by Tom “The Comics Savant” Stewart
This is a older article, written for a magazine that no longer exists, in fact it never got past galley/sample stage. It's presented here in pretty much the original form, updated at the end.
Now my friends, gathered here today under the auspices of the mighty web, let me tell the sad tale of Carmine Infantino and one of his biggest fans, Thomas P. Stewart, and, in the course of the story, how I got the name, “The Comics Savant”.
Ahem. Ready? Here we go...
I write the occasional article for the print mag Comic Book Artist (edited by the handsome and personable Jon B. Cooke). When Jon asked me if I’d like to write a couple of articles on DC Comics in the years 67-74 during the time Carmine Infantino was the Editorial Director of DC. I jumped at the chance. I’d always wanted to know more about that period in DC history, so I chose two of my favorite subjects, Justice League and Wonder Woman artist Mike Sekowsky, and the western series Bat Lash (both of those articles are elsewhere on this blog).
I set to work interviewing some of my childhood favorites, Mad Magazine artist Sergio Arragones (co-writer and developer of Bat Lash), Mark Evanier, Denny O’Neil (Bat Lash writer), Joe Giella, and reading everything I could find on the subjects. I tried to contact Joe Orlando (editor at DC during the time we were investigating) leaving several messages at the office number I had, but no luck. I didn’t think too much of it, because I knew both Joe and Carmine had extensive interviews elsewhere in the magazine (I also knew, detailed and exhaustive interviewer that he was, Jon would ask most of the same questions I would). I wrote the articles (holding space for the Orlando questions until the last minute) then emailed them off. I (and I think Jon would agree) saw the issue as a tribute to Carmine Infantino and that fertile period in DC history. I felt we had much of which to be proud.
Carmine Infantino did not.
A couple months after the issue came out, I went to the '98 San Diego Con ready to blow more money than I could afford, and to met Jon Cooke for the first time. We’d talked to each other several times on the phone, and piled up a ton of emails, but had never met face to handsome face. I stopped by the booth and found Jon forcing people to buy his magazine. I introduced myself, Jon smiled, frowned and then said those deathless words; “We need to talk.”
We went where we wouldn’t be disturbed (in the middle of the entrance foyer, go figure) sat on the carpet and Jon pulled out a folder of papers. He started pulling out paper after paper, letter after threatening letter, all from the same sources, Mr. Infantino and his lawyer. He laid them in a long line of verbiage, and starting explaining the situation to me. Mr. Infantino was mad. No, he was FURIOUS with Jon and I. He believed we had personally disparaged his creative input on Bat Lash, and had joined in the national plot to sully his reputation and accomplishments. I did that?
He gave me way too much credit.
He demanded a published apology and an unedited response, or he (as his lawyer wrote us) would sue CBA, John Morrow of TwoMorrows Publishing (CBA’s publishers), Jon himself AND "Tom Stewart", with my name in quotes. You see, not only did Carmine want to sue me, he also didn’t believe I existed. It’s bad enough to be sued by someone whose work you’ve admired and copied since childhood, but then to have that person not believe that I existed?!. Heavy sigh.
True, he thought I was a much better writer, one that he’d had a long running (and rather one-sided) feud with. He believed (and intimated as much) that ‘Tom Stewart’ was this completely different person, quietly defaming him from behind such an "obvious pseudonym". ‘Tom Stewart’? Indeed.
Being sued by Carmine Infantino. I fully expected the estates of George S Kaufman, Groucho Marx, Clarence Darrow, and Raymond Chandler to file against me at any moment.
I sat there as Jon outlined the whole back and fourth of the thing, laying out the paper trail. The first thing I thought of, as Jon showed an angry hand written note from Carmine was “Wow, an Infantino autograph!” It slowly sunk into my head that this referred to me, and that this could be one big pain in the ass, to me, to Jon, and CBA.
