MEGACON: SPOTLIGHT ON GEORGE PEREZ
By Todd H. Latoski
A multitude of fans gathered at MegaCon today for a special Q&A panel with the legendary George Perez. Perez opened the discussions by announcing that he could not discuss his upcoming project. He said that for the first time in his career, he had to sign a confidentiality agreement, so he is unable to discuss it. Which, he laughed, makes it very interesting at conventions, because he can't answer the obvious question from fans.
He did say, though, that he just finished a 10-page story for the 50th issue of Justice Society of America - "Cornerstone" written by Mark Buckingham, with whom he had never worked before. He is also working on Secret Seven, a three-part mini-series written by Peter Milligan. The series spins out of Flashpoint and is offering Perez the opportunity to draw Shade the Changing Man, a character he has never really drawn before. He said he was going for a different style and is channeling his "inner Steve Ditko."
Perez made many fans happy by announcing that Teen Titans: Games is set to come out in September. The penciling is complete, the inking is finished, and all that needs to be finished is the coloring. He admitted that trying to remember a story from 20-years ago was not the easiest task. "The original plot was okayed by DC back in the 80s," Perez said. "I have people in the room who weren't even born when it was done." He said he was surprised how long it has been going on. Unlike the JLA/Avengers, which was re-started from scratch, with Teen Titans: Games, he is using the same pages of art that were originally drawn and just continuing with that same style. He said he worked hard to draw the new pages as close as possible to how he drew the characters back in the 80s and 90s. "Thankfully," Perez said, "Mike Perkins has given the book some consistency." They have inserted some new pages in-between the old pages, as they have changed the story a bit. He added that the ending is completely different from how it was originally planned. "This is kind of my swan song on the Teen Titans," Perez said. "I don't know that I could go back on Wonder Woman either. I don't want any projects that simply go back and repeat what I've done before."
When he's not drawing, Perez told fans that he spends time with his wife and theater groups. This year, he'll only be attending MegaCon, DragonCon, and Pittsburgh; and next year, the only American conventions he attends will be MegaCon and DragonCon. "They are fun," he said. "My wife teaches belly dancing classes, and in fact, she performs tomorrow. So I will NOT be at my table when she is performing." He added that on June 26th, they will be celebrating their 30th anniversary, but that March 26th is their 357th month anniversary. "At a convention, it's hard to find quiet times," he said. "There are times where I just want to be alone with my wife." Outside of conventions, he added that he will be appearing for Free Comic Day at Coliseum of Comics in Sanford, Florida.
Perez then opened the floor for questions.
How do you feel about the way they transitioned from the Judas Contract into the cartoon?
Perez said that he seldom watched the show. "It is one of those situations where I knew they would be making a bulk of changes visually," he told those present. "It was alien to me. I was invited to the premier party for the cartoon, but, frankly, I was not impressed. It bore no semblance to what I had drawn." He admitted that he later met a fan and his child, and learned the fan grew up with his comic, while the fan's child grew up on the cartoon, but they both loved the Titans. When he realized how awed the child was with him for being the creator of Cyborg, Perez realized the import the cartoon had. "When they told me they would be using the Judas Contract on the cartoon," he said, "I didn't watch it. But I've heard a lot of good things about it. So I can't make a judgment on it." A fan asked about the DVD cartoon version of the Judas Contract that had been previously mentioned by DC, but Perez said that project is in limbo right now.
I hated Vibe in the Detroit Justice League. How would you approach the idea of bringing more characters that are ethnic in the comics?
Perez laughed and admitted he hated Vibe as well. He went on say that a character should be defined by his history, not by his ethnicity. "I think understanding a person's culture helps," he said, "but I wasn't put in a rocket and flown to another planet, yet I can write about that. You just have to make the character work for you. If the ethnic background has a story purpose, then that's the storytelling. But Vibe was a stereotype at the time. Dazzler with the whole disco fad is another example. She was defined by the gimmick. Breakdancing was a fad - only thing that came out of that, and that was the phrase, ';Electric Bugaloo." Any time there's a sequel, you just throw that on the end, and it's become a whole big joke."
Perez said he had the privilege of being the first person to draw the White Tiger, who was the first Puerto Rican character. He was quick to point out, however, that he didn't create the character. The person who did create White Tiger wasn't even Puerto Rican. "You have to talk to people," Perez said. "When I have to draw and write women, I talk to a lot of women. Do some research. But I try to make the character interesting universally regardless of his or her ethnic background."
Are comic readers not ready for more diverse characters?
