The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators: B is for John Byrne


In celebration of gaining my Canadian Permanent Residency, I am running down an A-Z of Canadian comic book creators.

For the index list of creators featured, please click here.

I’m sure you have all guessed who this is going to be

B is for …………… Byrne, John Byrne!

[Updated on February 1st, 2010]

John Byrne was born in the town of Walsall, in the West Midlands county of England on July 6, 1950. Here, along with his parents, Frank and Nelsie, he lived with his maternal grandmother. This is where his “journey into comics” began, when he first saw the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV series, which was being shown on the BBC when he was about 6 years old. Not long after he started watching that series, he came across a British Hardcover Superman Annual, which was published around 1956. His first exposure to comics in the traditional format was Super Comics, which was an Australian reprint issue. The tales reprinted in the issue he read featured Superboy, Batman, and Johny Quick. He says that the Batman story hooked him for life.

When he was eight years old, his family emigrated to Canada, settling in Edmonton, Alberta in 1958. A few years later, in 1966, his family would move to Calgary, Alberta, where he lived until he got married in 1980, and moved to Chicago. He currently lives in Fairfield, Conneticut. While John Byrne was born in Britain, and now resides in the USA, he is still a full Canadian Citizen, and therefore qualifies for this list!

From 1970 to 1973, Byrne studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design, in Calgary, where he completed two and a half years of a four-year course in Fine Arts. Byrne did not complete the course, because he and his instructors came to the mutual conclusion there was little that they could offer to someone who wanted to be a “cartoonist”. Although he did not graduate from his course, this was where he managed to get his first comic strip published. His first work was the superhero parody strip, Gay Guy, which was printed in the college newspaper, The Emery Weal. The Gay Guy strip poked fun at the campus stereotype of homosexuality among art students, and was also notable because it featured an early version of the Alpha Flight character Snowbird. During his time at the college, in May 1971, had also had his first full comic story ‘The Death’s Head Knight‘ published in ACA Comix #1, which was a 20-page B&W programme, printed on the occasion of the students exhibition for the Alberta College of Art.

John Byrne’s first professional comic work came in August 1974, when he illustrated a two-page black-and-white short story in Skywald Publications’ Nightmare #20. Soon, he became a freelance artist for Charlton Comics, for whom he created his first colored comic, Rog-2000, which appeared as a one of several back-up features in the superhero series E-Man, starting with issue #6. While working for Charlton, Byrne also did work on series like Emergency!, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, and Space: 1999. He also co-created Doomsday + 1, with Joe Gill, it was a science fiction series that took place in a post-apocalyptic world.

His first professional comic book sale was to Marvel Comics. Byrne sold them a short story called Dark Asylum, which was written by David Anthony Kraft. According to Byrne, the story “languished in a flat file somewhere until it was used as filler in Giant-Sized Dracula #5” (June 1975). He then began drawing several of Marvel’s lower-selling titles, including Iron Fist, The Champions, and Marvel Team-Up. Many of these issues found him working with writer Chris Claremont, with whom he also teamed up for some issues of the black-and-white Marvel magazine Marvel Preview featuring Star-Lord. These stories were inked by Terry Austin, who soon after teamed up with Claremont and Byrne on X-Men.

John Byrne is undoubtedly most famous for his work on Marvel’s X-Men title. Byrne joined writer Chris Claremont on X-Men, beginning with issue #108 in December 1977. The duo soon became fan favourites, as the title quickly became one of the highest selling titles in the comics industry, and included such classic story arcs as the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past”. John Byrne has often compared his working relationship with Chris Claremont to that of Gilbert and Sullivan, saying that they were “almost constantly at war over who the characters were”. Due to this ongoing conflict, Byrne left the title after issue #143, published in March 1981.

In 1980, Byrne did his first work for DC Comics, penciling The Untold Legend of the Batman mini-series. Byrne has revealed that he had always wanted to draw Batman, and had a three-month window of time during which he was not under contract to Marvel. He had originally intended to pencil the entire miniseries, but due to delays with DC providing him with the story’s plot, his schedule would only allow for him to pencil the first issue.

