John Byrne was the hottest comic book artist alive in the 1980s, period. There is not a major character he didn’t write for in either Marvel or DC from the late 1970s onward.
As a penciller, inker, letterer and writer, Byrne’s distinct artistry is at once recognizable by the discerning comic reader. His work is wholly unique in his approach to accentuate the naturalistic humanity of his characters. From Wolverine to She-Hulk to the Fantastic Four, this Brit, raised Canadian, made his way into the American mainstream comic center of the universe by the late 1970s.
Early experiences with black and white TV, watching George Reeves’ Superman, and chance encounters with pulp comics shipped to Britain, exposed Byrne to characters like Johnny Quick and Batman. By the age of 12, he was hooked.
In 1970, Byrne became a student at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta, where he published his first self-authored comic and wrote for the school newspaper. By 1975 Byrne finally graduated from smaller publishers when writer, and future partner, Chris Claremont provided a break at Marvel. Eventually, the two would team up to produce the most popular modern run of Uncanny X-Men comics, from 1977-1981.
Byrne’s work with the X-Men, Alpha Flight, his Canadian dream team, the Hulk and Fantastic Four would change the narrative story arcs used by Marvel for decades to come. Marvel’s canon, and DC’s for that matter, were forever influenced by Byrne’s creative writing.
Byrne is color blind. However, his vast array of skills allowed him to use his intellect to shape stories, describe locales, and provide brilliant details of global venues that brought the scenes he lettered to life before ink was ever added. From the Rocky Mountains of the Canadian Northwest, where the Wolverine finds his roots, to Japan, Northern Africa, Australia, and every imaginable American City or interstellar stop along the way, Byrne’s imagination about the globe he grew up exploring was dramatically expanded in the pages of the Marvel Universe.
We see John Byrne’s work play out in the blended storylines of Marvel’s movies still today. While stories and character traits have been pulled from decades of great work by many artists, the hits from Marvel at the box office owe a debt of gratitude to Canadian John Byrne. Byrne’s love of scenery and naturalist expression provided more shape, global perspective, and substance to his characters than anyone “north of the border” ever had before.
Featured image: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four poster. Photo courtesy Marvel Comics