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The Best of All Worlds: George Pérez

“The Best of All Worlds: George Pérez” A four-part interview

“The Best of All Worlds: George Pérez” A four-part interview published in COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #86, #89, #90 and #94 by Bill Baker. You can read part one and two the interview on Bill Baker’s website, www.hypethis.com.

COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #86 [10 pages] focuses on his start and his stints on The Avengers and the upcoming Avengers/JLA crossover.COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #89 [5 pages] details TEEN TITANS and CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #90 focuses on WONDER WOMAN. COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #94 features the wrap-up to the multi-part interview; three of George Pérez’s collaborators talk about working with the team artist supreme.

The following excerpt is from COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #89 in 2002.


CBM: Was Teen Titans your first work with Marv?

Pérez: No. Actually we did a Fantastic Four annual, and we did a chapter of [an issue of] What If? “What if Nova Gave His Power to… in our case, a villain. So those are the only two times that Marv and I worked together at Marvel. With the exception that Marv was my editor, and one of my staunchest critics, when I started doing the black and white books with Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, where he criticized my anatomy, my proportions, my lack of backgrounds – that’ll haunt him to his dying day. [General laughter]. And he was one of the people who was unafraid to tell me what I was doing wrong, not that anybody was afraid, but [more due to] the fact that they wanted to get the book done [on time]. Marv sat down and skewered me, “Look at all this stuff you’re doing wrong!” And I, being cocky as I said, would go home and say, “I’ll show that guy! He thinks I don’t know [how] to do this!” And I would do a page, [then go back and] show it to Marv, and say, “Now do you think I can do this?” And he’d say, “Yes.” But what did I just do? I just proved him right, because I had to make that extra effort in order to prove him wrong; but what I’d done is taken his criticism and used it constructively. But even Marv, at that point, didn’t think I would make it too long in the business.

When we got to work together [at DC], by that point, of course, I had already established a reputation. And Marv had gone over to DC, along with Len Wein, and approached me about the possibility of doing a new version of The Teen Titans book – which I freely admit I thought was a laughable proposition. I was only interested in doing the Justice League over at DC. And I said, “Give me a couple of fillers on Justice League, and we can start on the Titans,” figuring that it was going to be canceled in six issues.

But I must admit that when Marv started coming up with the suggestions based on ideas that he and Len Wein had come up with, it started sounding more exciting. I still didn’t think it was going to last six issues because, hey, this was DC; nothing is going to succeed at this point. But Marv was genuinely excited, genuinely creative. I had never really seen Marv’s creative side on a starting point, [only] his finished work. I loved his Tomb of Dracula stuff. But doing super-heroes I never thought was Marv’s strongest suit. But I liked the ideas. He wanted to make this a super-hero group [in something] that wasn’t quite a super-hero book, try to get those best elements that made books like Fantastic Four successful – that sense of family and camaraderie – understanding that we were going to be getting comparisons to The X-Men which were just coming into their big peak period with John Byrne and Chris Claremont.

So I was saying, “OK, fine,” and came up with the designs for some new characters. And then DC gave us this big sign of their faith in the project when they came up with this idea of having a special preview story in DC Presents, which had not been done before – of having basically a free comic added into the body of another comic. But they wanted The Teen Titans to come out with the best chances [of success]. I was not the only one who was skeptical about the Titans success, but one of the great things when it finally did come out [was that it worked].

At first Marv’s plots were a lot more complete, there was a lot more characterization in them until I started understanding where Marv was going; then I could start adding in little things, here and there, with the characters. And when Len started backing away from the co-plotting part of his editor’s job, it became strictly Marv and me. But at first it was Marv’s vision filtered [through] Len Wein. And me, I was there to add a little punch. But, as we got more and more into it, I realized, “You know, this book could be special.” And when reviews came in – of course this was before the Internet reviews, we had to wait for reviews – we realized how popular this could be. After missing the fifth issue, I would end up staying on the book for an uninterrupted run of almost 25 more issues. And it became much more personal.