Jon wanted to send them my name and address so I could be contacted and prove that I exist. Sure, I’d love to try to explain my side of this nonsense. It’d take five minutes tops. Seems Carmine’s big card he held against me was that Joe Orlando claimed that he’d never talked to me. Well, Mr. Orlando was correct, I HAD never talked to him, and had never claimed I had. I had inadvertently left a ‘thanks to Joe Orlando’ on the end of my Bat Lash article when I deleted the space I was holding for Orlando’s views on the comic. This PROVED my nefarious motives! Like I said, one phone call from Carmine would solve this whole thing. Not a big deal.
Carmine demanded his rebuttal be published in CBA #2, which Jon had no problem with, but Carmine missed the deadline. It’d go into #3, with a chance for me to rebut HIS rebuttal. Jon scooped up the missives and put them back into the folder. He said he’d keep me updated on the whole mess. He’d have told me sooner, he said, but he wanted me to hear it in person, rather that off an email or phone call. “Sure, no problem, I’ll stop by the booth later…” I was a little stunned, and a bit bemused (how many times do we get to use THAT word) by the whole thing, but, hey! Let Carmine have his say and that’ll be it.
News travels fast through the comics community. I had pro’s coming up to me and telling me not to worry, and fans asking me what did I do to Infantino. This was only minutes after I had heard the news myself. The CIA should be as well informed as the average comics fan.
I got to talk to Nick Cardy (Bat Lash artist, DC cover artist for many years and one of the nicest men on the face of the earth) and he asked me to sign a copy of my Bat Lash article to him (HE asked ME?!!), and got to hang around with Jon some more. I bought some comics, got a great Bat Lash sketch from Mr. Cardy, then went home, broke and exhausted.
Jon wrote me that he’d received Carmine’s reply, and It wasn’t nice. I must admit, I didn’t act in the very best fashion. I was pretty ticked myself. I told Jon that since the whole thing Carmine had against me was based on a mistake, all mention of me should be dropped from the rebuttal (it made sense to me then), and said a few other things for which I later had to apologize. Jon said he’d send the rebuttal to me in the mail (it was three pages) to give me time to answer Carmine’s charges.
The package arrived three days later. I laid the envelope aside and went back to work on a play that was behind deadline. Still, my gaze went back to that USPS Priority envelope sitting atop last weeks unread comics. I was going to wait until my wife got home and read it to her to get her opinion on what I should do. When she arrived, I tore it open, and the first words I read were these:
“…this ‘comics-savant’ Tom Stewart.”
Comics Savant? What does THAT mean? After the initial attempt at insulting me, I found that most of the final page concerned me. Boy, did it concern ME;
“Tom Stewart is seemingly to quickly become the master of misinformation. His history of Bat Lash is as fictitious as his sources.” This was the first sentence of seven paragraphs that attacked me. At least he could have tried to make his prose a bit clearer (I’m sure that Sergio Arragones will be delighted to be told he doesn’t exist). After a few more ramblings, Carmine again pulls out that ace card, that I never talked to Joe Orlando (Jon had told him that was a mistake, more than once). Well, when a man’s right, I guess he needs to hear it a few times: Yep, Carmine, you’re right, I never talked to Joe Orlando. You got me… Carmine goes on to call me self-serving, and a liar with no regard for the truth.
I looked the whole article over. I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t Infantino know how he sounded? He angrily rants for three pages, coming off as bitter and out to settle scores over 30 years old. For a long time I had felt that the industry had treated Infantino poorly, had dismissed a talented man with a backhanded disregard. I saw this issue of CBA as a way of reminding everyone of the burst of creativity that had come from DC in the years of Carmine’s reign. This would help to set the balance right. Now this.
I contacted some pro’s who had been advised of the whole situation. They told me I should show some restraint, some class. Damn, restraint always means the same thing: be nice. The more I thought about it, the more the thing sickened me. I didn’t want to attack Carmine, to draw this out longer. I wrote my response:
“I’m sorry Mr. Infantino doesn’t see things the way others do. I stand by my sources and my articles.
