"George Pérez Interview"

JUN 2000 Product

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George Pérez is perhaps best known for his work as an artist on Marvel?s Avengers and DC?s Justice League of America and New Teen Titans and writer/artist on DC?s Wonder Woman. This month, he relaunches his creator-owned title, Crimson Plague, under the Gorilla imprint at Image. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Pérez about Crimson Plague.

Westfield: What can you tell us about Crimson Plague?

George Pťrez: Crimson Plague, which was originally launched in 1997 under the Event banner, is being relaunched under the Gorilla banner. Itís still going to be a limited series although how many issues Iím still not quite sure. The storyís gotten a little out of hand. Itís a finite series. How finite, youíll find out probably about the same time I do [laughs]. It deals with a genetically altered young woman whose blood is toxic and corrosive to the touch. The thing that makes this a little different from the usual fare is that when she reaches her menstrual cycle, that toxicity becomes an airborne virus capable of destroying an entire planet in the course of a day. Thatís the plague. One of the problems is, sheís getting closer and closer to earth. Why is she getting closer to earth? I donít want to tip my hand, but when the people of earth find out, and they find out about the plague, thatís the last place they want her to be. In the story, the characterís only 5 actual years old. She had grown to full adult size in 5 years and so her cycle has yet to be measured; they donít know what frequency it is. Thereís no way of finding out until itís too late. From there on, things get a little hairy.

Westfield: As you mentioned, Crimson Plague was started before and then stopped. What happened?

Pťrez: In the case of the original launch, one of the biggest problems was at that time I wasnít really doing that much mainstream work which also meant that I wasnít earning that much income. I was doing Crimson Plague, even before Event came into the picture, solely without pay. There was no upfront monies. So the amount of money I ended up using on it was too large to bear and unfortunately, because of the fact that it was always back end money, I couldnít give up paying work to do it. The second issue wasnít even 1/3 done when the first issue came out. At that time it was scheduled originally to be a monthly, then bi-monthly, and then a quarterly. I couldnít afford to do it.

            The actual launching of the first issue would have been held back, if it had come out at all, if it werenít for the fact that the premiere issue was tied into a charity event and I couldnít screw the charity. So I decided to take my lumps and let the first issue come out knowing full well I was going to be in trouble with the second issue. I couldnít let the Firefighters Burned Childrenís Fund suffer because of my bad planning. On the good side, I managed to raise over $3500 for the Burned Childrenís Fund because of that first issue. It served a purpose. Even though a second issue had been completed, by that point it had gotten so late, and in order to survive I had to start taking on regular assignments, including eventually the Avengers, that Crimson Plague did not become a priority book anymore because I had to get myself out of a financial quagmire. Thankfully, because both of the success of the Avengers and the fact that under Gorilla I am being paid money in advance of royalties, so I am getting paid a page rate on Crimson Plague, I can actually afford to do it again. And hopefully because of my higher profile in the industry again because of the Avengers, it will do better than it did the first time. It didnít do badly for a premiere issue of a book at that time.

Westfield: How did you get connected with Gorilla?

Pťrez: I received a phone call from Kurt Busiek telling me that he wanted to put together a collection of partners for a new comics company. This was before the name Gorilla was agreed upon. They tried to get as many big, heavyweight names as they could at that time. There were a lot of people who probably had as big or a bigger name than I did, but one of the advantages I had was that I was not affiliated with any other company yet. Most others had already gone to their creator-owned lines at one point or another. Despite a 25 1/2 year career, I was still virgin territory. I was very flattered, but my biggest problem was that Iím on exclusive contract with Marvel which meant I couldnít do anything new for Gorilla. But, my contract with Crimson Plague preceded my contract with Marvel and there was a specific waiver in my Marvel contract regarding Crimson Plague. So I went to Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti and asked if it was possible to get out of the Event contract so that I could use Crimson Plague as my Gorilla launch book. They werenít happy about losing the title, but they were very understanding about it and I thank them for doing that. From that point on, Crimson Plague became the title that would allow me to be there when Gorilla launched its first series of books.

Westfield: One of the interesting things about Crimson Plague is that youíre using real people as the models for the characters. How did that come about?

Pťrez: Before I was going to start Crimson Plague, I was actually planning to do another series that was going to be called The Gladiator, or George Pťrezís Gladiator as my lawyer told me because Gladiator is not an uncommon name. Originally, the character who was going to be called Plague until I found out that that name was already used, was going to be a villainess in the Gladiator series. I had just met at a convention, this beautiful young woman named Dina Simmons. She was a Wonder Woman fan and loved my work. As any artist will tell you, it is highly unusual and incredibly flattering when a beautiful woman tells you theyíre a fan. No offense to the fanboys, but theyíre a dime a dozen. Girls like this are pure gold [laughter]. Her fiancťe, now her husband, owns a comic book store and got her into it and she became a big fan of myself, John Byrne, Neil Gaiman, and a few other people. I was so taken by her that about a year down the line when I was coming up with Gladiator, I asked if I could use her as the model for the character, even so far as using her name. We kept talking about her character more and more, and the more I got into it, particularly when the aspect of feminine cycles came into it, the character became much more interesting than the Gladiator. So I asked her if she would be bothered if I scrapped the ideas for Gladiator and centered the series around her. Strangely enough she said yes [laughs].

