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Comics Feature #19: It’s An Interview with George Pérez

It’s An Interview with George Pérez
[from Comics Feature #19, 1982]


“I genuinely enjoy doing group books; I guess that kinda showed.”
– George Pérez

HOWELL Over the past year and a half, George, you have gotten even more popular than you were before.

Pérez: Totally amazing.

HOWELL: Yeah. What are your ideas of why you’re a popular artist?

Pérez: Well, before, I was doing books which were popular to begin with – FANTASTIC FOUR and AVENGERS were popular. I genuinely enjoy doing group books; I guess that kinda showed. But it was one of those situations where, because of restrictions on the Fantastic Four (up until recently), the book always had a steady look. It had never altered. It wasn’t until Bill Sinkiewicz and John Byrne that it finally started developing a different type of look. So, even though I was popular on the books (particularly on the Avengers), I was one of many artists who handled the strip well. When I went to DC to do the Titans, I had an agreement with Marv Wolfman that, “Okay, I’ll do the Titans, if they guarantee me at least one issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE.” The only reason I did it was to do the Justice League (Howell laughs), and I figured, after the disastrous second series they had done with the Titans, that this “Titans” will last five issues and that’ll end my commitment, and I’ll be gone.

HOWELL: Had you read the first series of TEEN TITANS

Pérez: Oh, sure! With Haney/Cardy? Sure I did! I loved those. And I was very disappointed with the second version, and just did not know if the new book~would do that well. At that point, I didn’t really care if the book did do that well, as long as I got an issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE – and it surprised me like anything to find out how well the book did. For five issues, I was starting – and now, I’m starting my twenty-first issue. I’ve already done the first issue of the mini-series for the book.

HOWELL: And there’s an annual…

Pérez: And there’s an annual, which I’ll be handling as well. I guess the TITANS is a book like DAREDEVIL under Miller – taking a book, even though there have been some pre-established standards, like Robin and all that for the Titans – and just start from scratch. Marv basically wanted to ignore everything that happened between the Titans of the 1960s-early 1970s (with Haney, Cardy, and Kane) and our version.

So we wanted to start from scratch and put much of our own personalities into it. I just love doing the book – we put a lot more thinking into it than, I guess, a lot of books get, unless the artist is into it.

HOWELL: Is that your only series assignment right now?

Pérez: Well, after issue #200, I’ve given up JUSTICE LEAGUE – mostly because not only am I doing the “Titans” as a regular series, I’ve got the mini-series to do, I’ve got the annual to do, and with those, I’m handling close to 18 issues of the “Titans” in one year. That’s a lot of issues of one book. But I’ll also be doing work for Atari – since Atari’s owned by Warner, they’ve managed to give us permission to do some actual design work and visuals for a new Atari game, tentatively called “Swordquest.” It’s still in the negotiating stages. I’ve done character sketches for it. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway are doing the writing, and I’m doing the visuals, with Dick Giordano coordinating the whole thing.

HOWELL: In spare time.

Pérez: In my spare time, because that I have to ink on my own. I intend to ink the annual, and I’m still the regular cover artist on JL~A. (len insisted I stay on, at least to keep the look consistent on the covers.) So, with that, last month I produced 132 pages. That’s the equivalent of five books, or almost five books.

HOWELL: (Laughs) So, if you can do that every month, there’s no problem.

Pérez: I do 25 pages a week, so that’s no real trouble. I also had the Atari things to do, which they gave me at the last minute, so I had to sneak those in on weekends. Ordinarily, I only work a four-day week anyway.

HOWELL: How many hours a day?

Pérez: Oh, it can be anywhere from twelve – fat chance, unless the story takes place in a desert – to as much as eighteen hours a day, because of the number of characters and the amount of background I put in. But I work four very hard days. That leaves Friday free; it’s payday and it’s also the day I can design covers. And I get my weekends totally free. I spend them with my wife and never pick up a pencil.

HOWELL: Read comics…

Pérez: No, I usually read the comics on Friday. Then, we just go out, get out of the house or watch television or play Scrabble. We love to play Scrabble. Just crazy little things to occupy our time. This vacation was something I desperately needed – it’s our belated honeymoon, as it were.

HOWELL: This [interview and comics convention] isn’t part of it, is it?

Pérez: Well, this is just a little thing – Carol had never been to Boston before, so we came to Boston as a way of getting a little extra cash for the honeymoon. As it turns out, I’m also doing a bookstore signature party after the honeymoon, so with that and this, the honeymoon pays.
for itself. So…

KALISH: You hope you get many more of them? (General laughter)

Pérez: It was my second time around. (Laughs) Then we go to Disney World…

HOWELL: Oh, you’re going there?

Pérez: Yeah, we’re spending a week at Disney World; I’ve made reservations at Disney World Hotel and everything. We’re donna do everything up right, and then, when I get back, I’m donna sit down and…, work! We actually got the book from three months behind schedule to a week ahead of schedule in one month. That was enough to drive a person out of his gourd.

HOWELL: I’ll bet. Especially with the 80 characters in Every book, all on Every page…

Pérez: Oh, sure. I also just did a “Superman/Omac” DC PRESENTS with Len Wein, about which I figured, “Oh boy – two characters!” It was also, in the year-and-a-half I’ve been working for DC, the first story I have done that was not a series. I did “Firestorm” for a few issues as a series; I did Justice LEAGUE as a series; and I’ve done TITANS as a series. I had never done a single individual story. It was my first one. Len had Superman fighting this gigantic machine in the middle of Grand Central Station. Of course, you know, there are a lot of people running around there…

HOWELL: Naturally…

Pérez: Yeah. They didn’t let me get away with only two characters – not that I wanted to, anyway…

HOWELL: Is all the series work that you’ve done over the years your own choice? Would you rather contribute to a series?

