Carmine Infantino was many things to DC Comics over many years. When I was growing up, his greatest significance to me was as the artist of the Flash. Now his greatest significance to me is that he was a Bill Finger advocate, and even before that was trendy.
I interviewed Carmine for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and he was one of the few people to whom I personally delivered a copy. He passed away in 2013.
The interview is transcribed (and slightly edited) from a
recording, as I did with all the interviews in this series (Jerry Robinson, Shelly Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Kubert, Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino, Irwin Hasen). I just love Carmine’s rat-a-tat style of speaking and his candor.
Thank you again, Carmine. I ought to call you one of the fathers of my research. I wouldn’t be wrong.
How well did you know Bill Finger?
I knew him quite well. He was a lovely man. I came into the company a lot later than the period we’re talking about. I don’t think he was even doing Batman at that point. He was doing other characters at DC.
Tell me what you thought of him as a person.
Wonderful. He was a brilliant writer. I think he created all those villains in Batman. He made Batman, no one else. Kane had nothing to do with it. Bill did it all.
Did he say that himself?
Bill was very upset. Bill had been promised compensation by what-the-hell’s-his-name, Kane. Kane, Kane’s father promised him all kinds of—he never got a nickel out of them, by the way. And also, when Kane settled his suit, he got a million dollars on Batman. And again, Bill got nothing out of that. He ended up doing whatever he could get out of DC. In the original stuff, Bill created all those wonderful villains. He was sensational. He had nothing for it.
Where do you think he was inspired to come up with the things that became signature Bill Finger stuff?
He and Jerry Robinson, there’s an argument about who created the Joker. Bill showed me a drawing—Bill used to go to Steeplechase out in Coney Island, Brooklyn. On there was a character that looked like a joker’s head. Bill went out there one time and Bill showed it to me. He made a copy of that head. And then he said [unintelligible] the villain the Joker. That, the Penguin, the Two-Face, he did them all. Now Jerry Robinson claims the Joker he created, Bill didn’t create that. Who can prove what? I don’t know. Bob claims he saw Conrad Veidt, and that made him create the Joker. So everybody’s created the Joker, but I tend to believe Bill, because [if ?] keep creating characters, and Bill kept creating all those villains, the Penguin, Two-Face, on and on and on. Maybe I’m crazy. Bill died broke.
What did he think of when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were fighting for their—
He didn’t talk much about that. He may have talked to some other people, but never did it to me. The only thing he was angry about, he talked to me a lot, was Batman. Very angry. He never got nothing out of it. And he was the heart and soul of Batman. He took the character on, he created the kid, Robin, all these characters.
And he was telling you when you in a position of power at DC?
No, no, no. No, no. I was a freelancer. I used to come up there once in a while. There was a room called the writers’ room where all the writers sat and did their work. And we’d hang out there. And they would talk. And of course Billy was very upset. [NOTE: first time I heard anyone call him Billy]
When you guys would sit around in the writers’ room, how did Bill fit in? Was he one of the guys? Did he joke around?
Oh yeah, terrific guy. He sat there, kidded around a lot. He had a problem making money. He had a wife who threw him in jail all the time ‘cause he couldn’t send out the what-do-you-call-it, the divorce money?
He would go into Jack Schiff and say Jack, [unintelligible] he needed a check, always need a check, always running short. He said “My grandmother died,” and Jack said, “She died last week, you told me.” (laughs) He did that all the time. Always short of money.
Did you say jail before?
Yeah, his wife, when he didn’t pay his alimony, she threw him in jail. And they had to bail him out, and then he’d get out and she’d throw him back in again because he didn’t pay alimony. He wasn’t making no money, the poor guy. He had a very sad life. It was unfair what happened to him. Bob walked off with everything, with [$50,000?] a year, plus doing [?] work, and writing. He had the stuff drawn by somebody. He was paying them hardly nothing.
Did Bill have a sense of humor?
