Comics Interview #50: An Interview with George Pérez
Interview by by Andy Mangels – Comics Interview #50, 1987
Titans-Related Interview Highlights here!
ANDY: I’ve been wondering about certain characters who have been appearing in the comics, the female characters; one of them is Phoenicia Bana from TTTANS #50 and the THUNDER AGENTS, and the other I asked you about last night, Carol Sladsky from TITANS #2 and #3…
GEORGE:Which is a totally different character. She was the young lady I met on a cruise that I was seeing for awhile during the very early TITANS time. I didn’t meet Carol Flynn until after I had drawn issue #8 of the TITANS. So there are two totally different people; coincidentally, their names are Carol. Phoenicia Banu, the designer in TITANS #50, and Phoenicia without the Banu in issue #1 and #2 of THUNDER AGENTS, obviously were based on my wife – and, in both cases, were actually drawn with my wife as model. There have been other characters I have drawn with my wife as influence, but these were made directly to look like my wife; they were named after my wife; and, since my wife is a belly dancer, the Phoenicia character in THUNDER AGENTS was the most like her as far as using physical representation. And since she designed the gowns for the wedding party in TALES OF TEEN TITANS #50, she appeared as Phoenicia Banu in the story and was credited as Carol Flynn in the credits.
ANDY: So how did you get the “Banu”? GEORGE: Banu was her original dance name; she dropped it because it’s a little clumsy sounding or too long. It literally means “Lady from Phoenicia,” so she dropped “Banu” and became Phoenicia.
ANDY: It was like four books a month!
GEORGE: Like another book being tossed in. One book had to be dropped, so I ended up dropping the only book that I had enough experience on – I’d just gotten on the JLA and I was co-creator of the TEEN TITANS, sol had to drop the only Marvel title I had. I sent a note to Jim Shooter apologizing for doing that, and making a statement so no one would think I was leaving because I was angry at anyone, but only because I ran out of time. I couldn’t handle it any more. THE AVENGERS had to be given up.
ANDY: About your JLA work, once you got on as regular penciller, you took an issue out for a fill-in, and ended up doing a fill-in on your own fill-in by Chuck Patton, right?
GEORGE: No, that was Keith Pollard. Yeah, he was doing fill-ins and then Keith fell behind and I ended up having to finish off the story that Keith started. Since he was filling in for me, it was really strange. 1 ended up filling in on my own fill-in.
ANDY: You haven ‘t done that many fill-ins?
GEORGE: In my early career, I had plenty of fill-ins; I still do now. I’ve had fill-ins on the TEEN TITANS – including my fifth issue, which Curt Swan filled in. But very seldom do lend up filling in on myself; that was a really rare time, having to finish off a story that I was supposed to be getting a break from.
ANDY: When you first started on the TITANS, you said you didn’t think it would last five issues, and said that you were afraid that people would compare them with the X-MEN – but you didn’t read the X-MEN, right?
GEORGE: At the time, I did. I drew an issue of the X-MEN – the X-MEN ANNUAL- so I knew about the X-MEN. But I was worried about the visual ideas. Particularly, Starfire worried me, because I had to color her almost like a lion with the green eyes, the golden skin and dark brown mane. And considering the fact that they were teenage characters, it might seem too much like the X-MEN. The one thing that we hated was having to keep the name “TEEN” in TEEN TITANS. But they really were teenagers, not just teens in name, actual teens dealing with the fact that they are teens, and that gave us the slant. We were doing an X-MEN type of team, that was true – we wouldn’t have been doing it if it weren’t for the X-MEN. But the Titans’ sense of family, their sense of being young, gave them the individuality that was definitely just theirs. Issue #8, “A Day in The Lives,” was what nailed it for us. We did that totally personal type story on them, and got people interested in them just as characters. They weren’t just another group of superheroes in costumes teamed up; they were characters people cared about. And from that point on, THE TEEN TITANS developed an identity of their own. There are always going to be the die-hards who’ll say, “Yeah, ripoff, plagairism,” but the TITANS have proven that they have their own legs to stand on.
ANDY: When you started developing the individual characters, the individual faces of the TEEN TITANS, who did you base the characters on? You’ve often said that Changeling was a young Mickey Rooney. But who were the others in real life?
GEORGE: In real life, let’s see now… Koriand’r, she’s so many characters I’ve used: Marilyn Monroe, my first wife, oh gosh, there was a stripper somewhere, ….. . (Laughter.) She was so many. Originally, Raven was Persis Khambatta, the actress who played in the first STAR TREK film, and later became a young lady named Fran MacGregor, who was a dancer, and I used some of her features, particularly her figure, for Raven. Cyborg was originally a young Jim Brown, the football player turned actor. Dick Grayson was primarily Burt Ward – he had a very physical face, but it worked, so I used Burt Ward as the original one. And Wonder Girl originally was Marie Osmond. (Laughter.) And then I kind of gave her a much more stately face as opposed to a wholesome all-American face as the years went on. But originally she was Marie Osmond. And that was upon Marv’s suggestion. And Kid Flash was Ron Howard, not as much facially as opposed to character-wise. The face I just basically leaned out; he developed the body of a dancer, which I also gave to Jericho later, when I gave him the body of, like, Mikhail Baryshnikov type. And Jericho’s face was based on a cross between Terry Austin and David Morse, who plays Dr. Morrison on ST. ELSEWHERE.
