I’m frankly embarrassed to tell you what I first thought about George Perez.
It was 1975. I was in Junior High school, and it was the beginning of the time when I was most excited about comics—specifically Marvel—both as a fan and as a writer and artist. Marvel was spinning off The Inhumans from The Fantastic Four, and I was looking forward to seeing it because I naturally assumed The Inhumans was going to be drawn by Rich Buckler. You see, Buckler was the artist who most excited me at the time because he had adapted his style to emulate that of Jack Kirby. If you knew the King’s work well enough, you could tell exactly the panels and covers from which Buckler had swiped some of the drawings he was doing. For me, it was the next best thing to having Kirby back at Marvel again—something that actually would happen that fall. But I was quite looking forward to getting an all-new, Buckler-drawn Inhumans book. Whom else would they give a job like that, right?
Well, there was this other guy that I’d never heard of, who had worked briefly as an apprentice with Buckler. When I picked up The Inhumans #1, I was aghast to find it drawn by someone named…George Perez.
My reaction was…let’s call it less than favorable. It was something along the lines of, “Who is this NOBODY? Where did he come from? What is he doing on this book? Get him out of there; I don’t want The Inhumans drawn by some NOBODY! I WANT BUCKLER!”
See? I told you it was embarrassing.
I refused at first to have anything to do with The Inhumans and would have no part of this Perez character. I very pointedly set out to ignore him. And Marvel set out to make sure that I couldn’t. The next place he turned up was one of their—and my—most important books. They gave him…The Avengers.
Now I was really incensed. The Avengers was very solidly my number-three comic book, after The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man. (In that exact order.) How dare they give The Avengers to Mr. Nobody, I thought.
However…it was The Avengers, and not reading The Avengers was not an option, so I would just have to deal with him. Somewhat grudgingly, I cracked open The Avengers #141…and was intrigued. There were things going on with this Perez guy’s drawing style. He seemed to have a way with characters that made them look a bit better than the way other artists drew them (including Buckler). He seemed to have a way with action that made pages pop in a way that other artists didn’t. Perhaps, I thought, I’d better pay attention to what this guy was doing, after all.
My instinct about him proved to be right. This Perez guy did have something going on. He had a way with compositions and camera angles that were as good as the best film directors. His page layouts had a unique variety and life to them. He’d go from a pan to a downshot to an upshot and do interesting things with panels that I’d never seen anyone do before. And the detail…. This Perez guy never met a detail of costume or scenery or technology or weaponry that he didn’t like. He’d put it all in. And he really seemed to relish drawing large numbers of characters. Issue after issue, he was bringing things to The Avengers that no other artist had brought to that book or any other. For the first time since Jack Kirby himself, there was an artist that I had to watch.
And that was a lucky thing because the place they put him next was the most important Marvel comic book of them all.
Fantastic Four #164 sported the first Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott cover on that title since issue #101. And inside…there was George Perez, now inked by Joe Sinnott. This time I was ready to welcome him. The Artist to Watch had arrived on THE Marvel comic book, and now I was loving it.
Did you ever wonder how he got to be called “Pacesetter Perez”? When he started, it was back in the days when people who worked for Marvel had nicknames—Smilin’ Stan Lee (who personally welcomed George into Marvel after seeing the art in FF #164 and 165) or Stan the Man, Rascally Roy Thomas, Stainless Steve Englehart, Steve “Baby” Gerber, Judo Jim Starlin, Marv “The” Wolfman, and so forth. Our penciling hero didn’t care for the epithet Gorgeous George Perez, so someone, I forget who came up with Pacesetter. And that was the one that stuck. It fit him perfectly.
Watching George do both The FF and The Avengers was a treat. More so than any other artist, I studied everything George did—the camera angles, the details, the visual story sense, the way he did battle scenes, the design sense with new characters, the body language, everything. I wanted to pick apart this guy’s work and know intimately what made it tick. There was always something new to discover with George. And you’d better believe I started paying attention to The Inhumans now. When he left that book after a few issues, my early reaction reversed itself. “Hey, where did George Perez go? I want Perez back!” He had gone quickly from Mr. Nobody to Favorite Artist.
But that was also what made him frustrating in those early days because he had this strange habit of drawing a few issues of The FF or The Avengers and then being gone for months—really, months at a time, with other artists filling in for him. I didn’t understand it. No one outside of Marvel Comics did, actually. We fans didn’t know for a long time that George was suffering from a strange, recurring paralysis of his drawing hand that rendered him unable to work for all those periods corresponding to the issues when he was absent. The malady kept coming back and kept interrupting his work, and it’s lucky for him and all of us that Marvel valued him enough to pay for the treatments that got him back to work. (This latter part I read in the book George Perez, Storyteller.) And when George came back, he’d come roaring back, better than ever.
His first published portfolio book was called Perez – Accent on the First E. You may have seen scans of the wraparound cover for it, an absolutely amazing drawing of the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, and Galactus over an excruciatingly detailed New York cityscape. I saw a shot of that wondrous cover and knew I had to have that book. After bugging and pestering my comic book dealer for it, I finally ordered the thing in the mail and spent weeks just caressing it with my eyes. I still have it.