Yes. Oh, he was very funny, very funny. He did the Green Lantern, too, he created that too. He was so good. Billy was a very brilliant guy and the sad part of all this, he died broke. And he shouldn’t have.
Did people call him Billy or Bill?
We called him Billy. We were close. We kidded around. Billy had a son, too.
Did you know [Bill’s son] Freddie?
I don’t know much about—I met him once. Arnold Drake knew him a lot better than I did, apparently. I’m sure Arnold’s story coincides with mine.
Did you go to Bill’s funeral?
No. I didn’t know about it at the time. Isn’t that awful?
Does anybody know where he’s buried?
No. I don’t know. Did Arnold know?
Do you have any photos of Bill?
No. Not that I know of. He was small. He was not tall. He used to go to the gym, he used to work out a lot, I heard.
Did he used to wear a baseball cap a lot?
No. Maybe once in a while but I never saw him at the office with that. No, he liked to dress well. He’d go to Paul Stewart on Madison Avenue. He used to like button-down shirts.
Long sleeve shirts?
Long sleeve. Button-down. Oxford. Blue shirts, he’d buy. He always had new ideas for different strips. He worked for mostly Jack Schiff. I won’t knock Jack but I don’t think he did a great job on Batman. He couldn’t have because it went to hell. He used to imitate what Mort Weisinger did on Superman. [They] had a Supermite, he had a Bat-Mite. Remember all that junk?
What did Bill think of Bob?
He hated him. We all hated him, frankly.
[talks about how Bob Kane complained to Liebowitz about Carmine’s covers; Carmine on Bob: “He was a real sickie, this guy”]
William [NOTE: don’t know why Carmine switched from “Billy” to “William”—something else no one else called him!] is a genius. I tend to think he created the Joker, too. If the other guys created the Joker, why didn’t they create more villains? Am I right or not? Billy created not only that, but Penguin, Two-Face, he kept coming up with them one after the other. Bill got screwed, period and simple.
[Carmine said Bill’s son died too, Carmine asked if he was gay, even though I already explained why I was interviewing him he asked if I’m writing a thesis, he asked how Boys of Steel did, I said it hadn’t come out yet, tells how Jerry Siegel and his wife and kids used to go to Great Neck to Donenfeld’s, march up and down in front of house with sign “He robbed me,” Irwin used to invite kids in, feed them, and send them out, Carmine never met Jerry and Joe, tells me how Joe was mugged leaving the movie house, got beat up pretty badly]
What would you to be conveyed about Bill in this book?
I think Billy was a frickin’ genius. If it wasn’t for him, Batman would be nothing. Bob created a character, period. But Bill gave it soul. And then he created all those wonderful villains which really gave it its body. He was a genius.
[he talks about a group that used to get drinks, Bill didn’t go that often, mentioned the writers’ room]
This writers’ room, was it just—
—it was just a room, it was nothing special. But that’s where they hung out, they did their writing. A freelancers’ room.
Was it a room where they actually wrote or they just hung out?
They did some corrections there.
There were desks?
Yeah, there were desks. What they did sometimes, at the end, they’d give them changes, so they’d go back in there, and there’s typewriters there and they make some changes and bring them back in. The actual writing they did at home.
Rows of desks, nothing on the walls, just very plain?
No, it was very plain.
No. I remember it was a side room.
[thanked him, complimented him, other wrap-up business, told him he gave me details no one else did, he asked like what, I said blue shirts, writers’ room]
He was meticulous about his clothes, by the way. Brooks Brothers, he was a freak for Brooks Brothers. He loved their suits. He’s used to always wear the tie and the shirt.
He wore a tie when we was working?
Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup. He always wore a tie.
Even when he was home?
I don’t know about home, but I know in the office.
Did everybody wear ties though?
No, no. One thing about Bill, I know he wore a shirt and tie most of the time. … He was too nice a man. The guy was a brilliant man. And he got shoved up, well…
Well, the best we can do is keep talking about him.
I know. I’m glad somebody’s writing about him. You ought to call it The Father of Batman. You wouldn’t be wrong.