Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Carmine M Infantino v. DC Comics et al: The Fight For The Flash

I'm starting to think that my blog has been taken over by the lawyers, but some of this stuff is just fascinating for words really.  On June the 3rd, 2004, Carmine Infantino decided to file a claim of his own, asking for The Flash, associated characters, the revamped Batman and Batgirl.  At the time DC were knee-deep in the Superman lawsuit so they quickly, and quietly, settled this one out of court a mere few months later. 

Carmine was asking for a cool $4,000,000 for his work, which he maintained was not work for hire and, for some characters, done without any input from anyone else.  I found the part about his claim that the character Blockbuster was created before the script arrived, and was created for the cover (Batman #194) which came before the story.  Back in the day the cover was generally the last aspect of the comic book to be created, and would reflect the story inside (more often than not the cover would be a variation on a panel from the story proper).  I don't doubt Carmine's word, but if he did indeed create the cover before the script arrived, then surely he must have had some idea of what the character that Gardner Fox had in mind.  But Carmine claims that editors would have him create cover images in order to inspire the writers of the books to create stories and scripts.  Very unusual indeed - even Stan Lee didn't have Jack Kirby do that.

I wasn't overly surprised that the suit didn't seriously go anywhere, and a few people I spoke to at the time indicated that they'd lost some respect for Carmine as it appeared that he had waited for Julie Schwartz to pass away before he filed suit - Julie would have been the main obstacle before Carmine as Julie, as the editor of DC at the time, assigned artists and writers and, unlike his Marvel counterpart Stan Lee, had a memory like a steel trap and kept records of virtually everything he did.  Thus Julie could have given evidence against Carmine, if it got that far, but with Julie gone...you do the math. 

If you don't know who Julie Schwartz is then you shouldn't be reading this blog, but to put things into perspective...Julie was the editor at DC Comics at the time when The Flash was relaunched in 1956, drawn by Carmine and Joe Kubert. Such was the success of the character that it is considered to be the start of the Silver Age of comics (I believe that we're now well into the Sludge Age of comics).  One of the more interesting reactions that I heard came from my pal Mike Esposito, who was there and who told me the following in 2004, but asked me not to print it until he was gone.  Sadly I can now reveal his thoughts about Carmine and the Flash lawsuit, along with scans of the lawsuit itself.  Over to Mike.

I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about because in those days we all signed contracts, work for hire. So anything we did, they own. And he never created these things. He became top dog when the editor in chief at DC retired. Because of the problems they were having with sales he decided to bring back the Flash. He influenced Julie Schwartz in the science fiction department to bring back the Flash. He re-designed the new costume so it had the little wings on his hat like the old Flash, and streamlined it. But that’s not creating it. All he did was re-institute something that was always there. It was business move. I don’t think he stands a ghost of a chance. Even Siegel and Schuster couldn’t win and they created Superman. Anything that comes out of you belongs to the company. It’s like Marv Wolfman creating a character for Marvel, but if you’re on staff then its work for hire. You can’t win. Look at Steve Gerber with Howard The Duck – he fought like crazy.

I could say the same thing. Ross and I designed the Metal Men. Bob Kanigher created it in one weekend to get an issue of Showcase out against a deadline. He came into Ross and I and we designed the characters. We never got credit for it. It was always Andru and Esposito artists and Bob Kanigher writer. You always realised that Kanigher was the creator because writers are the creators, so that’s who sues. Just like Kirby did a lot of a creating for Stan Lee. But you never thought of Kirby being the guy behind the Hulk, behind a lot of these characters with Stan breaking down the writing. Kirby brought it out in drawing, and when they had their little story confabs he came up with a lot of ideas because he that kind of a brain, more than Stan Lee about fantasy, science fiction and so on. You never thought of Kirby, you thought of Stan Lee. You never thought of Andru and Esposito, you thought of Bob Kanigher. Years later when they brought it back, when they published new stories of the Metal Men and in the credits, and I’ll never forget it because I was surprised, it said ‘created by Bob Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’ on the splash page. Bob had something to do with that. He realised that Ross and I had a lot to do with the development of those characters. All Bob did was said we have gold, we have lead and all of that, but he couldn’t draw so we designed all the characters.

