Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Wednesday Comics: Rest in Peace - George Perez


photo by Luigi Novi

George Perez was not just a comic book artist.

George Perez was THE comic book artist.

For me, he was the greatest comic artist ever to work in the medium.  He had a style that was so powerful, dynamic and vivid.  But at the same time, his work was not overly stylized in the way that the Image generation of artists was.  His work was completely and utterly accessible.  That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it absolutely is not.  Some artists turn you off by the quirks of their style.  I don't know anyone who was not enamored of Mr. Perez's work.

My first memory of seeing his art was in The New Teen Titans #39.  The second page was a gigantic splash page of all the Titans taking on the villains.  What drew my attention was how he drew Dick Grayson as Robin.  At this point, Dick was about to leave the role behind him because he had outgrown it.  But he was still wearing the classic costume he had worn since his debut decades earlier.  While it is clear that he had outgrown it, I was amazed that Mr. Perez drew him in a way that did not make him look silly.  That is no small feat given the nature of the costume, pointy-ankle-booties and everything.  Mr. Perez could do this because when we looked at Dick, we were looking at the man beyond the costume.

One of the greatest sequences he ever drew, in my opinion, was in that same storyline, The Judas Contract, where Deathstroke attacked Dick Grayson in his apartment.  In just a few panels, Perez was able to create cinematic motion and incredible dramatic tension as Dick tries desperately to escape the clutches of a man he know he cannot beat.

In the middle of the 1980's The New Teen Titans was the biggest selling book at DC.  This is a tribute to writer Marv Wolfman's work to be sure.  But Mr. Perez's art style was a gigantic draw.  He had the difficult task of making sure our heroes looked mature, on the verge of adulthood, but not too mature.  They still needed to keep their youth and innocence.  They also had to be incredibly cool, which they were.  The art was stunning and dynamic.  He designed the look for Nightwing and the others and set tone of style for other books.

Mr. Perez's best work is, without a doubt, Crisis on Infinite Earths.  I truly believe that series would not have been nearly as successful without his deft hand.  He could create scenes of the most epic scope, filled with hundreds of characters.  Some of his pages I would simply stare at in awe, looking at all of the characters he put into it.  And even in these pages and panels you could see his genius as a micro-storyteller.  His details of body language and facial expression told little stories about how characters felt about each other and how they interacted.  The scale showed his power as a macro-storyteller.  Crisis was a story of unimaginable size and he made everything feel larger-than-life.  I read and re-read Crisis so many times that the images are burned into my imagination.

He also did amazing work for Marvel.  Although I never really connected with the book, his art on Avengers defined the look of the team.  He also drew one of the greatest Hulk stories every written: Future Imperfect.  Everyone who talks about that story remembers the Rick Jones trophy room shot.  If I remember the story correctly, Peter David wrote that Thor's hammer would be hanging on the wall.  But Perez, who loved the character, reminded David that it would have to be on the ground, since only someone worthy could lift it.

Mr. Perez also drew the first few issues of The Infinity Gauntlet, where brought his epic Crisis style to that book.  My favorite shot is a strange insert of Captain America, bleeding into the background.

Since he was such a respected artist at both companies, they commissioned him to draw their Justice League vs. Avengers comic.  But company politics caused the book to be cancelled, even though Mr. Perez had already been drawn several pages.  Fortunately after many, many years, the big two companies were able to work out the problems and they very wisely returned to Mr. Perez to draw the book.  This comic is a visual feast.  You can see how much fun Mr. Perez had playing with all the Marvel and DC toys while at the same time showing his utter reverence for the characters.

He was able to complete revamp Wonder Woman after Crisis, but I have never gotten around to reading that book.  I was so pleased that Mr. Perez, my favorite artist, was able to work with Geoff Johns, my favorite writer, on Legion of 3 Worlds.  That is another book that truly, no one but Mr. Perez could have drawn.

There is too much in his illustrious career to capture in this small remembrance.

He married his second wife, Carol, in the 1980's.  From what I was able to gather, she was a professional dancer and she helped him understand how to incorporate more dynamic and graceful movements in his art.  They did not have any children.

He suffered from several health problems over the years including diabetes and liver disease.  This past December, he was diagnosis with inoperable pancreatic cancer.  He was given no more than a year to live.  He opted to forgo treatment and enjoy his last few days with his wife as best he could.

His last words to his fans were these:

Well, that’s it for now. This is not a message I enjoyed writing, especially during the Holiday Season, but, oddly enough, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit more now than I have in many years. Maybe it’s because it will likely be my last. Or maybe because I am enveloped in the loving arms of so many who love me as much as I love them. It’s quite uplifting to be told that you’ve led a good life, that you’ve brought joy to so many lives and that you’ll be leaving this world a better place because you were part of it. To paraphrase Lou Gehrig: “Some people may think I got a bad break, but today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

It brings me comfort to know that so many people were able to reach out Mr. Perez and let them know how much he touched their lives.  This is the bond that the artist has with his audience.  He opens up a window into the good, the true, and the beautiful which feeds the soul and lives.  That is what he did for me.  He opened up an entire universe of heroic virtue and endless possibilities that still inspire my imagination.

But above all, his art gave me joy.

And for that, I will always be grateful.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Rest in Peace, George Perez

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