Focus On George Pérez
This interview was conducted by Heidi MacDonald,
transcribed by Mark Thompson, and edited by Tom Heintjes.
Published in 1985 by Fantapraphics
MacDONALD: But at that period, you were doing the Avengers, Justice League and also the Teen Titans were beginning to start up, so, what was it like working on all of those different team books?
Pérez: At the time since I had just come off a divorce, and I was determined to rekindle my career. I think it was somebody coming to me and saying, “George, I heard you quit comics,” that I realized, “I think I better get back on this, in a serious way, just to prove that I’m still active.” So what I did was, I said, “Okay, take the bull by the horns, and had done Marvel Two-in-One. And I decided to get back on the Avengers. I announced that I was getting back on the Avengers. I had already done an F.F. Annual, I had done an X-Men Annual, so I wanted to get back to the book that seemed to be more synonymous with my name at the time. And, told them I was coming back, came back full-force, enjoyed it immensely. You know, getting that fresh start again, also, the fact that we were leading into issue #200, which was a big “Oh, boy! An anniversary issue!” You know, so far, every anniversary issue I ever had, something went wrong. Issue #150 was half-reprint, and as it turned out, with issue #200, I hated the story.
David Michelinie wasn’t all that crazy about it, either, it wasn’t his original story to begin with. And we were as enthused as anything, and then Marv came up to me at Marvel’s offices, and asked if I’d be interested in doing work for DC, which he was just starting at the time. And he mentioned the Teen Titans, which I thought was a ludicrous idea. I said I really wanted to do the JLA. If he’d guarantee me at least one issue of the JLA, fine, I’ll do the Teen Titans, what do I care? I figured the, book would be cancelled in five issues anyway. And, I started working on the Teen Titans story when I received word of Dick Dillin’s death. That, plus the fact that all comics suddenly went up in page count, so that there was the equivalent of an extra comic being done, in a given month, it was about 17 pages’ worth of extra work now. And, so something had to give, and since I wasn’t going to give up the JLA before even starting on it, and I couldn’t give up the Teen Titans, at least until giving it a fair chance to die.
So I was off the Avengers. As it turned out, it was also the only Marvel book of the lot. And, as my workload got more and more intense with the Titans, I realized that this book might have a chance after all. And of course, because I worked for a while on the JLA, I ended up not doing any more work for Marvel. I sent them a letter apologizing that, because of my schedule, I couldn’t, because they were being very nice about the whole thing. I was technically a freelancer, but seeming to favor the DC characters. Basically, I sent the letter to make sure that I didn’t leave out of disenchantment, that I left out of sheer lack of time. And, as it turned out, the book I went over to DC to do, the JLA, was another book that I ended up dropping. So, the book I went to Marvel to do, the Avengers, I dropped, the book I went to DC to do, I dropped, and I ended up doing a book that no one gave a chance in hell, including myself, of succeeding, and that’s the book that I became most well-known for.
MacDONALD: The New Teen Titans. How involved were you in the concept of the new characters?
Pérez: Conceptually, the characters were mostly worked on by Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, since both of them were the ones who were instigating the revival of the Teen Titans. Len was the one who wanted a mystic-type character, which led into Raven, Marv wasn’t all that much into doing another mystic character, having done Dracula for so long. But, since Len was the editor, Marv said, “Okay, fine, we can work on that.”
The Starfire character was something that Marv did want to do, he wanted to have a strong female alien character, and the Cyborg character was just a popular concept. They wanted to have a major black character in the DC universe who could hold his own And trying to sell it was still a bit tough until, for whatever reason, I said yes, and they went to Jenette saying, “If we do the Titans book, we have George Pérez agreeing to do it.” And we sat down, then I became involved, so I started becoming involved in the concept of the characters from that point on. I worked first from a visual point of view, devising the feline look to Koryand’r, off the basically Red Sonja look at first. Joe Orlando was the one who came in after seeing the original drawing and saying, “Make her hair a little longer,” and little did he know what he wrought. And, the Raven and Cyborg characters, like Starfire, were designed once.
They were all designed once, like Raven’s costume, which was a slight modification of my own choice. But they said, “Design a few designs per character.” To me, that seemed like work. So I designed them once, and I figured if they didn’t like it, then they could show me what they did want. That’s a lot easier than frying to second-guess them without really knowing if the first one was all right or not. And they bought all the character designs. Len was the one who mostly did the modifications for Changeling’s costumes. I had that little fake belt buckle put in the middle. It was just the basic design of Spider-Man’s costume, and so we had to put trunks on him, and that little belt buckle in there, just to break that area of white, because it was obviously going to be attributed to the old, original costume. And my one big suggestion for Changeling was that I was not going to have his hair come onto the character, whatever creature he’d turned into, and the fact that we could have a green face on a regular body, I thought that was rather silly. So we decided to go with the full green character.
MacDONALD: Before that what he changed into wasn’t all green?
Pérez: Right. When he was Beast Boy, he would turn into, take an example, an orange tiger with a green face, and his own hair.
Pérez: There was this green face on the top of an animal.
MacDONALD: Yeah, that must have looked rather silly, I must say.
Pérez: If we’re going to revive this character, let’s not get ridiculous about it. And starting from about issue #8, probably, was the real first issue that I came in as a full plotter. Marv and I both really felt that if this strip sold after issue #8, then we knew we’d gotten a special book on our hands. Issue #8 was a very well-received issue. It allowed us to open up a lot of subplots into it, using the characters. From that point on, I knew this was the book I was going to stay on, for, at the time, a long foreseeable future. I thought it was going to be a lot shorter, but that’s when the real enthusiasm came~on.
MacDONALD: How did your relationship with Marv develop over this period?
Pérez: Well, you know, we were working together. As it turned out, we were living very close to each other at the time. We developed respect for each other, we developed a friendship. From two people who barely knew each other at all at Marvel, we developed a very close relationship as a team, and as friends. And also, it gave us an enviable position as far as co-creators were concerned. We had both come off critically acclaimed series – in my case, the Avengers, in his case, Dracula. Plus, he had had his day in the sun, as had I. But neither of us had an ego-stroking by doing the Teen Titans series as a way of making it a George Pérez book or a Marv Wolfman book. Or even making it into a Wolfman-Pérez book. Just the fact that we had to make the Teen Titans successful in their own right, so we never had to worry about egos being bruised.
Marv would be as open to making suggestions on things I could do as I would to things I thought he could do in writing, certain challenges that I’d figured. I talked his way in the artwork, so that he had to do something that he might not have thought of doing before, and ditto with me. I mean, he knew that I was not going to be afraid of a challenge. I’d never back out of work as far as comics were concerned. I would not be taking shortcuts. And if I wasn’t going to be taking shortcuts, neither was he. So we ended up having a very good working relationship, to this day. Obviously, I still work with Marv, it has not been a question of trying to b.s., of trying to fight each other to produce something that we both feel would be better. We’re pretty good at second-guessing each other now.
A perfect example is the “Who Is Donna Troy?” story. Almost on the same day, we called each other with the idea of doing a detective story to find out who Donna Troy is, and doing it from Dick Grayson’s point of view. It grew to the nice “detective/love story” as I call it, from that. But the fact that we both had the idea of doing that, because it seemed logical for the character, meant that the characters were taking us over at that point. I still enjoy working with Marv.
I want to branch out, obviously, as Marv himself is doing. I’d like to try to get a bit of writing in on my own, as I intend to. And eventually, work with other people, if nothing else, like he’s doing all the time. He’s had opportunities to work with other artists, and I’ve not worked with other writers.
MacDONALD: Hmm. That’s true.
Pérez: Except for one story with Len. And some stuff I did for Atari with Roy [Thomas] and Gerry [Conway]. But realty, I have not worked with another writer in a long while. Eventually, I will again. The relationship has been very, very good with Marv. It’s rather rare, I think, with a lot of creative teams these days, I think we’ve proved that you can do a successful book. If we took the fanfare really seriously, we’d have our heads swelling to the skies. It’s just a comic book, without it meaning to sound derogatory, but It’s not more Important than life itself, and the book Is successful because of the effort that we put into It as a team. If either one of us leaves, whether the sales are affected or not, It’s going to be based on the fact that the other person knows that he still cannot put less than his best effort in. If Marv had left, I’d still have to produce the best I could. Now I’m gone, and now Marv is still producing the best he can. If he finds someone else to work with him, in the same manner of putting his all into the script, then I can’t see it failing just because the artist wasn’t doing what he wanted.
MacDONALD: Okay, I want to get back to that, but I also want to get into you and Marv co-plotting it.
Pérez: Well, we co-plotted a lot. Eventually Marv stopped writing plots, because we would sit down and talk it over. I can hold about five plots in my head at the same time. I would draw the book, based on what I remembered from the plot, and use everything. Marv has a terrible memory. I would annotate the art. At first, I didn’t even annotate it. I would just let Marv figure out what the artwork was saying, and then do It, but sometimes I got a little too subtle and Marv misinterpreted the drawing. Then I thought of adding explanations. But it got to the point that we were CO-plotting to such a degree together that we didn’t need to write It down any more.
