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The Godfather (article)

FANTAZIA #14 (UK) (Jul 1991)
Interview from Fantazia #14 (July 1991)
interview by Paul H. Birch
transcribed by vu

"The Godfather" (4 pages)
by Paul H. Birch
interview with George Perez

Cover: Dave Stevens (inset: George Perez)

The Godfather
Interview by Paul H. Birch

War of the Gods is part of Wonder Womans 50th anniversary celebrations. What is the story line about?
War of the Gods basically deals with Circe the Sorceress' masterplan to fulfill the revenge of the Hecate, one of the moon goddesses that has been betrayed by an Olympian god during the pre-history. The War of the Gods basic premise is that different pantheons of gods are called to wreak havoc on the Earth, although the gods themselves aren't really trying to destroy the Earth, just reclaiming what they consider theirs in the first place.

What their plan is is to re-create the world according to their own myths, of course many of these contradict each other so you have the conflict between the various gods and with the superheroes who are caught in the middle of all this.

Coinciding with this is Wonder Woman's 50th anniversary and because of the nature of the cross-over and the fact that she does have her own book , she has stories crossing over with this. She sometimes plays a lesser active role in some of the issue, so that the other characters, especially those like Aqua Man who haven't had their own series, can get a better, fuller role to play.

Also in addition to the Creek gods and how they relate to Wonder Woman, is also how they relate to Captain Marvel. I try to deal with why the Z in Shazam stands for Zeus, if the Zeus according to the revised Wonder Woman legend, has had no physical involvement in modem humanity up until the time Diana came to Patriachs world. It's not really a redefinition of Captain Marvel as opposed to a redefinition of Shazam. For example, who is the old wizard that gave him his powers and why should a Roman deity, a demi-god and one Judaic leader all get together to create a superhero, which is what Captain Marvel ended up being ?

I always wondered why all these legends created this character ? Why did they manifest all of their energies into creating this superhero in a red and yellow costume ? The one thing I want to keep in Captain Marvel despite all that, is that sense of innocence. He is not just Superman in a different suit and he doesn't use mythology so much that he becomes Wonder Woman in drag !

Other characters who will be popping in that will have major roles include everyone from The Demon, to a totally obscure character that DC bought from Charlton Comics and that's the Son of Vulcan because of his mythological tie-in. He also provides me with the opportunity to use the character totally freely, without worrying about upsetting too much of his past history because very few people remember his past history !

In the case of Wonder Woman, the one thing we set out to do is to finish off the next stage of her development . She has gone from being a messianic figure that is trying to save the world from Aries, to being a teacher, an ambassador getting the world of man for the arrival of the Amazons and the recognition of Themyscira as an existing nation and now I want to assimilate her into the superhero community.

Basically I want to put her back into DC's mainstream again which will also finish off my run on Wonder Women, because War of the Gods, and issue 62 of Wonder Women which directly follows War of the Gods will be my last Wonder Woman series.

You're just doing the layouts on War of the Gods I understand ?
Yes, I'm doing the layouts on the original boards, but not quite the way that Keith Giffin does on all the stories that he works on. It's closer to the sort of work I did on Superman before Kerry Gammill came in. When I worked with Brett Breeding I did the layouts which were very loose except for some of the main characters, who I might do a little more definition on the faces in order to get the exact emotion I want. But this way the body language, the ideas for the actual scene and scenery are mind and then in this case Cynthia Martin's

How is the work coming along with Cynthia Martin? Is it looking the way you expected it to ?
Looking at Cynthia's work the one thing I notice that's different from mine is a softer touch. My characters tend to be more grandiose, with more macho appeal if you like as far as the men are concerned and hers have a much more elegant look to them. She doesn't go as dark as I do, some of that could be because her knowledge of the character is more limited. She has a very graceful style and that's one of the reasons why I'm doing layouts as opposed to doing a script and having her finish it off.

Her elegance, combined with 'my power has a nice unique feel. It's different enough that I know it's not mine, yet my strength is still there because of how much work went into the layouts. There's an opening sequence with the New Olympus that I actually had to full pencil, because there was no way I could say, draw a circle and say: "That's where the new Olympus is going to be" and expect anything of my imagination to be in there. So those type of pages and certain characters are mine and the rest are Cynthias. She's also using a ton of reference, many of them from the books I've done. So some stuff of hers looks more like mine than others and some stuff looks totally Cynthia Martins.

