Friday morning at 10AM in Hyatt International South, legendary comic book creators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez discussed their collaborations and their friendship. Moderator Tony Barletta, the track director, kept the conversation moving.
The pair’s best-known collaborations were New Teen Titans (NTT) (1980) and Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985). They worked together earlier, though, when Wolfman edited Marvel’s Sons of the Tiger in the black and white magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. The NTT graphic novel Games (2011) was their last collaboration.
Penciling Sons of the Tiger was one of Pérez’s first jobs in comics. He described himself as very defensive because Wolfman frequently criticized his lack of detail in background and his use of perspective. With an “I’ll show him” mentality, Pérez did a full-page drawing of White Tiger that addressed everything Wolfman had criticized. Wolfman described the page as gorgeous. The artist said that instead of proving his editor wrong, he proved him right. Wolfman added that despite the issues with the art, the storytelling in the visuals was superb, “better than almost anyone.” He described it as a skill that can’t be taught.
They collaborated on a couple of minor projects afterward but nothing major until Wolfman approached Pérez about working on NTT. Pérez admitted he didn’t expect the book to last six issues but agreed so he would get to work on the Justice League.
At the beginning of their run on NTT, Wolfman wrote plot treatments that became the basis for Pérez’s visuals. As Pérez became more familiar with the characters, the two developed a habit of meeting at a diner in Queens to break down the story ideas, refine them, and discuss the visuals. Wolfman said the trust between them allowed them to just discuss the book and bounce ideas around. By the end of their run, Pérez did the visuals first, based on their discussions, and then typed a plot to explain them because some elements changed as the art developed.
Both men said their collaboration worked so well because the story was more important than either of them. They wanted readers to care about the Titans, not focus on their creators.
Barletta pointed out that the NTT mixed new characters with the original Titans, who were sidekicks to various Justice League members. Wolfman said he and Pérez enjoyed creating their characters. They saw the Titans as a family, not a team that came together occasionally like the Justice League. They needed characters whose backgrounds would encourage them to see the Titans as their family. The established characters had positive parental figures, but the new ones had more adversarial family relationships. Each character is a blend of both creators. They felt that if you only do what’s been done before with the characters, it becomes boring. To them, each character was a gateway to a story—science fiction with Koriand’r, horror with Raven, tech with Cyborg, and detective stories with Nightwing. Most teens break away from their families, and the Titans reflected that pattern, including Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing and developing a life beyond Batman.
Earlier Titans, Pérez said, were just junior versions of the Justice League, like a “Justice Little League.” He and Wolfman wanted them to have identities of their own and so built nuance into their portrayals. Wolfman pointed out that every new DC book for years was cancelled by issue six, so he and Pérez decided to have fun with the book and do it the way they wanted. The first issue, however, had huge sales. The second’s sales dropped off, which was normal, but sales were picking up by issue five. By issue six, NTT was DC’s top-selling book. Wolfman said he’s very happy that there’s now a version of Titans for every age group and the graphic novel Raven is the top-selling comic novel, now in its third printing. All are based on the team he and Pérez created.
One of the best-known NTT stories was “The Judas Contract,” with Tara Markov, known as Terra, selling the Titans out to Deathstroke. Wolfman and Perez knew from the beginning that she would die. Wolfman remembered a two-hour discussion in a diner that mapped out Terra’s path. As they left the diner, they realized they’d spent all that time discussing the death of a fifteen-year-old girl and no one had called the police. “Only in a New York diner,” Perez interjected.
Switching the focus to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wolfman said he got the idea for streamlining the DC multiverse after getting a letter from a fan saying DC continuity made no sense. Marvel’s, he noted, was much simpler. The idea for the miniseries came to him while he waited to take a train with several other DC writers. He ran the idea by them. They liked it, and he pitched it to the publisher. DC sales were low then, except for the Titans, so the publisher decided to try it.
Wolfman noted that Pérez caught repetition in several issues of the miniseries, something few people at DC would have criticized. The two creators agreed that having someone else to point out problems is important.
Pérez said he loved drawing the series because it was his one chance to draw characters like the Metal Men, the Sea Devils, Sgt. Rock, and Sugar and Spike. For forty-five years, he said, he got to do something he had wanted to do since he was a small child. He described his experience as “a fanboy dream come true.” He added that he would love to collaborate once more with Wolfman, whom he considers “the gold standard” for collaborators one more time, but the vision problems that are causing him to retire prevent him from drawing to the standard he wants at the speed required. Discussing his former colleague, he said Wolfman always gave him half of the writing credit and half of the money. When royalties came in, Wolfman made sure Pérez got his share.
Wolfman pointed out that producing a comic book requires a group of people, all of whom should be compensated.
NTT was the first mainstream comic to be part of the royalty system at DC, who gave retroactive royalties to its two creators. Pérez said receiving the royalties means he can retire and live comfortably, which is not usual in the comics industry.
Wolfman noted that NTT succeeded because of his and Pérez’s joint efforts and their ability to work well together. Perez added that even though they no longer collaborate, they remain close friends.
While the creative team worked on Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC hired someone to read every DC comic book since the beginning and take notes. The notes didn’t come into play for Crisis but formed the core of the Who’s Who series, which Pérez drew.
The moderator pointed out that character deaths no longer have much impact because the characters are certain to return in a year or two, if not sooner. Pérez and Wolfman responded by saying it’s important to treat the characters like real people, meaning they should react as real people would to the loss of a friend or comrade. Crisis was the first series to include major character deaths, which DC let stand for a while. Flash didn’t return for twenty years, and Supergirl returned in a different form. The pair also discussed the contrast between the two deaths. Flash died alone, and Supergirl died in front of everyone. The cover for the issue in which she died, number seven, was inspired by the Pietà. Pérez initially didn’t like the monochrome background but has come to consider it very effective. The impact of the cover came not only from her death and Superman’s grief but from the entire DC universe around them mourning.
When asked if there was ever a point where they knew they were creating a legendary comic, they said the fans decide what’s legendary, that the creators should focus on making the book as good as they can. The issue they cited as a favorite was NTT number eight, “A Day in the Life.” When they read that, they said, they knew they had something special.
The panel concluded with a standing ovation.