ANDY: What about Tara?
GEORGE: Tara was just a cute little girl, although I based a little bit of that on my wife Carol’s sister, Barbara. A little upturned nose… Barbara does not have the teeth that Tara had. I wanted Tara to be a girl who looked normal. Which also means her death caught everyone even more offguard.
ANDY: Are there any particular actors you would want to play the TITANS in movies?
GEORGE: I’ve never worried about that. There are those people that have certain features that work, certain features that don’t. Some who look the part but couldn’t act worth a damn, or have the really good voices but don’t have the bodies for them. Everyone says Michael J. Fox would make a good Changeling and, years ago, he would have. Now he’s too old. And there are others… Burt Ward, he was Robin at one time; he’s way too old now. He’s forty – it just doesn’t work. And the girls are even tougher to cast. To get a face like Raven, I also thought of a young Barbara Luna, she played in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of STAR TREK, Kirk’s love interest. And she’s a night club singer now. And there are others. How do you cast Kory?
ANDY: Loni Anderson?
GEORGE: Well, Loni’s age goes against her, and other people who have the right face, like Audrey Landers has a good Kory face, but she doesn’t have Kory’s figure.. she has the right personality, just the wrong figure. So short! (Laughter.)
ANDY: Okay. How do you feel about the Titans and their various supporting characters; what are your comments about each of the different characters there?
GEORGE: Wonder Girl? My favorite. My favorite character, as far as person I would love to meet the most.
Robin/Nightwing, I like him a lot because of his history, he’s been around so long, and there’s a certain sleek sexuality about the character. He’s got a certain sense of everyman, a young swashbuckler type.., he’s probably the only character to have developed a rabid following. That I find incredible, particularly because he came out as a sidekick – that he’s got the strongest following of any character really makes me feel good about Nightwing. He’s the only Titan who made the CBG poll, and it was great, you know. The fact that he’s still fresh after all these years.
Kid Flash/Flash, he’s always been the one who’s been the most trouble, because he was a hard character to handle. If he’s so super fast, technically if handled correctly, he’d make the rest of the characters superfluous. No way he could ever be caught by anything, no one should ever get the upper hand on him. So he never was my favorite character, only because he was just difficult to handle in a group situation. I think the Frances Kane character introduced with him was a nice addition, but they didn’t play her up enough to kind of give him a much stronger anchor. I did like the fact that he had two living parents.
Changeling, good comic relief, fun to draw – except when you’re drawing all those animals ’cause you’ll constantly get into other references – I like his rubbery face, his very expressive face.
Cyborg, my personal favorite to draw, mostly because I like a big, strong, scrappy guy. I’m 6’2″ and I come from the ghetto, too, so I have a strong identification.
Raven? Interesting to draw. Without Trigon it’s going to be interesting to see how to handle her. Now that she’s open to emotion, it opens up the character. We can do a lot more of her opening up to a society that she had closed off for so many years. I think she’s going to have a lot of potential.
Tara, she was made to be killed; she served her purpose. That was it.
ANDY: You didn ‘t get any attachment to Tara?
GEORGE: No, because I knew we were going to kill her. So I deliberately used all the things to make her as likeable and cute as possible, so people would never believe we were going to kill a sixteen-year-old. And she was a sixteen-year-old sociopath. She was one of our cleverest gimmicks; we deliberately created her in order to lead everyone astray. So we couldn’t build any fondness for her, ’cause we knew full well what her whole motive for existence was. Her existence was basically to keep the stories interesting; we were tossing a curve that no one would have expected.
ANDY: You didn ‘t even love to hate her, huh?
GEORGE: No. I loved handling her, because she was such a good idea. But she was an idea. Not as much a person. She was there to show exactly how much their humanity can be one thing they have to be careful about, the Teen Titans have to be careful about. . . they can be too trusting, or their own weaknesses can be used against them.
Jericho, I personally… I created Jericho, I came up with the power, the idea of the mute and everything else. So I have a much more personal feeling about him. One regret I have for Jericho is that I left before I could ever really do anything with him. But I would like to do more with him; I think he has a lot more of the love element in him that he can show with the other Titans, because he’s there as a listener and he’s compassionate, he’s really, really a nice guy. And Marv brought in that darker edge to show that he was a good fighter and he has a history, too; he remains nice through just about everything that happens to him, and that gives him a very strong. . that’s something Marv did very well.
Speedy and Aqualad? Nicest guest stars. I like Speedy/Aqualad because of the limitation of his powers. He’s nice – nice visual – but now that Robin’s wearing his Nightwing costume, he’s the only one that’s showing his bare legs. Again, a nice little sexiness about him. I always like that kinky hair, and I deliberately gave him a more Italian looking face-
ANDY: Sort of like Patrick Duffy?
GEORGE: Actually, I based it on a girl’s face. I dated a girl, she had very strong features, and I matched them, made them a little more masculine and made Aqualad out of her.