He trusted that I knew enough about the characters to work totally from a verbal discussion. An indication of the type of integrity Marv has as a writer is, not only did Marv insist on my getting CO-plotting credits, he paid me a CO-plotting rate, from his own pocket, until DC arranged a CO-plotting rate itself. We didn’t take up bookkeeping, but Marv made sure that since I was CO-plotting that I was paid as co-plotter. So I got half the CO-plotting rate. Which means that since he gets the highest plotting rate of the company, I was getting half of the highest rate. It’s an indication of the respect Marv and I had for each other.
MacDONALD: That’s wonderful.
Pérez: Yeah. I’ve had absolutely no complaints there. Working with him was very easy. We had a symbiotic relationship as far as writer and artist. Many times when Marv was at a loss, like the wedding issue and one of the issues with Blackfire, he gave me a very, very good back-up, because he was really bogged down with things. I would go on from that point, and actually do the plotting as I went along. The Cyborg story, from Tales of the Teen Titans, was also similar to that, since I know Cyborg and had a greater feel for Cyborg at the time. So many times, I get a chance really solo on him, but since Marv is still the major force in the writing there, he’s still listed as the CO-plotter The book obviously always was a Marv Wolf man-George Pérez production. It was the type of thing where even if one was visibly more Marv, if Marv did more of the plotting than I did, or vice-versa, it was always referred to as as Marv Wolf man-George Pérez plot.
MacDONALD: Okay. Now, then you were co-editors, how did that work out?
Pérez: Len Wein had a lot of work to do on his own. He was, I think, over-extending himself, and I was just content to have Marv Wolfman become the editor of the book, just so that Marv would have a greater stake on the series, as opposed to being one of the many books he’d have to handle without really having creative input. Marv was the one who suggested that I become co-editor. As Marv put it, he couldn’t see himself, after so many times as a partner with me on this series, suddenly becoming my boss on this.
So he gave me editorship, because he thought I deserved it. I was not experienced as an editor, in hindsight, I don’t think I really did all that much to add to the book as an editor. I kept doing art corrections on the issues when I started to do layouts. But that again, that was Marv. Marv did not want the book ever to be separated as a team effort. He did not suddenly want to become my boss, and he insisted that I become coeditor Crazy man, that Wolf.
MacDONALD: Okay, let’s just talk a little about your favorite sequences on the Titans and so forth. What were the high points of it for you?
Pérez: “A Day in the Life” was obviously the first real high point on it. Particularly the Victor Stone sequences and Kory sequences. Kory, the scene of her stripping in the park. That one scene alone shows Kory, as she was. For me, the biggest highlight was “Who Is Donna Troy?” Just to prove that a comic book didn’t require a single fist or punch thrown in the entire story. I even had a sensation of having her, in anger, hitting the wall of the condemned building, and I resisted even that, because I did not want a single punch thrown.
The worst it ever got was Dick Grayson menacing the guy in prison. Even then, he didn’t grab him physically, he did it strictly through intimidation. Also showing Robin’s reputation. But that was a proud moment. Because it was something that no one thought really could still be done in comics any more. The characters were out of costume most of the time. On the cover, Robin’s costume was almost obscured. You really couldn’t tell, without the little “R” on his chest, who he was. It was a totally different one.
“The Runaways” was another one, because of the fact that not only was it a message, but it was also taking a look at the characters who were teens, and working from that point on. Also the fact that Victor was a runaway. It was also the issue where I decided I was going to start really doing covers in a big way. And I really thought of becoming ambitious in covers, so I would go into production and find out what I could or couldn’t do on covers. If nothing else, just to give the best I can, because I was really getting hooked on inking those things, and I really wanted to produce the best I could on the covers. As far as doing covers, “The Runaways” was the first of the few when I really started going to town on this.
MacDONALD: I’ve always loved your covers, George, I must say.
Pérez: Thank you. I really put every effort into those. I’m one of the people at DC who designs my own. Ed Hannigan designs a number of others, I design my own. “Grow my own covers.” The wedding…
MacDONALD: Yeah, I was going to say, the wedding. Let’s talk about the wedding a little bit. You were co-plotters there. How much of that was yours?
Pérez: That one was a lot more mine than usual. Only because Marv had never had a large wedding. My first marriage was a large affair. I remember all the political, familial, and other types of intrigues that go into a wedding. The nervousness.. . the pain, even in the happiest occasions –
Pérez: I told Marv I was going to put the Harlequin in there because I knew the Harlequin was one character that Marv definitely wanted to disavow ever existed. And I said, “No, no, no, the greater challenge is to try to explain why this character is invalid, like maybe explain that she’s not the Harlequin.” Which is what we ended up doing – saying she’s not Two-Face’s daughter, but not saying anything else beyond that. Marv was not fascinated with this, because it wasn’t his idea, it was my idea, and I didn’t want to put him in a bind he didn’t want to be in. But he also doesn’t take the easy cop-out by saying, “She didn’t exist.”
The only thing we did change, in a scene that both of us demanded that we put in, was that Hawk and Dove were shown and “Boy, I thought you guys were older.” [laughter] Little bits of dialogue, but I also did a lot of dialogue suggestions on that storyline, including that one. We both came up with the idea of how Mento was going to be our plot-ploy in order to explain why people are not worried about their identity being shown. And, since I knew more of the members of the Titans Fan Club intimately, in fact, I shocked a lot of the fan club members, I called them up. One time I had to explain that I really was George Pérez. He couldn’t believe it.
MacDONALD: And so you drew a lot of fans in there?
Pérez: Yes, in fact, the four women who were ogling Dick and Bruce are four women who are big Robin fans. One’s named Margie Spears, the other one’s Tina Chambers, Mercy Van Vlack, and Lucy Carr. And, with the exception of Mercy, Mercy’s the only one I did not contact personally. I don’t even have her phone number, but all of them I’ve talked to, and I know what their view are about Dick Grayson, so I had to do that little scene in the kitchen. The man who introduced himself to Kory is, obviously, a big Koryand’r fan, and has a lot of Kory art from me that he’s bought, including the pin-up shot that was the first page of issue #42. He owns that piece of art, so I had to put him in. He had to meet Kory. He sent a letter of profuse thanks for it
MacDONALD: Yeah, I was going to say…
Pérez: I’m glad that Mike Barr, doing Metamorpho, wants to go and bring back tradition by doing a lot of heroes and villains that go crashing. Marv was nervous about the book because of the fact that it was a 40-page story, and he had to try to hold the interest for 40 pages on nothing but characterization. Not only was I challenging him, but I was challenging me. How do you draw people just talking without making it look boring? But I was determined to do it. This was the first anniversary issue, with the exception of JLA #200, which I was very proud of, where I had some control, and I would sit down with Marv, and constantly reassure him, “It’s going to work out, it’s going to work out. Trust me. If we do it right we do it right, it should be a very good and well-received issue.”
And we put in the little extra capper of Queen Hyppolita, something that got added to the actual plotting of how we treated that. Originally, she was just supposed to have talked to Queen Hyppolita at Paradise Island, but we decided that by her going through all the effort, just to make Donna happy by coming and meeting the one person she couldn’t meet on Paradise Island – Terry – made it much more emotionally charged. It also gave something for the reader to look forward to, other than the inevitable wedding. It was obviously established in the Baxter book that she was married, there was no surprise. And, the final capper, as far as really taking a chance, was the fact that none of the characters appear in costume on the cover. Just a straight wedding picture. No one appeared in costume.
MacDONALD: It was a wonderful book. It really touched me.
Pérez: I’m glad. That’s the effect we wanted.
MacDONALD: I thought it was a triumph. George, I notice you like to draw happy people.
Pérez: I love to draw happy people.
MacDONALD: (Laughs) Yeah, but somehow artists aren’t supposed to draw happy people.
Pérez: I like soap operas as much as the next person. The reason that I stopped watching soap operas is that I couldn’t stand the depression all the time. No one ever seemed to be happy. So I figured, “Okay, soap opera is fine,” but there is a point when anyone will get sick of it, at least any sane person, as far as I was concerned, would get sick of it. So if nothing else, there was a soap-opera element, they did go through their woeful period. But I have a very happy marriage. I guess my marriage is another indication.
When I married my second wife, I have had such a good life that it kind of reflected. Suddenly everything I do no longer has a heavy, somber look. Everything’s become a little lighter. I was determined, as was Marv, actually, that Donna’s wedding was going to be ideal, as far as her relationship with Terry. Not idealistic, in the sense that they never had arguments, but in the fact that they understand each other. He’s not Steve Trevor, God forbid, he’s not Lois Lane, you know, that type of relationship. They’re two adult people who understand each other, respect each other, and genuinely love each other. And that whole thing has become a big thing in the stuff I tend to do. I tend to do a lot of happy stuff.
