George Perez broke into the comic book industry in the summer of 1974 (which also happens to be the season and the year I was born) but his story begins a little bit before that. Perez had graduated from high school and was working as a bank teller in 1972 and ’73 when a high school friend brought him to a comic book convention. Perez describes himself as a self-taught artist, but he brought his portfolio along with him anyway. He showed it to several editors and companies and received some fairly harsh criticism. Marv Wolfman, then an editor a Marvel, said that he didn’t know anatomy or perspective. Neal Adams, the head of Continuity Studios, told him to quit inking his own work because he obviously didn’t know how.
Perez went home with the expressed purpose of proving his critics wrong. He could draw anatomy. He did know how to ink. But by trying to prove them wrong, he ended up proving them right. His anatomy, perspective, inking, everything improved as he worked harder on his craft.
Meanwhile, at least one other person showed some faith in him. Marvel artist Rich Buckler had also seen George Perez’s portfolio and remembered the young artist. When he needed help on a project, he gave Perez a call. George Perez completed two pages of a Deathlok story for Astonishing Tales #25, which was published with a cover date of August, 1974.
Buckler was happy with how that project turned out and continued to throw small jobs Perez’s way. Perez even worked as an uncredited assistant for Buckler on Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3, which was published in November of that same year. Perez describes that Fantastic Four story as his big break into the industry. (2)
Even though he didn’t receive a credit for the Fantastic Four story, Perez did garner the notice of the editors at Marvel Comics. He was soon receiving work on his own merit. Superheroes were in a bit of a slump at the time, and other genres like monster stories and kung fu were on the rise. Perez got to do a bit of both. He was assigned “The Sons of the Tiger” back-up feature in “Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu” beginning in issue 6 (November, 1974) and then the Man-Wolf series in “Creatures on the Loose” (starting with #33, January 1975). Since one story was a back-up feature and the other title was bi-monthly, Perez was able to work on both series at the same time.
After working as a professional artist for a year, George Perez received no less than three new assignments. All of them happened to be team books, cementing Perez’s reputation. His bi-monthly Inhumans series debuted in October 1975 and he took over both of Marvel’s preeminent team books, Avengers and Fantastic Four, in November (issues 141 and 164, respectively). Perez also picked up a nickname, “Pacesetter,” due to his heavy workload. The name appeared in Bullpen Bulletin pages, credit boxes and letter pages.
Despite his new nickname, Perez couldn’t keep up the pace. He dropped Inhumans from his schedule after five issues (the first four and #8) and he needed fill-in artists on both Avengers and Fantastic Four by their fifth issues (March, 1976). Marvel and Perez made the necessary adjustments. Though he remained the regular artist on both of the big team books until the first half of 1978, he worked on a somewhat more relaxed schedule. Perez would draw two or three issues in a row and then contribute covers for a couple of issues while other artists gave him a break.
George Perez became a comic book superstar. In 1977, he and writer Jim Shooter presented classic Avengers stories in which the team fought Ultron and Count Nefaria. Then, in 1978, they delivered one of the Avengers’ greatest epics, “The Korvac Saga.”
By the end of the decade, George Perez transitioned to more of a free agent than a team player. Marvel temporarily pulled him off of his team books in order to draw Logan’s Run (January-May 1977), the comic version of the movie that they thought would be a big hit. He finished up his earlier Man-Wolf story in Marvel Premiere #45-46 (December 1978 and February 1979). He took a turn on Marvel Two-in-One, the team-up title featuring the Thing, for four issues in 1979 and two more in 1980 (56-60, 64-65). He took a shot at Marvel’s newest and now greatest team with X-Men Annual 3 in 1979. He even came back to the Fantastic Four for a pair of annuals (#14 and 15 in ’79 and ’80) and to the Avengers for a second run (issues 194-202 from April to December, 1980). (3)
George Perez was now Marvel’s go-to guy and jack of all trades. Marvel’s editors and fans weren’t the only ones who had noticed. In 1980, Marvel’s rival, DC Comics, came calling and Perez’s career took a new turn.
III. The Titans Years (1980-1985)
DC had big plans for George Perez. The editors wanted him to work on two team titles for them, as he had earlier for Marvel. One, they would assign. The other, he would be allowed to choose for himself. Unsurprisingly, they assigned him their flagship team, the Justice League of America. Perez debuted as the regular penciler on that title with issue 184 in November of 1980 and would stay on, with built-in breaks, until issue 200 in March of 1982.
However, George Perez surprised everyone with the team he chose for his second title. Marv Wolfman had approached Perez with an idea. The two were now friends from having worked together at Marvel on books like Fantastic Four Annual #14. Wolfman was a fan of the Teen Titans and suggested that the two of them work on a revival.
Perez agreed and they approached the DC editors with their idea. Their bosses were skeptical. The title was considered a failure, as several earlier re-launches had already fizzled out. But they had agreed to let Perez pick one of his own titles and reluctantly gave the go ahead.