I sighed and sent it off to Jon Cooke. I knew I’d done the right thing. If Carmine had only called me, we could have talked this whole thing out, hell, if only he’d ATTEMPTED to contact me. Ah well, it was over.
…or so I thought.
I sent off my reply and figured that was the end of it. Nope, not yet. I started work on an interview for issue #4. Jon Cooke (editor of CBA) emailed me that Carmine was back, and after my blood. He wanted another letter printed, rebutting MY rebuttal. Seems he didn’t want the thing to end until I admitted that I was part of the grand conspiracy to deprive him of due credit for the creation of the universe (okay, now I’m getting snotty, but the frustration level was getting higher with each letter from Infantino).
Carmine’s latest letter appeared in CBA #4. This time Carmine dedicated the whole letter to me, without any potshots at other writers. He wrote:
“…this self-absorbed alleged historian and secondhand mountebank Tom Stewart still insists his distorted re-creation of comics history must be right.” Well, if defending the pro’s who talked to me from the name-calling they were subjected to is ‘insisting’, then I guess so.
Then Carmine goes on to attack a source for my Bat Lash article (someone whose only help was introducing me to Sergio, BTW), and then pulls out that trump card…”Mr. Stewart never contacted Joe (Orlando) to verify…any of the articles in Comic Book Artist #1, although he claimed he had.”
Mr. Infantino, I NEVER claimed to have spoken to Joe Orlando. I left messages that were never returned, so Joe wasn’t able to contribute to my articles (‘though his views on the subjects ARE elsewhere in the issue). Jon Cooke thought I had (because I had planned to), but later informed Carmine I hadn’t spoken to Mr. Orlando. Jon put that in his response to Carmine, but I guess Mr. Infantino didn’t read that far.
Carmine goes on to accuse me of “…false muckraking tactics” (as opposed to TRUE muckraking tactics), calls me a “virus”, and my sources ‘bottom-feeders’ and ‘despicable’. Somehow I don’t think Joe Giella and Sergio Arragones are used to being called ‘despicable’.
Okay, I said, oh well. That should be that last of it. Carmine has got it out of his system, and we can all go on with our lives. At this point, life was calling me, I was moving into a new house, taking on more responsibilities at work, I was getting freakin’ busy. Apart from a few jokes here and there from friends (Hey! How’s your buddy Carmine today?), I let Infantino slip from the front of my mind.
Until Jon Cooke contacted me right before the ’99 San Diego Con. Carmine was going to be there. It was to be the first con SD Con he’s been to in years, and there was a buzz on about it being a prelude to his being honored at the 2000 Con. I then got a couple of other emails from friends who wanted to know if I was going to meet Carmine. Well…
It’d be an honor to shake hands with Mr. Infantino, and thank him for all the great artwork he’d been responsible for. Hey, I’m a fan! I had on my wall a classic Flash page from the 60’s by Infantino and Giella, signed by everyone but Carmine Infantino (the year before John Broome signed it for me…but that’s another article). I thought maybe, just MAYbe, I could get it scribbled on by Infantino. Should I tell him who I am? Should I confront him?
No. I didn’t see any reason to ruin his con (and mine) with a needless confrontation. I’ll just be an anonymous fan, get my page signed, shake his hand, and let things fade away.
Hey, it’s what Barry "the Flash" Allen would have done.
Well, the very first day of the con, I headed right for the TwoMorrows booth to say a big howdy to Jon Cooke and John Morrow (publisher and great southern gentleman). As I walked up to the booth, I saw Jon Cooke talking to an older gentleman. I knew instantly who it was. I didn’t need Jon’s’ wide-eyed warning look to know it was Carmine Infantino he was chatting with. I stood at the other side of the booth until Jon was free (yep, until Carmine left).