The Titans forgotten? Most of them well left that way! (Laughter.) With the possible exception of Lilith, ’cause I enjoy doing her but, now that she’s gone, it’s just as well, because of Raven’s role in there. All the others, frankly, I don’t care.
The Terminator, my favorite of the TITANS’ villains, because I really liked the idea of the strong, massive-yet-debonair older man. The fact that he’s definitely a man in his fifties, but he’s strong as an ox, very handsome, very polished – you can understand, again, a sexual appeal. I’m very big on sexual appeal of characters – particularly males. Since all the men are big and muscular, to show a bit of sexuality in them, that’s a tough thing to do. The fact that the Titans have developed ye gotten mail from women who think that Terminator is sexy as all hell. And that’s great. That’s the feeling I wanted.
Brother Blood? Mary’s favorite character, not one of mine, only because I’ve never quite understood him. He was always more Mary’s character than mine. He was a little too enigmatic for my taste.
And sometimes a little too unrealistic, in the fact that I can’t believe how he can have such a strong influence for such a strong turn-off presence. Visually, he has nothing that would be appealing to me, anyway. If I were a wayward youth, he would scare the hell out of me. So, like, he’s more Mary’s character than mine. I think Mary’s got a stronger grip on him. I never quite understood him.
Blackfire? My tribute to women in leather. (Laughter.) I like the look of that woman, you know?
ANDY: Even though in their first appearance she wasn ‘t in leather?
GEORGE: They forgot all the black in Blackfire; they forgot to ink all the black areas. But I like her. The one thing I regret from other artists’ points of view is that I gave her such a harsh face; I wanted it attractive yet strong, and many people, if you don’t get those angles of that face just right, she comes out ugly – and Blackfire is not an ugly woman, she’s just very harsh looking.
Trigon? Big, strong, incredibly awesome, what people thought looked like a silly thing of doing the little antlers on his head, was – yeah – this is a berserk Bambi. (Laughter.) But he was such a strong, powerful presence that I’m glad he’s no longer being used, ’cause he served his purpose. He was our nightmare character.
Cheshire? I’m a bit disappointed in Cheshire, in the way she turned out, because it always bothered me that Cheshire had the baby, of any Titan. It keeps the Titans’ world so small – you introduce a character out of the blue and, automatically, she’s had something to do with the Teen Titans. And that always bothered me. I don’t begrudge Mary doing that; I myself personally don’t go for it. Not every superhero or super-villain has to have interrelationships with each other.
Vigilante? Nice character, I think Mary kind of copped out with him. I think he should have been a lot more of a strong, DEATHWISH type, as opposed to a character who can keep going back and forth. I think his potential was a lot stronger than his actual fruition.
The Brotherhood of Evil? Some were interesting.. I liked Phobia, I liked Plasmus, the idea of Plasmus touching and melting in his hand… Warp, he’s okay, I’m not too crazy about him – his power’s interesting; I designed a bad costume. I don’t like his costume, it’s my fault. Houngan never turned me on, one way or the other. The idea of an electronic voodoo I’ve just never thought was all that great. And, of course, Monsieur Mallah, the Brain – very nostalgic. I like him because of the fact they were the DOOM PATROL villains.
ANDY: And The Fearsome Five?
GEORGE: The Fearsome Five – a dumb group, initially. Dr. Light, because he’s such a loser, they got rid of him. Jinx, I had nothing to do with, so I can’t make any judgement on her. Mammoth, standard big super-villain, brute force guy. Shimmer, nice but hard to handle realistically. Psimon, my least favorite of the group, because he was so powerful and, my fault, I designed a silly-looking appearance for him. I wanted to make him look frail, but that did look kind of dumb. It looked like he was wearing a commode on his head. (Laughter,)
ANDY: Now in TITANS, you co-plotted with Marv issues #6 through #8, and #38 on…
GEORGE: Well, actually, we were co-plotting even before then. #38 was when it became the strongest, when he and I were coming in as equal partners. He and I talked out plots way before that, but then he would type out the plot and use what we talked about together – so Marv had written the plot. The difference was, starting with issue #38, we never had a written plot from that point on. We just talked about it, I drew it, he wrote it. So he was counting as much on my writing notes to him as I used to on getting notes from him. That’s when it became an official co-plotting, because there was no written plot by Marv Wolfman himself.
ANDY: Scripts don’t exist?
GEORGE: No, scripts do exist. He had to do the dialogue for the letterer. I drew the story from our conversations, though.
ANDY: How do you do plots with Marv? Which scenes are yours? There ‘s the Cyborg scene in issue #8, where we first meet Sarah Simms and them…
ANDY: What are some of the other scenes that you have specifically put in?
GEORGE: Well, Kory taking her dress off in the middle of the park, in that same issue, is something I thought expressed her. (Laughter.) A lot of the stuff with Cyborg; the whole scene with Cyborg and his parents in the #40s issues – I wrote out notes like crazy for Marv, so he paraphrased the entire scene from what I had written in there.
ANDY: Cyborg ‘s grandparents?