Pérez: Oh, I prefer series as far as professional standing; you make a bigger impact by staying on something. The audience sees you. And, if the books are popular, you want to stay on them for as long as possible, so that you get some kind of recognition, especially for the commercial value – either if you resell artwork, or just be able to get decent pay from your boss, because if you’re steady, they’re fairly sure that “Okay, he’s reliable,” so when raise time comes along, you’re the first one on the list. I’ve gotten five raises in a year and a half now. My salary has gone up 85% since I started at DC.

HOWELL: You must be awfully reliable (laughs).

Pérez: Well, once I got married, I suddenly had the responsibility of another person to take care of, so I finally buckled down to a schedule which I keep, and work at it. rt works out well – I work at home, and my wife is at home, so we spend enough time together. But it’s a definite discipline. I said, “Okay, if I want to make decent money on this trip, and if I want to prove not only to myself but to the company, that I am a valuable artist to them, I’ve got to be consistent. I’ve got to produce the best work I can, and even though I work as fast as I can, I try not to compromise too much, and give them at least a consistent quality.” The one thing I’ve tried to do – which seems to be working, since everyone on the staff seems to be pleased with Every issue as it goes along – is I’m trying to keep bettering the issue before. I can never rest on the fact that this is the best issue I’ve ever done. I’ve got to make sure the next one is better. Sometimes I don’t succeed (laughter), but at least it gives me something to strive for.

Marv and I live about half a mile from each other, so it’s a very close relationship in the way we work. Before I came here, he dropped over the house so I could explain to him what I had done with the “Cyborg” chapter, the first of the mini-series, which deals with the life of Cyborg before he became a Titan. It was one of those things where Marv wasn’t as pleased with the Cyborg story, because being Jewish in his upbringing, being different, he didn’t really understand a black character who was raised in a ghetto and the problems that he faced. I was born and raised in a ghetto, so he allowed me the freedom. It was the first time I’ve ever taken~that kind of freedom. I’ve had freedom, but never to that extent where, when Marv came over, he had to take notes. I had to explain the plot to him so that he’d be able to follow it. It’s that kind of give-and-take. The book suffers from absolutely no ego problems. When Marv gives me a plot, he expects me to alter it, expects me to change things – either to omit something because I don’t think it’s right or just don’t have the room for it, or restructure it because I think it’ll be visually told better, but if I have an idea of what the character’s going to say, when I give him the artwork, Marv may very well say he doesn’t want to do that particular dialogue, and change the dialogue. That I understand, because that’s his perogative So it is give-and-take.

HOWELL: Would you say that “Titans” is an ideal working situation?

Pérez: As far as any of the books I’ve done, it is probably the most unified effort I’ve ever worked on. Marv’ and I work like a well-oiled machine. Often I would call him up and say I had a certain idea for what we should do in a future issue, and he would already have had that idea just a couple minutes before. He was going to call me about it. Or – most artists, when they’re working, tend to write “Liner notes” on the sides of the pages, so that the writer knows what he’s doing. I have never written a liner note for Marv (Howell laughs) since I’ve worked in the “Titans.” And he has managed to second-guess me at least a good 85% of the time, and the other 15 %, he has usually bettered it, because he’s put in his own little surprises into it that I didn’t expect.

Of course, there are some things that we’ll disagree on. But we agree that we will disagree. And Romeo Tanghal loves working on the book. At first, it took a while before I was really satisfied with his work, but he gives the look of the book. When he inked Curt Swan [TEEN TITANS #5] and when he inked Don Heck [WONDER WOMAN #287], when they did the “Titans” stories, he did give them that look that people have come to recognize as the Titans. And Romeo loves doing it. At first he was a little intimidated, because of the amount of work that my pencils require, but soon he became almost as fast with his inking as I am with my pencilling – he has actually inked some of those issues in one week.

HOWELL: (Indistinct sound resembling disgusted groan)

Pérez: And Adrienne Roy loves coloring that book. She makes sure that is her regular assignment – no one colors that book except Adrienne Roy, unless there is a very good reason for it. During the first few issues, we had a lot of deadline troubles, so she missed one of the coloring assignments. She’s only missed one in the entire run of the book. In fact, Marv is the one who’s handled Every single book. I’ve missed one and Adrienne’s missed one. And even the letterer – we’ve only had two letterers in the entire series. Ben Oda and John Costanza are fairly consistent. (At this point, it looks like John Costanza may become the regular letterer, unless he gets overworked, and then it just gets shifted to Ben Oda again. But, either way, we have two very reliable letterers.) It’s a book that everyone enjoys doing.

HOWELL: Real team project.

Pérez: It’s incredible. I’ve never worked on a book where I’ve had so much feeling that it is a work of love that everyone enjoys – not that I really enjoy drawing it, and I’m going to give it to a writer and not trust what the writer is going to do, or we’re going to have so many disagreements of attitude toward a character that we’re working at cross-purposes. When I worked on the A AVENGERS, I was working with so many writers, it was hard to keep adjusting. David Michelinie has his way of doing it. Jim Shooter has his way of doing it. Steve Englehart had his way of doing it.

HOWELL: Gerry?

Pérez: Gerry Conway, I only worked on three issues with. He had his own – straight super-hero. Don’t worry about the motivation making sense; just the fact that it gets done. Don’t worry about it – let’s just keep the action flowing. Gerry did not worry too much about thinking how it happened, as long as it happened. I had a little trouble working with that style on AVENGERS; I had worked with Englehart before that, in a totally different style. Working with Gerry is totally different.

HOWELL: Does Gerry work full-script on JUSTICE LEAGUE?