My first in-person encounter with George was at one of our local shopping malls. He was sitting at a table out in the common area of the mall as a weekend attraction. I was out shopping with my mother, and there he was, drawing away. He was doing either Iron Man or Wonder Man in the costume that he designed for that latter character in The Avengers #161; I forget which. I was thrilled to get the chance to talk to him and told him I was sorry I didn’t have my sketchbook with me. He said he’d look forward to seeing it next time. Then I had to go. My mother didn’t understand superheroes or appreciate comic books and didn’t get how awesome it was that George was there; she had other places to be, and other things to do that were, incredibly, more important than talking to George. (Mothers and comic books are seldom a good mix, for some reason.) Thankfully, that would not be the last time George and I would cross paths.
A few years later, my friend Billy and I attended a convention in Syracuse where George and Joe Sinnott were highlighted guests, and I got to have a much better visit with him. This was when Crisis on Infinite Earths was about to be released, and George had preview pages of it with him. I had the chance to stare awestruck at them before they were published—and this time, I had the chance to show him my portfolio. I let him see the original characters of my own that I was working on at the time, which happened to include a pair of super-hero cowboys and a super-Indian. George asked me if I were a fan of The Village People! (And I wasn’t even Out at the time, not even to myself!) This was not mockery on his part; it’s well known that George was what we call “Straight But Not Narrow” or “A Friend of the Family”—a heterosexual ally of the gay community. I also told him that people always compared my artwork to his (remember, he was the comic book artist that I studied the most closely), and George’s reaction to that was one that I never forgot.
George told me HE was flattered.
He didn’t have to say that. But that was the sort of guy George was—always kind and gracious to fans, always setting the right example by the way he treated the people who admired him. Other people’s accounts of meeting him are consistent with my own. Not only was he brilliant, he had genuine noblesse oblige.
I spent so many of the happiest hours of my fan life with George. He was most in his element with comics about hero teams. The more characters he got to draw in a story, the better he liked it, and he would never, ever skimp on the details in the art. His pages were packed! Everything with George was as elaborate as it could get. Give George Perez a story with ten Avengers, and he’d be like Oliver Twist: “I’d like some more, please.” I once read that when he started working on The New Teen Titans, he was turning out a fully penciled issue of that book every two weeks. I look at those incredible, detail-crammed early issues now and think in wonder and amazement; He did THIS in fourteen days. Fourteen days….
I’ll never forget the excitement of the beginning of The New Teen Titans, a comic book in which George drew longtime DC characters alongside new characters of his own design. Not only was getting that first issue a thrill, but when I went to pick it up at the store, a surprise awaited me—The Justice League of America #184, the first issue of that book that he drew. I had no idea he was doing it, but The JLA, like The Avengers, was a book that George was born and destined to draw. (Evidently, George had no idea he was going to do it, either. The book’s longtime artist, Dick Dillin, had suddenly died right when George was coming over to DC from Marvel, and George got that book at the same time as he was starting Titans.) I was in art school at the time, and those special weeks when I could get a double shot of George Perez on Titans and JLA at the same time after classes were some of my most satisfying fan experiences.
Everything that George touched was the best that a comic book could get, and he did so much important work that changed the course of comics history. Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of the great achievements in comic book art. George’s Wonder Woman, where he was responsible for the reboot concept, the story, and the absolutely mind-blowing art, remains one of the most ingenious things that I’ve ever seen. And imagine being responsible for taking the institutional character of Robin—Batman’s Robin—and evolving him into Nightwing. Imagine having that kind of presence, that kind of influence, on the history and evolution of comics. But that was George’s place, and no one else could have been more deserving.
Some fans will remember my one collaboration with George: the cover of Gay Comics #20, which I penciled and George inked.
There’s so much more I could relate to you about following George Perez’s work. His late-1990s return to The Avengers was such a triumph, culminating in the one thing that George was truly born to do, his true “destiny project”—Avengers/JLA, the ultimate crossover, and team-up. Four issues, two hundred-plus pages, four wrap-around covers, and hundreds—truly hundreds—of characters, representing almost the entire cast of Marvel heroes and villains going back to the 1950s. This was a celebration of everything that classical superhero comics had been about since the beginning of the Silver Age, and to me, it is the single crowning achievement of all comic book art, something that no one else will ever touch and no one else will ever top. And George Perez was unquestionably, undeniably the man for the job.
In all of comic books, there are exactly two artists who have had regularly published magazines specifically about them and their work. One is Jack Kirby, with The Jack Kirby Collector. The other one… Well, I have a couple of articles in issues of Pacesetter – The George Perez Magazine.
To me, there was no question that George was our greatest living comic book artist. (Jack Kirby, who left us in 1994, will always be the King of Comics.) In 2014, when George retired for health reasons from drawing regular comic books after his independent Sirens miniseries, it marked the end of a career that defined the word “illustrious.” And then, last November, came the news that he wouldn’t be with us for much longer.
I remembered how kind he’d been to me that weekend in Syracuse, and I cried. He was kind to everyone. His kindness was the equal to his brilliance.
I wanted to write all this to George himself, but like a writer, I kept procrastinating about it. Now I have no place to put it but here.
The pace has been set. I don’t see anyone else matching it, but it’s been set as only George could have set it.
All I have left to say, to George’s memory, is just, “Thank you, Mr. Nobody. Thank you for forty years of the most beautiful and inspiring comic books that ever rolled off the press. Well done, my friend. Very well done indeed.”
GEORGE PEREZ: Memories of a Fan and Artist by J.A. Fludd
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