Because I was using her, I found a small role for her husband, who had a totally different role than he would get later on. I think it finally came together when I went to a dance party at a studio my wife was taking classes in and saw another lovely young lady named Shannon Lower and talked to her. I found out she was fascinated with the idea of being a comic book character, so thus she became the main adversary for Dinaís character. I found that so many people were enthralled by the idea that I thought, ďthis is a great gimmick.Ē And everyone said, ďI can buy multiple copies for my family.Ē It would be a stupid thing not to act upon [laughs]. At final count, Iíve closed the casting for Crimson Plague despite still getting people sending me photos, the cast of Crimson Plague is 240 people. Hopefully they have at least 5 family members each, and also knowing that half a dozen to ten of the people own comic book shops, this could really, really help the sales of Crimson Plague [laughter]. And Iíve gotten people from all walks of life, not only comic book fans. Thereís an airline stewardess who just happened to be a stewardess on a flight when I was coming back from a convention in Texas; a man who moved in our furniture; our gardener; my dentist; all these people are becoming characters in Crimson Plague. A few are professional models, but for the most part, Iíve got people from all walks of life and even some internationally. I do have at least 1 or 2 cast members from Britain, 2 from Spain, and 2 or 3 from France who all wanted to be members of this group. 

Westfield: Is this your first creator owned project?

Pťrez: Itís my first sole creator owned project. The first was Sachs & Violens with Peter David.

Westfield: After being in the business for all this time, why did you finally decide to take the plunge with your own characters?

Pťrez: Itís actually something that Iíd been knocking about in my mind for quite a while. When Image was first being formed, they actually approached me during the founding of the company to come in with an original character. I could have been an Image founding father, but I had absolutely nothing that I thought I had ready. And despite coming up with Gladiator and then Crimson Plague, it was something that still took a few years until it really started to come together. I didnít want to just plunge into creator owned waters without having something really there. It takes a while in my convoluted mind to come up with a story that is interesting to me and that I know, beginning to end, whatís going to happen as opposed to coming up with a concept and then figuring out where Iím going to go with it. Iíve had enough time to create a Crimson Plague universe and, for better or for ill, itís as complicated and as detailed as anything Iíve ever drawn before.

Westfield: Do you have any other comments on Crimson Plague?

Pťrez: The one thing I want to do with Crimson Plague is keep people guessing. It canít be pigeonholed that easily. It has the makings of a bit of a horror story, science fiction, there are super heroes involved in the story, and a mystery. Thereís a lot going on in there. The one thing that I appreciate is that itís making me a better artist because, as people well know, Iím known for drawing not only a lot of detail, but a lot of crowds. When I work on the Avengers, for example, if Iím asked to draw a crowd, Iíll draw 15 individual faces. Now if I were to draw a crowd with 15 people in Crimson Plague, that means itís 15 times I have to go for photo reference. The same scene will now take me at least 3 times longer. Iíve learned a lot more about faces by doing it this way. And despite the gory subject matter, which could be controversial because of the biological factors of the story, I still want to try to make it as accessible to everyone as possible, knowing that it is not recommended for children under a certain age. For example, for the cover that I did on the original Event #1, Dina was standing over a bloody skeleton. If that bloody skeleton does not turn a person away, thatís about as bad as it ever gets [laughs]. The violence and the bloodshed is over the top and I donít try to hide it. On the cover for the new first issue, attackers are walking over a mountain of decayed, rotting corpses, still done in enough shadow effect so it isnít totally disgusting, but thatís still about as far as it need go. Because Iím using real people, and I know that many of these people will want to show this to their families, there are certain things I will not do. I will not have nudity in the story with any real character, because while they may not mind it, a grandfather might. Some of the models who are being portrayed here have done nudity in their own profession, but theyíre looking forward to having something they can show their children or their nephews and nieces.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects coming up?

Pťrez: With Crimson Plague and the Avengers, thatís about as full as my plate can be. Iím doing a couple of illustrations. Iím doing Last Man Standing for issue 105 of Wizard, with the Justice League and the Avengers, one of peopleís last chances to see me doing Justice League/Avengers of any kind. And Iím doing one illustration for something related to the X-Men, but to tell you the truth, Iím not exactly sure what it is anymore. But Avengers and Crimson Plague are enough to keep me busy when you consider one bookís a monthly in which I pencil a large group, and the otherís a bi-monthly where Iím pencilling, writing and inking a lot of real people.

Westfield: Are you still enjoying working on Avengers?

Pťrez: As long as I work with Kurt Busiek, I enjoy the Avengers. Iím having a grand time with the stories weíre working on currently. I get to exercise other artistic muscles since weíre dealing with a Hyborian Age-type background. All my days of reading Barry Windsor-Smithís Conan are coming back to me now. Kurt actually looked at it and said, ďsome day youíve got to do a Conan story. Youíre having way too much fun with this.Ē

Westfield: So you have no plans to leave Avengers any time soon?

Pťrez: Thatís not something I have to worry about until August 1st when my contract expires with Marvel. At that point, it depends on where everything is. Also on what Kurtís plans are too. As long as Kurtís on the book, chances are I will be. Now, Iíve left it very gracefully on poor Kurtís shoulders [laughter].

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Pťrez: Because of Crimson Plague being the only Gorilla title thatís actually partially a reprint, we managed to work out that the first issue will have the original 32 pages, some of it modified, the entire thing is being re-lettered for one thing, with 16 extra pages of story plus other material, including a 5-page preview of Section Zero, the next Gorilla book. Weíve managed to put a 64-page package together thatíll only be going for $2.95. That way, those people who did buy Crimson Plague originally donít feel cheated because, technically, theyíre only paying 45 cents for another book. If you count the 16 pages as extra, plus a 5-page preview of Crimson Plague in Empire #1 the month before, which is also totally new and is not included in the first one, that means for $2.95, youíre getting 21 pages for 45 cents. Thatís not bad [laughter]. Because of the success of the Avengers, I was able to work out an incredible bargain rate of nothing for that first issue for those extra 16 pages so that we can keep fan loyalty and not rip off those who already purchased the original one.