George Pérez, 1954–2022

Life, Tribute

Jeez, what a month of losses this has been. Personally, I’ve lost two family members and, now, two major influences in my art career: first Neal Adams back on April 28, and now George Pérez, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 6. Pérez was only 67 years old.

Pérez art on a Firestorm story from 1980.

I was 13 years old when I first discovered Pérez’s work — on DC Comics’ dynamic (Marvel-style) superhero team comic The New Teen Titans (probably the title that Pérez is still most associated with). I was immediately taken by the energy of his dense, detailed artwork. 

Talk about chops — this was a guy who drew the heck out of each page on which he worked. (And he drew thousands and thousands of pages!) When I think of his work, I’ll think of those crazy, crowded city skylines, often shot directly above. Or his group fight scenes, with every character doing a specific action. Or the particular way he would draw a face in chiaroscuro, with that little spot of light under the eye on the shadowed side. He could draw crowd scenes and detail better than anyone.

Looking at his work now, I recognize that the casual observer might not necessarily appreciate Pérez’s art; it can be stereotypical “comic-y” in its reliance on overly muscled, sometimes stiff, characters, and exaggerated “camera” angles and poses. But what set Pérez above all the hacks who emulated that same style was the passion he put into every page, his attention to detail, his devotion to craft, and his love for the form of comics.

As instantly “blocky” and recognizable as his work was, it was also refined in surprising ways. He really cared about differentiating his characters. With so many other comics artists, the basic features of the main characters were the same — without the costume or the hairstyle you might not be able to tell Robin from Kid Flash from Changeling; or Wonder Girl from Starfire from Raven. Not so with Pérez, who clearly thought about the shape of each character’s face and the proportions of their features.

And of course he loved to draw strong women. His female superheroes looked as strong and powerful as the men — you could believe that Wonder Woman could lift a tank or Starfire could blast through a wall with her powers. 

From that moment I first saw Pérez’ art on Teen Titans, I was hooked on his style, and for many years made it my mission to track down his work, including his earlier run on The Avengers — even those backup Firestorm stories in The Flash!

And he was so damn prolific. Whereas other artists struggled to keep up with a monthly book, Pérez thrived under the heavy workload. In one stretch in 1981, he was drawing both the Teen Titans AND the Justice League — both team books with tons of characters! Not to mention that he was frequently commissioned to illustrate covers for other books — which led to me buying comics in which I had no interest just to savor his amazing cover art.

There were also the odd side projects which showed up from time to time: who remembers his awesome self-inked short stories in Pacific’s Alien Worlds #7 and Vanguard Illustrated #6? (As much as I loved Romeo Tanghal’s inks on Pérez in Teen Titans, I loved it when Pérez inked his own pencils: so much more detail!)

Pérez-inspired art of mine from my high school days.

Pérez — along with John Byrne and Frank Miller — was a huge influence on my own comics work at the time. I studied Pérez’ artwork, read interviews when I could find them, and savored the fact that he was a New York City kid like me. In high school, I drew my own superhero comics, and you can clearly see Pérez’ influences in my work of the time. (In fact, I dreamed of one day drawing The Teen Titans when Pérez retired!) Without his example, I would never have drawn this crazy one-point perspective cityscape in my high school comic, Blade. There are so many other examples from my comics and sketchbooks of the time of me emulating Pérez’ style — someday I’ll dig them up and display them here…

As the years went by and I went to college, still dreaming of becoming a superhero artist, I continued to follow Pérez obsessively — highlights of his work from that period include the groundbreaking limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, his landmark work as writer/artist on Wonder Woman, and his memorable stint on The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries. (Recent movies and TV shows like Avengers: Infinity War, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl all featured adaptations of stories Pérez worked on.)


By the mid-1990s, I was transitioning from superhero comics to what I do now — comics about real people and real life. I pretty much stopped buying superhero comics, and lost touch with Pérez’ career. I draw a different kind of comics now, but those early influences never really go away, and even nowadays I find myself thinking of his work when I draw a detailed city scene or try to find the most dynamic angle from which to frame a shot.

