Byrne, John

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John Byrne


Born July 6, 1950, in West Bromwich, England; immigrated to Canada, 1958; moved to United States, 1980; son of Frank and Nelsie Byrne; married Andrea Braun (an actress), November, 1980 (divorced); children: Kate, Kieron Dwyer. Education: Attended Alberta College of Art, Canada, 1970-73.


Homem—Fairfield, CT. Agentm—c/o Author Mail, DC Comics, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.


Comic-book writer and illustrator. Charlton Comics, New York, NY, writer and artist for Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch and Doomsday + 1, 1975-76; Marvel Comics, New York, NY, writer and or artist for comic-book series, including Iron Fist, Champions, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Captain America, Avengers, Avengers West Coast, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man: Chapter One, New Gods, Jack Kirby's Fourth World, Incredible Hulk, She-Hulk, and X-Men: The Hidden Years, 1977-2003; DC Comics, New York, NY, writer and or artist for Superman: The Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Batman, Doom Patrol, Justice League of America, Blood of the Demon, Generations, Lab Rats, and Action Comics, 1986m—; Dark Horse Comics, Milwaukie, OR, creator, writer, and artist of original comic-books series, including Next Men, 1991-94, Danger Unlimited, 1994, and Babe, 1995; contributing writer for Hellboy.

Awards, Honors

Fearbook! nominated for a Bram Stoker award; winner of numerous industry awards for comics, including Squiddies Award for Best Penciler and Best Team, both 1993, both for Next Men.



Fearbook!, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Whipping Boy, Abyss/Dell (New York, NY), 1992.

Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses, Prima Publishing (New York, NY), 1997.

Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Hotter Blood, Pocket Books, and Shock Rock, Pocket Books; contributor of articles to online journals, including Collaborator, with John Cleese, on Superman: True Brit.


Byrne's story ideas have been included in movies and television programs, including Smallville, WB Network, and X-Men.


British-born author and illustrator John Byrne has been a major force in comics since 1975. He has contributed his talents to popular collaborative comic-book series such as Marvel's X-Men, Captain America, and Avengers, and served a five-year stint on the flagship comic Fantastic Four, as well as a reworking of the ever-popular Superman for DC Comics. The versatile Byrne has also ventured into his own comic-book universe with Next Men for Dark Horse Comics, and has published several novels. Though he has received criticism from purists who resented his "rebooting" of classics such as Superman and Spider-Man, Byrne is generally recognized as one of the masters of superhero comics. Lloyd Ross, writing in the Washington Post, called Byrne "one of Marvel's greatest illustrators," no mean compliment, putting him in the leagues of artists such as Jack Kirby and Neal Adams. For Hal Hinson, writing in the New York Times, Byrne is a "visionary" as both artist and writer.

British Roots

An only child, Byrne was born near Birmingham in the British midlands in 1950. His love for comics and superheroes began in England, where he was a fan of the Superman television series starring actor George Reeves. While he soon discovered the Super-man comics, it was not until the family immigrated to Canada in 1958 that Byrne began seriously collecting comics. Long before this, though, he began sketching. As he told Mark Lerer in an interview posted on, "I started drawing when I was a very small child. I remember sitting on my grandfather's lap, drawing a picture of a horse on a chalkboard as he guided my hand. My parents still have that chalkboard drawing."

Byrne continued to teach himself how to draw all through childhood, and art became an even more significant part of life just before his twelfth birthday. As the cartoonist recalled for Lerer, "I found a copy of Fantastic Four #5. It blew me away. First of all, the artwork was like nothing I had ever seen. It was more exciting, more alivem—not necessarily more realistic, but more alivem—than other comics. Second, it was a full-length storym—not three little eight pagers! That bowled me over."

Another early interest for Byrne was reading; by the time he hit high school he was an avid science fiction fan and had decided, by age fifteen, that he would be a writer some day. By this time the family had settled in Edmonton and then Calgary, Alberta, moving around enough so that Byrne attended nine schools in eleven years. His dreams of becoming an author some day led him to write "fifteen novels and it must be over five hundred short stories," as he recalled to Lerer. "My parents' closet is still full of them!" Later, when Byrne became a professional comic-book writer and artist he would mine that treasury of early work for possible stories.

Byrne attended the Alberta School of Art in Calgary, completing two and a half years of the four-year program in fine arts. Even in college, he was busily engaged in creating superheroes, developing one for the school newspaper. However, cartooning was not what the Alberta School of Art was about, and so Byrne was soon on his own, working in advertising for a short stint, and making his first professional sale to The Monster Times in 1971. By 1974, he made his way to professional comics, working for Charlton Comics on books including Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch and Doomsday + 1. Then came an opportunity to work at Marvel Comics.

The Pinnacle: Marvel and DC

At Marvel, Byrne first worked on series such as Iron Fist and Champion, but by 1977 he had taken over artwork on X-Men, working in collaboration with writer Chris Claremont. Their work on X-Men was called "groundbreaking" by Entertainment Weekly reviewer Jeff Jensen, who also felt that Byrne and Claremont "rank as one of comics' greatest creative teams." Douglas Wolk, writing in the Washington Post, noted that this story of misunderstood superhero mutants "rose from obscurity to become America's bestselling comic" under the aegis of Byrne and Claremont. For Wolk, the secret of the success of their X-Men was "that it combined full-throttle adventure stories with wrist-to-the-forehead soap opera." Kudos were also given to Byrne's artwork, drawn, according to Wolk, with a "graceful, blobby fluiditym—a more human variation of Jack Kirby's dynamic exaggerations." Wolk also credited Byrne's artwork for making the X-Men story arcs "seem more consistent than they actually are." Similarly, Rose noted that the Byrne-Claremont collaboration during the early 1980s "made [X-Men] what it remains, the most popular comic book in the world." Rose went on to describe the series as "smart, funny and sexy and beautiful to look at, a beguiling mixture of earnest humanitarianism and cheap thrills."

