Return of a Titan: George Perez

As we shared earlier today with our exclusive interview with industry legend Marv Wolfman, DC Comics announced the highly-anticipated, long-in-gestation graphic novel, "Teen Titans: Games" this morning.

Brought to you by the original "New Teen Titans" creative team of Wolfman and superstar artist George Perez, the book will be arriving in the marketplace by year's end.

Originally conceived in the mid-eighties, the 120-page project has been announced and delayed several times over the past 25 years, but it appears that the superstars (and Starfire) have aligned and Wolfman and Perez will be returning to the Teen Titans and revisiting the team at a time where their popularity was paramount.

The legendary Wolfman/Perez run on "The New Teen Titans" began when the book launched in November, 1980. Shortly thereafter, it arguably became DC's most popular title. The then-new team of teens and prominent sidekicks featured Robin (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Kid Flash (Wally West), Changeling (a re-imagined Beast Boy from "Doom Patrol") and three new superheroes: Cyborg, Starfire and Raven.

For more on "Teen Titans: Games," here's George Perez.

CBR News: You drew the first page of "Teen Titans: Games" more than 20 years ago. Was it hard to get back to the proverbial drawing board after two decades away from the project?

George Perez: Yeah, actually. The toughest thing is trying to remember what the heck was going on it. Since the plot, both versions, were rather skeletal - which was not unusual for the times. Marv and I had such a rhythm that I would take a very, very loose plot, which I believed this time was typed out by me, and then just make it up as I went along, making the story move and then adding bits and pieces of characterization. Unfortunately, I was also notorious for not putting too many notes in, and so, of course, that comes back to bite me in the butt now. I can't figure out some of the stuff that I've been put in there. "OK. There's a blank screen here. What was supposed to be in it and how do we solve the problem that was being set up? I'm not exactly sure." So that's something that Marv and I will have to work out.

We're moving along, and Marv has been asking me questions in emails, and some of them I've been able to remember, and some of them I've been able to fake [laughs] and others I've had to say, "Oh God. I'm honestly not sure." But one of the great things about it is that, whatever flaws there are in the story, Marv is not going to repeat mistakes that we were probably going to do 20 years ago. So they're corrected. In fact, he's already come up with certain ideas of how to conclude the story that actually veer in a slightly different direction than the original ending, which I think is absolutely fine. And I actually like what he came up with. It's a very, very interesting twist that I didn't count on and also will affect how I actually finish drawing the book.

Marv spoke of growing as a storyteller in the last 20 years and now being able to use fewer words to say more. Have you changed as an artist, either in style or technique?

I look at certain things that I wish that I could correct. I have a penchant for losing track of where eyes are, sometimes. I'm not the only artist that has that problem. Sometimes you look at a picture and you say, "Oh my God, that eye is slightly lower than it should be." But one of things that I'm trying not to do, that I actually can't afford to do, is go back and correct anything that I had already drawn. I just tried to keep the style as clean and consistent as possible. There isn't as much as a difference between the 20-year old pages of "Teen Titans: Games" or the stuff I'm doing now. I guess I was going for a slightly different style, but it is actually, in some cases, less detailed on some of the earlier pages than I'm doing now. And I'm simplifying a little bit to adjust to it. Originally, the book was to be painted over the line work. This was before computer coloring, so everything was going to be done on the boards, adding detail in with color. And now the people at HI-FI will have to replicate that. I'm curious to see how people react to it. There is still a ton of detail in it on a lot of pages, but there are cases where I would draw the shapes of buildings but not draw all the windows on it for a change, because I figured if we did color lines on the building, it would give it a slightly more realistic look. I was going for the way that Moebius did his artwork where a lot of his extra texturing was done as stipple and not that much black. My only concern is that I will now have to watch over the coloring of the book a little more carefully, because there is some detail that I would like to put in that now will be the responsibility of the color artist. So it will be a challenge for the people at HI-FI, but they survived "Legion of Three Worlds," so they'll survive this - I hope.

And what about you? This is a massive project. How are you coping with its size?

I think the first part of it was trying to get back the initial fire of working on a story that I never got to finish. I'm jumping into to it right in the middle and trying to get that ignition lit. And that took a little bit of doing, because I couldn't understand a lot of what I'd drawn as far as what I had done. I did close to two dozen pages of layout, beyond the pages that had already been finished, which I never got around to finishing two decades ago, so as I go back to the book to work on those, my fire has been dampened because, as I said, "I don't understand what I'm doing." So some of that stuff, thankfully, is being cleared up speaking to Marv and going through it more carefully, I said, "OK, OK. I think I understand now." And I hope Marv makes it make sense. Because what sounded like a great idea 20 years ago, I'm looking at and saying, "What was I thinking?" [Laughs]. But thankfully, Marv, as always, is taking care of those story bits.