I see you've worked with a number of women in the recent years, most notably on the second Wonder Woman annual. Do you find it easier to work with women than men ?
I don't find any essential difference between working with either one of them. The second Wonder Woman annual was a gimmick annual. I wanted to work with female artists on a book that featured a prominent female superhero, but because Wonder Woman only had one title, the annual provided us with an outlet for different female artists, to work on without committing their time as they all had regular work to do. Female artists being readers as well, don't often particularly care to read superhero books about the next kind of incarnation of the macho bare-chested hero, or superhero with a gun kind of comic book. They come into it with a fresh approach which is a little different. Most of the time if you deal with a male artist and you mention a certain character, he will probably know who that character is and probably have kept up with him as they may have been fans of that particular genre as they were growing up. Many of the women have not, some have, but most have not, and that provides the difference why working with men gives a different outlook. Because of that, dealing with Cynthia on the regular series, I have to be a little more precise in what I want. For example, if a character is going to perform a certain act, sometimes you have describe how that character can perform that action because there are certain characteristics that are inherent in that character that they may not be aware of and you have to not take it for granted that they know this.

Beyond that, they provide their own insights, and sometimes it's interesting to note that I might describe a character as being handsome and how a woman would interpret that. Because the men have a certain ideas of what handsome means but to a woman it's a totally different idea. So sometimes I get some interesting feedback, some totally different points of view.

How about the writing side. Their point view as being women, does that cause any confusion?
The only trouble I've ever had in the writing and that's got better with more experience is the storytelling aspect. In working with Jill Compton for a while I went to a full script because we had a little trouble with her storytelling. Again it's not something that's she's grown up with. Standard fare, there are certain ways of following through a fight scene which they might find to be incredibly boring, I don't blame them. That's the only time, I've had any problems in the writing aspect. If I don't totally put the stuff down in the original plot or the script, then they may misinterpret what I want.

To be completely frank, I have had that trouble with one or two male artists. I think every writer has that trouble with an artist at one point or another. Just in the case of Jill in particular, who worked on her own layouts, it was getting used to emphasising the correct things in a story, making sure that the characters are going to have dialogue and to provide space for that dialogue and to provide different angles so that people aren't just sitting there and letting the words cruise over their heads. Those were the kind of problems that had to be worked out and whether it's because they're women, which I seriously doubt or because they're new which could very well be a reason. Those are the only major things that I've had to deal with but it's got better with time.

You're no longer under exclusive contract DC Will you be still working for them?
Oh yes, my retirement from Wonder Woman is a natural thing. I told them sometime ago that I was going to retire after my fifth year on the series.

I've done all I can or that I can think of anyway and I would like to go on to other projects. The one thing that I will not be doing for either Marvel or DC is a regular series. Writing for someone else is not as satisfying as writing for myself, so I don't know what I will do afterwards. I loved working for DC and I love working for Marvel right now, but what I will be doing next really depends on how I feel after of the Gods at DC and The Infinity Guantlet at Marvel, are over and done with. I'll probably take about six months off and work as an inker for a while so that I don't have to put my creative juices through such a tasking burden again for a while. That way I don't have to worry about how the story is going to be designedd as it's already in front of me, I don't have to worry how the story progresses, that's already done for me. I can just treat drawing mechanically for a while at least until I recharge my batteries and figure out what I want to do next.

The one thing that DC have going for them and in my decision to work for them in the future, is Karen Berger whom I have enjoyed working with immensely as an editor. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and has a great grasp of what makes a comic work. She doesn't tie it down to a series of preconceptions, she likes creators to have a little more free rein than most. A lot of what Wonder Woman is now is due to Karen Berger. She's just had a baby, I hope that she decides to stay working on a full-time basis as I definitely want to work with her again.

Are you working on both Infinity Gauntlet and War of the Gods at the same time ?
Yes, in fact I've just finished drawing two pages for Gauntlet this morning and I have to work on some layouts for Cynthia on War of the Gods this afternoon.

It's a very nerve racking thing to do, I will never do such a thing again , it was a real case of bad timing. When I went freelance last year, I suddenly forgot what the word NO meant, so I just started taking on any and all assignments, covers here, one-shots there, everything just piled up. All the time I had and I did have a good head start on The Infinity Gauntlet and War of the Gods, I pretty much ate up. So now I'm working double- time to maintain the schedule on both books.

This period if nothing else has taught me my lesson, which is why I if I volunteer for any other project, I won't take on anything else which is more than two months long if I have anything to say about it. If nothing else it will be financially rewarding and sheer coincidence that it happened to have god-beings in both series, I have had to draw two versions of Zeus because of doing these cross-over series.

When I make my decisions for next year, I will be able to afford the luxury of time to think hopefully from the money that will be incurred from these projects.

You've just said there were two versions of Zeus for instance. Do you ever worry you might start pencilling in the wrong characters from the wrong company ?
Maybe that's why it's a good thing I'm doing just layouts on War of the Gods. The one thing I worry about by working on both books, is that both of them will have my storytelling and so become repetitious. There are many similarlities between Jim Starlins's story on The Infinity Gauntlet and mine for War of the Gods. So much so that I have to make sure as an artist on both books that I don't repeat clichés. With the Earth in danger of being destroyed in both books it's pretty hard not to fall into some clichés about that, you have earthquakes, floods, lightning, you're pretty much caught in a limited scenario that you can play in.