Behind the scenes, the X-Men series was a headache to produce, in part because Byrne and Claremont did not always see eye to eye on their collaborative efforts. However, the series established Byrne's reputation, and from there he went on to work on Captain America, Avengers, and Fantastic Four. As writer/artist on the last-named title, Byrne churned out sixty issues between 1981 and 1986. Explaining his long run on Fantastic Four to Michael David Thomas of the Comic Book Resources Web site, Byrne noted that "the love of the characters was what kept me there. And, in many respects, it was what inspired me to leave. I felt I could no longer give the characters their due."

Another factor that convinced Byrne to move on was an offer he could not resist: to retool the flagging Superman series published by Marvel's rival, DC Comics. In 1986, Byrne moved to DC to take on the revamping of the Superman myth, giving the popular but ageing superhero an updated look and story in order to win new readers. The first concept Byrne tackled was Superman's powers; he developed the concept that Clark Kent's powers were not in operation from birth, but that they developed gradually as the boy entered puberty. Also, such powers became more circumscribed. Thus, gone was the backstory featuring Superboy, although Clark's adoptive parents are still a part of Byrne's telling. Lex Luther, arch-villain, is no longer the mad scientist, but a billionaire hungry for power who uses paid minions to battle Superman. Clark Kent also became more assertive, less of the mild-mannered sort. These and other changes were introduced in Byrne's six-part Superman: Man of Steel, in 1986. This remained the official Superman story until 2004 and a new miniseries, Birthright, reworked some of Byrne's retooling.

Byrne eventually returned to Marvel, where he soon attempted a similar revamping of Spider-Man in an effort to get back to the original storyline. Byrne's Spider-Man: Chapter One re-tells the first year of that hero's life; interestingly, his attempt to put the story back on its original track drew quibbles from some die-hard fans, who objected to any changes, even for the better.

Dwindling Market

Byrne ventured into creator-owned projects at Dark Horse Comics with his thirty-one issues of Next Men, a book about a team of superheroes who operate in a real-world environment. Put on hold in 1994, this was followed by Danger Unlimited and Babes, as well as Lab Rats at DC Comics. But by the late 1990s the comics industry was in a serious decline. Sales had gone down on most titles due to competition from video games and movies with their special effects. Byrne also credits the direct sales market shift to comic book stores for this decline. Such retailing did not attract new consumers as had sales at newsstands in grocery stores in the past. Whatever the reason for the decline, Byrne decided against continuing with his own titles until the market adjusted itself. Meanwhile, he continues to work on books such as Wonder Woman for DC Comics. In 2004, he and Claremont made a one-issue comeback on the Justice League of America.

Byrne has also tried his hand at novels, including the 1992 Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses. A contributor for Publishers Weekly felt that this novel "by comicbook superstar writer and artist Byrne has a nifty premise." In his novel, Byrne has a televangelist, unknowingly under the power of the god of war, Ares, do battle with superheroes such as Superman and Super Woman. However, the same contributor was disappointed in the result, noting that Byrne, sans illustrations, "requires inflated pages of pop-psych prose to bring his story to life."

Despite ventures into novel writing and even as a scriptwriter for the fourth Superman movie, his heart lies with the panels and folded paper of comic books. "Comics are my first and greatest love," he remarked to Jason Brice on Byrne further explained, "A comic book is still a good, 20 minute read. It's still fun."

For Byrne, the comic book experience is a unique one, as he explained to Brice, "when comics are done well and done right they provide a kind of entertainment that can't be found anywhere else." For Lerer, Byrne outlined his artistic credo, which has

If you enjoy the works of John Byrne

If you enjoy the works of John Byrne, you may also want to check out the following:

Stan Lee, Essential Dr. Strange, 2002.

Mike Mignola, B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories, 2003.

Brian Azzarello, Superman: For Tomorrow, 2005.

not changed over the span of his career: "A good comic book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That doesn't mean the story can't continue for more than one issue, but each part of the story contained in one comic book should have a beginning, middle, and end. The characters should be realistic, but not ponderously som—in other words, they shouldn't preach. The story should be fun, as distinguished from funny." Byrne added, "The best comics are those which have emotional impact."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Business Weekly, April 18, 1988, Harris Collingwood, "A Midlife Crisis for Superman," p. 38.

Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 2003, Jeff Jensen, "Q&A with Writer Chris Claremont and Artist John Byrne," p. 79.

New York Times, January 27, 2002, Hal Hinson, "Getting to the Heart of a Hero," p. 10.

Publishers Weekly, February 3, 1992, review of The Whipping Boy, p. 78; September 29, 1997, review of Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses, p. 71.

Washington Post, July 16, 2000, Lloyd Rose, review of X-Men (film), p. G10; September 19, 2004, Douglas Wolk, "In Search of Mutated Time," p. T10.

ONLINE, (August 22, 2000), Michael David Thomas, "Byrne: The Hidden Answers.", (May 13, 2005), Mark Lerer, "John Byrne Transcript, 1984."

Internet Movie Database, (May 12, 2005), "John Byrne (VI).", (May 13, 2005), "John Byrne, (b. 1950, England)."

John Byrne Home Page, (May 13, 2005)., (May 13, 2005), Jason Brice," Artists Only: John Byrne."

Top Two Three Films, (September 27, 2004), "John Byrne Interview.", (May 13, 2005), Peter Bangs, "John Byrne Talks True Brit, Doom Patrol."*