start with The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, which I bought at a convention directly from the publisher and it was an autographed copy. I only met Carmine once, and it was at a convention and I simply said how much I had enjoyed his art on the old Marvel Star Wars series. That series was the one that got me reading comics and I had, as a kid, mixed feelings about the art. First, the comic was a lot better as soon as Infantino came aboard with writer Archie Goodwin. The stories were cool, fun to read, easy on the eyes and had some very clear storytelling. On the downside, none of the characters in the comic looked like the actors from the movie. That part bugged me enough — especially after seeing the bang-up job Mike Vosberg did on Star Wars Annual #1 — to write a letter to Marvel about it. All of which digresses from this book, which is an amiable recounting of Carmine’s career as he remembers it. That’s both a good and bad approach — there’s lots of good little anecdotes and plenty of cool artwork throughout the book, but there’s not much criticism. That leaves a few areas of comics history — especially during Infantino’s tenure as top editor at DC Comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s — no closer to any kind of definitive history than we were before. Still, fans of Infantino’s artwork should get a real kick out of this volume.

Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier is a very solid and enjoyable read that attempts to cover the life and work of Jack Kirby in a single volume. Given the sheer amount of writing that Kirby’s generated over the years, it’s obviously not going to be possible for any such book to cover every single thing Kirby did in the detail his fans would like. (For that, I always understood Evanier also was working on a much more detailed biography of Kirby that, I assume, will be published at some point in the future.) But this is a very solid account of Kirby, packed full of his amazing artwork and photos and well worth the time of die-hard and casual fans alike.

If you can’t get enough Kirby, then there is always The Collected Jack Kirby Collector. I have four volumes of this series, and expect a few more have come out I don’t own. These are terrific for getting into not just the specifics of Kirby’s career, but also his impact on the field and fans. The articles range from scholarly examinations of Kirby’s work to vintage interviews the artist gave over the years to recollections from people who either worked with Kirby or were just huge fans of his. Each volume also is generously illustrated with Kirby art, often photocopies of his original pencils. Reading this much about a single artist can be a bit overwhelming, so I read through these somewhat slowly, taking my time between stints to avoid Kirby burnout.



Mythology: The DC Comics art of Alex Ross is a beautiful art book packed full of Ross’ amazing paintings. No one really captures a sense of how classic superheroes would look in the real world quite the same way Ross does, with his extensive use of models, photo reference and an amazing talent for producing finished art that looks photographic. I think in a lot of ways, Ross’ art is better suited to being displayed in this kind of glossy format than in actual comic book stories, where painted art can slow down the reading process because it demands to be looked at. I bought my edition at a signing Ross did to promote its release a number of years ago at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. Putting on my Variety hat, I asked him what his favorite comic-book movie was. His answer: RoboCop.

Tim Sale: Black and White is a lovely art book produced by Richard Starkings’ Active Images. Printed in stark black and white on glossy paper, this book really shows off Sale’s atmospheric art to great advantage. The dark, inky pages are easy to get lost in, and there’s a career retrospective interview in there to boot. I think this particular book was released around the time Sale’s art was making a big impact on the TV series Heroes, back in its first season when it was quite the hot property.

Last on this list (for now) is Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens. This was a gift I received from a fellow comics fan on my 40th birthday and really loved digging in to. I had long known Stevens’ work from various pin-ups and, of course, The Rocketeer. But this books goes a lot deeper and shows some of his contributions to many other projects, including such great films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the long-form music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It is a satisfying portrait of the artist, written mostly as autobiography but, unfortunately, finished by other hands after Stevens died from cancer a few years back.

One other volume that springs to mind is another TwoMorrows project, the Modern Masters series. I picked up the John Byrne volume at least in part because of some of the sketches from Byrne’s days at Charlton and later on X-Men. I also was pleasantly surprised to read Byrne talking about his days as a kid in Edmonton, Alberta, which is my hometown, and recognizing a couple of the places he described. In particular, I remember the newsstand at the downtown Eaton’s department story, which was right inside the front door and well-stocked with magazines, newspapers and paperbacks, though not too many comics by the time my teen-age collecting years kicked in. I also enjoyed Byrne’s brief recollection of Mike’s, a famous newsstand on Jasper Avenue that always had several spinner racks stuffed full of comics. I once made my father trudge over there on his way home from work to pick me up a copy of Star Wars #1 that I had seen there the day before but not had the 35 cents to pay for at the time. Here’s a story on Mike’s, which went out of business just a few months before my family moved to the States, complete with a photo of its distinctive neon sign.

I think I have one more post for this series, this one on comic book movies, including my own tome, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen.

Comic du jour: The Flash #309 (May 1982)

First in what I intend to be a regular series looking at various individual comics of yesterday and today.

This is a pretty typical comic from a period not remembered as especially good for B- and C-list titles. Still, there’s almost always an element of charm to be found in such comics — and this is no exception.

Written by DC workhorse Cary Bates, the story involves an alien who comes back in time from a future in which the superheroes have become legends. Pleased to find the heroes really did exist, he kidnaps Flash and attempts to extract his speed energy by force. Flash escapes and, during a mind-link, learns the alien has the best of intentions — he needs the power to save his world from an alien threat. So Flash takes him back in time a bit further to the day he got his powers so the chemical soup Barry Allen was doused with could be analyzed and duplicated on the alien. The alien gets the Flash’s powers and goes back to his time to fight the alien. Flash tags along to make sure everything goes OK, but the monster is too tough, forcing the alien Flash to sacrifice his life to stop it. In the process, he resparks interest in the ancient superheroes and Flash goes back to his own time.

Carmine Infantino does the pencils on this issue and give it that special flair only he can deliver. As a kid, I didn’t like Infantino’s art on the “Star Wars” series because it didn’t capture the likenesses of the actors very well. But I came around on that, thanks to Infantino’s graceful and unique artistic talents. A lot of Infantinoisms are on display in this issue, too, from the design of the alien space ship, to his inimitable faces peeking out from the hyper-sketchy speed lines, the soft features of the alien’s face, and of course the Infantino hands! There are some drawbacks too: The unfortunately phallic imagery of the cover (duck, Barry!); a story told almost completely in thought balloons and the occasionally excessive looseness of the art.

Then there’s the backup feature, an 8-page Dr. Fate story written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt. This feels like the last of several parts, and I was pretty much lost as to what was going on. But Giffen showed his chops on the art, which was polished, compelling and fresh in the way that a lot of stuff from this era seemed at the time. I also love the use of color holds — line art printed using only the red, blue or yellow plate — to create a unique look that’s both archaic and still pretty cool even by today’s standards.

As always, there’s plenty of interesting ephemera in an old comic: The inside front cover ad for the first “Swamp Thing” movie; house ads for the debut of new series Saga of the Swamp Thing and Firestorm; and a letters page with a rare DC statement of ownership that puts The Flash’s 1981 average paid circulation at 92,151 copies — good enough for a top ten ranging in the direct market these days.

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