George Perez: Storyteller hardcover
Writer: Christopher Lawrence
Cover artist: George Perez
Publisher: Dynamic Forces
Price: $29.99 US
I’m a huge George Perez fan and have been since I was a kid. I first remember sampling his work in the early 1980s on New Teen Titans and Justice League of America. There was just something about his work that set it apart from the art in other comics. The detail, the density of the panel layouts, the expressiveness of the characters’ faces… it all stood out as being unique, at least in my mind as a pre-teen and teenage comic fan. This isn’t the first time someone has published a book about Perez’s career — I have a copy of Focus on George Perez hiding around here somewhere — but this book strikes me as being more blunt and honest about the twists and turns on the path the artist has taken over the years. The writer examines not only Perez’s successes but instances in which he faltered or circumstances did not play out to his advantage.
From his days as a Puerto Rican kid in the Bronx who learned English in part thanks to the colorful comics of the Silver Age to his meteoric rise in the comics industry as an artist (and later writer) in the 1980s, this book covers it all. Perez’s name is synonymous with the craft of super-hero comics, but there was a time when he not only struggled to gain attention but when he wasn’t even all that good as a raw, young artist. Journalist Christopher Lawrence also explores how Perez came to work on projects that were key to his career and why other high-profile projects — such as JLA/Avengers — were so important to him personally.
Another element that I found interesting is that although the focus is on Perez’s super-hero work, other interests creep into this biography as well. Though Lawrence isn’t overt in his descriptions of the artist’s sidelines, it’s clear that a healthy interest in sexuality and the female form plays a part in Perez’s life. He admits to directing short female-wrestling fetish films. He speaks of how the R-rated Sachs & Violens series was an exciting divergence in his comics career. Perez isn’t portrayed as a pervert, but there are no apologies for the less conventional creative endeavors on his resume either.
One of the most impressive elements in the book is how honest Perez is about his regrets. There are brief references to personality conflicts, but Lawrence prompts Perez to speak in detail about times in his career when he felt he wasn’t doing his best work, when his own efforts disappointed him. He speaks of letting down smaller publishers and letting himself down as well. It’s surprising how often Perez speaks of his need for an emotional boost to get him enthusiastic about super-heroes and storytelling again.
Lawrence’s writing walks a fine line between professionalism and familiarity with the subject. There’s a level of intimacy between the author and his subject that’s comfortable and makes for an easy read, but he’s careful not to get too friendly. Lawrence’s prose is inviting but ultimately maintains enough of a distance to provide an air of reliability. The book certainly isn’t impartial, but it’s not designed to be. Nevertheless, some of those interviewed wisely don’t paint a perpetually rosy picture, pointing out that George Perez wasn’t always the George Perez.
If there’s one thing that shines through clearly in this book, it’s Perez’s love for the super-hero genre, and team books in particular. Team and event books are what he’s best known for, and no one does them better than he does. Even today, Perez has a fondness for the Avengers, the Titans and the Justice League. He even admits the high point of his career was finally getting to illustrate JLA/Avengers. The high point creatively, in my opinion, was the first year of his Wonder Woman run, but it’s clear his heart is with the hero teams. Ultimately, Perez comes off as a fanboy at heart, but only in the nicer sense of the term.
It’s safe to say this volume is aimed at die-hard Perez fans, and on that level, it’s a success. Though I wouldn’t say the chronicle of the artist’s 30-plus year career is exhaustive in its effort to convey every detail, it certainly contains enough in the way of new (and lesser known) information that it’ll please the Perez fanbase. But I think the book will also inform and educate newer comics enthusiasts about the nature of the comics storytelling, about the workings of the industry in times gone by and about a sense of wonder that continues to drive the super-hero genre forward even today.