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Sunday, 16 October 2011

One of the great pleasures of New Teen Titans: Games is the chance to revisit George Pérez’s art. He’s known for attention to detail, but he’s also a master of composition and page design.

So many comics artists have a limited repertoire of facial types and expressions. In superhero magazines, “handsome man” and “beautiful woman” get a particular workout. That makes it hard to tell characters apart. Pérez is famous for giving characters not only different faces (as shown above), but different repertoires of expression and different body languages. There’s never any problem distinguishing one of his characters from another.

And the panels! Working on extra-large pages in Games, and before the style of “decompressed” storytelling, Pérez produced a massive quantity of images. The average number of panels on a page is in the double digits. One page has 31 separate images.

The designs become very complex, particularly as the story splits into conflicts between individual Titans and matching villains. On a single page spread the narrative can switch among three or four storylines, or between flashbacks (outlined in red) and the present.

What’s more, one villain is monitoring events on TV screens while standing beside his exact scale-model of New York. The panels can thus shift from a real-life setting to a video image of that setting to a little replica of that setting. Yes, it’s more than occasionally confusing, but that mirrors the layering of the plot itself.

Early in the book Pérez shows team member Joe (Jericho) Wilson, who’s mute, spelling out T I T A N S in American Sign Language. His extra-thin panels convey the speed of Joey’s communication—a novel way to combine words and pictures in comics. Yet even in those thin panels, Pérez doesn’t just copy the same face, but shows Joey’s expression changing.

Pérez created Joey with writer Marv Wolfman with the idea that he would never have thought balloons. Readers would have to pick up what Joey’s thinking entirely through Pérez’s art and the other characters’ interactions. Very few other artists have been able to make the character work.

Pérez mixes up panels with thick borders and thin borders, or no borders. (In some comics, such changes have storytelling significance. Here most seem to be aesthetic choices only.) There are panels defined by darkness around shafts of light. There are panels defined by the single-color silhouette of an explosion around a character, as shown at top. (Can you spot Starfire’s curves?)

One approach was so new to me that at first I thought it was a mistake: in certain small panels without borders and backgrounds, Pérez and his inkers and colorists leave out the lines delineating a character’s white clothing from the paper. The second time I saw it, I realized it was just another way Pérez was stretching his style.

COMING UP: Some favorite pages.

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