George Perez, thank you!

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George Perez, if you’ve been a friend of mine you’ve certainly heard his name. After hearing of his retirement this week, like most fans, I was emotional, taken aback, devastated and happy at all the tributes pouring in. I can’t think of any other artist that has influenced me so much, while he never released a song and was not a songwriter, George’s illustrations, comic books and storytelling were music to my ears, the soundtrack to my childhood and teen years. His drawings taught me how to draw and made me want to be a better artist. You could tell that George poured every emotion into all of his drawings; everything glowed with empathy, power, energy, and vivaciousness. From his people to his cityscapes, even piles of rock or rubble had a fabulous quality to it. My first memories of George’s work was probably from the Justice League run in the late 70’s to early 80’s but it was an announcement back in the summer of 1980 that caught my eye, an ad for the returning Teen Titans comic book, a favorite of mine which was cancelled a year before. This time it was labeled as the “New Teen Titans” by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez.

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I was 12 that summer, living in Montreal when my sister sent me as a gift, tickets to visit her in Calgary, the same month the book was coming out. I remember being worried that I would miss it on the newsstands back home, in those days there was no comic book shops, I had to find my books at the local five and dime, corner store on a metal spinning rack, hoping there would be a copy of the issue I was looking for. If you missed an issue there was little chance of getting one as a back issue. I remember every day I would walk to the corner store in Calgary to find that #1 issue of the New Teen Titans but no luck. One day we were visiting Banff, up at the chalet in Lake Louise, there was store with a newsstand rack with one issue left, I couldn’t believe it, I still have that issue today. The New Teen Titans is probably George’s most important book, he only took the assignment because DC had offered him the Justice League but by issue #8 of the Titans with a story called “A Day In The Life” it was apparent that George along with writer Marv Wolfman stumbled upon a gold mine and an incredible collaboration that would last for many years. nttThe book became DC comic’s biggest seller even outselling Marvel’s famous X-Men. This was the first comic where they allowed characters to evolve and grow up. No longer teenagers, Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl got married and had a kid. Dick Grayson’s Robin grew up and became Nightwing, Wally West’s Kid Flash, after much deliberation gave up his costume and quit the team (and soon took over the mantle as the Flash after Barry Allen died).

Marv and George created many new characters for the book including Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, Terra and Slade Wilson’s Deathstroke the Terminator, all have become iconic and are now seen on film or on TV in various incarnations.The book tackled important issues like runaways and drugs. They created some of the best stories including the Judas Contract which has been adapted for film.

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My favorite issue will always be #38 “Who Is Donna Troy”, a touching tale about Donna’s heritage. In his last appearance as Robin, Dick Grayson finds Donna’s adoptive parents and discovers the mystery of her birth mother. Donna Troy would go on to become my all time favorite character, Marv and George gave Donna so much depth, emotion and sincerity that she would be the meter to which I would judge all other characters.

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All good things must end and eventually George had to move away from the Titans because along with Marv they concocted one of the biggest and most daring comic series ever, 1985’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths”, a 12 part maxi-series that was meant to fix all of DC’s continuity problems, taking all the different eras and earths and fusing it into one. This was the mother book, the blueprint to which all others have copied. While it did create as many problems as it solved, it was a grand staking event featuring just about every character in the DC universe drawn by George like nobody else could. Barry Allen’s Flash and Supergirl both perished in some of the most emotional comic book scenes ever, with the exception of Marvel’s Jean Grey this just did not happen. Speaking of the X-Men, George’s Supergirl death pose cover being held by Superman, an homage to the Jean Grey X-men cover, became one of the most iconic comic book images. Sadly a lot of great continuity and characters suffered during this event including The JSA World War Two heroes and Wonder Woman who was reverted back to clay.

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And speaking of Wonder Woman!

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ww chalkAnother ad I’ll never forget was that one that listed George Perez as the new author and artist for a brand new Wonder Woman series coming out in 1986. I could not believe my eyes, my favorite artist was going to draw my favorite character, I was elated. It’s hard to imagine but by the late 70’s early 80’s the Woman Woman comic was probably one of DC’s worst sellers and on the verge of cancellation. DC decided to start fresh by removing her from the new universe in the Crisis book. They already had Frank Miller on Batman, John Byrne of Superman, so George was the obvious choice to rejuvenate Diana. Not trying to take away from her creator Charles Moulton Marston, but to this day much of Diana’s popularity on film or in pop culture is due to George’s take. His visual take on her is as gorgeous as Lynda Carter was portraying her, but most importantly he took her back to her roots, her Greek mythology origins, his version of the Olympic Gods are still my all time favorite. Diana now had a sense of rich history and an incredible new cast of diverse characters to support her including her mentor Julia Kapatelis, her daughter Vanessa and the wonderful but sad Myndi Mayer. The book tackled several difficult issues never talked about before including suicide and the murder of Myndi Mayer, these characters humanized a sometimes god like immortal figure like Wonder Woman. It dealt with women’s right with beautiful wisdom, Diana was more than a crime fighting superhero called Wonder Woman she was an ambassador of peace.

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One cannot talk about George without mentioning the Avengers or the Justice League of America. Back in the early 80’s there was a huge announcement that he would be drawing this iconic company cross over event. Sadly many editorial problems hampered the book and even after he had drawn many pages, it was completely cancelled, never to see the light of day, leaving many fan wondering what this book would have looked like. That is until 2003, the dream became a reality, with the help of writer Kurt Busiek, George and his fans finally got their wish. This 4 part graphic novel remains another milestone in his career.

Another comic book of note was his involvement in the Infinity Gauntlet series with Jim Starlin, he unfortunately had to quit before completing it, but it became the basis of the Avengers movie series. I’ve only highlighted some of George’s biggest moments but he has drawn so many pages and books that it would a year long blog or more to cover them all.

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phil george perezAfter 25 years of admiring his work I’ve always wanted to meet George and in 2004 I got my wish. I heard George was appearing at Fan Expo in Toronto. I had planned a trip for the first time to New York City just beforehand and I remember arriving back in Montreal just in time to drop my luggage and take a bus out the next day to Toronto. I decided to visit his booth on the Friday night when it would be less busy. I asked George if I could take a picture of him, he said sure and asked if I wanted to be in the picture, I was there alone but luckily another fan agreed to take my camera and the pic. He noticed as I went up to pose with him and put my arm around him, that I was shaking, and he asked if I was OK, I told him that for me, meeting him, was like meeting the Beatles, I knew George was a big Beatles fan, and he totally understood. Unfortunately that picture was taken with my old film camera, something went wrong and the shot didn’t come out. Luckily I got to meet him again in 2006 back in Toronto at Fan Expo and got a picture with my new digital camera. Sometimes you meet your idol and they are not who you expected them to be, sometimes they can disappoint you but George surpassed all my expectations. He was the nicest guy, gracious and spent most of his time drawing for charity that weekend. I could kick myself for not asking for a commission all those years ago what I wouldn’t give for one now.

I’m still crying and devastated to hear of George’s retirement, I can’t imagine not seeing another comic drawn by the master but I’m happy to hear that he is doing financially OK and happy to retire. Thank you George for all those wonderful years of comic books that filled my childhood with joy, you created a magical escape when sometimes school can be cruel. To this day when I draw I still ask, “How would George draw that?”  Happy retirement George, it’s well deserved!

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