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George Perez's legacy goes far beyond Wonder Woman and the Titans
The iconic artist, who redefined the Avengers and Justice League, has terminal cancer.
Never meet your heroes, or so the saying goes. Well, whoever first said that obviously never met George Perez.
The comics legend is on the minds and hearts of millions of fans after he recently revealed via his Facebook page the devastating news that he has Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. He has decided to let nature take its course, and says he's been told he has, at most, a year to live.
It was news too awful to process at first, because for many Bronze Age comics fans, like this writer, George Perez (accent on the first e) is comics. He's the best artist to ever draw the Avengers, the best to ever draw the Justice League of America, the best to ever draw the New Teen Titans. An absolute legend.
Almost immediately, fans and industry pros flooded social media with their reactions and respect for Perez. Phil Jimenez, like Perez an artist permanently linked to Wonder Woman, saluted his artistic inspiration. So did Bill Sienkiewicz, whose friendship with Perez dates back to the very beginnings of his career. Check out #comicstwitter to see the esteem his peers hold him in. Marvel editor Tom Brevoort also shared a story about Perez's return to Marvel after a lengthy absence, where Perez went on to draw the Infinity Gauntlet. That was the era where the Young Guns — McFarlane, Lee and Liefeld — ruled Marvel. And after an encounter with a fan too young to know Perez's Avengers or Teen Titans work, Perez realized that new comics fans didn't care about his past work.
He had to step up his already great art game even more. And that's what he did.
Few artists in comics have ever shown the ability to maintain such a high quality of work, as he proved throughout his career.
On May 30, 2017, I visited Perez at his home. I was incredibly nervous, because I had never talked with him before, and I wondered if all the stories I had heard of him being incredibly kind with any and all fans he encountered were true. It couldn't be. No one who is substantially famous — and Perez has been a comics superstar since the 1970s — is that gracious.
Soon, I discovered that my cynicism had no place at Casa Perez. He was a joy to talk with, despite the fact our 30-minute interview went for roughly 90 minutes. From his first run on the Avengers, all the way through his epic tenure at DC and his return to Marvel, we covered a decent chunk of his unparalleled career. What came across most was how much he cared about these characters. Whether it was the New Teen Titans, the characters reimagined and those created in tandem with Marv Wolfman, or Wonder Woman, it was clear how much he respects the heroes he brings to life on the page.
Perez's outstanding body of work has provided him with a very comfortable living, a fact that he is incredibly grateful for. The royalties he and Wolfman have made off endless reprints of their New Teen Titans work, and the TV and movie adaptations of those characters, have allowed him to avoid the financial pitfalls that many comics pros face as they age. During our conversation, he credited his friend Wolfman for suggesting that they split ownership of new characters like Cyborg and Raven, no matter who had more of a hand in creating then. Comics is very much a collaborative process, and especially so for Wolfman and Perez at that time. But Perez told me that decision cemented the trust between the pair, which helped them go on to make Titans DC's top book.
The success Perez has enjoyed is key to why he has devoted a significant amount of time to raise money for the Hero Initiative, which helps comics professionals in financial distress. He agreed to sketch with us that day, despite the fact we overstayed our welcome by hours, on one condition: We make a donation to the Hero Initiative. (We did, and you can see the finished drawing here). Also, at the time of this interview, Perez was recovering from recent heart surgery.
Despite being under doctor's orders, he sat there and answered all our questions about his legendary costume design skills. He talked about working on Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Infinity Gauntlet, and the iconic JLA-Avengers crossover. And he drew Wonder Woman, perhaps the character he's best known for, because he wanted to help. To him, it is his responsibility to help care for his fellow comics pros, in the best way he knows how: With a pencil.
Perez is aware of his stature in the business, and he carries it as a badge of honor. During the interview, we broke for lunch and went to a local place that he is a regular diner at. Some of the workers recognized him, and he told me he tries to remember to bring comics to sign for the employees whenever he goes there.
In his statement announcing his cancer prognosis, Perez mentioned that he wants to find a way to interact with fans one last time by doing a signing. No one would hold it against him if he decided he wanted to spend his last months of life in private, with his wife. Instead, he's trying to find a way to get together with the people whose lives have been touched and enriched by his boundless imagination and creativity. To see those that helped fuel his amazing skillset and propel him to rank among the list of the genre's greatest talents.
There will be many tributes and salutes to Perez in the coming months. All of them will be justified. Here's hoping that Marvel and DC, two companies that Perez had immeasurable impact on, will settle corporate differences and figure out a way to bring back the JLA-Avengers mini-series in honor of the artist. (It's ridiculous that one of the most ambitious comics in history is out of print.)
Perez and writer Kurt Busiek created a story that was essentially a love letter to superhero comics. It also happened to feature some of the most stupendous, spectacular and star-studded artwork of Perez's career.
The most we can hope for this great artist is that his final days bring him some of the same joy he's gifted us over so many years. He certainly deserves it.
And if you ever get to meet your heroes, let's hope they meet the standard set by George Perez.