GEORGE: His grandparents, excuse me and thank you. His grandparents were really a lot of what I wanted to put in there, I created the physical idea, I based them on Sarah Cully, the late actress who played Mother Jefferson on THE JEFFERSONS TV series, and on Scatman Crothers, and used them as my basis, thus affecting how I would handle the characters’ dialog. And I came up with that scene. A lot of the wedding I came up with. I knew more about a large wedding, because I had one; Marv never had a large wedding. So I knew about all the political and emotional things that happen there, plus using the titles we worked out on those. And a few things I tossed in. It was my idea to use Harlequin in that story, ’cause he hated Harlequin, and I knew he didn’t want to put her in there. So I put her in there, anyway.
ANDY: That made some of us fans very happy.
GEORGE: And, of course, putting in a lot of the TITAN TALKERS. Mary okayed that – I didn’t do it behind his back – but as to where, I was in charge. I knew more of them; I knew most of the girls and guys who are involved in Titan Club. I’m much more personal about my relationship with the fans than Marv is. Marv enjoys his fans, but enjoys his privacy. I’m much more gregarious, much more outgoing, so a lot of the fans contact me on a personal basis through letters or phone calls. So I did a lot of the wedding issue.
“Who is Donna Troy?” is one book we worked so closely together, I couldn’t tell you what scenes were mine and what scenes were Marv’s. It was symbionic. That one is a real Perez/Wolfman collaboration. Or Wolfman/Perez collaboration, depending on your point of view. (Laughter.) And that one I couldn’t honestly tell you.., the only scenes I know were fully mine were the framing sequence – having Dick Grayson in the midst of that black office, having him turn on his tape recorder, call Kory and say how good he felt, because Marv and I decided to put a happy ending on it. We weren t quite sure how to end it, and we decided to give it a happy ending. Dick calling Kory was my idea and I came up with the dialog, a couple of lines that Dick says, Kory, it’s me.” “Great. I feel just great. What are you doing tonight?” That was my scene. There are others that I can’t think of. Probably just as well; it shows that in our symbionic relationship, we start losing track of who did what, ’cause it’s such a contribution from the both of us. The only ones where I didn’t contribute much are the ones having to do with Brother Blood. I don’t understand the character! Of course, since I designed Jericho, a lot of the stuff I did with Jericho’s body language and reactions to people was more mine; I had a grasp of sign language at the time, since I had books on it.
ANDY: You did two “Runaway” books which were very well received, not only by fandom at large, but by Nancy Reagan. What did you think when you first heard about Nancy Reagan wanting to use yours and Marv’s characters, in the drug campaign…?
GEORGE: It wasn’t that they wanted to use the TITANS; they wanted to use DC Heroes – until they saw the “Runaways” book – the commission that was handling it. They found out that we had a book dealing with teenage characters, so what better book to do about teenage problems than a book with role models? And when they saw the “Runaways,” they decided, “Hey, we’d like to do it with these characters.” Marv and I were informed, and I said I would definitely draw it. It was more of a problem than the “Runaways,” because the “Runaways” was strictly DC editorial; we could do a stronger story. Unfortunately, with the drug books we were dealing with so many committees, it became a much more watered-down book than it was intended to be. Mary’s research on real drugs was muted by a lot of editing down. They didn’t want to cause blame here, they didn’t want parents to feel intimidated there; a lot of groups were kind of cross-pressuring, until the book became a watered-down version of what it was originally intended to be. Had we produced the same story strictly as a DC book, I am sure it would have been a lot more potent – and probably a lot closer to reality than the book ended up being.
ANDY: So you didn’t actually have contact with Nancy, then?
GEORGE: Oh, no. In fact, we were invited to the White House for some kind of conference but I didn’t go, anyway. So I can say I turned down the President of the United States for a meeting. (Laughter.)
ANDY: Now that’s something John Byrne can’t say.
GEORGE: Yep. I was invited to the White House and I turned it down. My schedule would not permit me to go to the White House. Man’ did go, and he didn’t get to meet the President, either. I believe there was some kind of terrorist activity that prevented the Reagans from actually being there.
ANDY: What did you think of the changes they made in the stories, Kory ‘s costume..
GEORGE: Kory’s costume was my idea to change. I knew that we were dealing with young kids, and I knew that we were going to be going through some kind of committee – why give them ammunition to complain about something that wasn’t important to the book? I changed Kory’s costume at the bustline a bit, so we wouldn’t have to deal with something that we knew would have been a problem immediately. Why ask for trouble. We censored ourselves there.
ANDY: Did you change any other things?
GEORGE: Wonder Girl, her neckline was kept modest, we didn’t show her cleavage as much. Basically, that was it. Everyone else was left intact. Raven’s costume didn’t require anything.
ANDY: That pretty much covers everything.
GEORGE: Exactly. She’s a modest character in the way she dresses. But the only other change was that Robin was drawn and inked as leader of the TEEN TITANS because of an incredibly ridiculous bit of trouble with licensing. Keebler, the cookie company, was sponsoring the first drug book, and through the licensing of superhero cookies, Robin was licensed to Nabisco. So we couldn’t use Robin on a Keebler-licensed product, even though it was a totally different type of marketing. Dave Manak – who was editing that book – whited out the entire costuming on Robin and drew this costume they quickly designed, and renamed him The Protector. So you have The Protector doing all the Robin-type things, like flying the T-jet, and giving all the orders – and who is this guy? Every single pose he’s in, that was Robin in the original pose. Anyone who has the original artwork can see all the whiteout on that Protector figure and, if you hold it up to the light, you’ can see Robin’s costume underneath.