And probably the biggest personal success I had, because when I was doing The Avengers before I really had no knowledge of what sales were, because there were no royalties to receive. There was no way for us to know how well the book was doing. But, in the case of The Titans, when the book was getting all these great reviews, they said it was selling well. And once they started offering royalties over at DC, it was [essentially] a Titans royalty program, because Titans was really the only book that was earning enough to earn royalties at DC under the new royalty structure. It was a book whose success could be measured by my involvement for the first time. The Titans probably would not have succeeded with another creative team on it. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez made The Titans a successful book and, in a way, helped rebuild DC Comics’ credibility in the comics industry. So that was an incredibly wonderful feeling of accomplishment. And, even more than The Avengers, I think, that’s why The Titans is a book that I’ll probably be forever known for, because it was the one book that came out of the blue. No one expected that book to be successful.

CBM: Was it the interaction between the characters, as much as the action and adventures, that made it what it was?

Pérez: I think the interaction was most important to Marv and me, and that became apparent in issue eight. We had some exciting stuff, it had some nice characterization bits – you know, we had the angry cyborg, and the sexy bombshell from outer space, the mysterious woman in black – but it was issue eight where those Titans found their voice. The “Day in the Life,” the quiet issue where Marv’s many years of doing the characterization stuff on Dracula, and my desire to do interaction scenes; I think that’s when Marv and I both knew this – these characters are living now. They don’t need to do super-heroic things to make them interesting!” And from that point on, that was The Titans. During the last couple of years of my involvement with the series, Marv never had to write a plot for the book anymore. He and I discussed it, then I drew it. It became such a symbiotic relationship; we understood where we wanted these characters to go, and we knew how these characters would go under their own steam. There, the old chestnut of “the characters writing themselves” was actually quite true.

But seldom have two people worked together, from two diverse backgrounds, on a super-hero or any comic book and found a [common] voice [to the point] that they could second guess each other [so] very well. Marv and I no longer worked as writer and artist; we were the creator, combined as one, for the series. And Marv was just, because of my involvement with The Titans, [he] was my biggest champion to try to get me to start writing stuff. He was impressed enough that he said, “You may need help with the wordsmithing, probably, but as far as storytelling and actual story concepts, you’re already there!” because there was so much of me in The Titans at that point. So I always thank Marv. Marv’s done a lot in furthering me in my career, and my desire to go just a little further and expand my horizons that I think, not until Kurt Busiek on [the recent incarnation of] Avengers, have I experienced that same level of creative synergy with a writer.

CBM: Were there any problems working together, or was it all incredibly easy?

Pérez: Sometimes he and I would have different viewpoints as to where a character would go, but then we found compromise. He would plot it. I would draw it; if I wanted to make any changes – without, again, affecting the story, ever – I would draw that in. If he disagreed, a little bit of dialogue might change the intent of the drawing – without, again, affecting the story.

The biggest advantage that Marv and I had was a willingness to suppress ego for the sake of the book. There were times when I thought Marv was wrong. I’m sure there were times when Marv thought I was wrong. But, in the long run, the fans loved the stories and that’s what we were there for! It was mostly a wonderful working relationship that had its ups and downs, like any kind of relationship. But I consider Marv still a friend, and, thankfully, if he’s called it’s something he’s never denied. [General laughter] And I consider the time we spent on The Titans some of the most creatively fulfilling years of my life. And, as far as working with him, following that with Crisis on Infinite Earths was a pure joy, too.

CBM: You mentioned earlier that you got to design some of the new characters, like Cyborg, Raven, etc. How much input did you have into the basic creation, outside of the visuals, of those characters?

Pérez: Initially, not very much. Cyborg, I was a little more [involved]. Since I grew up in the South Bronx and [come] from a Puerto Rican background I had a little more I could actually put into Cyborg’s personality, from the way he stood and everything else. For me, Kory was just this Red Sonja from outer space, and Raven was the Phantom Stranger in drag. So I just treated that as archetypes, and just designed it from there. It wasn’t until Marv and I talked a bit more that I started understanding where Marv was going – when issue eight came in – that is when I really, really started putting more into their characterizations. From the inside, as opposed to letting Marv tell me how they’re behaving. [From then on] I understood how they behaved, and each character had a little extra soul in them as well.

