Yesterday came the sad news that two people who had a huge influence on my life -through their own work rather than any personal contact- had passed away.
Roger Ebert (on the right with Gene Siskel), probably the more famous of the two to the general public, was known for his many years of movie reviews, humorous wit, and liberal views. I first encountered him on PBS when the late Gene Siskel and he hosted “At the Movies”. They were a curious pair, often seemingly rubbing each other the wrong way while at other times appeared to be the best of friends. In later years and after Mr. Siskel’s passing, much was written about their sometimes contentious relationship. In this day of people’s opinions being such absolute “my way or the highway” tropes (especially in politics), it was refreshing to see two people with such different backgrounds and (sometimes) wildly differing opinions nonetheless get into meaty arguments over their views of individual movies.
Their analysis proved something of an intellectual watershed. The duo taught me, perhaps more than anyone else in my life, the value of smart analysis and debate. Though I would not agree with their opinions all the time, I grew to appreciate their viewpoints and through them realized that opinions could be radically different from mine yet could be just as right to them as mine were to me.
In his later years, Mr. Ebert showed incredible courage in continuing his life as normally as he could despite a series of medical issues which ultimately stilled his speaking voice. In computers and the internet Mr. Ebert found a way of continuing to do what he so loved…”talking” with the world at large and offering his clever opinions on movies and everything else that fancied his mind.
Carmine Infantino, though perhaps not as well known to the public at large as Mr. Ebert, nonetheless is easily one of the giants in the comic book industry. During the so-called “Silver Age” of comics his artwork graced many a book and his designs for comic book covers were among the most recognized ever.
But to me what I’ll always remember and honor Mr. Infantino for is his work as editorial director for DC Comcs from the later sixties to 1976. During that time DC Comics underwent an incredible change. Mr. Infantino purged many of the older writers and artists and brought in a stable of talent both new and old to the ranks and supervised the release of some truly fascinating -and diverse- books. During his run, we had the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern-Green Arrow. The same duo also moved Batman from the campy past into a darker, more eerie milieu and in the process created some of the best Batman stories ever. Jack Kirby was notably whisked away from rival Marvel Comics and released the epic New Gods books as well as my personal favorite Kamandi. Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson collaborated on the memorable Manhunter saga while Len Wein and Berni Wrightson made ten of the most stunning issues of comic books ever with Swamp Thing. DC Comics also released a series of great War and Supernatural books…and even combinations of the two!
If there was a “golden age” for me of comic books, it was DC during the very late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s and in that time the person in charge of the company was Mr. Infantino. Sadly, his moves ultimately didn’t really work with the general reading population. Many of the books mentioned above, now considered all-time classics, found their fans long after said books were cancelled and/or Mr. Infantino was ousted from his job. It is a sad reality of life that sometimes the best, most innovative works are not appreciated until well after the fact.
Yet the diversity of product and the soaring imagination within the pages of the many books published by DC during that time remains a highlight of my childhood and, even today, a point to aspire to in my own humble writings.
Rest In Peace, Mr. Infantino. Rest In Peace, Mr. Ebert. You’ll both be missed.