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ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN 1996- by Andrew Goletz

John Byrne is one of the few creators out there who we can truly call a legend. His work on such books as Superman, Fantastic Four and X-Men are all considered to hold some of the finest tales ever told in those particular titles. He has lent his creative energies to all of the big guns in the comics industry: Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk…

John also had an immensely popular creator owned title, John Byrne’s Next Men, through Dark Horse comics which began as a series and then a series of mini-series. He is an accomplished writer, artist, creator and is always good for an opinion.

AG: How did you break into the business?

JB: It was a process of dumb luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Let’s see, if I remember the sequence correctly, I was attending the Alberta College of Art, and had demonstrated my interest in comics sufficiently enough that the director of the gallery there, a guy named Doug Moppet, brought in a touring show of comic art. Then he asked me to do a comic to be given away as the brochure for the show. I did, and a guy who lived in Calgary (which is where I was at this point), John Mansfield, saw it and used his connections to get me into Marvel and DC to show my stuff around.  I wasn’t a big hit, but I did start to get some work through fanzines: George Breos effort in Chicago and Bob Layton and Roger Stern’s CPL. It was in CPL that I created this little robot character that Layton decided to name ROG-2000, and Nick Cuti, who was an editor and writer at Charlton saw this and asked me if I would be interested in doing ROG as a backup feature in E-MAN. I did, and from there I got more work at Charlton.


AG: Who do you admire most in life?
JB: There are two people I would say I admire, other than my parents and folks like that. One is Douglas Bader, who was a fighter pilot in the RAF during World War Two, and who was, when I learned about him in the late Fifties, probably the earliest real-life hero I had. He was this fantastic pilot and an ace in the Battle of Britain, despite the fact that he had lost both legs during a training exercise. The other would be Abraham Lincoln, whom I believe to have been the greatest American President of his century, and certainly the greatest President ever.


AG: What about John Byrne, the human being. What are your hobbies and interests?

JB: I’m one of those sad, pitiful cases, really. My life is my job and my job is my life. This is the main downside, I guess, of what happens when your hobby becomes your job. My musical interests are kind of pedestrian. I like modern jazz, and I like some show tunes. I guess Enya would be my secret vice. Mostly, though, when I’m not parked at the drawing board, I’m parked in front of the TV, watching movies on tape or laser disk. And I don’t have a TV in my studio, by the way. I can’t understand people who do!


 AG: John Byrne’s Next Men. Will we ever see it or the characters again?

JB: I hope so. I have about twenty more issues of Next Men in my head, including a cohesive ending for the book. They’re not stories I could transplant, not stories I could turn into Wonder Woman of New Gods tales, so I must get to them sooner or later.


AG: Why did you take on Wonder Woman? WW, She-Hulk, Babe…Do you have an affinity to strong female characters or is it just coincidence?

JB: I like drawing hot babes! I also like taking the characters with the least developed personalities and putting my stamp on them. For the most part, that had tended to be the female characters, and so I developed something for writing female characters.


AG: How do you feel about Jim Lee reinventing the Fantastic Four, a book you got raves for. I think this is the first time people have been excited about the book since your run.

JB: I reserve judgment until I see the work. I don’t understand why Lee is doing it—or why Liefeld is doing Captain America, for that matter—if Image is still as successful as they claim. Seems like selling out to me.


AG: Would you ever work for Marvel again?

JB: DC is certainly a friendlier place, these days. But I would work for Marvel again at the drop of a hat, if they offered me the right project. They just haven’t.


AG: What do you think needs to be changed about the industry?
JB: The whole mindset needs to change. People need to realize, first and foremost, that the speculator boom was a complete aberration. It wasn’t something that had anything to do with the history of the industry and it isn’t something that is likely to ever be repeated. In fact, it would be BAD if it were repeated. We need to get back to telling stories and realizing that comics are a specialty market. We’re not Time or TV Guide or Playboy. We’re small, and we work so much better when we’re small.


AG: You’ve been a big proponent of creator’s rights. Why do you work for hire when you could do your own creator owned or self published works?

JB: I do what I think or hope will be fun. The speculator boom pretty much burned and pillaged the marketplace and I was looking for safe harbor. I was on the verge of forcing myself into the frame of mind in which I would just do whatever crap happened to come along, for a couple of years, just to make a living. Then Paul Kupperberg asked me if I would do Wonder Woman, and I was afforded a chance to make a living AND continue having fun. When the market place settles back into something like an even keel, I’ll go back to my creator owned stuff—assuming I’ve finished my commitment to New Gods and Wonder Woman by then.


AG: What do you think of the entire Spider-Clone saga in the Spider-Man books?
JB: Spider-Man started to go sour a long time ago. Writers who did not really understand what it was that made him special took Spider-Man, or more precisely, Peter Parker, into places, arenas in which he did not belong. The magic of Spider-Man was that Peter was this nerd, this loser, who got powers and after an abortive attempt to use those powers to make money, realized he could escape from his daily drudgery into the Spider-Man identity. But Parker’s life became BETTER than Spider-Man’s, and so the core, the key elements that made the character work, slowly drained away. The clone thing, I suspect, was an attempt to put it back the way it was without simply killing Mary Jane and having Peter lose his job. Probably though, it would have been better if they did Man of Webs or something, and started from scratch.

Copyright©2000 Andrew Goletz