Perez said that deliberately making the next generation characters a woman or Hispanic serves no purpose. "I respect all the stuff that was done by McDuffie," he said. "They were ethnic characters, yet they became integrated into the DC world. But creating characters by saying, ';We need a female character similar to Wildcat, so let's make a female Wildcat' isn't going to sole the problem. Why not create a new character. A lot of it may be the brand name value that gives the character a certain brand recognition. But they may face backlash from the fans who know they are doing it simply to force the diversity."
Perez pointed out that fans are quick to clamor that, "You need to give the fans what the fans want," yet, since the fans themselves cannot agree on what they want, it's impossible to please them all. "You try to serve a lot of masters and betray all of them," he said.
Perez indicated that in comics, it is always a tough thin. There are a lot of years of the "homogenized" look in comics. They are usually Caucasian men and women. It's a tough question to address without feeling as if the need for addressing it outweighs the creative spark.
When DC started doing their direct to DVD movies - other than Judas Contract, any story you've done that you'd like to see?
Perez quickly answered that he believed the Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Gods storyline would work very nicely. With the Teen Titans, he said that DC felt the Titans didn't have enough of a fan base. And Crisis on Infinite Earths would be impossible for the average person to get into. "Challenge of the Gods would work for anyone," he said, "as the character is familiar. I had that story in mind to do before they decided to restart the character after Crisis. When I got involved in the re-launch, it felt like it was made just for me, so I worked up to that one."
Can you tell us about the new television series based upon Raven?
"All I know is that they are planning one," Perez replied. "I think they are going for the whole Charmed theme. They want to fill the hole of Smallville going off the air. Being so close to the character, I probably don't want to know what they are going to do. But I'll gladly take the royalty checks. Marv and I earned a lot of money on the Teen Titans cartoon. We earn money on every one of the characters we've created. DC has been very good to us on that."
After you left Teen Titans around the time of Crisis, why did you not go back?
Perez revealed that he had already left the Titans series at the point when Crisis came along. "I left Titans because it was too successful," he answered. "I could only maintain a monthly schedule up to a certain point. In order to keep a monthly schedule, I would have to start taking shortcuts. I was in a dangerous spot - I could do less than my best work and still earn a lot of money, and I would deteriorate as an artist if I did that. I was going to lose my edge with the Titans, and I didn't want to do that."
As an artist, what is the best advice you've received from another artist?
"Don't draw because you want to make money," Perez responded. "You have to learn to draw first and foremost. Wake up in the morning and know you want to draw. And with comic books, not only do you want to draw, but you want to tell a story. Like a silent film in your mind, you want to tell as much of a story as possible without the words - so that the writer does not need to explain your work. You have to be part of the storytelling process. Another thing, when you're telling a story as an artist, there should be nothing you won't be willing to draw. My second issue of the Avengers, back when many of you weren't even born, the story had the Avengers thrown back into the Old West. I had never drawn a horse, never drawn an Old West locomotive. This was before the internet, so I had to go get reference to be able to draw it. I wanted to draw. I've been drawing professionally since I was 19 years old - I'm fortunate to have a childhood that's gone on for years and years. I'm still as excited about seeing my work in print. Astonishing Tales #25 was my first work, a two-page gag story. I still get a thrill out of seeing my name. If I see articles or blogs where my name is mentioned, I want to see what they say about me It's still like the first time, I get excited simply to see my name in print."
With regards to Crisis, the decision to kill Barry Allen - how did you feel about that?
"I thought it was gutsy," Perez replied. "We needed something to show that this means business. I wasn't aware there was an ';out' to bring him back. I just killed him off. The death of Supergirl was a big thing. She was actually shown dead on the cover. Flash, on the other hand, you didn't know he died until you read the issue. They were both strong, emotional deaths. With Supergirl, they were cleaning up the Superman universe, and Flash was the first of the Silver Age characters. The original Superman and Lois Lane, though, Marv did not want to kill, since he was the man who started it all. That is why he was sent into his own little pocket universe. DC agreed with it, and hoped that since we had Wally West waiting in the wings, the Flash would become a legacy character. And one of the things about fans, nostalgia runs through your veins. Death in comics will always be a revolving door, so long as the fans demand. I wish they had kept Barry Allen dead, but the fans wanted him back."
Since you've been in the industry, who are some of the top creators you've collaborated with?