War of the Gods really deals with a lot more mythological aspects of a god war in case of Infinity Gauntlet, Jim has pretty much written out the gods in issue two, after that there's no more similarity, but up until then the similarity was getting so comparatively close that I was starting to worry that it was going to look that I was doing the same book for both companies, even though I knew Jim had been planning the Thanes storyline for quite a while. The first synopsis for War of the Gods was handed in in January 1990 and it hasn't changed all that much since then but it's one of those things of parallel thinking. Jim just happened to have to come up with an idea, that's similar, but thankfully he is doing basically a superhero cosmic story and I'm doing a superhero mythology story.

Most people when they are asked to draw crowd scenes, they seem to go for the easy way out, but you seem to thrive on group situations. When you get halfway through something like that, do you ever throw your hands up in despair ?
There are many pages that I consider to be my Frankenstein, creating this beast that now will not die and that I sometimes regret , particularly if they are of my own doing as opposed to someone else asking me. For example I'11 go "Oh, lets do a big crowd scene" and I'll put all these characters in there then realise that the sequence goes on for a couple of pages and you're stuck drawing all those things, over and over again.

I did an issue of Teen Titan years ago, the first issue of the Baxter series where writer Mary Wolfman describes this limbo area. We both talked about it and I even layed it out first with the character Raven walking across this stone bridge and then when I finished the pencilling, I changed my. mind and I decided to be more dramatic and draw all these twisted bodies, all these souls and it made for a great shot and then of course the Frankenstein syndrome occurred and I had to draw these scenes for three more pages. You know rock is a hell of a lot easier to draw , so I tend to do that, but genuinely love to draw.

Maybe it's because I work alone all the time that I like the idea of doing the inter-relationship of characters with each other. Whatever the reason, I sincerely love to draw the characters. The biggest example of how I can get carried away is the cover of number five of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Mary, upon my wife’s request, asked me to do a simple cover with only about two or three of the characters heads floating around and Earth exploding. That cover ended up with two merging Earths and ninety six heads on the cover ! It's become part of my self so much, that I am uncomfortable doing it any other way. When I do a page that has very little on it, that's an impact page for me as opposed to other artists who if they put a lot of detail or if they have a lot of characters on the page, then that's their impact page. People get used to my crowd scenes so that when I do something that is just an explosion or a character standing in the middle of a desert, that has impact !

I understand your also doing a classic illustrated Julius Caesar. That will have a lot of characters as well I take it ?
I am supposed to be doing a Classics Illustrated, I'm assuming I still am, but I've heard so many different rumours that I'm not sure. As far as I know I'm still doing it. In my using a lot of characters, I didn't want any person who stabbed Julius Caesar to be an anonymous character. So that with any small piece of the most minor of the conspirators, I made sure had some emphasis in the art work, that the character is introduced and that an individual face is drawn for that character.

I made sure that when the daggers are drawn and thrust into Caesar, the sequence is totally silent, I did it basically all in one page. All the stabbings ate done by people who you can only see their faces, they have no little name tags on them and that's the type of approach I went for and again I enjoyed it .

I also happen to have a great love for plays, I love dialogue. I have done a bit of community theatre, I act but I don't get asked to direct but then again I direct people on paper all the time. I like the interplay, maybe it's my great love of hearing good dialogue going back and forth among characters. I hear the characters talking in my head when I'm drawing.

In Julius Caesar, other than looking forward to being able to use all the Roman architechture after doing the Creeks for so long in Wonder Woman it's nice to get to graduate to Rome.Ienjoy getting to do all these individual characters, that being on the stage you have all these different actors playing different roles, they have different faces, different bodies. So in comics it can't just be the same face done with variations done on different figures. That's the part I enjoyed the most. During my days on the Titans it's that I tried to develop in my style within the limits of my own abilities, trying to give characters a definite and different facial and body look, particularly if they're going to be regular characters something that is going to make them identifiable.

Titans started to get exceedingly bad when I was drawing the same face for Kid Flash as I was drawing for Robin and even I was starting to get confused. So I decided to really start working on developing faces and started basing faces on, if not on actual photos, then actual impressions I have of real people. Many of the cast members of Wonder Woman are real people with characters of their own. In doing Julius Caesar I tried to use as much actual reference, statues, any different portraiture that I could find. It was a lot tougher obviously for other characters but I wanted to use some real basis in my head without using models to create the cast of characters.

When we did a readers poll in Fantazia, your name came up as the most requested for interviews. You have a lot of fans over in Britain. Do you hope to make it over for convention in the future ?
Oh I would love to. I haven't been to England since 1977. The people I have met there as I remember they were very friendly.

I would love to go back there if I get invited to an English convention that doesn't clash with the work within my schedule 1 then I would love to go back there again. I haven’t been there in a long time.