George Pérez and Neal Adams, the men who built the comics blockbuster

In the space of a week, we’ve lost two of the greatest artists the comic book medium ever had. George Pérez and Neal Adams were giants in the worlds of comics, and we are immeasurably poorer for their losses.

Adams died at age 80 last week, while Pérez left us too soon just today at age 67 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. If you have ever watched an MCU movie or Batman growl across the big screen, if you queued up to watch the new Dr. Strange this weekend, you were following in their footsteps. 

I would argue that Adams and Pérez were probably the two most important comics artists since Jack Kirby, although they worked in very different styles. But what both of them did is shake up the artform and bring a lighting bolt of dynamism to the field using mere pens and pencils. 

Enough talk. Let’s just look at their pretty pictures, Neal first:

The first time I saw Neal Adams was probably as a kid in my beloved Batman from the ‘30s to ‘70s collection, and then in a few battered Brave and Bold comics I picked up cheap. When compared to the more stiff Silver Age drawings of Batman by the likes of Bob Kane or his ghost artists, Adams was technicolour.

The man pretty much reinvented Batman with writer Denny O’Neil and created the Dark Knight we all think of today. I can only compare the impact of Adams’ dynamic, hyper-real compositions in comics art to the way it must’ve felt to see the Beatles for the first time. 

Compared to Adams, everything that came before seemed static. Adams’ camera eye was always roaming, looking for stunning perspectives and gripping action. He combined the energy of Jack Kirby with the skill of a portrait artist. 

When I started scribbling my own little comics in the 1990s, Neal Adams was one of the main people I tried to mimic. His work, for lack of a better word, had LIFE. 

And then there’s George Pérez. I never tried to imitate George Pérez. Who in god’s name could?

If Neal Adams brought dynamism to comics, Pérez brought scale. Pérez is best known for his sprawling character-filled team comics like New Teen Titans, Avengers, and Justice League – and of course, the granddaddy of all cosmic crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths and its spiritual successor, Infinity Gauntlet. Pérez took the idea of a bunch of caped weirdos hanging around together and gave it an Olympian grandeur. 

He first blew my mind with Crisis on Infinite Earths #5, the cover of which beckoned at me from a newsstand and said, “Who are all these characters? Is the comics world really this big?” In George’s hands, it was. 

Pérez did big. When it came time to finally team up the Justice League and Avengers in a world-smashingly over-the-top adventure, nobody could draw it but him. But the secret of Pérez is that while he did big, he also did small equally well. Just look at the detail he packed above in a page of his future Hulk adventure with Peter David, a treasure trove of easter eggs. 

And Pérez had a skill that is remarkably rare in comics – drawing truly distinct faces. I’ve been re-reading his JLA/Avengers this week, knowing Pérez’s time was short, and what strikes me even more than the bombast is how he sets off Captain America’s chin from Superman’s, how Thor has a broad, Scandinavian look, how Hawkeye has a thick brawler’s mouth and nose – too often in comics, superhero faces are practically identical except for the hair. Pérez cared about the little things, and the big things.

Neal Adams and George Pérez were both titans in the comics field. They were also reportedly wildly different in temperament – Adams was known for his ego and his intensity, and he was an absolute powerhouse advocate for the concept of creator’s rights and independent comics back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, delivering justice for forgotten creators with the tireless drive of Batman himself. 

Pérez was considered one of the nicest men in comics, and while he did some work in independents he was mostly known for his Marvel and DC work. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, the love that came to him from fandom and his peers was overwhelming and beautiful. In an age where social media is more noxious than kind, Pérez was loved, and I’m so happy he left us knowing exactly how much fans cared for him and his work. We all knew what was coming, but boy, we let George know how we felt about him first. 

Neal Adams and George Pérez were creators, and they were innovators. As we watch superheroes flash by with the energy of Adams and the power of Pérez on screens, never forget that creators like them are the rock that the blockbusters were built on. 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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