Julie Schwartz loved Carmine because Carmine did great science fiction. Carmine did a great job in stylising and giving the look for comic books and science fiction. He had that flat, two-dimensional look for the buildings, the skylines and the cities. It didn’t have that depth like Ross Andru. But Ross was terrible when drawing the Flash, although we did it for about four years, and he hated it. He struggled with it and he couldn’t get Carmines look. I could have inked it if it was pencilled that way, but Ross used his Slavic anatomy. Thick legs, thick body, Ross had the same look on his own body and he drew himself. He muscled him up and when you muscle up the Flash you slow him down, visually. You can’t get speed with fat legs. You had to make him very lithe and very thin and put speed lines behind him to make people think he’s flying. When Ross did it he had angles, he had legs and arms bending, he had all this animation, where Carmine had it very straight up, with his arms at his side. Ross’s stuff never looked like he was going swift, although the readers would write in and say “We’ve finally got some good artwork for the Flash!” Those are a matter of opinion because Ross told a great story. He gave depth to the layouts, the angles from looking down. Angles on the Flash from three quarters up from his jaw as he was running. These are difficult things to draw and Carmine gave this quicker, simpler look that was right for what he was doing. Now to pick up the job ten years later and take it over, well it’s going to be so different, like night and day. That’s the sad part. Carmine liked it because it relived him from a job that he didn’t want to do anymore. He was the assistant to the publisher, he almost became the publisher then, in fact he became the publisher later until some internal problems happened and he was forced out.

I really liked Carmine’s handling of the Flash. As much as I loved Ross I have to say Carmine’s Flash was hundreds of time better, for what it supposed to be. It had all of the look, the feel and the swiftness, where Ross’s, as beautifully drawn as it was on a technical sense… It’s like having Rembrandt do it. Beautiful work, but it doesn’t move. It has to be a caricature of real life.

And here's Carmine Infantino's 2004 lawsuit in all it's glory, featuring, as it does, the myriad of characters that he claimed to have created.  The case with dismissed, with prejudice, on the 17th of September, 2004.  As with all things on this blog, feel free to click the images for a larger look.










5 comments:

Booksteve said...

Seriously...I can't believe some of the claims there. And not even a claim for Adam Strange which would seem to have more credibility than any of these others!

As far as saying he created the Blockbuster for that Batman cover....um...the character had already appeared previously in DETECTIVE. I have, though, read where Mort Weisinger would commission covers and then later have the writers and artists come up with stories based on them so why not Schwartz?

Esposito clearly gets a few things wrong, though, too, implying that Infantino was in charge of DC by the time the Flash was revived and influenced Schwartz to do so. Obviously, this was more than ten years before Carmine moved into any kind of position of authority at the company.

As far as nitpicking details--is the character on BIRDS OF PREY with her wheelchair and her computers really the same as Batgirl just because the two have the same name? The characterizations are so different, I believe that one can argue they aren't the same in spite of the Batgirl references in relation to both the TV and comics versions of Oracle.

I had wondered whatever happened to this suit so thanks for posting. I hate to find myself siding with the big evil corporation against one of my childhood heroes but ...Jeez, Carmine.

Richard Guion said...

I have the greatest admiration for Carmine Infantino as well, but I think much of this lawsuit is off base in a few areas. At most he can claim co-ownership of The Flash design or Batgirl's design, but as Booksteve wrote, to put that in there with Birds of Prey is wrong. Unless John Ostrander and Chuck Dixon also get a piece of Oracle. Although isn't it funny that Infantino's Batgirl will be back in the new Sept 2011 reboot of the DC Universe.

Infantino often came up with cover designs on his own for Julie Schwartz before a story was done: that tale is included in his book from TwoMorrows.

Mike Esposito's comments were very interesting to read, thank you for sharing them.

James Van Hise said...

Carmine Infantino? I'd have more respect for him if he'd apologize for what he did some 40 years ago when writers who had worked for DC for decades demanded employee benefits (health insurance, pensions) that other DC employees received since these writers weren't allowed to write for DC's competition. Infantino fired them for wanting the same company benefits that he had.

M W Gallaher said...

The "Birds of Prey" TV show *did* feature images of Batgirl, and used Barbara Gordon's past as Batgirl for a foundation, and did co-star Black Canaray, so I can see how Infantino, if he really believed he had created the characters, deserved compensation. And if he had included Adam Strange on the list, it would have been very suspect, since Adam's first appearance was drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with a cover by Gil Kane.

WestcoastTony said...

I should point out that it was indeed the principle at DC in those days (late 50s-early 60s), at least for Julius Schwartz's titles, that a cover image would be created by an artist first, and THEN a story would be written around it. This often created some awkward or downright silly ways for the writer, such as Gardner Fox or John Broome, to incorporate the element into the narrative. DC comics were created VERY differently from the way Stan Lee would develop them. But this is by no means a far-fetched claim on Infantino's part.