Monday, July 13, 2009

Carmine Infantino Controversy

Last week we posted our Carmine Infantino profile to the GRAPHIC NYC site, and unfortunately there's been some backlash from Mr. Infantino. I'm pasting in the article posted by Heidi MacDonald on The Beat. I'll share my thoughts on the whole thing at the bottom.

From The Beat-

Carmine Infantino speaks; Chris Irving responds

Legendary artist and publisher Carmine Infantino was the subject of an interview on the Graphic NYC website last week, and it seems that he takes issue with some of the handling of the piece. Since we gave the interview a prominent spot, we’re giving his rebuttal equal prominence:

“Some weeks back, I granted an interview to Mr. Christopher Irving, who brought along a few friends, one of whom photographed me. Mr. Irving promised that I could look over the materials before publication. Imagine my surprise when I found out that both the interview, which was turned into an essay, and the photographs, were posted on the internet before I had a chance to review them.
Not only am I displeased with Mr. Irving for not keeping his word to me, but I also object to his describing my physical health in a negative way, as if I was about to die. Irving reinforced this image by labeling the essay as Carmine Infantino’s Final Interview. I was unaware until now that I had died. I may be an 84 year old man with some health issues, but I am not at death’s door. Also, I never stated that this was my final interview, as I have given one since then, and if the opportunity arises, I may do more.
When I complained about the essay title, Mr. Irving promised to change the title, but all he did was add a question mark at the end. If he’s expecting me to die soon, I wish he’d tell that to my sister-in-law, who’s cooking dinner for me next week.
I asked him to remove the bad language from the interview, which he did. However, he has not fixed the historical inaccuracies in the piece, most of which consist of his own lack of research. When discussing my decision to have Murphy Anderson redraw Jack Kirby’s Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces, Irving states, “Carmine now admits this was a mistake.” I never said any such thing, and I still stand by my original decision. I asked Irving to remove this comment, and he has yet to do so.
I had not intended to go public with this, but because Irving has painted an inaccurate portrait of me nor has he kept his promises after our last private conversation, I have no choice but to disassociate myself with this article. I have learned one lesson, though. From now on, I’ll be more careful about granting interviews to disrespectful amateurs.

Carmine Infantino”

Okay, we gave the writer of the original piece a change to respond, and you can read his response in the jump:

Firstly, I would like to apologize to Mr. Infantino for any oversight in reviewing the interview transcript, something that was by no means an intentional slight to this legendary cartoonist.

Secondly, I’m a bit taken aback by his “disrespectful amateurs” label. If he’d even researched Seth Kushner and I, he would see the vast body of work we’ve both done as photographer and historian, respectively.

NYC Graphic Novelists has featured over two dozen subjects, with a fair number of legends. Mr. Infantino is the first to be displeased with his piece. I also want to make a clear delineation between our project and a standard fan magazine or PR fluff piece: while Seth and I are both fans and respectful of our subjects, we are also taking a journalistic approach to our pieces. To shamefully paraphrase the immortal Leonard “Bones” McCoy: “Dammit, Jim. I’m a journalist not a fan writer.”

I think the positive responses to Mr. Infantino on Mr. John Byrne’s Byrne Robotics forum, as well as Comic Bloc and others, is testament to the respect for Mr. Infantino and his work, all of which was gleaned from this piece and the recollections of the forum members.

In terms of the “Final Interview” aspect, Mr. Infantino should more closely read this part of the essay:

Now, back near Lexington Avenue, Carmine lives in retirement. When I first asked him for the interview, he told me I was “the last of the Mohicans”, and it would possibly be the last time he would ever go on record. After all of the twists and turns in his life and career, he seems a mixture of being both resigned and comfortable with his place in comics.

Note the operative word “possibly,” added after my phone conversation with him.

In terms of our “last private conversation”, Mr. Infantino was so negative, venomous, and scathing, that I felt the best way to further communicate would be through letter. I told him I would mail the transcript to him, if he wanted to point out any “historical inaccuracies”. I actually asked him which things were inaccurate, and he only cited that Kirby had prior knowledge of the redrawn Superman heads, which I then added a line:

Due to Kirby’s non-DC style, and apparently with Kirby’s knowledge beforehand, Carmine had inker Murphy Anderson re-ink the Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces to maintain character integrity. Carmine now admits this was a mistake.

He made no mention in that phone call of not thinking it a “mistake”, although I have the audio of our interview to back my claim up (for the record, and as a digression, I completely understand and agree with Mr. Infantino’s decision then. As amazing as Kirby was, his Superman wasn’t on model for the time.).

In terms of sources used, I would like to note that I referred to Vanguard Press’ The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino memoir written by Mr. Infantino with Mr. David Spurlock and Mr. Gerard Jones’ amazing Men of Tomorrow (a volume of which Mr. Infantino admits he had not read), as well as Showcase Presents The Flash, the reprint volume from DC Comics.

I also was going to extend the offer to do a follow-up interview in a Q & A style to clarify his points that he feels require clarification. That offer still stands, despite his disassociation with the piece, and I welcome the opportunity to him. If he can point out any specific inaccuracies, I will be more than happy to vet them with further research.

But, in short: I respectfully stand by my essay and my work as a writer.

In the meantime, however, I will continue to pay attention to the legendary Mr. Infantino through the stack of reprints of The Flash sitting on my bookshelf, and wish him several more dinners with his sister-in-law.


Christopher Irving

My thoughts - The whole situation is sad to me. Chris and I were very excited to meet Mr. Infantino and we had a wonderful time with him. Hell, we bought him lunch! During our meeting at a midtown east dinner, I found him to be a sweet, genial and personable guy. I though he was very open during Chris's interview, speaking freely and honestly. I enjoyed taking his portrait and am happy with the results. I read Chris's piece before he posted and thought he did his usual great job of describing the man and his work, while sharring his own perspectives. Chris writes interview-based essays, in his own distinctive style and the Infantino piece was to me, on par with the other twenty five or so essays Chris has written for the project thus far.
We billed the piece as his last interview because he told Chris just that. Perhaps he was being sarcastic or simply kidding, but who were we to judge? This is journalism and he gave us a sensationalistic title, one which any journalist would find difficult to resist.
As far as the controversy over whether or not Mr. Infantino regrets having Kirby's faces redrawn, I have no idea how he really feels, except that he told us that he regrets it. Chris's digital recorder holds the truth.
Finally, Chris's process is that he always sends the subjects a written transcript of the interview for them to approve, make changes, etc. It's professional and courteous. These interviews are eventually going to be collected in a book and we'd like our subjects to be happy with their profiles. I do the same with my photos. At the end of the interview, Chris mentioned that he would send along the transcript, but Mr. Infantino indicated that it wouldn't be necessary. Case closed.
Finally, let me just say that Chris and I have spend over a year of our lives on this project because we LOVE comics and we're trying to create an amazing book. We chose our subjects because we respect them and their work. These are our heroes and while we try to be as objective as possible in our work, we never have any intention of casting anyone in a negative light. I deeply regret that Mr. Infantino feels that we set out to defame him and I hope when he cools down he'll realize that our hearts were in the right place.

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