There’s only one place this week’s edition of Comics Disassembled can start, and honestly, it’s taking great restraint to not make this entire column about this subject. Let’s get to it.
1. George Perez, Forever
“He’s still talking to my parents!” I thought in my head as I peered down the aisle once again. “Why is he still talking to my parents?!”
This was at Orlando MegaCon in 1997, the first comic convention I’d ever been to. As a comics obsessed 13 year old, this event was part-convention and part-religious experience for me. Humberto Ramos was there! Greg Capullo! Joe Madureira! There were writers there as well, like Peter David and J. Michael Straczynski, but even then, I was ride or die with artists above all. It was a dizzying, bewildering experience, especially for a middle schooler struggling with a mix of social awkwardness and a deep, deep, deep bout of fanboy fear. What if I meet these legends and they think I’m a total weirdo, which would be completely fair to assume? I was thrilled and horrified in equal measures.
And then I met George Perez.
Perez was one of the first creators I met there, if I remember correctly. I loved Perez’s work. The trophy room scene he depicted in The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect was like a perfect distillation of my dreams and nightmares in one image, and the detail he provided to each panel, page and issue was awe-inspiring. In my brain, though, Perez was a much more manageable first step because while he was a big deal, he wasn’t like the comic artist equivalent of The Beatles to me. I wasn’t going to pass out when I said hello to him like I might of with Ramos, my favorite artist at the time.
So I went up to him, and he completely assuaged all of my fears. I had the feeling even then that he sensed my nervousness. In that moment, it almost seemed like he knew he needed to give me a good experience, if only because that would set the tone for me for the rest of the day and perhaps even forever. He did just that, speaking to me with a kindness and generosity about everything he does, even if every word and question that came out of my mouth may have sounded like a single sound due to my unparalleled levels of excitement. We talked for a bit, with Perez giving me a Wonder Woman print that he signed. Around then, my parents showed up, and like any 13 year old, I knew it was time to bounce. George Perez was cool, but my parents? I don’t know about that. But Perez immediately started talking to them too! It was clearly time to move on to Joe Mad and Ramos and Capullo and everyone else.
I did just that, wandering the halls with tongue wagging and eyes exploding from my head like a living, breathing cartoon character. Ramos did a sketch of Impulse for me, big hair and all. Madureira did a quick drawing of Gambit, one of my faves at the time. It was all grand, and it was all because of Perez, who set me on a path to realizing that maybe these artists are just people, not gods on the highest of pedestals a 13 year old could possibly imagine. It was a remarkable kindness he did for me.
But he was still talking to my parents!
Assuredly I had been gone for hours – it had probably only been a few minutes, but kid brains are weird – and yet he still continued onwards with them. They didn’t even know comics! What has happening?! I was confounded, but continued my joyous tour of the convention all the same.
Eventually my parents disengaged, and my mom even managed to get her Curious George t-shirt signed by a Murderer’s Row of top artistic talents. It was a great day. But the most time any of us spent with anyone that day was with Perez. And it wasn’t because he was trying to sell us on something or convince us of his greatness or any number of things you might do at a convention. It was because, near as I can tell, George Perez is a very nice man who doesn’t look at high-strung teenager and two non-comic reading adults as wastes of time at a commerce-filled event like that. He sees them as people, and people worth engaging with and helping get the most out of their comic convention experience. That’s just who he is.
Meeting Perez has stuck with me for my entire life in a way no other experience that day did. Sure, I still have that Impulse sketch from Ramos and that Joe Mad Gambit. But Perez taking the time to make me feel a little more normal and comfortable in a setting I clearly was nervous about meant far more to me than any ink on paper ever could. Perez has met thousands of people like me, but for me, there’s only one first experience with a comic creator at a convention. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. For as talented as he is as an artist, my memory of that experience wasn’t even of the staggering detail on that Wonder Woman piece he gave me, but of the kind and generous person he proved to be. Comics could use a lot more people like George Perez.
This week, Perez revealed on Facebook that he’s received a terminal diagnosis with Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer. The legendary artist has, by the estimation of his doctors, six months to a year to live. In his write-up, Perez said that he wanted to “make one last public appearance wherein I can be photographed with as many of my fans as possible, with the proviso that I get to hug each and every one of them. I just want to be able to say goodbye with smiles as well as tears.” It’s a heartbreaking write-up about heartbreaking news, and every aspect of it rings true for who George Perez is in my head: one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen, and a person whose innate goodness as a person outshines his greatness as an artist each and every day of the week.
I wish Perez and his family nothing but the best, and I hope he gets everything he wants in his remaining time on this Earth. He deserves it, and all of the adulation we can send his way while we still can.
2. George Perez, A True Great
Before we move on, I do want to mention George Perez, the artist, is pretty good too. That’s obviously an important thing here as well. In that regard, I have a question for you: besides Jack Kirby, can you think of a superhero artist – we’re talking artist only – who has iconic runs and works on a broader mix of titles and characters than Perez?
I tried to find someone in my brain, and I just don’t know if they exist. Perez didn’t just bring his unparalleled detail and quintessential imagery to a long run on a single title or even a small selection, but a mix that includes New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinity Gauntlet, Future Imperfect, Wonder Woman, Avengers, JLA/Avengers, and more. You could argue that he was the artist of choice for the most important event in the history of both DC and Marvel, and he was undeniably a person who depicted some of the most important, memorable images in the history of superheroes.
For some readers, Perez is the most important artist in their personal DC and Marvel stories. While the world of comics is much larger than just the Big Two, very few artists can claim a spot like that. George Perez is one of the most essential artistic voices in the history of the medium, and one of the most influential superhero pencillers we’ve ever experienced. And because so many of his works have proven to stand the test of time, his influence will continue on forever, a legacy few can match. It’s a tough position to live up to, but one Perez does with aplomb, and does so deservedly.