Gar is.. . well, Gar is going to his dark thing too. I was the one who plotted out the sequence with Victor and his grandparents, for once not ignoring the fact that he’s black. And using that as a major plot makes that a positive thing, the fact that these two grandparents are incredibly happy people. Marv came up with the idea of the show-business background, and the strange, mysterious background of them, which made them a lot of fun. We want to do a fun book, because we were very guilty at the beginning of getting a lot of really down, depressing, generation-gap stories here, and we really wanted to show that comics can be fun.
We didn’t compromise the integrity of the Titans as a book, we just showed the other side that’s totally available to us. I like drawing the happy side.
MacDONALD: (laughs) Well, I like looking at it. There’s a certain school of comics that seems to deal with exclusively anguish. Say, would you ever like to draw a romance book?
Pérez: Love to! In a way, both “Who Is Donna Troy?” and the wedding issue was my statement showing what potential is still there on the great non-superhero romance stuff. More the wedding than the other one, but just the fact that two people really care. I think a lot of the problems with love stories is that the people who are doing the stories really don’t care for the characters. But again, it’s a one-shot, the character’s a one-shot, they really don’t want to spend as much time on it, thinking of how the character reacts, how this character would feel, and particularly how the woman feels. The women always get the short shrift on these damn love comics I’ve got. I couldn’t stand reading them mostly because I didn’t hate the women as much as I hated the way the men treated the women in those damn stories.
Because it was always a male juvenile fantasy. If it were a male fantasy, make it a male adult fantasy. You know, make it something that relates to who these characters are, as opposed to writing love comics as if you’re still aiming totally just for a pre-pubescent audience. Now, I’d love to do a love comic, I’d love to do a western, I’d love comics to be able to diversify again. And that was just my little attack on the status quo. It was a love comic. Terry and Donna have a nice, adult relationship, thank God! I think there are still some in the world.
MacDONALD: I agree. So you don’t think that super-heroes are the only expression for your art?
Pérez: Again, not having had much chance beyond that, it’s hard to say, “Yes, I’d like to Super-heroes are not the only thing in my art, yet that’s the only thing I’ve drawn and I’ve made a lot of money on it. I intend to be doing six issues of Wonder Woman after I finish Crisis on Infinite Earths, and my intention is not to make it a Wonder Woman on Earth super-hero story. I want to deal with the Amazonian concept of the character. Mostly redefine it, to explain the Amazonians.
MacDONALD: Let me just ask you – what did you think when you first heard about the hardcover/ softcover plan?
Pérez: Well, when I first heard about it, I had wanted to get on a Baxter book, as far as the Titans were concerned, only because I was a little bothered that the two books owed all or part of their popularity from the Titans, Vigilante and Omega Men, both got the Baxter treatment, and the Titans were still being produced on tissue paper. And I had already expressed that I was really not happy with the reproduction, so that when they announced that they were going to go Baxter, I said, “Oh, great! It’s what I really wanted.” When they said they were actually doing two books a month…
Pérez: . . . that wasn’t exactly what I counted on. We were going to convert the book to Baxter, and, as I understand the reasoning, Baxter books are not sold on the newsstands, we’d end up losing half our audience if we didn’t keep them satisfied. Although why they couldn’t print the two books concurrently and make it a choice whoever wanted to buy the more expensive book, I don’t know. But they came up with the plan, and – pride goeth before the fall – I was really not enthusiastic about someone else doing one of the books, and my doing the Baxter.
I really wanted to keep my hand in on the regular Mando book, if nothing else, because of the fact that we were heading into our 50th issue, and if I had left the book, I would have missed the 50th issue, after working all that time to get there. So I put a little too much stock in my old reputation for speed. Particularly, the mistake was made in my case, since I did want to ink the Baxter Titans, I was really not aware of how slow an inker I was, particularly with the amount of work I wanted to do on it, and still get good reproduction. So I decided to do full work on the Baxter, and just do layouts on the Mando book, which unfortunately was still too much work to handle.
There was just too much work. All the detail work I wanted to do was just too costly. Both books started falling behind schedule. I can understand why no one else had volunteered to do both versions of their books. In hindsight it was a dumb thing for me to do. The only thing I can say about the plan as it stands on its own, though, is that it does give the customer a choice anyway, and satisfies the artistic side on the part of the creative team. If fans want to get the book now, if they want to spend the money, it’s their option, no one s twisting their arm to do it. The collector’s mentality doesn’t work for me. But then, when it comes out in softcover, as it were, they can buy it cheaper. It’s going to be the same product, you know. The only difference will be the cover, because obviously the cover’s going to be full color, and we couldn’t do that on a regular basis in the Mando –
MacDONALD: Will there be new covers?
Pérez: Oh, there will be new covers. Chances are, I’ll be drawing the new covers for the books that I drew. But beyond that, even though I did do the covers for issues #S 6 and 7, they will probably end up being done by some other artist, possibly the artist who has done the interiors. I don’t know about Jose [Garcia Lopez]. Jose didn’t want to do his own covers. That’s the only reason he didn’t draw the cover of #7 or any future covers. He just didn’t want to draw his own covers. Lord knows we would have welcomed them. We tried to talk him into doing his own covers. I was surprised when I ended up getting the #7 cover of assignment.
MacDONALD: I just got that today. You did that? It seems to be a photo. montage?
Pérez: A photo, right.
MacDONALD: It doesn’t seem to have your signature.
Pérez: Yeah, I did design it. If nothing else, I didn’t want the signature to take away from the white area. If they couldn’t figure out who drew that cover. . . well, they could have guessed it might have been Jose, considering most of the picture was a photograph.
Enough was apparent that it was mine.
MacDONALD: On looking at it closely, I would know that. I just got it today. How did you adapt your work to the Baxter paper, I mean, was that very exciting for you?
Pérez: Well, adapting my work to the Baxter was rather easy, only because I wasn’t inking myself on the regular Titans, except for one issue, and three pages of “Who Is Donna Troy?” So inking myself automatically made it a different approach, since I know I’m a much more detailed artist than Romeo [Tanghal] is, as inker or a penciller.
So it’s like, if I had done the Mando book, I probably would have done just as much. When I did issue #39, I didn’t take any shortcuts there, either. I put in as much detail there. It’s just the knowledge of knowing it’s printed clearly. Also, one thing that was really different is not only could I do surprints, but I could do color holds with the Jericho effect. We could drop out every color under the white line, thus creating a negative image that held against all color. That was something that gave me a lot more options, interesting effects that I could do. I just found out, that after all this hemming and hawing, that for the Mando book is also capable of printing the same way.
MacDONALD: So that will be in the mando book, that white Jericho effect?
Pérez: Chances are, it will be reprinted exactly that way, because I just did a white effect for Crisis, wherein I was trying to figure how I could draw a good snowstorm without constantly drawing around what’s supposed to be little white flakes. But of course colorists have to color around every one of them, and then I found out that I can do it. All I do is put little black dots, they’ll reverse them, they’ll come out as white dots against all colors and lines. So it’s, “Oh, great, it’ll really look like snow then.”
Pérez: For all these years, I could have done these effects. I guess it’s also an expensive effect. They don’t want it, unless it’s really necessary, in the case of Crisis book, they figure the book deserves the extra-special treatment. But all this time, I designed the blue Jericho effect, discussing with Adrienne how to be careful not to have anything thatlI contradict the blue, when all I have to do is use white all this time.
MacDONALD: There would be no problem with the coloring, then?
MacDONALD: I notice how splotchy the grays were, more, I guess, in the coloring.
Pérez: Yes, the grays are colored “k-tones.”
MacDONALD: Yeah, that’s right.
Pérez: That was another thing. We got in extra colors, not only in producing grays, but gray as a way of muting down other colors. The first two issues were test periods. In fact, the second issue didn’t have a k-tone, because the book was so late they couldn’t afford to spend the extra time, that k-tones would have required, which is why the negative Titans’ figures are done in hp-a-tone. I cut zip-a-tone out to make those gray figures. But, the first issue and the second issue had a lot of garishness to them.
I always tease Marv for okaying the Tamaranian spaceship in issue #1, saying, “My God! They could never sneak up on anyone with those ships! No wonder they lost the war!” God! Bright red and yellow. We weren’t used to the fact that the paper doesn’t absorb any of the color. For the Raven nightmare sequence, those gray tones worked out beautifully because they muted everything. And, while her cowl, in the regular Mando book, is usually done by using a light red on blue to get a deep purple look, what Adrienne did for the Baxter title was to put gray into her cowl. And also, we started differentiating the brown on the walls of Titan’s Tower. It’s orange with a gray tone underneath, and Victor’s skin is now orange with a blue tone underneath, so they aren’t the same shade of brown any more.
MacDONALD: (laughs) He can walk in front of it now.
Pérez: Exactly. And of course, the fact that the lines came out sharper, and the fact that when you have white, it’s white. It’s not gray, it’s white.