Pérez: When I first started, he was doing full scripts; I had the scripts that were designed for Dick Dillin. Dick worked full-script. Eventually, Gerry wanted to work Marvel-style, as we call it (Howell laughs); he wanted to do the plot, and give me much leeway. I did it that way; he changed in mid-story – “Death is a Stacked Deck,” which dealt with Tarot-card characters – about halfway through, he suddenly went from full script to synopsis. He said he enjoyed doing the synopsis pages a lot more – obviously, he didn’t have to do anything with the script pages once I drew them, because they were already written. But he was able to think of things he hadn’t thought of before because I drew things that he would not have asked me to draw. But I did enjoy working those few issues with a full script, because it gave me a discipline.

HOWELL: Was that the first time you had ever done that?

Pérez: The only time I had ever worked full-script was my first “Sons of the Tiger” story, which was all the way back in 1974. Up until the JLA, I had never worked full-script. So when I did it, he had all the panels set up – sometimes he even did little sketches of how he thought a page should be laid out, which I usually would ignore. Obviously, he was designing it for Dick, and I wasn’f Dick.

Sometimes I would do things like – if he had one panel with three balloons and characters just talking, I would shift it into two panels, split the dialogue, and have them talking from different angles. With a full script, I had the discipline of knowing I could not draw them saying anything, because I knew they had to be saying exactly what the writer put in. But it gave me the knowledge suddenly of choreographing all the restrictions possible and still trying to make it as much my visuals as possible.

It worked well. Gerry, like most of the writers I’ve worked with – to a degree which I’m flattered by – thinks that I’m wasted on a full script because I like to think my stories out. I like the freedom where, if they give me something, I want to toss them something that will surprise them. Recently I did a page for Marv in which I sat there – for fifteen minutes, just looking at blank paper, trying to design it. Sometimes even I will have to stop myself, just so one page does not seem like another. I refuse to have the same panel layout one page after another. I consciously make sure that if I have three panels on the top tier, there’ll be two on the next one, or the tier size will be different on the next page. It has to balance out – I can’t let the page look boring.

Sometimes I will go even more bizarre by ignoring the restrictions of straight panel formation and work the whole page into a design. I did three montages in the “Cyborg” story for the mini-series. I scarcely ever do montages, but this was a story that demanded some kind of special treatment; also, the story was realistic, because it deals both with Hell’s Kitchen and with his private life with his parents, and so required a realistic approach – yet it had to be visually interesting. It gave me yet again another challenge. The more challenges Marv tosses at me – at first, I’m intimidated, saying, “How can he expect me to draw this”; when Len gave me Grand Central Station, my first response was anger (laughs). “What the hell is this?” Just once I’d like to get a simple story. AVENGERS #200 should’ve been just Jarvis sitting in the middle of the desert, thinking. No backgrounds, just him sitting there thinking. (Laughter) That would’ve been something nobody expected from me.

But the TITANS is a perfect team book for me. I haven’t enjoyed any series as much as I’ve enjoyed the “Titans.”

I think the reason my popularity seems to have grown is the fact that people seem to recognize the fact that I am enjoying myself. Marv is enjoying himself. Marv’s work on the “Titans” is the best super-hero work he’s ever done. He’s never been all that satisfied with, his super-hero work, but I think he’s finally found the series for which he will always be remembered, as far as his super-hero work goes. His “Dracula” work was classic, just because of strong writing.

HOWELL: Speaking of which: In a previous interview, you thought that Gene Colan on “Dracula” and Curt Swan on “Superman” had undermined their long-term popularity by turning out fantastic work issue after issue.

Pérez: uh-huh The thing about Curt – Curt, unfortunately, is an incredible draftsman, yet he’s not all that exciting a storyteller, and never has been. It’s like getting Normal Rockwell – and I love Norman Rockwell’s work and admire him greatly. But it would not work in a comic book. His work is very sedate, and when you’re dealing with a character bigger than life, like Superman, then I think Superman’s popularity gets affected by the fact that he is never treated as a super man. He looks like a chunkily built, muscular man. He’s usually battling petty crooks, and he never gets something worth his mettle. But even Curt can surprise me. In fact, I had grown a little jaded:

“Okay, he produces good work, but there’s nothing exciting about it.” Then Marv had written up a story which had Superman battling Baronial in outer space. I’ve seen the pencils for that, and they are phenomenal. Curt did a splash page which I probably would have shuddered to do. (Howell laughs) I mean, he had an interior mechanism inside a spaceship, with Superman just a tiny thing flying through it – it encompassed the entire page, and it was gorgeous! Curt can deliver a little more dynamic story if given the opportunity.

I think in the case of Gene – Gene is such a stylized artist that he produced good work, but he was also on a series where his strengths were best used. The series was a popular series, but still, it was a horror series. Gene suffers, in my opinion, a little trouble in diversifying. There’s only a few series that Gene can do well, because of his style being so, so far removed from most others. He’s a wonderful draftsman, produces brilliant work, but if you only see him on that one book, all the time, you start losing your appreciation. I bought a portfolio of Alphonse Mucha, whom I love. But after a while, after looking at it a number of times, you do get a little jaded, because obviously it does repeat formulas – which is part of his style. To look at it all in one large bulk, and seeing him doing basically the same thing, he does the same type of posters, you’d love to see him – what would he do on a landscape? That type of thing. To see what he would have done if he stretched a bit. It boggles the mind to even think about a Mucha landscape – that is really weird. (Laughs)

KALISH: He’s done that, actually – a Czechoslovakian epic.

Pérez: That would not surprise me. I haven’t seen it.

KALISH: It’s his ultimate masterpiece, which was never published.

Pérez: See? Figures. (Laughter) But Marv is working with Gene on a new series…

HOWELL: “The Dark Force.”

Pérez: Is that the name of it?

