THE GEORGE PEREZ INTERVIEWS: The artist opened up about his unexpected run on Justice League of America…
UPDATED 5/9/22: The great George Perez has died at the age of 67. This first ran in June 2019 as part of THE GEORGE PEREZ INTERVIEWS. We re-present it here. Click here for our complete index of Perez features. — Dan
Welcome to THE GEORGE PEREZ INTERVIEWS, a weekly series where the comics master discusses his greatest series.
Over 13 weeks, Perez, who’s retiring from the world of comics, gives you his take on each installment of our recent TOP 13 GEORGE PEREZ COUNTDOWN, which was written by 13th Dimension contributor Anthony Durso. (Click here for much more on that.) The segments are culled from a panel Perez and I did at East Coast Comicon.
Last week was #8 — The Brave and the Bold. (Click here.)
This week, it’s the early ’80s Justice League of America, written by Gerry Conway:
Dan Greenfield: OK, the next one on the list is one of the most popular books that you’ve worked on — Justice League of America.
George Perez: Yes, I mean, everyone who’s ever read any bios of me or articles dealing with my going over to DC Comics, I didn’t want to do Teen Titans. But (I told DC), “I would do it as a favor if you guys let me draw Justice League at least once.”
Because I knew that Dick Dillin and Mike Sekowsky, over a decade and a half, close to two decades, were the only artists on that book and they both had extremely long runs. But I just wanted one issue: “If Dick Dillin ever goes on vacation…” — and little did I realize within a month after I said that, Dick Dillin died of a heart attack. So, I got Justice League. But by that point I had already started Titans.
And I enjoyed drawing Justice League, though I didn’t think I did as good as I could have done. I think a lot of times my inkers were not the best match for me. Frank McLaughlin, as good an inker as he was on Dick Dillin, I don’t think he worked well on me even though Frank and I go back, he inked Man-Wolf on me back at Marvel.
Anyway, I was enjoying it and had a great time drawing all the characters in there. (But with) the Justice League I was going to be one of several artists who have worked on the book. Actually, only the third, but still. But the Titans, we were starting from scratch and it was taking off. I mean I was starting to develop a personal connection with the characters — and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that when the Titans come on the list. (Laughter)
Dan: Yes, the Titans are on the list. (Laughter)
George: If nothing else, when I was supposed to do the original version of JLA/Avengers, I did have the distinction at that time of being the only artist to have drawn both the Avengers and the Justice League. That changed by the time the later version of the series came out, but that was my claim to fame and I handled the 200th issue of both books. It was a lot of fun.
Again, these are the characters I grew up with. I loved them. They’re an integral part of my childhood. I just wanted to do them. When I drew Superman there I tried to evoke Curt Swan or Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who was the modern style at the time. Batman, I was going to Neal Adams or Jim Aparo. So, I was trying to channel them through my style so they would look like the characters instead of just drawing George Perez figures dressed in different costumes. I tried to pay homage to the characters’ history.
People comment that I try to draw the characters distinctly because Gil Kane would draw a face differently than Neal Adams would, or like Curt Swan would. And I’m trying to filter and say, “Look, this is what Superman looks like.”
As a side note, something that used to bother me, and this still bothers me, is the idea that so many artists come in — and I know I’m one of the first generations of superstar artists, the ones that they put your name on a comic and they figure it will help sell it — and the thing we lost in some of that is that the artist becomes more important than the character.
That Superman, the only reason he looks like Superman by some artists is because of the costume. Sometimes they might have altered him and the ‘S’ isn’t right or whatever. We start losing the sense of continuity to the character.
My job in doing these characters, as far as I’m concerned in the industry, is like being a police artist. Police artists are given the same description of a suspect or any other person, and even though (different) styles will show through, you should be able to tell that they’re trying to draw the same character. That’s the thing that bothers me — that other than the costume this doesn’t look like Superman. The jaw is not square, he doesn’t have the cleft in his chin, doesn’t have the proper hairstyle.
That the same face that you’re drawing for Superman is the same face that you’re drawing for Batman. They’re not the same person! Even though they used to draw stories back in the ’50s and ’60s where Superman and Batman were exchanging identities and no one notices the difference!
There was a recent storyline where they had Dick Grayson filling in for Batman and no one notices the difference. Even worse was when they had Donna Troy filling in for Wonder Woman and no one noticed the difference. I’m sorry, these are different women! You are able to tell — they’re not wearing masks — they are different women! But the artists are drawing them the same because they’re not giving them distinctive looks.
That always bothered me, which is why I really worked hard on trying to give the characters a certain look. When I was working on The Avengers, I had Hank Pym, Steve Rogers and Clint Barton, and my job was if I shaved their heads — in that case they’re all three blond men — you should be able to tell without the mask who they are.
And that was my job. I said I don’t want them to be just paper dolls that I manipulate, I want them to be human beings inside those costumes.
That, to me, is what made me a natural for team books because I really pay attention to that.
NEXT: WONDER WOMAN. Click here.
— The GEORGE PEREZ INTERVIEWS Index. Click here.
— GEORGE PEREZ’s TOP 13 Comics Series — RANKED. Click here.
NOTE: The text has been edited and condensed slightly for clarity.