ANDY: So why did they decide to keep him for the other two books which you did?
GEORGE: Now you had a character where they’d say, “This character was designed specifically for these drug books,” to cover their tracks, so he was utilized over and over again, because now he was the binding tie that made these stories different from the TITAN stories.
ANDY: You didn ‘t design his costume…?
GEORGE: No, no. Dave Manak designed it.
ANDY: An ugly costume.
GEORGE: (Laughter.) The colors were ugly, the mask was dumb.., but that was the breaks.
ANDY: Getting back to the early TITANS, what do you think about the common storyline that was prevalent in a lot of the early stories – the parent versus child syndrome?
GEORGE: I had slot of complaints about that. Marv and I talked about it, and we worked it out. At the end of issue #7, with the resolution of Victor’s thing, it started to bother me. It did come from timing -Francis, Kane, The Disruptor, all these people. Eventually, we toned that down. I noticed it, too, and Marv had certain ideas of why he was doing it, but eventually he realized we were going through overkill.
ANDY: Getting too “teeny”?
GEORGE: Yeah, you sometimes get too wrapped up with the teen problems in relation to their folks, until you realize that there’s more to being a teenager than just having problems with your family.
ANDY: So what are your favorite TITANS stories, and what are your least favorite?
GEORGE: My favorite TITANS story is “Who is Donna Troy?” Second favorite is “We Are Gathered Here Today.” You notice a certain similarity of those two books. Third, “Shadows in The Dark,” the first TITANS Baxter edition, because I’m really happy with my ink job on that. And then there are other favorites, like “A Day in The Lives.” And “Runaways.” Again, the personal stories mean much more to me than the superheroes.
My least favorite stories? “Lights Out Everyone,” issue #37, which is a Doctor Light and the Fearsome Five crossover with THE OUTSIDERS – because it existed strictly as a crossover with THE OUTSIDERS, no other reason for the book to be there. Those have all the standard comic-book cliches. Hero group meets hero group, hero group fights hero group. Then they find out, “Hey, we shouldn’t be fighting this hero group.” Understanding! “Let’s fight villain group!” I didn’t like it at all, and Man’ didn’t particularly care for it, either.
ANDY: That was a totally useless interaction between Geo Force and Terra, which has never been used again.
GEORGE: Well, that was something to show the connection, why they had similar powers. It was an accident that the characters were designed at the same time – total coincidence – but that’s one of my least favorite, “Lights Out Everyone.” Many of the stories with the Hive – particularly the last, “Death of the Hive” – because I was really unhappy with the artwork on that one. The Brother Blood stories tend to be not among my favorites, again because I don’t really have a good grasp on that character as Man’ does.
There’s another favorite I have, and that’s “Crossroads.” Took care of Kid Flash and changed Robin – it was the last appearance of Robin by Dick Grayson.
“Judas Contact” is another favorite. There are others that I like and dislike, but those probably rank high on the list.
ANDY: What’s your favorite – along the “most favorite and least favorite line” -what’s your favorite story of any you’ve done on ANY book, and your least favorite?
GEORGE: As favorites that I’ve done on any book, “Who is Donna Troy?” still is the top one. As far as non-TITAN stories, my first issue of WONDER WOMAN I had a grand time with. And X-MEN ANNUAL #3, written by Chris Claremont and inked by Terry Austin, I really enjoyed that at the time.
ANDY: That featured incredible artwork.
GEORGE: Thank you. Terry did a marvelous ink job, and Chris always does great stories; particularly then – he was going strong, too. And outside of those, JLA #200, only because of the nature of it all. Even though, as much hell as it was to draw, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. In particular, issue #7, “The Death of Supergirl,” and issue #11, “Aftershock,” because it was the most personal of the stories.
ANDY: So what are your least favorites ?
GEORGE: Least favorites that I’ve done…” Gulliver of Mars,” for reasons cited earlier.., the “Martian Genesis” story
ANDY: SGT. PEPPER’S…?
GEORGE: SGT. PEPPER is probably the least favorite thing I’ve ever done in my life. If I were to think most recently, and again taking it to non-TITAN stories, ‘The Shaggy Man” issue of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, I think it was my third JUSTICE LEAGUE.
ANDY: Inked by Frank McLaughlin.
GEORGE: The reason I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the story. I didn’t like the real anti-Red sentiment to be so blatant. And it was an “eh” of a story.
ANDY: What about covers? Least and most?
GEORGE: That’s tough; many of them are based on feeling at the time. Like, I’ve always had a great fondness for my first “Runaways” cover. I think it expressed mood. I’ve really enjoyed stuff like that. I’m happy with almost the whole of my entire line of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS covers; I really worked hard on those covers. My last one was my favorite – for issue #12 – because I got to do all the buildings again.
I guess if I was to take my least favorite covers, it’s probably easier to pinpoint. Let’s see now, my first MAN-WOLF, only because it didn’t end up looking much like what I really drew – a lot of redrawing was done to correct stuff I’d done wrong.