HOWELL: It is this week.
[Most recently, it was named “Night Force. “]

Pérez: Whatever the name will be on the finished product, I don’t know. He’s trying to get Gene revitalized, because he was wrong for the “Avengers,” he’s not made for a straight super-hero job. I don’t believe he’s enjoying “Wonder Woman”…

HOWELL: I heard that.

Pérez: So it’s a type of thing that he is limited in his range because of the things that he likes to do and that he can do really well. He did solely “Dracula” for so long that it wasn’t until “Howard the Duck” that people started going, “Hey, this is Gene Colan,” because he was doing something different. It’s partially the fact that when you’re so good, they start taking you for granted. They expect a good job from Gene, and only start making criticism when he does something wrong. After a while, you want a little more compliment than, “Oh, he did his usual job,” you know? I think with this new series Gene will start revitalizing himself again.

I don’t think he was happy during his last couple years at Marvel, and right now, he’s getting back into it – his “Batman” is interesting. I think he really likes to to get back down to the old gothic stuff, which he does so well, and he really enjoys doing. I’ve seen some of the production work he’s done for the new series, and it’s gorgeous. Really. He’s even paying attention to things like – he usually draws women’s hair a certain way, and his wife made a comment, so he gave that woman character a “perm” to make her look a little more “now.” (Laughter) He actually redesigned a woman’s hairstyle just for a little contemporary look. Well, I admire anyone who is at least willing to say, “Okay, I’ve got to adjust.”

HOWELL: So you don’t think you’re in any danger of falling into a similar trap?

Pérez: Well, the one time I fell into it, which the Titans has helped me get out of, is that I was considered a “power” artist, and one who lacked any kind of subtlety in the artwork. Because of the nature of the series, and particularly after issue #8 of the TITANS, where Marv dared and succeeded in doing a story where very little actually takes place, and did require the subtleties of one-on-one relationships, or just a little turn of the mouth or raising of the eyebrows to show what was going on in the drawing. I started learning more about the subtleties of characters, and now I’ve developed a subtlety in my approach to a story that was not there before. That was the rut I was in.

HOWELL: Do you date that development from that issue?

Pérez: I was making a conscious effort mostly because of a comment that John Byrne had made about my style. He was right, and I had overheard a conversation –

HOWELL: PRINTED?

Pérez: I don’t believe it was printed; it was just the type of thing where we were comparing styles. John was a more subtle style, and he’s developed into a more dynamic style since, and mine was a very dynamic style, and I’ve developed subtlety since. John and I are mutual admirers; we admire each other’s work, and we learn from each other. John’s done things based on the types of things I would do, and I would learn from his work as well. We intend to pick from each other, we pick up from Frank Miller, some of the older pros like Kane, Kirby, Adams, all the others – Starlin is probably the last really strong influence I had as far as a major influence that affected the look of my work.

But, in issue #8, it became my first opportunity to use it. I had tried not to have the characters look so posed, to have them more relaxed. Not looking like their legs are eight feet apart. Just trying to treat them as human beings, bigger than life, but still rather human. You start losing sympathy for a character if you can’t identify with him. There’s no sympathy without empathy of some sort.

So I was determined to get it down, and even Jim Shooter at one point made the comment that – he was taking about assigning artists for certain books. He was saying, “If you want a book to get slam-bang action, get George Pérez.” Now, that was very flattering; obviously, that was the Marvel style. But I did want to get to the point where that wasn’t the only thing I could do, that, given a story that requires just quiet relationships, that I can handle it, and I made a certain effort to do so.

I’m learning more as I do it, because these stories that Marv is giving me require me to be more subtle. But that was the one thing where I was really falling into a rut. My characters were too big – they were just big, bulky characters going into big action moves; none of them really had any real grace. They tended to be very muscle-bound and very stocky. I just wanted to put a little grace into the characters.

HOWELL: And you say this is coming primarily from John Byrne?

Pérez: Well, John is an influence because of the way he draws. There are a number of persons who have commented on the differences between John and myself, just the fact that John had a much more subtle approach, and my characters were big, brawny, but tended to lack grace. Those critiques were not from John, but from people who compared John and me. There were some criticisms that I didn’t agree with, and some that I did. That was one of them. I definitely did need more subtlety in my work. Comics were growing to the point where stories were not just one fistfight after another. It had to be the type where the characters mattered. Now I’ve got a book where I really care about the characters, where I know Every inch of those characters.

That has given me the ability to say, “Okay, let’s have this guy just sit down for a cup of coffee. Not grab a cup of coffee; he can just hold it. Study the way hands are done.” A person who does it magnificently is Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Very naturalistic poses; the characters don’t tend to look posed. I tried to adapt that, which – being at DC probably helped me get it faster, because DC did have a quieter style. Now, they’re starting to get into slam-bang, because they’re getting so many Marvel artists into the company now, so they have the big action series.

HOWELL: They still have the basis of…

Pérez: Oh, sure, right – they still have Curt Swan; Curt Swan could never survive at Marvel, but he thrives at DC.

HOWELL: Most of the “Superman” artists of the 1960s are that sort.

Pérez: Right. Very staid, very relaxed.

I think a lot of that also has to do with the writers. The writers have to put a little more imagination into “Su per-man,” into remembering that this is a character who has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (laughs), and give him a little bigger-than-life story. Sometimes it gets a little tiring seeing him battle nothing but petty crooks. “Superman” is a quiet series, but there should at least be some chances where the story should take off. When I got the “Superman/Amerce” story, I was determined it was going to be a straight action story. Subtleties to the wind. The “Superman/Amerce” story is a straight action story. The story was supposed to be 17 pages long, and I asked for 25 pages, just so I could do an eight-page fight scene between Superman and a character called Murder-Mech in Metropolis Grand Central Station – picking up trains, going through walls, Superman using his heat vision with high intensity so his whole face falls into shadow, I mean – THINGS I want to do with Superman at least once – which I think other artists can do if given a chance to do. Len has always wanted to do that type of story, so I got a chance to do it. I think if more writers give Superman his due as an incredibly powerful godlike character, I think they can produce some very, very fascinating stories, although, because of the nature of the character, I wouldn’t want that to be a steady diet. Also, he’s a father figure. You can’t make him a belligerent bully (laughs) all the time.