It's a collaborative effort and sometimes I forget that it's collaborative. This book has been away for so long, I keep forgetting that Marv will fill in what needs to be filled in to make it make more sense than it will in the artwork. And the fact that in some cases my layout was so loose, I don't know exactly what was I drawing in that panel. Because the story had a lot of shifting of locations. Like, I would leave in the middle of a scene and go into another scene and come back. And of course, with all the Titans individually, sometimes in the course of a dozen pages, I may have switched scenes seven times in order to go from one character to another. Or do fancy segues, wherein a panel from the end of one sequence may merge into another panel with an entirely different sequence.

But now I'm starting to get the rhythm of it. It's kind of fun. Actually, the page I'm working on right now I didn't lay out. I actually skipped over it when I was laying out the book, because in the Raven sequences, every time Raven is in her astral world, that world between Azarath and Earth, I drew that in pencil tone or I may have even used a wash, actually, so it's all gray and white. And of course, that's something I have to ink on my own, because it's all done in a different style, so I kind of skipped over it because it had to be done differently, and then started penciling pages that were going to be inked. The challenge again was trying to replicate what I was doing back then. I think people who saw the "Teen Titans" (Baxter Series) will know what I'm talking about in regards to the way Raven's world is. I did do it for an issue or two of the Baxter series, although this will have a lot better coloring than the Baxter series [laughs].

I guess there are so many other things that I would want to do or would have wanted to do differently, because there was no computer coloring. Knowing now that that there are certain things that can be done with computer coloring makes addressing the pages two decades apart a little more thought-provoking, I guess.

Marv mentioned that Raven was a favorite character of his. Is she someone who is special to you too?

Well, most of the Titans I enjoyed immensely. And yes, I always have a certain fondness for characters that I help design. Raven is always a lot of fun to draw. And I was very interested in her white costume phase. There are a lot of things that can be done with just sheer white, and I would encourage the colorist to not over-render it, because it looked nice if she was just white. And Starfire, because she's a bubbly, sexy girl - basically just a lot of circles. I identified with Cyborg as a character because he was an inner city youth as I was. And of course, it's nice to be able to draw Nightwing, Jericho and Changeling, although Changeling does suffer slightly here because this was the 1980s and he has a mullet.

I remember when we were trying to rekindle this project a few years ago, an editor had asked about the possibility of removing the mullet from Changeling - he just found it personally offensive, which I don't blame him. It's just, to go back and redo pages would be counter-productive price-wise. Those pages that are inked, it's better to just let them go as they are, and hey, this is a stand-alone story that deals with a timeline that technically the Titans shouldn't be experiencing, because technically they should be 20 years older. But it is what it is. My feeling for handling these characters is, this is an untold tale of the Teen Titans done as they were 20 years ago in the 1980s. The plot was started in 1988 or '89, so it will be 21 years or so before it actually sees print. But it started in the very late 1980s and carried into the 1990s, and the world was very different then. There are things that I can't, in my newer pages, address. The idea that they can't contact each other on cell phones because cell phone technology didn't exist very much at that time. Even the computers still look like this big, blocky thing because I don't want to draw a modern computer. And of course, cars and fashion - and the World Trade Center was still standing and plays a small part in the story. So there are little things that we could go back and change, but it would probably be creating a morass of continuity gaps right off the bat, anyway. There are certain characters that went through quite a number of changes or had things that are happening in this story that are not reflected in current Titans' timeline. And that's why it is just a stand-alone and an untold Wolfman/Perez "Titans" story to commemorate the 30th anniversary of our starting that title.

Looking back at the early days of "New Teen Titans," do you have fond memories of that time? Marv remembers DC Comics getting hate mail when the book was first solicited, but then it literally became an instant hit.

Well, I actually don't recall hate mail as Marv does. But then again, Marv was in the office more than I was. But I do remember people being wary of the book. They thought it was just DC's way of trying to capitalize on the popularity of the X-Men. And of course, like all comic fans, they had an attachment to older characters that we didn't want to use, for whatever reason, so it was an attempt to do something of a more - at the time - modern style of comic for DC Comics. And DC had very little to lose at the time, because sales-wise they were in quite a bit of trouble. But it was one of things where I came into it after Marv had already pitched it Jeannette Kahn, and he and Len Wein were already coming up with the concept. So when I came in and they said, "OK, these are the archetypes that we would like to put in." They described Starfire, they described Raven, they described Cyborg and they mentioned that Beast Boy was coming back in under the new name of Changeling. And that Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash would pretty much be intact. They would come in as they had always been, and so it was my job to design the new characters.