My least favorite TITANS cover was issue #11, with the Hyperion; my light sources were wrong, Donna’s hair looked like just one big wad of black, and I never liked the idea of heads superimposed on a cover like that, which was not my idea. I’m sure there are covers that are even worse than that. I just can’t think of them, out of so many covers I’ve drawn.
ANDY: Tell me about specific TITANS stories. You only did the cover of “The Titans vs. The Recombatants. “Were you planning on originally drawing that story?
GEORGE: No, actually, I wasn’t. I was glad Steve Rude got it because his style is suitable for it.
ANDY: For those who don ‘t know, The Recombatants story was the unofficial crossover with the DNAgents.
GEORGE: My style wasn’t going to be as fitting to kind of capture Will Meugniot’s version of it, but Steve Rude was a lot closer and he did a marvelous job.
ANDY: You expressed displeasure with The Hive Story. ,.why was that? You’d been working up to it for so lone.
GEORGE: Well, the artwork bothered me, more than anything else. It was my own fault for doing layouts, and Mike DeCarlo just didn’t know the characters and really hadn’t enough grasp at drawing faces to make them work. So they all tend to look alike; all the characters tend to look stiff, with Mike’s inking style. His work was rather stiff without my full pencils there, and the weaknesses really showed through. And despite all the build-up, it seemed to happen so fast. I think it might have been better thought-out. But Man’ and I were concentrating on two TITANS books at the time and that made it a lot tougher.
ANDY: Was the female leader of Hive your idea?
GEORGE: No, that was Marv’s. I came up with the idea of making her very soft, and he liked that and we worked that together. And I based her face – which is more noticeable on the cover than in the interior, due to Mike’s problem with faces – on Bernadette Peters. But she looked more like that on the cover than she ever did in the interior.
ANDY: How did you like the Trigon saga?
GEORGE: That was fun. Again, trying to draw a nightmare. My first issue was my favorite, ’cause I got to ink myself fully on that issue. I got all the craziness in there, the Bridge of Souls, the gigantic Trigon on the double page…
ANDY: How long did that take you?
GEORGE: The Bridge of Souls? Per page, it must have taken a day each. The double-pager took a day, but it was one large figure, so that make it a lot easier to draw. I really enjoyed that one. At the end of the Trigon five-parter, my very next and last TITANS story to date was “We Are Gathered Here Today.” It was really a nice change of pace.
ANDY: After all that hell you got to do a…
GEORGE: Got to draw a little heaven, really!
ANDY: Now, mentioning your Trigon series, that’s something you’re quite good at – drawing the personal nightmares. You did a fantastic Raven sequence in the one, Phobia..,
GEORGE: Yeah, when she was stripped naked down into a -
ANDY: Both Phobia, and, you know, your Trigon sequences in T1TANS Baxter #1, they’re all so hellish. Where do you get that weird stuff?
GEORGE: I don’t know. Whatever I’m smoking, it must be good, huh? (Laughter.) No, I just let my imagination go wild. I mean you watch enough film and read enough books and dream enough dreams… The idea for Bridge of Souls was a term that just popped into my head. Originally, when I sketched that out so Marv could script it, it was a rock bridge. It didn’t become a bridge of souls until linked it. But I decided to change my mind, and suddenly made gnarled bodies and corpses all mingled together.
I watched the movie LABYRINTH recently and I can’t imagine where these people get the imagination – they have the helping hands that held the woman up there; the idea of a door knocker that can’t talk because the ring is in its mouth, or can’t hear because the ring is in its ears. These are all such pieces of imagination. And with the art of M.C. Escher, your whole visual reference is distorted because he either changes perspective, or changes the entire picture in midstream – it still balances as a design, but the picture is not the same when it finishes as it was when it started. There’s no way of really explaining how one does that. It just comes to you; it’s gut level, and that’s what creation is all about.
ANDY: You and Marv received a lot of flak for the scene in TITANS Baxter #1 -
GEORGE: Not a lot of flak, we received about three or four letters.
ANDY: We’ve got to explain this scene, with Dick and Kory in bed.
GEORGE: Both of legal age.
ANDY: Nowadays, you see the OUTSIDERS and everyone bedding down at the drop of a towel.. do you feel somewhat responsible for ushering the “Sexual Age” into DC Comics?
GEORGE: No, because THE HULK did it before us. There was a scene with Bruce Banner in bed with a girl, and nobody made any fuss about that! During the XMEN, I believe, Charles Xavier was shown in bed with, uh -
GEORGE: Lilandra, that was done before ours, too. No one made a fuss there, either. Ours was up front about it. We didn’t try to hide it in a small panel. And it was done specifically to show -as Chris would have done, as well – that these people had a relationship that something mattered about. In dealing with the entire thing about Dick and Kory, anything .that happened in their relationship was based on the fact that they were real, full lovers. If you don’t establish that, their relationship is not full, for them.