KALISH: It sounds like you have your own very strong ideas on what to do with a lot of the characters you grew up with…

Pérez:Mm-hmm…

KALISH: Have you ever been inclined to write your own series? Take on the responsibilities of being a writer/artist?

Pérez: Well, I know I can write decently; I’ve never written a comic, obviously, except for many moons back during my fan days. I really want to become a superior artist, but I don’t want to take a chance at being a mediocre writer. I admire writers, and any person who can be both writer and artist – when they can do it – fine. I have incredible admiration for them: Frank Miller in particular, and a number of others. But I myself feel like I’m more of an idea person. I can suggest dialogue from bandying it back and forth with Marv, and I can suggest bits and pieces of dialogue, but I respect the writers that I want to work with to the point where I want them to do it – I trust them.

I want the best writer to do the best dialogue, rather than a good artist doing mediocre dialogue. I just don’t feel comfortable enough. I feel like I can write; I just don’t think I can write comics. I don’t think I have the ability that seems necessary to be able to know how much dialogue has to be limited. Obviously, as an artist, I’d limit dialogue to one little balloon, and get all my artwork in there! It’s a tough thing. I wouldn’t know how to compromise, so I’d rather have someone take what I do and amplify it, and allow me the give-and-take. Marv has asked me why I’ve never written before. He asked if I would like to write a “Titans” story or maybe a back-up story dealing with one of the characters, particularly Cyborg. And flattered as I was by that, I still like Marv’s writing. Marv has taken that book that everyone laughed at (when we said we were going to do the “Titans”) and actually made it a respected book.

If I were going to be a writer, I’d rather it be in the alternative press, where I can be a little more self-indulgent. There is going to be more discipline in a comic because you have steady characters. And you can’t afford the self-indulgences that some writers can do if they forget the fact that they’re working at a business, not just something to stroke their own egos.

KALlSH: It seems, though, that when you’re speaking of writing, you’re speaking almost entirely of dialoguing. How does that affect your feelings about, say, plotting?

Pérez: Oh, plotting, I…

KALISH: You’re the co-plotter of…

Pérez: Oh yes, I’m the Co-plotter and I’ve plotted certain sequences on my own. I enjoy plotting; I consider myself a good idea man. It is the dialogue that I feel I would be a little weak on. I have the ear for it, but it’s very hard for me just to pick up, from my subconscious or conscious. or whatever, how different people are going to talk. I can hear it in a person’s voice, but I can’t create it. So I consider myself a good idea man, which is why most writers would insist on just giving me plots. Let me use my ideas, create what I want, make suggestions for what I want, but in the long run, it comes to the actual finished product, the description, the prose, the purple adjectives that are so prevalent (laughter) in these stories, I prefer someone who’s really good at it. I would feel really self-conscious at it. Sometimes the purple prose of a comic book sounds so unrealistic, it’s pure corn, let’s face it, (Laughter) It has to be. That’s the nature of the medium – we draw bigger than life, so we have to write bigger than life. I keep feeling self-conscious about it – I think, “My God, if I keep writing like that, I’m going to talk like that soon.” (Laughter)

KALISH: A fate worse than death…

Pérez: Yeah (laughs). Could you imagine someone talking, “Oh woe, oh woe is me, my life is nothing but an empty vessel now.” I just don’t want to go spouting Thor and Raven dialogue the rest of my life. Raven always amazed me, how she could talk like that (laughs).

KALISH: It probably amazes everyone else she meets, too.

Pérez: True, yeah. “What the hell is she saying?” (Laughter)

KALISH: There’s a scene in the TEEN TITANS that just came out – #16 – where Raven is at college for the first time. She stands up and says, “Oh, but I prattle. But – I’m still prattling. Maybe I should sit down.” (Laughter) And she is – she’s prattling.

Pérez: That’s right. And I admire Marv – by saying it, it’s quite evident – no one buys this dialogue here (laughter). “Why is she talking” – we’ve gotten letters saying, “If she calls Wally ‘Wallace’ one more time, I’m donna puke!” That’s the nature of the character.

HOWELL: “Garfield…”

Pérez: Well, Gar – yeah, Garfield. I keep thinking of that fat cat whenever I hear Garfield’s name…

KALISH: All he has to do is turn into one…

Pérez: Turn into Garfield the cat, yeah. That’s the point of the writing – you can do such diverse dialogue. Gar’s dialogue is certainly far removed from Raven’s dialogue – it’s like Marv manages to split his brain into seven characters, which I have to do visually. One thing I wanted to do with the Titans – and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gotten a few compliments on it – is that even without the masks, and even if I were to remove the hairlines, you can tell that they’re seven individual faces. They each have individual faces. Raven is very angular, very high cheekbones, very straight-nosed, with an upper lip slightly larger than her lower lip, and, of course, an incredibly large forehead. The very round face of Starfire – the eyes give her away (laughs), and slightly more chiseled, square jawed yet softer features for Wonder Girl, for a totally different look. I tried, at one point, drawing their faces side by side, not even drawing their hair, and in the cases of the girls not even drawing their eyes, and I actually had people able to tell who the characters were. And the one that was the biggest challenge, by not putting any highlights on, was to differentiate Robin from Kid Flash. Before, they tended to have the same exact face – I was guilty of it, when I started. I made a point of suddenly drawing in Kid Flash’s cheeks – making him angular. If you look at a lot of pictures of –

HOWELL: Joggers?