MacDONALD: The first time I ever saw Baxter paper, I think it was the white that was most impressive. Let me ask you now about the famous, or infamous panel. Whose idea was that, the panel of Dick and Kory?
Pérez: Oh, that was mine.
MacDONALD: Uh-huh. And…
Pérez: Well, the simple reason that Dick is 19 years old. I was married at 19. And, Kory’s age is indeterminate. Equivalent of an Earth 18-year-old, but their mores are different, and for her it was a totally irrelevant as far as the fact that she was at that age. Marv didn’t want to go into a controversy on the letters page, but as far as we’re concerned, and particularly as far as I’m concerned, they’re both at the age of consent. Dick is not a fool, and if there were any chance of them regretting the action later, they would have taken any preventive deeds necessary, but they are both consenting adults, and no matter what – the title says Teen Titans – at 19 years old, those two are legally adult.
MacDONALD: Yeah, I was going to say, Robin has killed. I should say Dick. And there’s more hullabaloo than when he’s killed someone.
Pérez: They’re worrying more about the fact that he’s gone to bed with someone whom he’s deeply in love with. And the fact that when he kills someone, it was also protecting this same woman, it’s like everything he’s done that’s been out of character for him up till now, has always been because of her. Since a storyline is coming up wherein they go back to Tamaran, and I believe the jist of it – great of Marv not to take to hemming and hawing about it – is the fact that she’s going to abdicate.
She has absolutely no desire to return to Tamaran. She wants to stay with Dick, and we have to give her, as far as the readers were concerned, a full reason to stay on Earth. It has to be shown that Dick is not giving her a hard time, that it’s unrequited. The fact that they are lovers gives her a legitimate reason to stay with Dick. Otherwise, it would be an insult to the Starfire character if she said, “I’ll abdicate my throne,” without us being really sure that it was worth abdicating. She does have duties, but the Tamaranians are creatures of emotion, too. And, that one panel, which I did as tastefully as I could, there was no nudity involved, nothing was shown of the act, it’s just the fact that she was in what was established as being his bedroom, because I’d drawn the bedroom before. It’s the bedroom set I have. And, make no question about it, they were in bed together, and…
MacDONALD: And it wasn’t because her bed had disappeared.
Pérez: It wasn’t because her bed had disappeared, it was because of the fact that his bed was recognizable. I wanted to use a familiar room, so that you know that she was in there with him. As opposed to any vagueness as to whose bed that is. It’s his bed, there’s no question about it. It’s established. And there were much fewer letters than everyone made it out to be. It got exploded totally out of proportion.
MacDONALD: Oh, then there wasn t a great swell of outrage?
Pérez: No, Marv got a few letters. Enough to say that he had to print one, because he couldn’t ignore it, but not in direct proportion to the amount of letters we get. It wasn’t a fifth of our mail.
MacDONALD: A couple of issues later, you showed evil Raven and evil Kid Flash, and that’s okay. (laughs) Because they’re evil, it’s not like –
Pérez: If only for the fact that he keeps acknowledging that it’s a bad thing for him to do. It’s amazing how when it’s a bona fide act of love people say we’re condoning it. We would never have done that with Changeling. He’s 15 years old, he’s a minor. We definitely would never have done that. We do have that responsibility, but those two are adults. I don’t know about you, but I definitely was in bed by 19.
MacDONALD: [laughs) Okay.
Pérez: Since I was married, I certainly was.
MacDONALD: Why did you decide to leave? The last chapter here.
Pérez: I was getting to the point where I wanted to do so much with my artwork, I was starting to slow down, and while enjoying the Titans, I realized that the Titans was stopping me from doing anything else. I couldn’t do anything as long as I was doing the Teen Titans. And I really wanted to do other things. I couldn’t do a graphic novel, even a Titans graphic novel, because of the Teen Titans. So it became a question that I was starting to become a little depressed, disenchanted with my situation, as opposed to the book itself, and I started slowing down further and further, the book kept falling further and further behind schedule. I didn’t want to develop a reputation of Brian Bolland. At least Brian is slow because he’s really meticulous. I was becoming slow because I was becoming disenchanted.
It wasn’t serving the book any good, so I had that infamous day of going to the San Diego comics convention, when I made the decision. I had made the decision to take a leave of absence. It was on the airplane going to San Diego that I made the decision, that I was leaving indefinitely, and told Dick on the airplane. I’m lucky he didn’t jump out. And I made an official announcement at the San Diego show. It was just that I had to do other things, and Crisis on Infinite Earths was a book that was definitely something that DC would put a lot of stock in, and for better or for worse, I figured I could put my two cents in there, and after losing the JLA-Avengers, I was determined to do one gigantic team-up book that I was really going to put my best foot forward in.
And, that’s why I am dropping the Titans and am taking on Crisis on Infinite Earths. But also, Crisis on Infinite Earths will also be my last regularly scheduled series for the foreseeable future. I am starting to get a little burned out, and I do want to slow down and take extra time on the work, and start inking the majority of my own work.
MacDONALD: There must have been a little regret at leaving behind the characters.
Pérez: Oh, of course. It’s one of those types of things that there were a lot of stories that Marv and I had intentions of doing, which obviously I will not be doing. Marv will be following through most of them. Some of them were my idea, and were results from the plotting sessions that we had, and knowing that, the Tamaran stories, the story of Victor going to an operation in order to try to get more human-looking, origin of Brother Blood, and a number of other story ideas that were just germs of ideas, including something with Raven, are stories that I will not be handling. I have visually in my head what I would have done with it, but that’s as far as it’ll go.
Somebody else will have to do an interpretation. And at this point, I’m not sure who will be doing those. I know Jose is doing his last issue, and then he’s leaving the book. He’s returning to Atari Force. * So tentatively, I think Ed Barreto is going to be taking over the Baxter one. It could all change tomorrow for all I know. I’m trying to put a hole in my schedule somewhere so I still will be able to do a comedy issue that Marv and I talked about. If I don’t end up doing it, there will be none done. But there’s always that regret, of course.
When I go to conventions, there are always questions, Why did I leave? When am I going back? is the second-most-asked question. And at this point, I wouldn’t be back for the foreseeable future, the soonest I could possibly see is like four or five years from now.
MacDONALD: Well, I’ve enjoyed your stay on it very much, I must say. You’re on to Crisis on Infinite Earths now. What are the challenges there?
Pérez: [Short laugh].
Pérez: Sheer size, if nothing else. Well, one thing that this book is different from the book I’ve been doing most recently, is the fact that this one is strictly my following the writer’s whims on it. I get a written plot, that’s fully plotted. I have no idea where it’s going from issue to issue. For one thing, that allows me to be surprised when I get the plot. “My god! We’re going to do this? We’re going to kill him? Or her?” Whatever. I get surprised, because I miss the fan reaction to a book of this magnitude, of them taking it up for the first time and seeing these things and being surprised, and at least it gives me a little bit of shock. Also, I never know from issue to issue exactly what he’s going to demand of me, to draw. There were so many scene changes on that first issue alone. And nowhere as radical as the second issue, nowhere as crazy as the third, and the in fourth, we designed another some Earth that was supposed not to look like the other Earth, yet was supposed to be at least a 20th-Century Earth.
So there’s plenty of challenges here, and of course, it gives me a chance that with this, and doing the covers of Who’s Who, of having drawn the grand majority, most if not all, of the people that DC comics prints or owns. So in that way, it is incredibly exciting. And it’s also a book that definitely has an end. That’s the thing I actually look forward to – to actually have a body of work that begins and ends, as opposed to, when I left the Titans, “Oh, you left the Titans?” I will not be leaving Crisis; Crisis will be finished. And it will be nice to have a complete body of work. And I’m tickled by the entire thing. Right now, the guest list comes off to something like 38 characters in lead roles so far – with the list growing.
MacDONALD: What do you think of the flexographic press?
Pérez: Oh, I hated it.
Pérez: Issue #2 will not be flexographic, it’s going back to Mando.
MacDONALD: (laughs) Okay. You’re also working on Janus. What can you tell me about that?
Pérez: Well, I will be working on Janus. At this point, all my energies are on Crisis. Janus is a pet project of Marv’s for about, oh, 15, 16 years now. He’s been wanting to do a supernatural-type story, which is what Marv does best. With a heroic figure who’s supposed to be the son of the devil. Now, he’s obviously used the Janus character who ends up being the son of Dracula. But he’s had this story going around his head. It’s something similar to Pandora’s Box, I believe, and Janus has to get the world out of it. Or the world’s totally under the corruption of the devil. It could have changed between now and then. But for my first graphic novel, I did not want to do a super-hero graphic novel. At this point, Crisis on Infinite Earths helped in the fact that it establishes me as an artist – George Pérez, artist, whatever description, but not George Pérez, Titans artist. By the time I leave Crisis, I’ll have been off Titans for a year, but then again, John Byrne’s been off the X-Men for longer than that, but he’s still known as an X-Men artist.
