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Comic book legend George Pérez, known for reinventing Wonder Woman, has died at 67

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

One of the all-time greats of the comic book world died last week. George Perez was known for his rich and detailed work on books like "The Avengers," "Teen Titans" and "Justice League." Perez had pancreatic cancer. He was 67. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: When a young Gail Simone was first getting into comic books, she lost interest after she realized that the female characters all looked kind of samey (ph).

GAIL SIMONE: There was a lot of the same body shape. So, you know - what would you say? - 36, 22, 36 - whatever, you know, very curvy, big-chested.

LIMBONG: Simone's a big-time comic book writer now, so the story has a happy ending. But growing up, she just saw these women being used as hostages or as props to further the men's storylines. Then Simone came across George Perez's artwork, particularly on the "New Teen Titans" from the 1980s.

SIMONE: It was a revelation to me because we started seeing female characters drawn differently from each other.

LIMBONG: The alien princess Starfire had this statuesque physique.

SIMONE: Raven was becoming thinner and more flat-chested. And there was just an obvious effort to state that not all women have the same body shape.

LIMBONG: And these different shapes and sizes reflected a more complicated vision of these characters as people. This was central to Perez's work in his four decades in comics. In team books like "Titans" or "The Avengers," he crowded the page with characters doing their superheroics with different body languages, more like people than action figures. His work solidified him as a hitmaker, which is how he got the opportunity from DC Comics to do something with one of their characters that had long been dragging in sales - Wonder Woman. Here's Perez in a 2017 interview with SyFy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE PEREZ: I was listening to the pitch and seeing that almost every female worker at DC was not particularly happy with the direction they were going to be going.

LIMBONG: Superman and Batman were getting these big, complicated stories but not Wonder Woman. So he volunteered to rework the character from the ground up and added more female mentors and villains and friends to Wonder Woman's orbit. Comic book artist and friend Phil Jimenez says Perez's commitment to, let's call it, diversity on the page wasn't political or ideological.

PHIL JIMENEZ: George understood that a variety of different types of characters from different backgrounds but also different body types, sizes, costume types, etc. just made for more interesting storytelling.

LIMBONG: And you can see those stories Perez was telling in all sorts of movies and TV shows and cartoons today. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACEY CHATTAWAY'S "STARLIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.