I do remember one major comic retailer, one I would embarrass by naming him, had predicted that Marvel's "Moon Knight," which had come out the same month of "New Teen Titans" did, would be the long-lasting classic book within a year or less - most people will forget "New Teen Titans." And everybody, including myself, was quite surprised that the contrary ended up being true. The fact was, "New Teen Titans" ended up being a phenomenal success. It ended up turning the fortunes of DC Comics around and gave an actual competitive run against Marvel's top title with "X-Men." So I'm very, very proud of that. And any negative reaction that I myself personally saw was just that there was very little faith that it would actually succeed, because so little of what DC was doing was successful. And one of the persons who felt that way was me. I did not think that book would last beyond six issues. Not that I thought it was a bad book, but because the name, "New Teen Titans," actually had a very juvenile sound to it, but that was the name we were using. The X-Men were supposed to be teenagers, but they were never called the X-Teens. They were X-Men, so of course, it had a certain maturity to its name right off the bat and didn't have to worry about dealing with the age of the characters, if they chose. Teen Titans, by its very nature, meant that these characters were kids. That was a challenge, to make it successful with its own past history to deal with. We had to deal with the nostalgia for fans who may have wanted a certain kind of a book. And people who didn't care for the book, we had to try to sell them on the title, as well. However, we struck lightning in the bottle that day. It's obviously something that I'm here talking about 30 years later with a project to commemorate it with.

When the book does come out, will there be a page around, say, page 82 where we'll see a definite shift from the art you did 20 years ago and the work you're doing now?

Well, thankfully, we skipped over a few pages. One of things that Marv noticed was that I was either starting to burn out or had lost my interest at the time. Unfortunately, I had a bad habit of saying yes to too many projects, so I was doing projects that were taking me away from "Titans." After a while, it was just trying to get some pages done, so I would skip over sequences. It might be a little tougher to hide, because those first 80 pages, the earlier ones were inked by Al Veigh because he was inking at that time, but a lot of the stuff, you might have a harder time [figuring out], "Where did George start drawing this new." Particularly because pages may have been laid out 20 years ago, but are being finished penciled now. And some of the older pages are inked by Mike Perkins, who is inking some of the newer pages, as well. We have some stuff that will bridge it, so I don't think they'll find a drastic change. Also, because I'm constantly trying not to make a drastic change. My art style hasn't changed quite that much in 20 years. There are some nuances here, and I think I have a better grasp of anatomy, but it wasn't like my anatomy sucked to high heavens then [laughs].

I guess one of things is keeping the faces intact. Sometimes I look at the older stuff and see it as a bit more cartoony. And as I said, sometimes there is an asymmetry in the faces that I didn't intend. So in some cases, I go to a character and say, "Oh, my God. I drew his jaw very small." But I will draw his jaw a little small again, because otherwise, he won't look like the same character now. So it will be interesting to see how many people who have seen the original pages, will be able to see the difference.

The other thing that I wanted to point out about the "Titans" graphic novel, and it's something that some people do know but some people may not, this was actually our second shot at it. The story that ended up being #50-54 or so of "The New Teen Titans," the "Who is Wonder Girl?" story, was originally supposed to be the graphic novel, but unfortunately we couldn't have the "Titans" stalled until they explained who Wonder Girl was. That really, really needed to be told quickly. So, since I was planning on returning to the series, it became a logical choice to return with the "Who is Wonder Girl?" story. Of course, with all the time I spent on that, the "Titans" graphic novel got more and more delayed. And this is the end result of it. Of course, that means the idea of doing a "Titans" graphic novel probably preceded 1989 by another two years.

Just one last question. Can you share any details on what else you might be working on? Not lots, I suspect, with this being such a massive project.

I've been approached by DC regarding other work, and I told them, as history has proven, I really shouldn't be doing more than one project at a time. But I was asked to be involved on the new "Legacies" book that Wein is scripting. Originally, I was supposed to be the solo artist, but now they are breaking it into logical storylines and I will be doing the last story arc, which I believe is two issues. If it all works out correctly, it will be coming out at the same time as "Teen Titans: Games." So I will have two major projects coming out at the same month. So that's a long wait for me between work as far as the fans go. The fans won't see anything from me for some time. I did a few covers for Wildstorm, and I will be doing a cover for "Superman: the Last Stand of New Krypton." But beyond that, Lord knows. I'll probably do a few more covers, but right now "Teen Titans: Games" is the main focus.

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