Pérez: Mikhail Barishnykov, to give him that very slender look. And, of course, very, very strong legs. The fact is that I’m trying to draw his arms less bulky but keep his legs very muscular. That man must have calves like iron. And Robin’s face is more round; Dick Giordano set the standard for what Robin should look like, because he corrects all the artwork (Howell laughs), so – Burt Ward had the perfect face, even though he was a mite on the old side. That roundish face, with that hairstyle. And Gar, I just made him look very young. I made his eyes larger, his nose smaller, and his chin is smaller, so it looks like a weak chin, but it made him look like he was only 16 years old.

Suddenly it became a character we can work with – he now looked different enough that if we draw him in certain reactions, you expect a certain way he’ll always react to a situation. He either gets heavy sighs when he sees Starfire, or he has that woeful, wounded-puppy look when he’s in sympathy with Cyborg. Of course, Cyborg’s the easiest person to worry about – he’s the only black member of the group. But I didn’t want him to look like just a white man dipped in caramel – I wanted him to look like a black man. I made him bigger than the others, very bulky and all, and finally, I developed the fact that all of them had to have individualized faces. Sarah Simms’ is a little different. I try not to make it look like when they take off their masks, each whole face changes, also. I was so guilty of that when I first started in comics. Everyone had the same Steve Rogers face when I first started the “Avengers.” All these lantern-jawed characters. You put a mask on Thor, and he would have been Captain America.

HOWELL: Same for Hawkeye and Yellowjacket?

Pérez: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, Hawkeye and Captain America were the toughest ones – the only thing that made them look different was that cleft chin, the blond hair – the hair was styled differently. At the time, I still didn’t know the subtleties of how to draw a different face. I had stock faces on these guys. Finally, I broke Hawkeye’s nose. Figured, “He had been a villain, and all villains have broken noses…

KALISH: Iron Man probably did it… (Laughter)

Pérez: Yeah. So I broke Hawkeye’s nose just to make him look a little different, give him a harder look than Captain America. That was my first conscious effort at trying to make individual faces for these characters. When you have a book with as many characters as AVENGERS, it is not easy. I can’t wait to get one issue of THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES under my belt, just to see how I can handle all those faces.

HOWELL: There’s only 23.

KALISH: 25.

Pérez: I redesigned the costumes on some of them. And now that Timber Wolf has an ordinary human face, I had to touch it up – because I drew the costume, but I drew his old [actually second face, which I liked better. Now he has this human, rather dull face.

KALISH: It’ll change back. Plastic surgery is miraculous in the 30th century.

Pérez: That’s right – just claw his face apart. Make him really look like he’s been under the butcher knife. (Laughs) HOWELL: That’s very possible.

KALISH: You’ve been speaking mainly of multi-character series, that sort of series where, if you open the closet door, more characters will fall out. Have you ever been attracted by any single character, any solo series?

Pérez: One character I did, I still have seven pages to go on that, but I did start it about three years ago, is –

KALISH: The Black Widow.

Pérez: The Black Widow. I really am intrigued by the character. Ralph Macchio wanted to do it, and at the time, Ralph Macchio had not written anything. He wanted to do something with me, and he let me decide on a character. I wanted to do a female character, since I only do team books, to show that I can draw a good female character, although at that time I was still drawing even the women a little too bulky. But I wanted to draw a female character to show that I could do “good girl art” as well as the next man.

And so I just wanted to draw a female protagonist story. in which she herself would be the lead character. Ivan did not appear until the end of the story; Nick Fury was peripheral at best; and she kept going through different men in the story. There were groups of villains, but she kept wiping them out so fast (laughter) that no one stayed on for any length of time. It was one of those things where I got to do a single character. I still have seven pages to go, and they want to use it for MARVEL FANFARE, so I have to finish that off. I do have a waiver on my DC contract where I am allowed to finish that story, because that was a prior commitment. I am allowed to finish it.

HOWELL: Did you do four issues of that?

Pérez: It was only supposed to be one. Then I said, “It’s getting too long,” and they gave me two issues. I said, “It’s getting longer,” and they gave me three. So I did it in three. But then they said, ‘Well, we might want to do it as a mini-series (they were talking about doing mini-series at the time) but that means we’ll have to re-do the origin.” So now the issue I have to finish is the first issue. I still have to do seven pages of the origin story. It felt really strange; I did issues #2, 3, and 4; now I have to do issue #1. (Laughs) Ah, that’s the. world of comics – what can I tell you? (Laughter) But when I look at the artwork – they sent me Xeroxes, so I could finish the story – my artwork has changed radically since then.

Again, the women tend to be very heavy-thighed,, very tall, very big-boned – a little too bulky in size. And I can tell that even then I was beginning to be conscious of that. In the first pages of the first issue, she looks heavier than she does in the second issue. And when I do these seven pages, she’s going to look like the way I draw women now. It’s going to be interesting to see how the inkers manage… Some of it has been inked, in part, by Joe Sinnott, Jack Abel, and Bruce Patterson. They put three totally different inkers on this thing. And, because of time, these last seven pages are only going to be breakdowns – which is all I do anyway – while all the other pages were full pencils. Originally Bob Layton was supposed to ink it, so there were some scenes where Bob Layton was going to put in the backgrounds – and now I don’t know if he did or not. So with all these different people whose styles have changed over the years… it’s going to be curious to see what a book looks like that has had an actual three-year art history, gestation.

Last time I did that was a two-issue “Man-Wolf” story in MARVEL PREMIERE. I had done it two years ago, and they cancelled the series, and I thought, “Oh, they’ll never need this story,” and then suddenly they said, “We want you to finish it,”so they gave me another six months to do it. The first half of the story was two years old, and the last half of the story was six months old. It was really strange seeing how the styles had changed. That one held up a little better, because – what can you do with a Man-Wolf? Really. (Laughter) A man with a wolf’s head.

