22 April 2012

A Kid Sidekick in the Comics Business

As I’ve written before, the quick inclusion of kid sidekicks in early superhero comics at the dawn of 1940 reflected not just the industry’s target readership, but also the industry’s work environment. Teen-aged assistants were part of the business.

Jerry Robinson was only eighteen years old when he co-created Robin, for example. Other teens, such as Stan Lee and Bill Gaines, started working at publishers even younger because of family connections.

Carmine Infantino (shown above), who helped to create the “New Look” Dynamic Duo of 1963, had started out in the business even earlier than those men, as he described in this interview in The Comics Journal. Born in 1925, he recalled going to work about 1940:
A chance meeting took me to 23rd Street, this old broken-down warehouse, and I met Harry Chesler. One day I met this artist in the coffee shop, and he told me about it. He was a guy who worked up there, Ken Battenfield, and he said, “Why don’t you come up and look around? Maybe you’ll learn something.” But he said, “Harry’s not a nice guy. I don’t know if he’ll let you stay. But just take a chance.”

So I did. Now, I was told he was a mean guy and he used people and he took artists. But he was very sweet to me. He said, “Look, kid. You come up here, I’ll give you a dollar a day, just study art, learn, and grow.” That was damn nice of him, I thought. He did that for me for a whole summer. . . .

It was my first year in high school, the School of Industrial Arts. So I would probably be 14 or 15. So I hung around and met some artists there and I studied them. That was a very nice thing to do. And a buck a day was a lot of money in those days. . . .

I just sat and studied the art. There were a couple of people whose artwork I studied there. One was Ken Battenfield. I believe, another was Dan Zolnerowich, and a couple of other guys. I’d sit and study their artwork. I’d practice my inking, and then they’d come over and make corrections for me, they’d show me what I was doing wrong and why it was wrong. And they encouraged me to go to the Art Students League at night.

It was a little tough at that time — I was still going to high school. But they pushed it and I knew I needed it, so I started. So during the day I’d go to regular school, then I’d go to Chesler’s for a couple of hours, then I’d run down to school at night. It was a very long day. But when you’re young you can handle that kind of thing.
Which is just the sort of attitude that Tim Drake would display decades later. Infantino got his first comics assignment from Timely editor Joe Simon in late 1941, inking a “Jack Frost” story penciled by another teenager: his high-school classmate, Frank Giacoia.

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