I never got the chance to properly meet George Pérez, or to let him know how much I loved and had learned from his work. The one time I saw him in person was at a comics convention where we crossed paths. I was already getting published in the “indy comics” world by that time, and felt self-conscious about going up and introducing myself to someone who was now in a “different camp.” Plus, he was already surrounded by admirers. I remember just standing there at the con, watching him interact with his fans and taking in the fact that we were both there at the same time.

I usually make it a policy to send “fan letters” to those who have served as “mentors from afar” — I did so with writers like Roger Zelazny, Roger Angell, and Roger Ebert (all Rogers!), and even baseball announcer Jon Miller. But I’m sad to say I never did with Pérez. The closest I came was a fan letter I wrote — and got published! — in “Titans Tower” (the Teen Titans letter column) in 1984; I like to think that George read it…

Even though I hadn’t followed his work in recent years, I was saddened last December to hear of his cancer diagnosis. And I was amazingly touched by the letter he wrote to his colleagues and fans, where he announced that he would not be seeking treatment, and instead would be spending his last few months with his family. It turned out that this superstar artist was a brave, inspiring human being as well.

I’ll end this piece with a message for other aspiring artists: his New York Times obit mentions that when Pérez first started getting published professionally, he really struggled with rendering perspective and anatomy. It’s a testament to how hard he worked that those later became strengths of his; a lesson that every young artist should take to heart.

Thank you, George, from me and on behalf of all those readers whose lives you enriched through your example and your work.

Dream Come True

Comics, Geek

For years I had this recurring dream where I would be walking down the street and come across a huge stash of comics sitting in boxes on the sidewalk. In my dream, I never got to open the boxes and see what was inside, but I envisioned them filled with great old books to complete my collection or at least sell for a tidy sum.

So imagine my disbelief when Victor, my building superintendent, pulled me aside the other day. He took me into his storage space in the basement and showed me box after box overflowing with comics! Turns out they had been left to him by a couple of vacating tenants over the years, and he had just gotten the bright idea of trying to sell them. Even though I’ve lived in the building for over seven years, he never knew I was a cartoonist until fairly recently, so when he found out, he figured I was the guy to show them to. Now I love Victor; he’s a great super and he always goes out of his way to help out Sari and I. So I agreed to go through the boxes and see what was what.

It took me a week or so of hour-long visits, but eventually I went through the thousands of books, culling what I thought had some re-sale value. (I’m sort of touch with that market from selling books from my collection over the years.) Sadly, the vast majority of the comics were crappy ’90s Marvel and Image books, published during the speculator rage when supply way outpaced demand. But I did find a mother lode of vintage 1970s Marvels, going back to the era of 25-cent books. Most of the comics were in awful condition, having been read multiple times and never bagged or boarded. Even so, there were a couple of gems, including the first appearance of The Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #129, the first appearance of Gambit in X-Men #266, and a nearly complete run of Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men.

I took the books with “potential” up to my apartment, and spent some hours here or there over the last few weeks putting them up on eBay. I also invested in some comics boxes and bags and boards. When all was said and done, I netted Victor over $300 (the Punisher Spider-Man alone sold for over $100!). Victor was thrilled when I brought him the cash the other day, and I’ve been getting to enjoy reading old comics, and filling some gaps in my old collection (mostly Byrne and George Pérez books). And I still have a bunch of books left to sell, when I get around to it. Who says dreams don’t come true?

comics!

Showcase Presents THE ATOM

Comics, Geek, Review

I just finished Showcase Presents: The Atom #1, one of those 500-page black-and-white reprint tomes put out by DC. (Don’t ask me why; I got it free last time I was at DC’s offices.) The book includes three issues of Showcase and 17 issues of The Atom‘s own title. All the stories are by Gardner Fox, with art by Gil Kane and inks by Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene.

Although it was a bit of a slog, there was something satisfying in really immersing myslf in DC’s Silver Age. I was never actually emotionally engaged with any of the tales, but they were fun in a goofy, kidlike way. One thing that really impressed me was the pure craftsmanship of the form back then. There was definitely a different standard for artwork back in the early-to-mid-60s, and you could see that professional pride in Fox, Kane, and Anderson’s work. And Fox was a true polymath: in the course of a couple years (1963–1965) of The Atom, he tackled the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the space race, 18th-century English history, miniature card painting, Norse mythology, and numismatics, just to name a few. You could enjoy these stories and actually learn something about the real world in the process. How quaint.