But the women have gone through quite a radical change in my drawing. And I’ll be curious to see how they manage to put it together. Also, I figure I’ll hold off on it. They put an ad together with my name on it – put the accent on the wrong “e.” (Laughs) So I think I shall treat them rough. (Laughs) They went out of their way to put the accent in, but put it on the wrong “e.” Those poor guys.

HOWELL: Was your desire to polish up your drawing of women based on a similar impulse – to put more subtlety into the work?

Pérez: Yeah, basically. It’s just the fact that I didn’t want – I never want to be satisfied with what I do to the point where I’ll never want to improve again. I want to constantly find faults in my work, just so I can improve on them. If I don’t feel that this is a growing process, it’s going to get very dull after a while. I enjoy drawing immensely; I can’t think of anything else I would rather do. There are other hobbies, but drawing is number one. I love drawing comics. I love the imagination involved. But it has to be a growing thing. cannot be drawing the same way ten years from now. I have to know that I am going to grow, and by making a conscious effort at nit-picking, I think about subtlety.

Not as many people probably would notice it unless they were really following the artwork. They probably wouldn’t have noticed the changes in the women, which was a very gradual thing. Even I wasn’t aware of my problems with it – I had to start getting hard on myself. Things like spotting blacks, I got better at. Putting shadows, which I started doing more consciously, in the last two years. Things that I just want to keep doing. I’m not happy with the way I draw feet; I have to keep improving on that. I’ve never studied anatomy, so most of the anatomy is faked, but I want to keep a semblance of reality. I don’t want it to be real anatomy, because then it’ll limit the way I can move the body. I want to be able to move the body in totally ridiculous ways, so I need certain amounts of freedom. I can’t ever think that I’ve gone as far as I can go. I have to feel like it’s a growing thing. I have to feel, at age 80, that I still have a ways to go.

KALISH: You’re largely self-taught.

Pérez: I’m totally self-taught. (Laughs) I never had an art lesson until I broke into the business. Then I got advice from everyone, because I was terrible. I look at “Gulliver Jones, Warlord of Mars” from MONSTERS UNLEASHED #8 – I cringe (laughter). The letters we received on that issue, on that story!! The only thing we didn’t beat out in the [issue-by-issue popularity] poll was the one-page inside cover, because no one thought it was eligible – but I’m sure if they had voted on it, we’d’ve lost to that, too. Two reprints beat us out! (Laughter) It was horrible! I looked at that and cringed and knew full well that if I didn’t start making some kind of an effort to improve, I was going to be out on my ear. I was able to see the writing on the wall, because it was at a time when the companies were starting to shrink down. The lines had ex panded to the point where they didn’t have enough people to handle it.

Marvel’s black-and-white line was supposed to spotlight their top talent; they were using it basically as a training ground. They weren’t getting anywhere with that. It was “sink or swim.” I had to put my ego in check, because a lot of young artists starting out tend to think that they know it all. We’ve learned from the comics, and we have all the knowledge we need. All the basics that the real geniuses of the field know, that they had to learn, we also had to find out about, along with little subtleties that were totally missing. I had no knowledge of perspective. Now I do vanishing points. It’s quite obvious that I’ve since learned a bit about it. My backgrounds were sparse; that goes back quite a ways (laughs). The characters all looked incredibly posed. None of them looked like they were realistic. Anatomy was to the point of non-existence. I was drawing lines and no real muscles. No knowledge of how the skull held together the flesh on the face, so I’d draw a face, but there was no real substance to it – no definition, no shadow.

I had to learn all those things. John Romita was one of my earliest critics. Joe Rubinstein. Klaus Janson. Joe was working with Neal at the time; did assistant work for Kalus at the time. Joe was not exactly subtle. He’s helped a lot of people because he’s not afraid to tell you if you’re doing something wrong. He’s a talented man; I’m surprised that it took as long as it did to finally get the recognition he has now. Neal Adams was another who told me the things I needed to learn. One thing they told me which I took to heart is that they said, “You’re so weak as a penciller, don’t try inking until you’ve improved.” So I made a conscious decision that, up until last year, I never inked anything professionally, of any substance, and was not intending to. It wasn’t until I felt comfortable enough to study inking a bit that I said, “Okay, now I’m going to ink.” I use my own method of inking, most because, being incredibly double-jointed, it’s very hard to hold the pen steady. I have very unsteady hands. So I use a fountain pen, and fill it with India ink, and actually manage to make the damn thing work, and use my own way,of inking, which at least produces results that people seem to like. It takes me longer because I don’t have the correct tools that everyone else uses. Then again, I don’t even use a drawing board. Up until I got a mechanical pencil, I was using a simply number two Herald Square (since my mother works at the Board of Education, I get ‘em free).

I basically worked very non-professionally. I still do. My work routine is to get up, lie on the couch, get an old blackboard slate as my drawing board, put the paper on it, and start drawing. I ‘turn the TV on, and that’s the way I work. I work with the TV on, and lying on my back. It’s a totally non-professional air. “This is a pro?!” But it works for me.

I had to develop my own system of working, because I just didn’t have the – I don’t know whether it’s the discipline. or just the inclination (laughs) of going to a studio and sitting upright over a drawing board, and draw like a real professional artist. I had to make sure that this thing felt like it was still a lark to me. “This isn’t serious.” I’m earning money for something I’ve been doing since I was five years old. I’m very lucky. I’ll work a lot of hours, but it isn’t like this is a job. I have not worked in seven and a half years. (Laughter)

HOWELL: You make a good living, too.

