John Lindley Byrne (born July 6, 1950) is a British-born Canadian-American author and artist of comic books. Since the mid-1970s, Byrne has worked on nearly every major American superhero.
Byrne's better-known work has been on Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Fantastic Four and the 1986 relaunch of DC Comics’ Superman franchise. Coming into the comics profession exclusively as a penciler, Byrne began co-plotting the X-Men comics during his tenure on them, and launched his writing career in earnest with Fantastic Four (where he also started inking his own pencils). During the 1990s he produced a number of creator-owned works, including Next Men and Danger Unlimited. He also wrote the first issues of Mike Mignola's Hellboy series and produced a number of Star Trek comics for IDW Publishing.
Early life and career
Byrne was born in West Bromwich, West Midlands, England where along with his parents (Frank and Nelsie) he lived with his maternal grandmother. While living there, he was first exposed to the American superheroes that would dominate his professional life through reruns of American programs such as The Adventures of Superman. In Britain, he was able to read domestic comics such as Eagle as well as reprints of DC Comics. When he was eight years old he left England with his parents and moved to Canada. According to Byrne himself, he was not an academically gifted student.
His first encounter with Marvel Comics was in 1962 with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four #5. He later commented that “the book had an 'edge' like nothing DC was putting out at the time”. Jack Kirby’s work in particular had a strong influence on Byrne and he has worked with many of the characters Kirby created or co-created. Besides Kirby, Byrne was also influenced by the naturalistic style of Neal Adams.
In 1970, Byrne enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. He created the superhero parody Gay Guy for the college newspaper, which poked fun at the campus stereotype of homosexuality among art students. Gay Guy is also notable for featuring a prototype of the Alpha Flight character Snowbird. While there, he also published his first comic book, ACA Comix #1, featuring “The Death’s Head Knight”.
Byrne left the college in 1973 without graduating. He broke into comics illustrating a two-page story by writer Al Hewetson for Skywald Publications’ black-and-white horror magazine Nightmare #20 (August 1974). He then began freelancing for Charlton Comics, making his color-comics debut with the E-Man backup feature “Rog-2000,” starring a robot character he’d created in the mid-1970s that colleagues Roger Stern and Bob Layton named and began using for spot illustrations in their fanzine CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature). A Rog-2000 story written by Stern, with art by Byrne and Layton, had gotten the attention of Charlton Comics editor Nicola Cuti, who extended Byrne an invitation. Written by Cuti, “Rog-2000” became one of several alternating backup features in the Charlton Comics superhero series E-Man, starting with the eight-page “That Was No Lady” in issue #6 (Jan. 1975).
Byrne went on to work on the Charlton books Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Space: 1999, and Emergency!, and co-created with writer Joe Gill the post-apocalyptic science-fiction series Doomsday + 1. Byrne additionally drew a cover for the supernatural anthology The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #54 (Dec. 1975).
Byrne’s first story for Marvel Comics was “Dark Asylum” (plotted by Tony Isabella and written by David Anthony Kraft), published in Giant-Size Dracula #5 (June 1975). He began drawing Marvel’s lower-selling titles, including Iron Fist, The Champions, and Marvel Team-Up. For many issues, he was paired 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.
Cover to The Uncanny X-Men #135 (July 1980), by Byrne & Terry Austin.
The Uncanny X-Men
Byrne joined Claremont beginning with The X-Men #108 (Dec. 1977). Their work together (along with inker Terry Austin) on such classic story arcs as the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, “Days of Future Past”, and “Proteus” would make them both fan favorites, and X-Men became one of the industry’s best-selling titles. In addition, Byrne insisted that the title keep its Canadian character, Wolverine, and contributed a series of story elements to justify his presence that eventually made the character among the most popular in Marvel's publishing history. Byrne has repeatedly compared his working relationship with Claremont to Gilbert and Sullivan, and has said that they were “almost constantly at war over who the characters were.” After more than three years on Uncanny X-Men, during which time he created the character Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat, Byrne left the title with issue #143 (Mar. 1981).
During the course of 1979 — while serving as the regular penciller on X-Men — Byrne displayed his prolificness by also taking on penciling duties for the Avengers. Working for the most part with writer David Michelinie, Byrne drew issues #181-191 of the Marvel team title.
DC: The Untold Legend of the Batman
In early 1980, Byrne also did his first work for DC Comics, penciling the first issue of The Untold Legend of the Batman mini-series. Byrne had always wanted to draw Batman, and had a three-month window of time during which he was not under contract to Marvel. Hearing about the Untold Legend series, Byrne contacted editor Paul Levitz to express interest. DC took him up on his offer, but it wasn't until the second month of his three-month window that Byrne received the plot for the first issue. Byrne told Levitz that he would not be able to finish the project due to time constraints (despite DC then allegedly offering Byrne double his Marvel pay-rate, after initially saying they couldn't match his Marvel rate). Nonetheless, Byrne penciled the first issue, which was inked by Jim Aparo after being intended for Terry Austin. This experience soured Byrne on DC for quite some time.
In the early 1980s, Byrne worked on a number of other Marvel books. His nine-issue run (#247–255, 1980–1981) with writer Roger Stern on Captain America included an issue (#250) in which Cap was nominated for the U.S. presidency.
The Fantastic Four
Byrne’s most important post-X-Men body of work at Marvel was his six-year run on The Fantastic Four (#232-293, 1981–1986), considered by many to be a “second Golden Age” on that title. Byrne said his goal was to “turn the clock back . . . get back and see fresh what it was that made the book great at its inception”. He also made a number of significant changes to the title: the Thing was replaced as a member of the quartet by the She-Hulk, while the Thing had adventures in his own comic (also written by Byrne), and his longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters left him for his teammate the Human Torch; the Invisible Girl was developed into the most powerful member with her heightened control of her refined powers and the self-confident assertiveness to use it epitomized by her name change to the Invisible Woman; and the Baxter Building, their headquarters, was destroyed and replaced with Four Freedoms Plaza. Byrne has cited multiple reasons for leaving the book, including “internal office politics” and that “it simply started to get old”.
In 1983 — while still at the helm of Fantastic Four — Marvel persuaded Byrne to write and draw Alpha Flight, a Canadian superhero team who were first introduced “merely to survive a fight with the X-Men.” For more than two years, from 1983–1986, Byrne penciled every issue of both titles. 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 (including the death of a main character in issue #12) 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.
The Incredible Hulk
In 1985, after issue #28 of Alpha Flight, Byrne swapped books with Bill Mantlo, writer of The Incredible Hulk. According to Byrne, he discussed his ideas with editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ahead of time, but once Byrne was on the book, Shooter objected to them. Byrne only wrote and drew six issues (#314–319) of The Incredible Hulk.
Near the end of his time at Marvel he was hired by DC Comics to revamp its flagship character Superman. This was part of a company-wide restructuring of the history of the DC Universe and all of its characters following the miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths. Byrne’s reworking of Superman in particular gained widespread media coverage outside the comic book industry, including articles in Time and The New York Times.