Following the death of George Pérez last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “favorite comic artists” recently. I’d always told myself that Pérez was never really a “favorite” for me; generally, I’d explain inside my head, my tastes tend to run more graphically abstract, with my childhood adoration of John Byrne’s work – whose covers for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the DC Legends miniseries, especially, practically defined what I wanted out of superhero comics at a young age – arguably being the closest I came to loving that particular 1970s/1980s glossy, glamorous take on quasi-realism.
That said, Pérez has been responsible for the artwork on a lot of favorite comics of mine. His Justice League of America run was something I devoured as back issues as a kid, picking them up from second hand bookstores and soaking in every page of their overblown storytelling; similarly, Crisis on Infinite Earths and especially the subsequent History of the DC Universe are pretty close to sacred comic book texts for me for reasons I can’t explain beyond “I read them at just the right time,” and the artwork is central to their appeal for me. (Crisis, as well, taught a young me to appreciate inkers and what they do for a comic – there’s a world of difference between Dick Giordano’s finishes and Jerry Ordway’s, and it felt particularly instructive to me at the time to compare the two.)
As much as I told myself that I wasn’t really a massive Pérez fan, I’d find myself buying early issues of his Wonder Woman for the art alone. (The writing, I’d get into later.) When The Infinity Gauntlet launched at Marvel in the early ‘90s, I grabbed it immediately despite not really having read The Silver Surfer since that fun period when Englehart was writing; it was the cover and the promise of Perez art in the Marvel Universe that did it for me. I’d go on to follow him to The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, and even his subsequent Epic Comics collaboration with Peter David, Sachs and Violens. In the years that followed, I’d make a point to check in with him on new projects, even if I didn’t stick around; it was like catching up with an acquaintance, just to see what they were up to*.
Thinking about my relationship to his work this past weekend, and realizing that I’d been following his career with varying degrees of interest for more than three decades before his death, made me wonder how honest I’d been about how I felt about George Pérez’s artwork. Sure, he might not have had the bluntness of a Toth or a Kirby, nor the abstract brutality of Mick McMahon or the refined design sense of Walter Simonson, but the two of us had, in some weird sense, grown old together**. There’s something to be said about that shared history; if that doesn’t make him a favorite in some important, undefinable sense, then what else would?
* Ironically, this latter period has some of my favorite Pérez art: I loved his Brave and the Bold run with Mark Waid, and I think that his JLA/Avengers with Kurt Busiek has some of the best work of his entire career. It sounds strange, perhaps, but I feel as if he started drawing characters bulkier than before, at this point, with more differentiation in body shapes and faces and less obsessive rendering. Your mileage may vary, but whatever he was doing, I liked it.
** By comparison, my adolescent love affair with John Byrne’s work didn’t age as well; everything after, say, his West Coast Avengers run looks tired and rushed to me.