MacDONALD: Yeah, you’ll never really escape it.
Pérez: Yeah. I don’t mind being called “George Pérez – Titans artist,” but I’d hate to live with the reputation of “George Pérez – She-Hulk artist” or something. There are some reputations you don’t mind. I always used that as my argument when people said, “What do you say when people compare you to the X-Men?” I’d rather be compared to the X-Men than the She-Hulk. I’d rather be compared to something I respect. But I wanted to do something that was a little more chancy than doing a super-hero. Crisis on lnfinite Earths is a safe book. Anyone could have drawn it and made money off it. But doing Crisis on Infinite Earths now, the royalties I’ll be earning a year down the line, on a per-issue basis, will pay for my mortgage for an entire year.
MacDONALD: What is the status of your plans on the Teen Titans graphic novel?
Pérez: There are no definite plans on it. Marv and I are just totally agreed that when we get a chance to do it, we will. I want to do a little bit of writing on my own, so I want to be trying some other projects. My first project, beyond Janus, is Wonder Woman. I want to try handling about six issues of her. Just to see if the book is success-proof. And to give the character a hand whether it’ll sell or not. I hope that happens, that the sales figures show no change. If it goes down, I’m going to be crushed. But just to give the character a chance, I’ll be writing it, pencilling it and inking it.
So it’ll be a full Pérez job. Originally, I was just going to pencil it, and plot it, but now I really have a bug to write. Marv has offered me many times to write a back-up story in the Teen Titans, but I really want a book that I will not kill, in case I go wrong. Wonder Woman is a book where I can afford to fail. But it’s my first shot at it, and I really want to write it. Wonder Woman, the Paradise Island legend, and trying to make some kind of clear definition of who these Amazons are, because they are obviously not the same Amazons of mythology. The mythical Amazons are too cutthroat to be really sympathetic characters; killing men off every time they want to get a new baby Amazon to the island just doesn’t seem right. I’m trying to develop a new legend there, and if I can’t I’ll fry to go a little deeper into Wonder Woman and Queen Hippolyta, as opposed to her just making a clay statue.
There might have been something more, like maybe a clay statue of someone who had died earlier. It had happened to her already. I don’t know, it’ll require a bit of changing of continuity, but not to the point of changing the character. I don’t want to make anything so earth-shaking as suddenly make Wonder Woman a blonde girl named Inga or anything. Just basically play with her. And also to show the reason why Wonder Woman is not the female Superman, as most people who are not familiar with this character think. By having her go through a gauntlet, showing not only her strength and her agility, and everything else, but the things that make her an Amazon – love, wisdom, understanding. The woman. Just play with that.
MacDONALD: Wonder Woman is really a super-heroine with a ethos, even more than just to do good.
Pérez: Exactly. Also, I want to really give a rationale for why the hell she’s on Man’s world. Because Steve Trevor ain’t worth it.
Pérez: In fact, remember that whole thing about Tamaran, having to show that Dick Grayson is worth it? Trevor ain’t worth it. He ain’t worth anyone’s trouble, particularly in her case, because he had to get back to the States, obviously, because he isn’t Amazon. So, and that’s going to be central to a lot of the storyline. Justify the fact that she’s on Man’s world. The fact that she bears a costume based on the U.S.A., a country founded by men. She wears high heels, the only Amazon to wear heels, heels being a sign of domination, all this other crazy nonsense. If nothing else, and maybe nothing to further Wonder Woman, but I’m someone who wants to handle it on both levels. Maybe there were writers who liked the characters, but then the artist wasn’t too crazy about them, or vice-versa. I’m going to prove the book could succeed if they have at least a good-selling artist with the news that he’s writing it himself.
Usually they go, “Oh, writer-artist! Writer-artist!” They seem to have some strange, bigoted enthusiasm about any artist who decides to write his own work, even if he writes crap. Suddenly he’s a wunderkind. So beyond Wonder Woman, and eventually a Titans graphic novel, if for no other reason it’s demanded of me. I would love to do a Legion graphic novel, if I can sit down with Paul and just work something up. Or maybe if we could think of a good story-line, actually sit down and discuss what Paul and Marv discussed without my knowledge: A Legion-Titans crossover. Of course, I’m doing that on Crisis-Earths. I’d like the JLA, I haven’t drawn Vibe yet, I have a certain bigotry towards Vibe, but eventually I’ll have to draw him.
MacDONALD: (giggles) Not exactly your favorite character, eh?
Pérez: Oh, I sincerely say he’s the one character who turned me off the JLA. If nothing else, every character that was introduced was an ethnic stereotype. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Come on now!” These characters required no thinking at all to write. And being Puerto Rican myself, I found the fact that they could use a Puerto Rican character quite obviously favorable since the one Puerto Rican characters in comic that existed, the White Tiger, is no longer a viable character. But having him be a break dancer! I mean, come on now. It’s like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him…
MacDONALD: A tap dancer.
Pérez: A tap dancer, a shoeshine boy? Particularly when you’re picking a stereotype that’s also a fad. You’re taking a chance that this guy is going to become very passe, his costume becomes passe because it’s a breakdance costume, the minute the fad fades.
MacDONALD: I’m astonished that breakdancing still is popular when there’s a character based on it in comics.
Pérez: Yeah, isn’t it amazing? We usually wait until three years after the fad has died. Look at the Dazzler. Disco Dazzler.
MacDONALD: Yeah, that’s the most amazing thing of all. I notice that you’re still gravitating towards team books. If anyone is, you are the team man. The team supreme artist. Why is that?
Pérez: I like interaction between the characters. I’ve always felt the strong social urges. Man is a social animal, and I think it seems to be very dominant in my make-up. I enjoy the camaraderie of the characters. I enjoy the quiet camaraderie more then I enjoy drawing two characters in the same team fighting. I enjoy them when they’re able to sit down and talk to each other, male to female, or man to man, or woman to woman. Just the idea of, in your own community, having a friend share what you go through, being a team worker, being involved.
I love the idea of being able to share information with people who share the same background as I do, and the character interactions have always been fun for me. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe I was lonely as a child, and this is wish fulfillment, as far as having a gigantic family all around me. But I enjoy seeing the characters grow because of the relationship they have with other characters. Dick and Donna, I love them as a couple, I love Terry. I love them as brother and sister, I love Dick and Kory and then of course, Donna and Terry. Those characters became very important to me, and in the case of Crisis on Infinite Earths, that one went even further. It wasn’t just that I liked the camaraderie, I tried to sneak it in. It’s a little tougher in a book this size. But also the fact that this gives me a chance to do what I came to comics to do: to draw super-heroes. And I draw everyone in this damn thing. In issue #7, we get to kill off a major character.
MacDONALD: Who is it?
Pérez: It’s Supergirl.
MacDONALD: Oh, no!
Pérez: She dies in issue #7 MacDONALD: Well, I guess Helen S later did it, didn’t she? (laughs) Pérez: Yeah, well, she did as good a job as she could, unfortunately, the movie just…
MacDONALD: The movie sealed her fate, didn’t it?
Pérez: Yeah. She was a question mark, as far as the death list. Because Marv actually had a death list made, and sent it to Jenette, and there were some people who were checked, some people who were crossed off, saying “They may have potential,” and Supergirl had a question mark on her. It was dependent on the success of the Supergirl movie. Well, needless to say, a week after the Supergirl movie came out, she was perfectly checked off on the death list.
MacDONALD: She was worm food.
Pérez: Yeah, the woman is definitely going to be ‘gator food. I have no idea how she dies: Again, I don’t get the plot ahead of time, I just know this one because in order to get me to draw the cover they had to tell me. I mean, to give you an idea, I have no idea where this story is going. The cover has Superman holding the dead body of a torn and frazzled Supergirl, and in the background Marv just told me to put in as many characters as I could think of. In the background, looking very forlorn, as long as they’re all heroes. Villains don’t care, we don’t want laughing villains in the back. But I got everyone who was already in issue #1, in addition, I’ve also got the Phantom Stranger, Warlord, Amethyst, Deadman, The Spectre…
MacDONALD: How about Swamp Thing?
Pérez: Swamp Thing, yeah, there he is behind Dick Grayson. Captain Marvel, Tomahawk. Kamandi appeared in issue #2, as did Sgt. Rock. The Creeper. Jason Todd as Robin. Omac, Jemm, Son of Saturn, Broot from the Omega Men, Doll Man, Gold from the Metal Men, Nucleon from Infinity, Inc., and on his shoulder’s the Earth-One Atom. Jonni Thunder, Dick Giordano’s version. Mr. Miracle, Big Bear of the Forever People. Cole, a new member of the Teen Titans. He isn’t even going to appear until issue #9 of the Teen Tltans Baxter book. Ragman, Challengers of the Unknown. Brainiac’s crying, because obviously, he and Supergiri were an item for a while. Dr. Fate, Adam Strange, Jonah Hex.
MacDONALD: Hmmm. Sounds like it’s going to be some party.