Perez was quick to reply that, "First and foremost, was Joe Sinnott, my inker of Fantastic Four. He brought out all the good points in my work. Otherwise, it really depends on the era, because the inkers I worked with years ago may not work so well on my art now. Scott Koblish is my inker now, and he's amazing. He's so fast, but so good." Perez went on to add that, "I would like to ink myself, but I can't because of my obsessiveness with detail and my eyes aren't what they used to be. JLA/Avengers was my big hurrah, being able to draw and ink that all myself. They volunteered to have someone ink the last issue for me, because of my carpel tunnel, but I refused and it only took me three months to complete that last issue. I was determined to finish that book."
What do you think the future is on physical comics? Everything is specialty market, the prices are so high, and kids can't afford it.
Perez laughed that he hopes they last during his lifetime. "I'd like to think there will always be a niche market who want to read something on paper," he said. "Even if it is printed digitally, you still need to have someone with pen and paper, or even a keyboard and a mouse to come up with ideas. As much as people talk about CGI movies that have replaced 2-D art drawing, I believe there is room for both. I am hoping they find a middle ground. I'm not technically savvy enough to know the plusses or minuses on the cost of producing a digital comic. If the industry passes me by, I'll know when the phones don't ring any more. Until then, I'll just keep drawing. Only time will tell. If I could predict the future, I'd be investing a lot of money. All I want to do is draw."
Perez added that one of his idols growing up in Norman Rockwell. "He died with an unfinished drawing on his easel," Perez said. "I want to die the same way, so long as it's not what's on my drawing board now! Maybe the last thing I'll ever draw is my wife..."
Are there any characters you don't like drawing?
Perez admitted that he used to hate drawing Reed Richards, as Richards had a "dull face." It wasn't until John Byrne came in on his second wave of the Fantastic Four and he decided to make Reed look a bit more cartoony that made the character interesting again for Perez.
As far as when they asked me to draw Vibe, I hated the guy," Perez said. "But there's no real character I wouldn't want to draw once, just because I want to draw everyone at least once. Just like the Legion. It was 30 years into my career before I got to draw them. And Changeling - do you know how much research I had to do for him for all the animals he turned into. He became difficult - not him as a character, but because of all he changed into. And I love Batman, but hated drawing him because I had to look up everything technical that he used to make sure the art was realistic. It was one of those things where characters are not as difficult as their environments."
You touched earlier on transitioning from one Flash to the next?
"For me," replied George, "in doing the Flashes - if you look at my Barry Allen and Wally West, you can tell they are two different people. When Wally got his own series, he looked like he gained 100 lbs! I have the same problem with Starfire. You can see when I drew her, she's like a female character with a lion mane. She had a recognizable silhouette. That's gone now. She looks like any other character. She has straight hair and the standard female hero look. At one point, I drew all the Titans bald, so I could see what each one looked like to make them all look different without the hair making them different. Developing Terra, she had a distinct different face. All the girls had distinctive faces, body types. I deliberately made Terra and Raven small girls. It bugs me that different artists have different interpretations. Just like sketch artists - it may be different artists drawing, but the person they are drawing should ultimately look the same no matter who sketches it."
Perez then introduced his nieces, who were sitting in the audience and were dressed in costume as Wonder Girl and Terra.
It was nice you got to wrap up your Wonder Woman arc in issue 600 - you incorporated all the Greek mythology in her series while you were writing it. Did you intentionally try to make her look more Greek?
"Very much so," Perez said. One of the things about doing Diana during his run on Wonder Woman, he didn't want her to look like an all-American girl. HG Peter had his own distinctive style, but once he left, she looked like any other female hero. Perez always thought Wonder Woman should not be white, not with her Mediterranean background. He wanted to give her something that did not make her American-looking. He tried to give her a longer, angular nose and very high cheekbones. He wanted her to have a strong look. And when he had Diana and Donna meet, he wanted them to look like different women, not copies of each other. Perez referenced a recent story where Donna became Wonder Woman, and he said that she looked the same as Diana. "If I'm going to draw Donna wearing the Wonder Woman costume," he said, "she will not look like Diana. I take great pride in keeping my characters different. The characters should come before our egos. We shouldn't say ';this is MY way of doing Wonder Woman' or such. I think we lose some of what makes the character interesting when everyone has the ability to change the character and ignore what's come before."