CBM: I think one of the other important aspects of this series, one that helped make it particularly popular, was that these characters grew in the course of the title. We literally got to watch them grow up.

Pérez: Yes. Following the essential [rule of comics], what’s called “the illusion of change,” you can only change them so much. [But here], the one change that made it really seem like growth was, of course, Dick Grayson abandoning the Robin costume and character to become Nightwing. That one scene alone made The Titans unique. Because, even The X-Men, with the death of Phoenix – well Phoenix is back, and has been for many, many years! [General laughter] Professor X was dead, [too] you know. But Dick… There’s been two Robins since him. And that was a great feeling of progress. [Until then, with] Dick Grayson – who at first was the character we worried about the most because, since he was tied to the Batman books – there was little we could do with him. When DC courageously allowed Marv and me to have control over the Dick Grayson character, by replacing him as Robin, [it allowed] the creation of the most memorable of The Titans stories… “The Judas Contract” and the issues that preceded it. The Titans were no longer just teenage allies of established adult characters – or, as I called them, “The Justice Little League” – they were a unique group of people who grew up. And I think Dick Grayson was the linchpin of that concept. His coming of age and abandoning the garb of his youth for a more adult role, I think, is what made the feeling of maturation evident in The Titans. And the fact that those [changes] are still in existence today, he’s still Nightwing [only reinforces that].

CBM: Why don’t we talk about Crisis for a bit? Was this an intimidating job to take on?

Pérez: Oh, heavens no! Not for me. I mean, “More characters? Fine. How many characters? Is that all!” is usually my attitude. I don’t intimidate that easily when it comes to a book that has that many characters in it, particularly since, when I first went on to Crisis, I had no intention of co-plotting the darn thing! The plot was going to be handled by Marv Wolfman, Len Wein and Robert Greenberg. “Good! That means if anybody hates the story, they’ll be blamed! I just want them to like the pictures!” [General laughter] So I was gonna have the time of my life. I was going to draw all these characters, characters I’d never drawn before professionally. I was too excited to be intimidated.

It wasn’t until half way through the series when I realized that – because of the incredible nature of it – Marv was being overwhelmed by aspects of the story [because] there was a lot to be juggled. There was one scene in which one character, I believe it was Harbinger, did something, and then, in the next script, she did the same exact thing. He repeated the whole sequence and no one noticed it until I saw it in the plot. And maybe he just needs another voice, a voice he trusts, and that’s when I came in as co-plotter. When I came in, Marv was more than happy, because that’s the way Marv is. So, of course, now if somebody didn’t like something that happened, now I could have some of the blame. See, I was intimidated once I had to co-plot, but I was still like, “You know, this is a really juicy story. I need to be involved in it, and I need to make sure that we don’t let too many things go through the cracks,” because Lord knows there are plenty of cracks to slip through in books like Crisis.

CBM: Yeah. Talk about working without a net!

Pérez: Uh-huh. And the fact that, since the industry was so different at the time, there was only so far DC was willing to go. I mean, they were known for being very creator-friendly. So even though they wanted all the creators on the other books to adjust their storylines, and have their characters change to accommodate Crisis, they didn’t want to force anyone into that. Various exceptions had to be made. But Roy Thomas, I think, was the biggest victim because, of course, the entire book centers around the whole universe thing that started with the Golden Age Earth Two characters. So he was going to be affected head on, and pretty much would have no choice in the matter, but others were not forced into it

Marv’s original idea [was] that, “If we’re going to do this, to have a whole new beginning, let’s start with #1 issues of all the books once Crisis is over,” as if suddenly DC, both in the books and in reality, had to start over. And everyone started [objecting, saying,] “We’re in the middle of story lines!” And DC didn’t feel like the idea of suddenly having all these #1 books would sell well, or be a good idea. Of course, this is before #1 issues were coming left and right, and everything was being relaunched. And whether, in the long run, that would have been successful is subject to debate ad infinitum.