Pérez: Yeah. I don’t even know how many there are. Probably like the Who’s Who cover here, with all these characters. For Who’s Who took up, the last cover I did, for issue #4, has 50 characters on it.
Pérez: Fifty characters, there are three teams that don’t have individual entries for their characters. The Cadre, from a JLA story, Challengers of the Unknown, and Camelot 3000. And all of them have to be drawn on that cover.
MacDONALD: Your figures are very, very heroic, but they’re human too. How do you do that? What is your approach?
Pérez: I don’t know. It’s a tough one to answer any more, because it becomes instinctive, particularly since I had no training. It’s not something where I can make any kind of mechanical decision, it’s instinctive. The only thing I try to remember is who the characters are. When there are all these big, bulky guys, I go back to the original way that I learned from comic-book drawing. And then you have people like Changeling, and particularly, any one of the Teen Titans, who are teenagers to begin with, with the exception of Victor, for one. But they should be more light than any of their adult counterparts, or anyone who’s older than they are. The toughest ones are the women
– making Wonder Woman a little older than Wonder Girl, and still not making her look like she’s overweight by a few pounds there.
MacDONALD: Well, I’ve noticed you do that very well, from where I stand.
Pérez: Well, if people ask me, in the case of the Teen Titans particularly, because obviously they’re the ones I’m handling regularly, how tall these characters are, I can tell them. I knew it better than Marv. Marv usually got their sizes wrong. Then again, he never had to draw them. I decided how tall the characters are, in relationship to each other, and developed certain idiosyncrasies to their faces, then I had to try and get back to becoming a good enough artist on the Teen Titans to really get it down right. I mean, right so far. I’ll probably look 10 years from now and say, “God, I didn’t know how to draw then, either.”
But it’s just the fact that when the characters seem real, it’s kind of easy to figure them out. And looking at enough other artists, I pick up tips, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously, on drawing certain things, making a character look heroic without being overly muscular. Certain things of proportion, certain things on dexterity, on the way the characters move, and the one thing that, thankfully, I have an inborn sense of, something that really came in handy, is body language. I was the one who had the idea that Jericho had to be mute, with absolutely no thought balloons to make up for it. Just because I wanted the challenge of having to have a character that I could only handle through body gesturing, and Marv had to make a sympathetic character without him ever being the character to tell them. And to his credit, he himself was the one who added the touch that when he does take over somebody’s speech, he talks in the other person’s style, so you never do really hear what Jericho sounds like. So he took my idea further by doing that.
MacDONALD: This is kind of a funny question, but are you familiar with Cat Yronwode’s theory of neoteny and big eyes? In your art, characters have very big eyes, which is kind of a very appealing look for some reason.
Pérez: When I draw the big eyes, the wide-eyed wonder, it’s usually in the characters I want to emphasize that they’re innocent. That is valid. And during my tail end with Kory, her eyes did get bigger and rounder. I wanted to emphasize not only her alienness, by making her eye-shape totally alien from Earthling-shape, but the wide-eyed look. Gar’s eyes became very large and for the same reason obviously for Jericho. Jericho looks like someone on Spaceship Yamato or something like that. They said he looks like something out of a Japanese cartoon. But that makes everyone look so youthful when they all have large, round eyes. I don’t know if it’s simply the fact that they’re trying to make them so American-looking, so Anglo-Saxon, so occidental, that they overcompensate on the eyes, but in any case, it does give them a youthful innocence, and it is valid. When I draw Superman, definitely, this man’s got tiny eyes. The man’s far from innocent.
I never see the Hulk with Bambi eyes. I haven’t read Cat’s article, but there’s definitely a lot of validity in that, in doing Kory that way. Kory’s round. The woman has roundness all over, and the eyes fit perfectly, you know. You only have to be careful with women, you can make them so grotesque-looking that they become caricature immediately, and they’re already in danger of that just because they’re built.
MacDONALD: In Crisis on Infinite Earths you’re getting to design the costumes of some new characters. What kind of an approach do you have to designing costumes? Usually they’re quite striking.
Pérez: I try to go for asymmetry. Obviously some symmetry only so I can remember what the costume looks like, so it doesn’t just become a random bunch of lines. But I try to go for a little both asymmetrical and geometric designs. Perfect examples are the Harbinger and Pariah. In the case of her belt, or actually, part of her top, there is a very symmetrical design to it. Yet I made sure that her sleeves were totally asymmetrical, and she has a sleeve on one arm and a bracelet on the other.
The same thing I’ve done with Kory, which tricked almost everyone who drew Kory after me. They thought that she had two armbands. She never did, she never has, I’ve never drawn her with two armbands, she only has it on that one arm. No reason that she’d have it on that one arm, it’s just the fact that I wanted a slight asymmetry to make the costume interesting. I also like metal. There’s a touch of metal in almost every costume. Even Raven. She has those two buttons that hold the cowl on. There’s metal. One thing I’ve been trying to do a little more, is to try to make the costumes less conventional as far as super-hero costumes go. In the case of Harbinger, she’s a little more traditional, but it’s also such a carefully designed costume, as far as line difference, that I constantly have to keep looking up her costume, and I have to redraw her.
It’s confusing even me. I wanted it to be individual. Not that the costume is made for comics, because when you design a character, know somebody else is going to draw it, you should make it as simple as possible for either their sanity or for color separation. So I just wanted to design costumes that don’t really follow the rules here. In the case of Pariah, as with Jericho, I also wanted to make a costume that wasn’t necessarily costume-looking. With Jericho, I accentuated the fact that he’s not a straight action character by making him a costume with billowy sleeves that are not exactly what you would consider for a super-hero. Usually it’s skintight, with the incongruous combination of trunks over tights. Until recently they were incongruous; now, obviously, dancers wear all the time.
MacDONALD: They’re in style now.
Pérez: Who’d have thought we were starting a trend 50 years ago. But –
MacDONALD: Well, that’s something I noticed about your art. You seem to be paying more attention to what, the women are wearing.
Pérez: Oh, yeah. My wife works at an accounting firm, and they handle accounts of fashion agencies. She was a great help. She’s also fashion-conscious without being trendy, so I know what works and what doesn’t work. I was lasting up to issue #38 of the Teen Titans before she had the nerve to tell me that hip-hugger waistlines on women have been out for many years.
MacDONALD: (laughs) That was just about when I noticed the improvement, to tell the truth.
Pérez: Exactly, yeah. Now I’m very fashion-conscious. Many of the things that Donna has worn, and Kory – Kory’s the toughest one to dress, because of her bustline – have been researched. I’d get out and I’d get magazines to find out what the hell are the women wearing these days, and using Carol as my assistant there. What clothing suits the characters? She knows about the characters as well as I do. What type of things would Kory wear, what wouldn’t she wear? Though there’s nothing that Kory wouldn’t wear because she’s alien. It really doesn’t matter to her. But Donna, in particular, is the one. I became more fashion conscious about her because, for one thing, she deals in fashion as a photographer.
So by doing it with her, I became more conscious of everyone, the fact that everyone has to dress. The only thing I hate about doing the men is I have no control over the coloring. I finally had had enough when I did a story where, just before Adrian Chase takes Dick and Kory to the studio, and where the hell does a DA. get a green suit? I draw a suit, I tried to draw a finely cut suit, I based him originally on Daniel J. Travanti. And I’d never seen Daniel J. Travanti in a green suit yet, particularly that kind of green. You’re talking here Polyester City.
I became very conscious of not only clothing that’s fashionable, but in the case of Jillian, clothing that’s trendy. Jillian was the first real teen-ager I was drawing. The other characters like Donna, I’m not going to say she’s a teen-ager any more, and Dick isn’t a teen-ager any more in my eye. Jillian was actually the first, beyond Gar, to actually really be a teen-ager doing things that teen-agers actually do. And she would be the type who listens to records, who goes to stores and gets electric fashion, because she will do everything that is trendy at this point. But when Marv said that we’d be bringing back Jillian, I was immediately determined that she was not going to be the same Jillian, that she’d be like Frances Kane. Frances Kane is comparatively someone who actually does look like a teen-ager today, and Jillian became the teen-ager of today, and bay, did she look different. No one recognized her. But like I say, I have been conscious of fashion, and a lot of it is thanks to my wife.
MacDONALD: There’s a very human element in your work, but comic books haven’t been a very good place to do human stories. Do you think that the super-hero has stifled you at all in that regard?
Pérez: To some extent. In the case of the Titans, having been co-creator, and working with Marv who cared about the characters as much as I did, it wasn’t as bad then, because the book was selling so well that we could break away from formula without a hassle. Unfortunately, on a lot of other characters, particularly characters that appeal to a very young audience, no one would okay a series of very personal Superman stories, probably, because Superman has lost its direct-sales audience anyway, so they probably would not allow you to get really as personal as you would like, because there’s a lot of personal stuff we’d like to do. Dick and Kory being an example of that. They are really natural, and just don’t fit in to the super-hero as people see it. They don’t want the super-heroes to become too three-dimensional, that they are too human.
