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Creative Passions Become Reality for UNLV Alumnus

Publisher, writer, and all-around artist Pj Perez offers advice on pursuing dreams.

People  |  Oct 24, 2018  |  By Pashtana Usufzy
man with video camera

UNLV alumnus Pj Perez is working on a documentary about the rise and fall of Maryland Parkway's alternative culture. (Kennedy Johnson)

A true Renaissance man, Pj Perez always is working on a project, or two — or a dozen. Perez, ’07 BA Sociology and BA Journalism and Media Studies, has turned his many passions into a living while seemingly always taking on new enterprises and bigger challenges.

His list of job titles is lengthy and expansive. It includes work in public relations, web comics, web development, and design, along with becoming publisher of his own printing company.

“I think part of that comes from growing up in Vegas,” he said of his many passions. “There's no one to tell you ‘No, you can't do something.’”

Now, as web and content manager for the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel, he stretches his creative muscles running online publications including the popular hotel's 52 Stories blog.

But his work doesn’t end with his day job.

In recent months, he began shooting a documentary, continued his work in comic books, and revised several television scripts he’s written in an effort to pitch them to agents, all in his free time. He'll be a featured guest at the 2018 Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival on Nov. 3 at the Clark County Library. 

Express Yourself

“You have to provide for yourself. You have to provide for the people you take care of,” he said. “Everyone has parts of their job that suck. But at the end of the day, do you have the freedom to express yourself in some way?”

Perez’s unusual background prepared him well for a hectic and driven life as an adult, turning his obsessions into professions.

He first gained a reputation as a young columnist for the now-defunct magazine Las Vegas CityLife before he’d even enrolled at UNLV in his mid-20s.

As a student, he attended school full time while also working full time, playing in a band, and balancing all of those activities with his freelance journalism. He became editor of the school newspaper, now known as the Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and prior to graduating, he’d worked as a senior content developer for Vegas.com and the founding managing editor of Racket, a lifestyle magazine.

Through his degree programs, he further developed skills he'd learned outside of the classroom: creating magazines, writing, and making art.

And he was always seeking new opportunities, which offers a lesson for current students.

Valuable Takeaway

"College isn't just about taking classes and learning skills. It's about building a community and being exposed to other people you otherwise wouldn't be. That was my takeaway," he said. "Hopefully, if you're doing it right, you gain an appreciation and then understanding of the world in a way that you didn't have.”

One of Perez’s latest projects is based, in part, on his time at UNLV. The Utopian, Vol. 2: Foundation is a compilation of a comic series he began online in 2009. The new book tells the story of a group of teenagers dealing with the death of their social crusader friend, the series’ central character, and its scenery and settings have been heavily influenced by UNLV. The idea for the series sprang from a comic Perez created as a child.

“I have a box of comics I’ve been carrying around since I was a kid, and these aren’t just a one-off sort of thing,” he said. “I have this Tumblr where I’ve literally been posting every single comic I’ve made since I was a kid, and that’s how many I’ve made, that it’s taken me that long to do.”

He's also currently raising funds for a documentary project that is near and dear to his heart.

The film, the idea for which originated in a Las Vegas Weekly cover story he wrote in 2006, will offer a look at the rise and fall of Maryland Parkway as an alternative cultural center in the 1990s.

Feature Project

A trailer for that work, his first feature project, titled “Parkway of Broken Dreams,” was released this summer. It examines how Maryland Parkway went from cultural center a couple decades ago to cultural desert and if the redevelopment envisioned by UNLV’s administration can bring it back to life. “The reaction to it has just been overwhelming,” he said. “So many people have reached out.”

Perez, who has spent a lifetime creating — writing journalistic articles and poetry, making music and documentaries, self-publishing comics and magazines — said he’s learned one vital lesson he thinks all creators, including UNLV students, should know: It’s important not to wait for permission to pursue a dream.

“I think a lot of people are scared to put their worst selves out,” he said. “You’ve got to be unafraid to be ugly, whether that's creatively ugly, physically ugly. If you don't put out bad stuff, you'll never get to your good stuff. I wrote thousands of pages of bad poetry in high school, but I like to think that made me a better writer.”

Events like the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival offers a chance to encourage kids who, as he did, have so many dreams they want to follow.

“Parents will bring their kids up and say, ‘Little Timmy wants to be a comic book artist, what should he do?’ That’s my favorite thing,” he said. “Look what it turns into. Don't let anyone tell you no.”