Do Anything 023 by Warren Ellis

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Deceleration, as the canyons become skyscraper-walled New York streets. We pass the office window that Alex Toth, who never drew a story worthy of his talent and today is known only to specialists in the medium, attempting to defenestrate editor Julius Schwartz because “Julie” refused to pause his lunchtime card-game to get Toth paid. Toth was another angry man of comics, a world-class artist who knew everything about storytelling except what made a good story. He was famous for his handwritten critiques of other artists: his destruction of comics artist Steve Rude (who spent a lot of time in the 80s doing Kirby pastiche work) got out into the wild a few years ago, and you can find it on the web fairly easily. It is at once a masterclass in storytelling intelligence — Rude is a wonderfully gifted illustrator, but storytelling isn’t his strong suit — and an appalling portrait of Alex Toth as an embittered intellectual sadist. Nothing he said was wrong, but he nonetheless manages to paint a picture of a man who would argue with his own breakfast over betrayals real or imagined. A man who hated “mature content” in modern comics, he is perhaps best known today for his original design of SPACE GHOST, who survives into the present as a parody show host.

Alan Moore once told me that, in conversation with Julie Schwartz, it has come up that schwartz, who started out as a literary agent during the pulp years, had met HP Lovecraft. As Alan retells it, he couldn’t help but ask Schwartz what Lovecraft was like. And Schwartz said, “y’know, when I met him, I said to myself, I gotta remember what this guy’s like because in fifty fuckin’ years Alan Moore’s gonna ask me.” Which, too, paints a picture of a man.

In a lower window stands Carmine Infantino, in his eighties now, and still being asked, in not so many words, why he fucked over Jack Kirby in the Sixties. Another gifted artist who never got to draw a story worth the remembering. A man who ran DC Comics, who was very aware of crossing the factory floor into management, and who made laudable efforts to make life better for the people he left on the floor.

DC made him Art Director when Stan Lee tried to hire him away to Marvel in the mid-Sixties, and later made him Publisher. He’s said that he radically restructured the first two Superman films and received no credit.

In July of 2009, he asked interviewed Christopher Irving: “Where do you think I fit in the whole picture of comics? Be honest. A lot of people don’t like what I did as editor, but some did.”

(Notably, he said of the sf comic he illustrated, ADAM STRANGE: “I liked doing science fiction, and I always wanted to be an architect, so it was a way of getting my rocks off.” At this point in my terrible Narrative of the multiversal secrets inside the robot head of Jack Kirby, I shouldn’t have to draw the connections for you. Here’s another: Infantino draw the STAR WARS comic for a while, he says at George Lucas’ behest.)

Before 1971, Infantino had DC return original art to artists — which sounds like a small thing, but it didn’t happen before that. Jack Kirby didn’t get pages back from Marvel until the Eighties, and even then it was a small fraction of what he produced for them.

In the original published version of the Irving interview, you find:

“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.”

Infantino later insisted this be removed from the piece, claiming that he never said it. Irving, despite having the original audio and having enjoined Infantino in a “last private conversation” described as “negative, venomous, and scathing,” later deleted it out of respect for the artist’s wishes.

Carmine Infantino briefly sued DC Comics in 2004 over ownership of The Flash, whose Sixties iteration he had designed and illustrated. His lawsuit went in two weeks after Julius Schwartz, his commissioning editor on The Flash, died.

You can’t choose your place in history. He was a mighty comics artist in his day, Carmine Infantino, and as a publisher his policies nurtured dozens of important artists and revitalised a major company. But here he is now, in the only aspect that generations of comics readers will know him: the guy who fucked with the heads of Jack Kirby.

The act was stupid and short-sighted, but the focus on it is wrong and sad. If this circular tour of comics has shown anything, I’d hope, it’s that anything can be seen from many angles, and that the broader view is always better.

Decelerating and descending.

ANYTHING

Apparently two of you noticed that this column has been missing for several weeks. A few bouts of illness and resultant work pressure meant something had to go, and it was this. It’s likely there’ll be another short break after Xmas/New Year, as I finish DO ANYTHING 1 and then get up to speed on DO ANYTHING 2. Avatar have the design document for DO ANYTHING 1 in hand, and you can expect the print edition, I imagine, sometime during Spring 2010.

In the meantime, I have a new collection of columns and pieces from elsewhere for sale, SHIVERING SANDS, which you can learn about here.

Also, I feel compelled to point out that my graphic novella CRECY would be an excellent present for your dad this Xmas. Heh.

COLOPHON

I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. You can email me at warrenellis@gmail.com, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.

DO ANYTHING IS © WARREN ELLIS 2009, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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