I myself like a sense of formality to the characters. I like the idea of questioning what they’re doing. One of the great issues, which I regret not being able to draw, because of my time, was issue #6, when the Teen Titans actually had to deal with, “Why the hell are we Teen Titans anyway?” All this work, all this aggravation. Heroes one day, bums the next. And I liked the idea that this is a fantasy element. Granted, it’s a fantasy of the way I feel. If it’s a fantasy, it’s my fantasy. So my fantasies also have my questions. To me, the most realistic super-hero who ever existed is Iron Man, because if I were going to fight crime in New York City, I’d be in armor from head to toe. Little crazy things like that, just thinking about the characters more. I would love to sit down and think, and talk.. – you know, My Dinner With Andre in comics.
It’s a challenge. Obviously, you couldn’t do it exactly like film, because the characters lack movement, but then I’d have to be really super-creative. Technically, it’d be just talking heads. You know, shoot through the armpits, shoot up their legs, you know, do something crazy. That’s what I would love to do, if they ever brought back love comics. Super-heroes are fun, they give you some action, but they are rather confining, because there always seems to be an obligatory fight scene, or an obligatory point of exaggerated action. Because that doesn’t always mean a fight or a confrontation. You wrote the article on the fights, the mandatory fight scene in comics [in The Comics Journal #87]
Pérez: And one thing I was happy with when I read it, was that at least Marv and I, we were aware of it when we were doing it, but we tried to find stories that didn’t always go into, as you rightfully reported, a very predictable fight, which ends up as the entire gist of what the story is about. No matter what they discuss, it’s all going to lead to this fight. Everything is just filler for the fight. You know, the Secret Wars mentality.
MacDONALD: Yeah, right.
Pérez: The one thing that was nice in the first issue of Crisis was that there was only one fight scene, really major one, in the entire story. That was kind of nice. I wasn’t constantly drawing fight scenes. My least favorite issue of the Teen Titans was issue #37~
MacDONALD: I think I know which one that was.
Pérez: That was the Outsiders. Not only because of the fact that I really thought there was no reason for the team-up really to occur, but I hated doing it. When I drew it, I drew it with really gritting teeth. When the Titans meet the Outsiders, what happens? Well, at least I got away with the fact that Terra is the only one who actually fights them. Because I really did not want to have a Titans-Outsiders fight, mainly because, why is it that every time two super-hero groups meet they have to fight. Good God! They always have to fight. In the case of the JLA-Avengers, when that book was originally plotted, that’s what everyone wanted. There was no way around it. That book was a fight book. As long as we went into it with the full knowledge that’s what we were aiming to do, it made perfect sense that way.
MacDONALD: It’s obvious that you do enjoy drawing the quiet moments more than the buildings blowing up.
MacDONALD: This is the old argument that the comics medium doesn’t have to be buildings blowing up.
Pérez: Well, I don’t feel that it should be. Unfortunately, sales figures show that. It’s like television, I guess. You condition an audience by giving them junk food, and you never even question the fact that they probably probably would have taken a gourmet meal, if given to them, because you’re so used to, hey, junk food works, why change it? Comics are guilty. There are those who try to break out of the mold. Like the recent issue of Swamp Thing, with him sending his girlfriend into an orgasm by eating this chunk of his body. That’s great!
An entire issue, just showing how he could share his love with her. I couldn’t believe it. That was the entire issue. Wow! That’s a great thing. I saw the cover, I said, “What a strange quiet cover for Swamp Thing, but nice,” but I thought it was just going to be part of the action, but that was the essence of the entire story. That’s – Wooow! That’s because Swamp Thing is not a super-hero, it shouldn’t surprise me, but isn’t it nice to see that they can do that. My God, an entire issue that was just an interlude. An interlude that didn’t set the world on its ear, just showed two people in love. Wooow! A nice change of pace.
Unfortunately, when companies become too big, and base their reputations a lot on what easily sells – and there’s no crime in that – it’s kind of nice when you see somebody else trying, even if it is on a lot smaller scale, to do something that’s different. Love and Rockets and Swamp Thing are a nice change of pace. If Love and Rockets had the power of a big company behind it, the idea of that type of book, of personal stories without super-heroics. If a major company can do that, and stick to its guns on it. They make such irrational decisions sometimes, like, “Let’s hire a female editor, because she’ll know how to handle it.” Just because she’s a female, suddenly, she’s an expert on these stories, as opposed to just finding people who are really interested. Like in the case of doing a love comic, as opposed to a wet fantasy, which is what most of them end up being.
The man always ends up being a real shmuck, and he still gets the girl. Like what men did to Lois Lane for all these many years. My wife was a big Lois Lane fan. We’ve got like a big collection of it, and it’s laughable, because they were written by men. I give credit to most of the writers now, because they know that they would be castrated royally if they tried writing things like that. But, I’d love to see a real good mystery, like the Sherlock Holmes Teen Titans thing wherein there is a definite mystery. Of course, I’m also talking about things that an artist, particularly, has to really work hard to make Interesting, the visual form. In an industry where a lot of people can make more money by doing the thing that’ll make the most money, I’m not any different. Crisis on Infinite Earths is my security blanket. They’ll take the book that they can make money on. I’m sure most people don’t have the faith that the book is going to be anything that they should commit that much time, because they’re not going to get anything on the back end of it, It has never been proved that way, but I would love to do it. Again, I’m doing Crisis on Infinite Earths to have room for this type of nonsense. If I weren’t on contract with DC, I’d love to be able to market it someplace, “Hey, if you want me to do something…” I don’t know if you saw the story, it was in Alien Worlds. “Ride the Blue Bus.”
MacDONALD: No, I didn’t.
Pérez: It was a story that I was asked by Bruce Jones if I would please do something for science fiction. It was the first time I’ve ever received an offer from someone who didn’t take advantage of the fact that he was using George Pérez. He gave me a story that had a rocket, no big-boobed women, no skintight costumes, it was a post-holocaust story about a little boy in the middle of a desolate area of an atomic swamp, a nuclear Detroit. He’s the only member of the family who has not gone through the disease, namely radioactive poisoning. And, at the end, the Blue Bus finally stops in front of him, he gets in, he’s the only passenger in that bus. Instead of windows, there are holographic images of what Earth used to look like.
It was the first time he’d seen trees, the first time he’d seen waterfalls, and the Blue Bus driver saying what he’s always been doing with this bus is trying to find those who have survived and who will be able to repopulate the world. And that was the whole lesson of the story. And in the end he’s just being driven off on the Blue Bus, and he leaves his family behind. It was such a change of pace for me. I enjoyed that so immensely. I thank Bruce for just giving me a chance to do something different. He took into account that I could draw, without taking into account what I’d been drawing. It gave me a shot at doing something totally new. And I was so proud of that job. It was one of my first inking jobs that I did. I did it right before I did the Teen Titans, and I was just so proud of that. Unfortunately the only chances I get on stories like that are usually going to be in alternative companies.
MacDONALD: There is that alternative now.
Pérez: I’m on contract for five years. When my contract is clear I can start doing outside work, but I’d like to. If I do a portfolio, it won’t be super-heroes. Then again, it might not sell, either.
MacDONALD: What can we do to make it sell?
Pérez: A lot of it’s just the the person involved. If he’s got a big enough name – which people tell me I do – if he takes the time on it; I think sometimes the energies are high. The Titans wedding issue was an example. We were both excited about it. There was just a marriage, but there was a lot that happened. In a lot of pages, people are just talking. But the enthusiasm, the fact that I did get to draw panel after panel of the same heads talking showed. You have to take the time.
Artists in comics have a lot of responsibility because they are, for good, for ill, what usually brings in the casual reader. Because pictures are the first thing you see, the cover is the first thing you see. And a lot of times, it just requires us to sit down and fall in love with our work again, without being narcissistic about it, and realizing that if we enjoy enjoy what we’re doing, we hope that the readers will enjoy it too. I’m a fan first, an artist second.
MacDONALD: Did you read a lot of comics as a child?
Pérez: Oh, yeah. Comics was one of the first things I was reading. I was reading comics in kindergarten. And in fact, I didn’t stop reading comics until I’d become a pro, mostly. If nothing else, because of lack of time. I read very few comics now. Look at the pictures a lot, because I want to see what everyone else is doing. But very, very few comics do I read. Most of the information I get about comics I get from other people, from the trade magazines, the Journal, the Buyer’s Guide. I learn what’s going on from them. Sometimes they surprise me, because I find my name in there, and I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
MacDONALD: What were your favorite comics as a kid?
Pérez: I think one of my very, very early favorites was Legion of Super-Heroes, which was the one book that everyone assumed I was going to be drawing when I went to t~C. I didn’t draw the book. But the Legion was a big favorite of mine. A friend of mine in school and I used to buy the comic, and then talk about it for days. This is before I discovered Marvel. I was strictly DC until I read an issue of the Fantastic Four. I think it was the introduction of Diablo. That turned me on to Marvel, and Roy Thomas once said it was one of the worst-selling issues of the early Fantastic Fours. There was something indicative in that, I guess.