Jon had been making up to Carmine, telling him we should put the whole affair behind us, and the last thing he needed the source of Carmines’ ire butting in. Carmine had moved off to another booth, so Jon and I played catch up, talking about the con, future issues of CBA, and he asked me if I was getting anything signed. I pulled out my book Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s, said I was taking it to the Batman panel to get it signed. “Hey, Carmine’s here. let’s get him to sign it!” Jon grabbed the book and took it over to Mr. Infantino, dragging me along.
“Hey, Carmine? Carmine, could you sign my friends book?”
“Oh sure, sure.” So Carmine signed the book, and handed it back to Jon, who handed it to me. ‘Course Jon had the biggest ‘I’m getting away with something’ grin on his face. We went back to the booth and hung out for awhile, then I wandered away to see other friends and spend some money.
Later that day I got my Flash page signed by Mr. Infantino, shook his hand, and walked away. This is the right way to do it, I told myself. Keep everything pleasant, no confrontation.
“Oh, you know we got another letter.”
Jon was speaking. “Yep, got it just yesterday. And Carmine insists we print it.”
Oh no. “What’s it about this time?”
“His favorite subject, what a bastard Tom Stewart is.”
“Yep. Seems you never spoke to Joe Orlando. Carmine wants to get that on the record.”
Jim Amash (inker extraordinaire) took me to task for not introducing myself to Carmine and telling him what I think. “When will you get the chance again? I know you’re not a coward, go tell him who you are.”
Well, I’d had enough of the silliness. I had to say something. I went on a Carmine hunt.
I found him hanging out in the All Star Auctions booth. I waited until there was a lull in the line to talk to him, and walked on up. I put out my hand.
“Hello, my name is Tom Stewart”
Carmine let go of my hand and looked down so fast I thought he’d dropped something.
“Oh, yes, well, I just set a letter regarding you to Jon Cooke, of Comic Book Artist.”
Well, here I was, ruining Carmine’s whole day. I imagine the last thing he wanted to do was meet me, and I was losing my indignation just looking at the man.
“Yes, I know.” I sighed. “Please sir, no more letters. My mother doesn’t like reading them. Really, it’s an honor to meet you sir; I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I hope you come to more conventions, the comics industry needs it’s elder spokesmen like you.” I held out my hand again. Carmine shook it. I turned and left.
That was it. I didn’t smack him with a glove and demand satisfaction, no pistols and ten paces, not even any angry yelling.
Damn my mother for bringing me up right.
Three months later, I got my copy of comic Book Artist #6. Inside (besides an article on Marvels’ Prisoner adaptations by me) was Carmine’s latest letter. Five paragraphs and a note from Joe Orlando, all about how I never talked with Joe Orlando.
This article was originally written in 1999, right after the events described. I’ve updated here and there, but mostly it appears as it was 16 years ago.
Carmine, of course, is gone, having passed away in 2013 at the age of 87. He was much honored the last decades of his life, and had forgotten all about me. But he was still angry and bitter at times, and at others sweet and self-effacing if a bit confused. You never knew which Carmine you’d get when you called.
Jon Cooke went on to win several awards and much praise for Comic Book Artist. He discontinued publication, and started a new magazine: Comic Book Creator, which has also drawn much praise. In 2000, he designed Carmine's The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. Both survived the experience.
Nick Cardy left us in 2013, still humble and surprised by the amount of admiration and love his work generated.
Yes, for several years I used the name ‘The Comics Savant’ in mocking tribute to Mr. Infantino. Most of my writing for TwoMorrows uses it. I don’t pull it out much anymore. I think it did it’s job.
The comics historian Carmine was sure I was a front for was Mark Evanier, a good guy who didn’t want any more Infantino-inspired grief sent his way, so I left his name out of the original. When he sees me he still apologizes from my being tarred with his name. No problem, Mark, any time.
Copyright 2015 by Tom Stewart.