Pérez: I make a good living at it, too. (Laughter) Boy, what a vagabond I am. These gadabouts.

HOWELL: You have been talking about different things that you think comics need to have, and different ways that you’d like to see characters treated once in a while. You must have a pretty solid idea of what makes a good, saleable comic that’ll please an editor and the writer.

Pérez: Well, despite all my opinions, one thing I am conscious enough to know is that what I like isn’t what Every one else is going to like. I have thoughts of things that I would like to do that I know full well would probably doom a comic to an early death or just the fact that it is a self-indulgent dream – something I would love to see but not necessarily is a right opinion. I am not so egotistical that I think that everything I think a comic should be is what a comic should be. I’ve learned, through a lot of experience, that when I thought something went right, the sales figures proved me wrong. I’ve learned to compromise.

Okay, there are some things which I enjoy doing. If I draw Batman, I always want to keep that “creature of the night” thing. I try so hard that, even when he was in a crowd scene, where he was with the rest of the Justice League of America, that I would keep him draped in his cape and seeming to be aloof. Even if he had dialogue, that’s the way I felt he should be done. If he were done that way all the time; He would become a totally unsympathetic character. Marshall Rogers treated him as a dark vigilante of the night, again using that air of mystery. Those books didn’t sell that well. That were popular among limited circles; the companies cannot make a living on that circle.

So there are some things I would like to do, some things I figure might be good. One thing we’re thinking of doing is a “Titans” story spotlighting Robin, doing it like a Philip Marlowe story, in which he’s trying to find Wonder Girl’s parents. Doing it first-person narration, doing all the shadow bits, even doing almost a pulp-like cover, with Robin in an alleyway, maybe holding on to Wonder Girl, or some damsel in distress that’ll be in the story – a typical Philip Marlowe type thing, which is a self-indulgent dream. It is something which I really want to do. Len’s okayed it; Marv’s okayed it. They definitely want to do it. A steady diet of that would kill the book (laughs), because it’s not Robin. It’s part of Robin’s nature, but not all of Robin’s nature.

And there are other things that I wanted to do. I wanted to do a story with the Titans out west~ The Titans wouldn’t work out west; I just wanted to do a western thing. (They just did it with the JLA anyway.) But I just wanted to do something in the west. When I think about it, the story would not work with Raven there. In fact, we’d have one person with a half-metal face, one guy with green skin, one person who looks totally lost because she never wears anything except that long slit dress, and, of course, a girl with hair like a giant lion’s mane and green eyes – you couldn’t ever make them conspicuous enough that they can look in wonder at the wild west characters, when it’s going to be the wild west characters looking at them. I wanted them too be inconspicuous until it was time for them to get into action, but it’s impossible to do that with those characters. So it’s just one of those dreams that didn’t work.

There were some times where I just had an idea for a cover, and hoped that somebody would think of a story where I could get to use that cover. (Laughs) I thought of one cover idea where the scene is a cemetery – you know, gnarled trees and twisted decay – and, on the tombstones scattered about, are the names of all the Titans save Robin. And Robin is standing totally in tatters at this point, and standing in the distance – like the opening scenes in GUNSMOKE – you can see the arm and the leg of the Terminator, saying, “Okay, Robin, I’ve terminated the others. You’re the last one.” And I said, “I wish I could do a story based on this! The idea of just being able to draw the cover. The story be damned – I just want to draw the cover!” Marv is thinking on how we’re going to handle a story like that now. (Laughter) Because we’re thinking, “The next time we introduce the Terminator, let’s actually defeat the guy. He’s managed to make a fool of the Titans both times he’s shown up. He’s appeared twice, also, and never once has he been shown fully on the cover. (Laughs) One of the better villains and he’s never appeared on the covers. I’ve got a’ lot of ideas on what I want, but a lot of them are just little pet things. Every fan – there’s still a lot of the fan in me – has pet id&as. There’s one fan I know – she’s obsessed with who the characters are going to marry in their later lives, and what kinds of offspring will they have? Now,’ as interesting as that is to think about, it has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of the books we’re doing now.

So we all have those strange things. Some things I’m sure might be able to do eventually. I want to do a “Batman”
story; I want to do a nice, mysterious “Ba tman” story where I can have that man as the dark-shadowed detective that he is. Mostly because I want to do a story where I can work with shadows a lot. For him, it can work. Even Bat-man has the fact that it can’t be too somber too long, or the character just becomes boring. I definitely know that my ideas will not save a company. Not all of them, anyway. (Laughs) I can very well kill a company with some of the ideas.

HOWELL: So you think there’s room for other types of books than the ones you like, and there’s room for compromise

Pérez: Oh, definitely. In any job, where you’re working with more than just one creative person, particularly when you’re thinking that these are all artists – you know the artists’ temperaments – there’s got to be room to compromise. When you let the ego get the best of you, there’s absolutely no way the product will benefit, because suddenly you’re thinking of your own satisfaction and you’re forgetting about the finished book. Whatever I do in any comic, the most important thing is what that book looks like when it comes out. I have complained when I didn’t like the way something was inked, or the way it was plotted – usually, I would talk to the inker, or the plotter, and try and see if they would change it.

There’s one habit that I’m trying to talk the colorists out of – that if they draw the characters in civilian clothing, the clothing doesn’t always have to be the same color as their uniforms. You know – little subtleties. They don’t agree, and they give me a good opinion, and I bow down to that opinion. And, despite everything, Len Fein is my editor, and he’s my boss, and his decision goes, no matter what. If I don’t agree with what Len says, that’s tough. I am working for him; he’s not working for me. Luckily, it’s not that type of situation where he would bully or exercise his authority to the point of being inflexible, but it is the type of thing where I’ve got to remember that, no matter what I do, the most important thing is that the book be the best it can be.


End of titanstower.com transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author