They’re both of legal age; we would never have done a scene like that with Changeling. We did do a scene like that with Terra, but she was a villainess and she would die for that. Not die for sex. (Laughter.) But, you know, she was a villainess. We’re not saying that she is a good person. But no, we would not have done that with Changeling. Dick and Kory were of legal age – and in the case of an alien, what can be legal age? – so we had absolutely no reason to apologize for that. When they reprinted it, they kept the scene intact. As far as the backlash, it seemed like more only because Marv wanted to deal with the actual question. Even though there were very, very few letters about it, Marv wanted to deal with that and state something about it. I think Marv didn’t go far enough, myself. -But again, I have an opinion on that type of thing, or am more vocal in some respects. Unfortunately, by doing that, it called attention to it, and I think that it probably got more of a backlash of attention brought on by putting it in the letters page than it ever did appearing in the comic, itself.
ANDY: What’s the true story behind Kole and Azrael? Did you create those characters?
GEORGE: I actually designed it entirely differently. There is a drawing I did of Azrael that doesn’t look anything like Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s version of Azrael. Originally, Marv came up with the idea of an angel at the time I was still on the book. Then, when I left the book, I thought it would be unfair for Jose, with his design sense, that every character he does is based on a George Perez design, since Azrael was never printed. So I let him design Azrael, and while he was on the book, he was also entitled to design Kole. Even though Kole was printed in CRISIS before she appeared in TITANS, that was because of the timing – I had gotten the xerox of Jose’s pencils. Jose designed both of them. Azrael was originally designed looking totally different, and Jose came up with his own version; he never saw mine – No one has seen mine except for Marv.
ANDY: Was Kole created to die?
GEORGE: Yes. I told Marv, “If we create another Teen Titan, then we better create a woman who’s going to survive.” So far, he’s created one new male Titan, he’s alive. Creates two female Titans, they both die. (Laughter.) Something he has about these girls – he’s constantly, you know, killing them off.
ANDY: When you designed Azrael, did you design her with the Harlequin Romance dialog in mind?
GEORGE: Marv wanted a very, very emotional face. Again, it wasn’t all that different from the way I designed Jericho. Jericho was also made for expression. The operatic thing, that got a little carried overboard. I am not as much a lover of deep purple prose, where people are acting like raving idiots over a lover. I mean, to me, love is always as much of the head as of the heart, if you do it right. And that bugged me. But again, that’s the character. The character was supposed to be a flying wimp. (Laughter.)
ANDY: Speaking of designing faces, when did you start to change Raven’s face solely for the lead in TITANS Baxter #1?
GEORGE: When we received a letter from someone saying “Hey, you know, I’ve noticed that the face has been changing, you’re making her look almost demonic, was that deliberate?” It wasn’t, then, but it became that way from that point on! (Laughter.) That’s when we decided to use that scene inside TITANS #1, based on that one letter. lt started as something I was doing because I was adapting my style. Then I suddenly decided to use a story element. The face was changed, but it wasn’t because George Perez style was changing, it was because it was a deliberate change. So it was an accidental deliberate change.
ANDY: Well, as a result of CRISIS, TITANS was changed somewhat. Now that, for instance, Kandor never even existed, where did Nightwing get the inspiration for his costume?
GEORGE: From the Batman. It could have just been a nickname he came up with some time ago. You can devise anything, as far as that’s concerned. Our big problem is “Who the hell is Donna Troy?” Now that Wonder Woman is starting all over, who the hell is Donna Troy?
ANDY: I was getting to that’ So how does Wonder Girl exist – if Wonder Woman never did?
GEORGE: Since I’m now the plotter or co-plotter of both books, Marv and I will work Out something.
ANDY: So you don’t have any plans just yet?
GEORGE: No, but it’ll be a crossover between WONDER WOMAN and SPOTLIGHT with Wonder Girl, and obviously I would draw both. Beyond that, we haven’t decided what. When I actually, get back on the TITANS, Marv and I will work on that.
ANDY: So what happened to the infamous and much delayed TITANS party issue involving Changeling’s dreams?
GEORGE: Ah, yeah… unfortunately, we never got around to it.
ANDY: How come?
GEORGE: I don’t know. My schedule got so busy. It would be kind of nice still, only because we sure could use a little bit of laughter out of the TITANS. But as to when, I don’t know.
ANDY: You just brought up the point that “‘we sure could use some laughter in the TITANS. ” You claimed that you didn’t feel the TITANS would go down in quality when you left the book. How do you feel about the TITANS post-Perez?
GEORGE: I think one thing that’s really absent is the real camaraderie and rapport Marv and I had together on the book. Marv and I are not the same person bound at the hip – we have different points of view – and it was that feeling of compromise, of getting our own identities in there, that made the TITANS what they are. I think the sole burden being on Mary, he comes up with fine stories, but the art never carries it; the characters never act in character and, in turn, they can’t be written as much in character. It’s not the same. It’s like trying to breathe life into a statue – as opposed to building it from the heart out.
ANDY: What do you think about Kory ‘s marriage?
GEORGE: I disagreed with that. I would probably have done a lot to argue against that particular story, and particularly against the resolution. Whether I would have won, I don’t know; again, with Marv and I, it was always a series of compromises. But I definitely would have fought that. I found a lot of that story bothersome. And again, on the importance of the timing of it, everyone. . . all the other characters were going through hell at the same time, so it just seemed like more melodrama upon melodrama. And Marv was heavily involved in CRISIS, which is why I think his writing suffered during that period, and I think he admits that.