But, like, I always did seem to gravitate towards team books. I did love Fantastic Four and the Avengers. The Avengers is one of my favorites there. The JLA I enjoyed, not as much as the others, I guess even then I was not as enthused about the artwork as I was with the dynamic artwork over at Marvel. I loved Thor; I’m so glad Thor got back on its feet. I really love Thor, almost all of Kirby’s stuff. And Spider-Man, I was going in and out of. I think it took a while before I finally saw an issue and read it totally. But mostly, almost anything that Marvel was producing at the time. I was a big Marvel fan, plus I enjoyed some DCs. But didn’t DC that much until they were going into the really creative stage of the Secret Six, which I’d love to bring back. The Secret Six, the Inferior Five which was really nutsy, and one book that was aimed for children that I never even read until I was an adult, I regret, was Sugar and Spike.
MacDONALD: Did you read, Donald Duck?
Pérez: No, I was never interested in Disney. To me, they were cartoons, and the comics never really caught me. I was not as familiar with who the artists were – they weren’t credited at the time, who drew Donald Duck – but at that point, as a young kid, I was very stupid. As many young fans are.
Pérez: To this day! In which we have such a myopic view on what we like as far as artists are concerned, that we really don’t treasure what he have. I hated Alex Toth. I really hated Alex Toth’s work when I was young; I look at him as a master now, from totally different eyes. Other artists I didn’t care for, I didn’t care for Gene Colan, and he was doing fine work at the time. There were so many artists I just didn’t like who I look at now and say, “What the…?” It makes me at least able to tolerate when I hear fans who are spouting off the same stupid stuff that I spouted off, except that I didn’t spout it off to the pros.
I didn’t know any pros at the time. Ron Frenz mentioned that a kid said, “I love your work, but I hate this guy Steve Ditko.” Ron Frenz owes a lot to Steve Ditko, as does John Byrne. And I owe a lot to Jack Kirby. I owe a lot to Curt Swan, and I constantly see him denigrated. Sometimes I have to sit back and think that I was once that stupid, too. The only thing I can hope is that they grow out of it. Because a lot of people, I’ve seen a lot of obnoxious fans. Actually a lot of very nice and friendly fans, too, some who I became friends with, and keep in contact with. I think the myopic point of view is worse for me now, only because they have a greater history of things to look back on, while, in my case, I couldn’t say, “Well, look, this guy’s been doing work all these years.” There weren’t that many years in front of me, as far as I was concerned. But these people have all this access to some of this work, and they still can’t see it. But then again, I was stupid too.
MacDONALD: Well, why did you change?
Pérez: I changed only because, as I started learning how to draw, and started really drawing, I realized by either peripherally, by cursorily looking at other people’s work. I was learning something. These people knew something. In the case of Toth, he knew how to make the most impact with a line. Something that I personally did not do in my o~en style, but I actually understood that he was an artist who chose that style, who chose to be simpler. As opposed to Barry Smith, who I idolized when I was young, who took certain things that he did, but then amplified it with incredible amounts of detail. As it turned out, his particular taste in art itself was reflected in his work, and he enjoyed a very gothic design, but that also explains why Barry Smith is so much slower than Alex Toth, I guess. As I learned how to draw, I realized how much work it was, and I started going with the attitude that every single person who has made it as a pro, in my opinion, at least deserves my respect to look at their work, to see what they are doing. If there’s any thinking involved, I’ll be able to tell.
If there’s a recognizable style that manages to adapt itself to whatever the story requires, then that man is definitely got a firm hold on his artistic ability. The only things I cannot tolerate are those who think they are grander than they actually are. That’s usually more pronounced among younger artists. I was the same way, again. I wasn’t the type that took criticism well, but at least I channeled it. So whenever I got criticized, I got angry, I got snooty. But then I would go and try to rectify it, sort out what I could learn from what that person had told me. He couldn’t tell me at the time without my blowing my stack. I was stubborn. It always makes me a little nervous talking to young fans now.
Young fans, old fans, some of them are my age. When they ask for advice, even if I think their stuff stinks, or I think they really have no potential in the business, if nothing else, I’m going to be wrong. I mean, I would have thought Barry Smith would never amount to anything after seeing his first work. And most people thought the same thing when they saw my first work. But the thing is, I have to try to at least criticize them and look in their eyes, and I realize that they have stopped listening. Because I know that feeling. I know the disappointment, you re now so angry at getting real criticism that you’re no longer listening. And that’s when I start fudging. That’s when I decide I can no longer give them a valid criticism, I’ll just make something up. But that becomes instinctive.
That’s when you really have to know who your audience is. I’ve sometimes given devastating critiques on somebody, picking up little things that they can improve on. Not telling them it stunk, just telling them things that they were doing wrong. But knowing that that person will go, having at least listened to what I said, hopefully, they’ll work on it.
MacDONALD: Yeah. You can’t say, “You have absolutely no talent at all.” You can just say, You know, if you drew the arm so it connects to the shoulder, I think it would improve your work.”
Pérez: Yeah, that type of thing, or, “You have work on proportions, you have to work on clothes and clothings.” Remember, one of my favorite lines, “For every Superman, there’s a Clark Kent.” That’s another big thing, I did too. I knew nothing about clothes and clothing when I went into comics, an~1 it shows. I looked over at Marv, and it was a disaster, he didn’t even wear regular clothing. I didn’t know any anatomy, either, but don’t tell me that at the time. Good God.
MacDONALD: Whose work do you enjoy now?
Pérez: Oh, God! There are just so many. There are some people who inspire me to better work. Jose Garcia Lopez is one. Brian Bolland is another. I still get a great kick out of watching John Byrne’s work. I’m glad he stopped inking himself, so he could concentrate on his work a little more. Who else? Howie Chaykin! I mean, his style and mine are totally alien, but I just love the vitality in his work. And the fact that he’s so great on that American Flagg! series, he just loves doing it. Bill Sienkiewicz, just because he’s so gut-feeling. Again, totally alien to my style. People I would go out of my way to pick up their work. The ones I’ve mentioned, I’m sure I’m forgetting. Gil Kane still excites me. I’m not fond of his inking, but I’m really fond of his dynamics. Almost everyone in the business I look at with some kind of enthusiasm. There are very few people I hate. There are some, I’m not going to mention them. That would be really obnoxious.
MacDONALD: Yes, yes. Let’s keep this sunny.
Pérez: Yes. But there are so many people, those in particular, who usually keep me on my toes. The type of people that I look at makes me want to do better work. A lot of my first issue of Crisis-. Earths, I’m grateful to Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, when I saw the pencils of his first Teen Titans before I did the first issue of Crisis Earths, and it just inspired me to do better work. This year DC has got Crisis-Earths, they’ve got two Titans books. When I was told by Marv – I think this is unofficial – for the first time, DC actually has four books in the Top Ten. The Who’s Who, Crisis, and the two Titans books. I said, “Wow!”
MacDONALD: Just looking through Jose’s first book, I’m not sure Romeo (Tanghal)’s the right inker for him.
Pérez: I’ve been told that. You’re the second person who’s told me that now. I have not seen Romeo’s inking. I have only seen the pencils, which I fell in love with. I have reservations about Romeo inking Jose’s work. As did Marv. But then again, Romeo’s never inked Jose, we’ll give him a fair shot. A lot of people have told me about maybe it’s a little simple, like, a line with no real rendering applied. I’ll have to check that out. At this point, Romeo’s tenure, if nothing else, is going to be allow him to be staying on. There were a few things that Jose did wrong, too, so far as, the size of the characters. The last panel shows an incredibly large Gar Logan.
MacDONALD: I think I noticed that too. I mean, holy cow –
Pérez: That’s Gar?
MacDONALD: Yeah, right.
Pérez: It’s the old adage: “my god, he drew him with two left feet!” “Yeah, but didn’t he draw them well?”
MacDONALD: Well, let’s ask the final wrap-up question here. Where do you see yourself going in comics? A nice, pretentious question here.
Pérez: Well, I want to do more stuff that I can take my time on. I’ve said that before. I want to get in some writing. See if I’m any good at it, and if nothing else, to have a little more control. I want to ink my own work. And I basically just want to take my time, so that I can say that when a person asked me when I’m going to do my best work, that it is my next work. I don’t think I’ve done my best, and I hope I never feel that way.
But basically, I just want to take a little more control. I’ve been on the assembly line quite a bit up till now, so now I want to take some chances. I just don’t want to throw out a lousy fill-in book. I want to do stories that are not necessarily super-heroes. I just want to experiment now. I’ve played it safe. I’ll probably play it safe later. I’ll probably get on a book guaranteed to sell enough to buy three houses in a year, because of the fact that I do need some money. I’m no fool. But I really do want to get to take some time to take the chances.
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.