WarHolk

Illustration

This past weekend, the Austin American-Statesman ran a special summer movie preview in their entertainment supplement, and they asked me to draw the cover. In honor of the Incredible Hulk film premiering in June, the art director had me do an Andy Warhol-style portrait of ol’ greenskins. As a guy who doesn’t make a living drawing superheroes, it’s fun to go back to my roots once in a while. For this one, though, all I had to do was make an angry face in the mirror, remove my glasses, change my hairstyle, “Warhol” it up, and voila!

As a bonus, here’s a link to the a.d.’s story about his search for the “Credible Hulk”…

Super… Bowl, Tuesday, Sons

Comics, Geek, Review

Saga of the Super SonsLast night I capped off this “super” week by finishing the Saga of the Super Sons trade paperback, a guilty pleasure of mine which came in the form of an X-mas gift. (Thanks, Sari’s mom & dad!) I actually own most of the original World’s Finest comics in which the Super Sons appeared (starting in 1973 and running sporadically until ’76), but it’s great to have them all collected in one volume.

As a kid, I loved Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. (“sons” of Superman and Batman, duh!), the titular heroes of the stories. Written by Bob Haney (with the best stories drawn by Dick Dillin), the Super Sons were obviously a misguided attempt to bring “relevance” (a big 70s term) to the Superman/Batman universe — without getting as hard-core or political as the now-classic Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics. The Super Sons were a perfect fit for my tastes at the time, as they combined super-powered adventures with a “hip,” boho-lite milieu similar to my own pre-adolescent life.

Even though the Super Sons exist completely outside normal continuity, DC refused to declare that their adventures were “imaginary stories”; a distinction I’ve always found hilarious — as opposed to the “real” adventures of the superhero in question?! In fact, Haney/Dillin always make a point of obscuring the sons’ mothers’ identities, which led to a number of stories where the kids get in arguments with their parents, with the moms’ faces always turned from the viewer or engulfed in shadow!

The stories usually involve the junior heroes riding around out West, Easy Rider-style, on a souped-up chopper or dune buggy, defying their parents’ wishes that they just settle down to “normal” lives. The tales tend to follow a predictable pattern: the boys get in a “generation-gap” argument with their dad and storm off together. They fall into some misadventure, jump to a number of conclusions, make some dumb mistakes, and are eventually bailed out of trouble by their stronger, wiser fathers. (In fact, they make a big point that Superman Jr.’s powers are only half those of his dad’s, seeing as how he has a mortal mother.) It’s abundantly clear what the editorial tone of these stories are: give kids room to rebel — a little — but make sure they know who’s boss in the end.

In my favorite story of the collection, “The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons,” Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. swap dads for a time, and then all four visit an encounter camp to “discover” themselves! The dialogue throughout all the stories is a hilarious pastiche of hipster/black dialect: Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. never go more than a panel without proclaiming something “crazy” or “far out,” or calling each other “baby,” not to mention any nearby females “chicks” or “dolls.” It’s classic stuff.

The collection sort of comes out of left-field; I wonder what compelled DC to release it now? I can’t imagine that there’s a huge audience for the book, outside of folks like myself with an ironic sense of nostalgia. The book is nicely produced, with a beautiful Nick Cardy cover (was he was one of the all-time great cover artists, or what?!), and the addition of a couple of oddball Super Sons stories from the 80s & 90s (including one written by Bob Haney shortly before his death), as well as a cover gallery. But the one thing the book really needs is a foreword or introduction. The stories are just too weird to escape comment!

Come say hello to my little friends!

Comics, Geek

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAfter some mix-ups with shipping, I finally received my X-mas gift from Sari, a set of curio cabinets for the small collection of toys, models, and action figures that I’ve acquired over the years. (Yes, like every other cartoonist on earth, I am at least part geek.)

So with a small amount of fanfare, I mounted one of the cabinets on the wall, and finally was able to create a home for (from top left. reading like a comic) Klinger, Hot Lips, Hawkeye, and B.J., Will Clark and Willie Mays; Boba Fett; Willie McCovey; Jack Clark; some cool Tintin chocolates; super-deformed Wolverine and Superman; the Giants Pontiac Firebird; Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock; and Tintin, Snowy, and the Thompson Twins.

They all seem to be adjusting well to their new home.