But it was a series that was incredibly large and ambitious, and regarded as only moderately successful. Because I don’t think, in order to be everything to everybody, it had a chance of being fully successful. Because there were going to be people who felt disenfranchised because of all the changes, and how much [continuity] are you willing to abandon, and even simple everyday, mundane aspects like, “OK, we’ve gotten rid of Supergirl. But how are we going to hold on to our copyright and trademark on Supergirl unless we actually print Supergirl?” So you have to bring back Supergirl. Granted, it’s in a different form; they found a way of doing it via the Matrix character. So there were bound to be ways where Crisis would have to fail. There’s no way it could fully succeed in what it intended to do without angering and possibly dissatisfying and alienating certain sections of either creators or fans. But, artistically, it was a dream come true.

CBM: Do you see it as one of the high-water marks in your career?

Pérez: Oh yeah. Titans continued after my stint. Wonder Woman, obviously, did [too]. All the other books did. Crisis was mine. Artistically, it was mine. When they talk about Crisis, they talk about George Pérez’s work on Crisis. Crisis was an entity, a collected work. It was all my artwork. I loved it. It was a great high-water mark. For all its failures, it did have an impact both on DC Comics and the industry. Both for good and for ill. Crisis, like Titans, had an impact on DC Comics – and I was there! What a great feeling.

CBM: There’s a couple of moments that really stand out in the series. You mentioned one, of course, which was the death of Supergirl. But there was another one which, in many ways, had an even bigger emotional impact: The death of Barry Allen.

Pérez: Uh-huh. You know, The Flash, unlike Supergirl… Supergirl was basically a female version of Superman. She wasn’t the first of her kind, she was basically a female copy of another character. The Flash was unique. It was like killing Superman as opposed to killing Supergirl. And the fact that The Flash was the start, by most people’s reckoning, of the Silver Age – I mean, as far as important characters go; Martian Manhunter preceded him – so killing him was something that even Marv did not think they’d go for. The killing of The Flash was the point where, “OK, we’ve killed Supergirl. Now we’ve killed The Flash. Anything can go now.”

The weirdest part of it is the fact that all of the publicity went to Supergirl’s death, not only because Superman is so identifiable, but because there was a movie coming out with Supergirl. So here we are killing a character who’s just had a movie come out. I think if the movie succeeded, she still might have been alive. I don’t know.

But killing The Flash was like, “Wow, we’re killing The Flash.” And the fact that when he died, at that point, nobody knew. He died alone, unlike Supergirl who had this big, dramatic death and big funeral sequence almost immediately after her death. The Flash, for quite a while, no one knew that he was dead. And that was a little eerie.

CBM: And also pretty realistic. I mean, typically, when someone dies in comics, it’s very big and dramatic, like Supergirl’s demise. But realistically, in a battle of that size and scope, there will be at least some people who are missing in action, and can only be presumed dead.

Pérez: Exactly. Because of the story taking place in different areas of the galaxy, different dimensions, different times, there are a bunch of characters who died that I’m sure they’d have no knowledge that these characters died, and in some cases, no knowledge that they actually existed. It’s just that The Flash was an icon.

CBM: In a lot of ways, it was the final knell of whatever Silver Age remnants there might have been holding on in the DCU of the time.

Pérez: Yeah. And, then again, there were those that that’s what they disliked about Crisis. But, once again, that’s what we were expecting. “We’re not gonna please everybody.” There were going to be those who are saying, “How dare you kill this character,” or “[Why kill] this popular a character?” Well, that’s what happens in a story. You know people complain about it not being realistic; and then when you kill a character, well, that’s realistic! But if you kill a character that somebody likes… nobody likes seeing a family member die, but that’s what happens. It’s one of the few times, because you created the universe, that you can argue with God. [General laughter]

 


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