Wolfman and Perez’s “New Teen Titans” debuted with a cover date of November, 1980 (the same as Perez’s first issue of Justice League). The new title was like lightning in a bottle. By focusing on the character’s personal lives as well as their superhero adventures, the Titans became the new standard for story-telling. It was compared favorably to the Uncanny X-Men, Marvel’s biggest title. And it quickly grew into one of DC’s best-selling and most critically-acclaimed books. DC dedicated their company calendar to the Titans in 1982. Amazing Heroes named it one of the top ten books of that same year. Britain’s Eagle Awards named it the best team book of 1984. (4)
George Perez was on top of the world. However, with the Titans’ incredible success assured, his attention started to wander. While continuing to work on the Titans, he began to dabble in side projects. He made a brief return to Marvel, drawing a Black Widow story for Marvel Fanfare #10-13 in 1983 and ’84. He drew a couple of short stories for Pacific Comics’ Alien Worlds and Vanguard Illustrated. And he contributed covers and half of the interior pencils to a revival of Wally Wood’s Thunder Agents in 1985. It looked like he was on his way back to becoming a jack of all trades, as he was in his later days at Marvel. But DC came up with a new project for Perez that would be one of the biggest challenges of his career.
DC had plans for a huge story that would cross over into every title and re-write their entire history. There was only one artist for such a project, especially with Marv Wolfman also attached as the writer. In 1985, George Perez began work on his magnum opus: Crisis on Infinite Earths. He would draw all 12 covers as well as every single interior page. He would even contribute extra illustrations for an inside cover and a letters page.
The story, co-plotted by Wolfman and Perez, has been accused of being shock and awe with little substance. But the art was phenomenal, if not seminal. Perez played with panel height and depth in a way that hadn’t been seen since Winsor McCay had been working on “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” And he crammed more characters and more details into every panel than a fan could have imagined or hoped for. Ron Goulart even held up Perez’s work on Crisis as the epitome of modern style in his book “The Great History of Comic Books,” also published in 1986. (5)
Perez finished up his work on Crisis with the two part “History of the DC Universe.” He had already established himself as a star with his work on The Avengers and The New Teen Titans. Now, he was the biggest artist in the industry. The only question remained, “What next?”
Whenever he was given the choice to decide the direction of his own career, George Perez always made surprising choices. No one would have predicted The New Teen Titans to become a success, let alone DC’s biggest title. In 1987, fresh off of Crisis on Infinite Earths, George Perez did it again. Told that he could pick any title he wanted, George Perez asked for Wonder Woman. It was a shocking request. As comics had retreated to the predominantly male direct market, Wonder Woman’s sales had shriveled. There were even rumors that the only
reason DC was still publishing the title was to prevent the character rights from reverting
to the William Moulton-Marston estate. (That was only true of the Legend of Wonder Woman mini-series by Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek that was published to fill in the gap while waiting for Perez’s Amazon revival.) But Perez had a self-acknowledged feminist streak. He wanted to prove that Wonder Woman could be a great title once again.
And, once again, his bosses at DC agreed to his wishes. This time, however, Perez would be the writer as well as the artist.
The new Wonder Woman debuted in February 1987. The gamble paid off. With Perez’s name attached, Wonder Woman became a big seller. Its success was mentioned in house ads promoting other revivals, such as one for the Atom. George Perez picked up an Eagle Award for his Wonder Woman cover art. (6) And Trina Robbins dedicated an entire section to the revival in her history book “The Great Women Superheroes.” (7)
Yet George Perez couldn’t stand pat. He was in too much demand. And he was interested in too many other opportunities. He continued as the writer and cover artist of Wonder Woman until January of 1992. But he slowly stepped back from other parts of the book. He initially drew complete pencils. In 1988, he was often credited with contributing breakdowns that other artists finished. By issue 25 (January 1989), he had fully passed off the penciling chores.
Meanwhile, he was lending his talents to DC’s other superstars. He spent a short stint on a Superman title, drawing 9 of 10 issues of Action Comics from 643 to 652 (July 1989-April 1990). He drew an arc of Batman, “A Lonely Place of Dying,” in issues 440-442 (July-September 1989). And he made a triumphant return to the Titans, becoming the regular penciler for New Titans issues 50 through 61 (December 1988 to December 1989). There was even a Secret Origins annual focusing on the Titans (#4, 1989) and the plans for a Titans Graphic Novel. Finally, he was the driving creative force behind DC’s big crossover of 1991. Spinning out of events from Wonder Woman’s own title, George Perez was the writer and artist of War of the Gods (Sept.-Dec. 1991). (8)
George Perez was again manifesting the wanderlust that had marked the end of his Marvel years and his first Titans tenure. This time, it would take him to entirely new places.
(1): Sketch Magazine No. 10, November, 2001, George Perez: The Ultimate Team-Up, p. 4.
(2): Comic Book Marketplace No. 86, October 2001, The Best of All Worlds, Part One: George Perez Interview, p. 20.
(3): The Perez Archives, by Andy Mangels, 2001, pp. 4-24.
(4): The Eagle Awards web-site, Previous Winners: 1984, (http://www.eagleawards.co.uk/previousyears.aspx?YEAR=1984)
(5): Ron Goulart, The Great History of Comic Books: The Definitive Illustrated Edition from the 1890s to the 1980s, January 1986.
(6): The Eagle Awards web-site, Previous Winners: 1987, (http://www.eagleawards.co.uk/previousyears.aspx?YEAR=1987)
(7): Trina Robbins, The Great Women Superheroes, Kitchen Sink Press, April 1997.
(8): The Perez Archives, by Andy Mangels, 2001, pp. 30-68.
Images from Comicvine.com: http://www.comicvine.com/george-perez/26-2913/