During his time at Marvel, he went on to illustrate Captain America, The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, and a six year run on Marvel’s flagship title, Fantastic Four. His Fantastic Four run (#232-293, 1981–1986) was considered by many fans to be a second Golden Age for the title. Byrne has explained that what he aimed to accomplish on the title was to “turn the clock back . . . get back and see fresh what it was that made the book great at its inception”.

In 1983 Marvel persuaded Byrne to write and draw Alpha Flight, a Canadian superhero team. Alpha Flight was initially very popular (its first issue sold 500,000 copies), but Byrne has said the book “was never much fun,” and that he considered the characters two-dimensional. Nonetheless, the title’s unconventional characters and turbulent storylines have been considered by some fans to be among Byrne’s most emotionally complex work; moreover, one of Alpha Flight’s characters, Northstar, eventually became Marvel’s first openly gay superhero. Though intended by Byrne to be gay from the beginning, Northstar’s homosexuality was only hinted at during Byrne’s tenure on the book.

In 1986 Byrne accepted an assignment from DC Comics to revamping their flagship character, the first superhero character of them all, Superman. These efforts spawned the hugely successful Man of Steel miniseries. DC had just reset their comic Universe’s continuity after the 1985 cross-over event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Man of Steel effectively gave Superman a new and improved origin story. Byrne has been quoted as saying that his aim was to “(take) Superman back to the basics … It’s basically Siegel and Shuster’s Superman meets the Fleischer Superman in 1986.”

Byrne then embarked on a second stint working at Marvel Comics, starting in 1986, Byrne would work on The Star Brand, Avengers West Coast, The Sensational She-Hulk, Iron-Man, and Namor, the SubMariner.

In the 1990s, Byrne decided to try his hand at creator-owned work, publishing a series of titles through Dark Horse Comics. His first title for the publisher was Next Men (1991), which told the story of five super powered teens, who were the product of a secret government experiment. The other projects that he published through Dark Horse were Babe (1994), and Danger Unlimited (1994). Next Men was by far the most successful of these projects, and would last for four years, ending in 1994 with issue #30. He originally intended to return to the title after a six month hiatus, but due to the state of the comic industry at the time, he shelved the project, promising one day to return to it.

Since this time, Byrne has worked on such titles as Green Lantern: Ganthet’s Tale, Uncanny X-Men, Wonder Woman, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Spider-Man: Chapter One, The Amazing Spider-Man, Lab Rats, Doom Patrol, Blood of the Demon, and many more. He is also famous for writing the first arc of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series in 1994.

Byrne’s recent work has included illustrating the first three issue of DC’s The All-New Atom series in 2006; however, the majority of his recent work has been with IDW, mostly working of Star Trek titles. His next project is the final chapter of his Romulans story before he starts on the second Assignment: Earth series.

Byrne has often stated that his major influences are Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, and Jean Giraud, as well as British comics artists such as Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, and the cartoonist Giles. He later described himself as “a Frank Miller sponge,” and told several interviewers of his desire to incorporate influences from Miller and Gene Colan into his style.

In addition to his comic book work, Byrne has published three novels: Fearbook, Whipping Boy and Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses. He also has short stories in the Hotter Blood and Shock Rock anthologies. Fearbook was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers of America as “Best First Novel”.

Over the years, Byrne has gained a reputation as a controversial figure, and has noted this himself, stating that “as the people who have figured me out have said, I just don’t suffer fools gladly.”

To see a complete bibliography of John Byrne’s work, please click here.

Related posts:

  1. The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators: A is for Adrian Alphona
  2. The Return of the The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators
  3. The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators: J is for Russ Jones
  4. The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators: H is for Niko Henichon
  5. The A-Z of Canadian Comic Book Creators: I is for Stuart Immonen


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