Perez further revealed that he was asked to be the DC art director, but he turned it down because he would have had to move to NY for it. All the artists were gung ho about him doing it, and they were giving him great encouragement; while he was very flattered, he just couldn't do it. "I would have to give up drawing," he said. "When John Romita became art director at Marvel, he had to give up all his drawing. And I love drawing too much. I will continue drawing comics until the day I die. I have been blessed so far beyond my work. I have a group of people here to listen to me talk, as if anything I have to say is important. I may not read the comics any more, but I have a great group of friends, a very loyal fan base. I like that one time, when I was hospitalized, I had a fan from Spain send me flowers. When I die, I'd like to think that I'll have a well-attended funeral and be remembered. I'd like to hope I left a very large footprint in the sands of time. A wonderful group that I work with, the Moonlight Players - they have a budget of a boxed lunch, but they produce a really great show. I also perform on stage with them. We have a lot of young people there that I have adopted as nephews, nieces, and cousins. They are my family, and they keep me going. I have my wife, who puts a spark in my life and my eyes every single moment of every day. When I go to comics and conventions, I have you, and I am very, very grateful."
You started when you were 19? Who was the first artist who gave you constructive criticism?
Perez replied that the first artist who gave him constructive criticism was Neal Adams, one of his idols. "I love his work," Perez said. "He totally changed the course of the game in looking at comics. He was the first artist that saw my work. I'd never had an art lesson. And I still have the blisters from when Neal gave me feedback. Regardless, he was one of the first people to congratulate me when I turned pro. He admitted he was doing no favors by coddling me - he comes across strong, but he's helpful. Marv Wolfman, my dear friend Marv, said I didn't know how to draw perspective - so I said I would show him. We came up for an idea for White Tiger with White Tiger looming over the cityscape, and the lines of the buildings spelling out White Tiger. I looked at the perspective and studied the angles, and I thought I proved him wrong; but actually, I proved him right, because I had to study and learn how to do that perspective in order to show him. Sometimes people will criticize you just to be nasty, but there are others who will address certain points. When a writer sends me a script, if I'm cursing his name as I draw the stories, then I know I'll come out of it as a better artist. I will make myself better from it. You can always learn from every circumstance. I don't scare easy - I quiver a lot, but I don't scare easy. I respect all of the artists who don't take the easy way out.
"My wife one time criticized me, asking if I was afraid of success because I take so long on some things. But I'm still getting royalties 20 years later on work that I did back then, so if it stands the test of time, then it's worth it to me. If you can show that you are having fun on the page, then the fans reading it will enjoy it. Never get tired of what you do. I want to draw comics. I want to do the best I can, and hopefully I will have a fan base that are old enough to be my father and young enough to be my grandchildren."
Have you seen the recent change to Wonder Woman's costume, and what do you think about it? And what about the costume for the new television show?
Perez deferred to comment on the new costume in the comics, because of his history with Wonder Woman, he felt it was unfair for me to give any comments. "Plus," he said, "it's not my character. For those who liked my version of Wonder Woman, the back issues are out there to read. I have no vested interest in the television show. With Raven, yes, I have a vested interest, so I hope it succeeds. I have seen the ads for the television costume, and, having a lot of friends who are cos players and seamstresses, I can understand why it is causing so much controversy. My gut reaction was how shiny it looked, I actually wondered if it was an action figure. Even the actress looked shiny. But we shall see."
What are your favorite pieces of work that you've done?
Without hesitation, Perez said he loved the death of Supergirl cover for Crisis on Infinite Earths, issue 7, which he feels stands the test of time. He also named a cover from Crossgen Chronicles, which featured Meridian.
When asked if there were any he hated, he said there is one book that he has only seen a French version, which was his movie adaptation of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Band.. It was released in Japan, but he has never seen it in U.S. Perez said his art was only mediocre, and he had an inker that didn't work well on his art, and the book really bombed. "That is the one book that I am glad to say to this day I have never signed a single copy," he said. "If anyone finds a copy, I'll take his picture. I tried to get references for the Beatles, because we were given limited references. We never saw any footage from the film. I think they gave me the assignment because I had just done a biography of the Beatles in comic form."
How do you manage breaks from your work?
Perez said it depends on how difficult it is to draw whatever it is he is working on. "If I am erasing more than penciling," he said, "then I know it's time to take a break. I'm going through eye surgeries, so when my eyes get tired, it's time for a break. When you find you are taking too long for something that used to be so easy, it's time to take a break. I had some pages that were an eraser's nightmare. I left it, and the next morning, an epiphany. When you do something over and over - if you add up all my hours behind the drawing board, you're bound to get tired. You are always creating on a schedule, and that's hard to do."
With that, the panel ended, and Perez gave heartfelt wishes to all his fans, thanking them for their loyalty and support.
Todd H. Latoski/Writer
Todd was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, but moved to Florida back in the late 1980s. Todd grew up reading comics and have always been a fanboy. Working in the legal field by day and writing his heart out at night (with three published comic stories to date, and one more in the works),Todd has been doing MegaCon coverage for several years and looks forward to doing so for many years go come.
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