During the “JLA/Avengers” Q+A at Wizard World Texas this weekend, writer Kurt Busiek jokingly referred to himself and legendary artist George Perez as “the sickliest team in comics.” That’s not far from the truth: Busiek is still recovering from a much-publicized case of mercury poisoning, and Perez spent the weekend sporting a wrist brace for his tendonitis. Nevertheless, their respective ailments don’t seem to have slowed them down any. Both Busiek and Perez did multiple signings, and Perez turned up Friday and Saturday mornings to sign autographs for the fans queued up around the outside of the convention center. Saturday afternoon, the dynamic duo got together to talk about their twenty-years-in-the-making “JLA/Avengers” collaboration and about the lessons of craft they’ve learned over the years.
Things kicked off when Busiek was asked if he regretted Mark Waid having to drop out of the project. “Hell no, I get all the money! I tend to think that if me and George are working to put our ideas onto the page, it will be stronger than if it were me and George and Mark. The vision is purer that way.”
Pure visions aside, both creators admitted to some good-natured butting of heads while working on the project. “The Captain American versus Batman fight was one of the few fights that actually had some kind of resolution in the original ‘JLA/Avengers,’ back in the eighties,” said Perez. “But the challenge was, how do you draw a subtle feint? The script says, ‘They barely move.’ Oh, great! That’s why, in the issue before, I had Thor conjure up rain, so that I could show movement. I call it my ‘Lethal Weapon’ sequence.”
“Bouncing off each other is what makes the collaboration rich,” said Busiek. “If we both thought the same way about everything, where’s the interaction? You don’t find anything new.”
“Marv Wolfman set the bar very high, as far as collaborations,” continued Perez, referring to his partner on the popular 1980s ‘Teen Titans’ run. “Working with Kurt was very much like working with Marv.” Busiek returned the praise: “Anytime George is available to do a project, I’ll make myself available. My big vision is to do a project with George that has big panels.” Perez snidely suggested a book that was nothing but two men talking in a desert.
Perez and Busiek each found different challenges in bringing together the world’s two most famous superteams. One of their foremost concerns was finding a way to differentiate the feel of the two teams, while somehow making them work in the same reality. “I brought up the idea that the DC characters are all incredibly powerful guys who can move faster than their villains can think, and the Marvel characters are more tough, realistic scrappers,” said Busiek. “The Justice League tends to figure out solutions to the puzzle, to solve the crisis. The Avengers just beat the crap out of everybody. That’s the difference between Gardner Fox and Jack Kirby.”
The differences weren’t limited to storytelling, either. Perez saw a subtle, but definite, difference in how he drew the characters from each company. “It’s an interesting dichotomy. The Marvel characters were the scrappers-they had to work for it-and they were drawn by Jack Kirby, the man who created some of the most dynamic comics in the world. Whereas, Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash-the more powerful characters-were drawn in a more normal, realistic style.”
One fan expressed amazement at Perez’s crowded and detailed cover for ‘JLA/Avengers’ #3. Perez pointed to his brace and explained that that cover was the source of his injury. “It took me three weeks to draw that cover. The last few days, I was in utter pain.” As a result of his injured hand, issue four will be delayed until mid-January. Perez said he would be taking it easy for a few months, although he doesn’t plan to stop working. “Fortunately, the ‘Teen Titans’ graphic novel I’m doing next year already has 73 pages drawn.”
Perez is famous for his intricate detail and populous crowd scenes. He was asked how he manages to keep track each character’s appearance consistent. “On some faces it’s harder than others. Some faces, I have in my mind in three dimensions. Other times it’s harder, because I’m using references that have been supplied to me. Five different artists will draw the same character five different ways. If you look at my characters without their hoods, the shape of their noses, the shape of their ears aren’t the same. Captain America’s ears are not the same as Superman’s ears.” He also admitted to using tricks such as making characters left-handed, so that he would consciously have to differentiate them from other characters. “I guess that’s why I keep working on team books, because what’s hard for other people comes naturally to me.”
When asked for advice for young writers or artists, Busiek got right to the point. “After ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ everybody wanted to be Frank Miller. After ‘Watchmen,’ everybody wanted to be Alan Moore. Alan is still the best Alan Moore we’ve got. The lesson is, there’s more than formulas. If you’re the third-best Neil Gaiman out there, they’re still going to call Neil first. Figure out a way to be yourself.”