ANDY: You also gave Donna Troy this amazing amount of sensitivity and grace. What do you think of the new, selfish Donna, who throws people through walls at the drop of a hat?
GEORGE: A lot of that, again, was the artist’s fault, Marv says to have this person get thrown, and they get thrown against the wall, she would never do that – but, then again, I know Donna and I would never have allowed that to happen. Eduardo Barretto doesn’t know the character. He’s a fine artist – a very fine artist – but he does not know the characters. When I did the cover of that particular issue, I had Dick Grayson against a glass mirror. I would never have him against a broken wall – he couldn’t go through that, he’d be dead! I know the characters, There’s a certain logic in the characters. Eduardo doesn’t know them as well. And that’s one of the reasons I’m coming back.
ANDY: Did you and Marv plan for Dick to be under Brother Blood’s influence from issue #22 of the original TITANS series to issue -
GEORGE: Marv said he did plan it, I believe he did. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention it when he started that storyline. Again, if I had known it, I would have asked about it. Eduardo didn’t ask, he didn’t know and, frankly, didn’t care at that point – so he did what he was supposed to do. As a good artist, he does what he’s supposed to do, because he’s not the co-creator. He doesn’t question, as I do. When I was on CRISIS, I questioned. I always question a script if it doesn’t make sense to me. And work hard to make it make sense. So Man’ did have it planned that way, but neglected to have it mentioned early enough so people wouldn’t think it was coming out of the blue.
ANDY: Did you have a hand at all in creating the Vanguard or the Hybrid?
GEORGE: Absolutely none. None at all.
ANDY: What did you think of John Byrne’s TEEN TITANS story for ACTlON?
GEORGE: I think it’s great. I think it’s grand. I love it. The faces on the girls bothered me a little, ’cause again I’ve got too much of a personal stake in them. I’m sure if I drew some of his characters he’d have a preference – like how he’d draw Superman, as opposed to how I would draw Superman, that type of thing. But I loved it. I thought it was fresh and vital; a lot more fresh and vital than I’d seen John in a long time. I think he did a marvelous job there. He also kept them looking young, which is really nice; they would look young and cute. Some people complain about Donna dressing the way she did but, hey, she’s a teenager. And she’s entitled to dress that way sometimes, and she was in her own house. She wouldn’t go to business that way, but I felt she looked pretty. Kory I think was a little too hard looking; I told that to John, but Jose took care of that. I think John did a marvelous job on it. I was very pleased. And he makes Gar look nice and young again.
ANDY: Yes. They were happy…
ANDY: A happy TITANS story! What was the character that popped up in TITANS SAMPLER #2, who’s in a light blue and red costume – I’ve heard she’s called Polara?
GEORGE: Actually, her name was, at the time, something like… I don’t remember now. Originally it was supposed to be Francis Kane. There were a lot of plans for that sampler, which was done just before I ended up leaving the TITANS book, including a black woman as opposed to the Japanese woman who ended up in CRISlS. For all the plans that Marv and I had, once I left, Man’ went his way and the superpowered Francis Kane never quite got anywhere.
ANDY: Was the full costume designed, or…
GEORGE: No, just what you saw in the sampler.
ANDY: What were your feelings on TITANS #39, the issue where Kid Flash and Robin quit?
GEORGE: Oh, I thought it was great. A very, very good story. I thought it was one of our better stories, particularly following issue #38, “Who is Donna Troy?” It was about time, and I thought it was a great turning point for the book.
ANDY: Did you feel awkward about retiring characters that had been around longer than you?
GEORGE: In the case of Robin, not as much, since it had been discussed for such a long time at DC that it really was anti-climatic. I went over it a number of times laying it out, drawing it, inking it, and having to co-plot it. So by the time it came to actually finishing it, he had retired about four times in my mind. (Laughter.)
ANDY: You mentioned earlier, when talking about the Titans, that Dr. Light was originally to be black. What made you change your mind there?
GEORGE: Well, because of the Captain Marvel character over at Marvel, it was becoming too much of a cliche; already, they had one major character who was originally a white male superhero and now became a black female superheroine -and whose power also had something to do with light or energy. When doing the new Dr. Light, we did want to make a female; since we were killing so many females, we needed a new one. I came up with the thing of her becoming Japanese, and Marv liked the idea, he had no problem with that. So that’s why Dr. Light became a Japanese.
ANDY: How was the decision to make Wally West the Flash reached?
GEORGE: Basically, they just ran out of what they could think of. After trying to figure out a new Flash, they realized they weren’t getting anywhere. One idea was unacceptable, another idea was unacceptable, and the end of the series was starting to come up. We needed something. They couldn’t think of a new Flash that would be unique unto him or herself, so unfortunately they decided to go for Wally West as the Flash. Which was a logical thing, but what bothered me is that technically we just killed the costume, because he’s the same basic character and anyone who picks up the book without any real knowledge of who Wally West or Barry Allen were is going to immediately think it’s the same character. So there was no real reason in my mind to have killed him off, since all you did was technically kill off Barry Allen, who was not the problem – you kept the Flash, who supposedly was the problem. (Laughter.)
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.