Originally published in December of 2000. John Byrne just had a nasty split with Marvel Comics, one that has kept Byrne from working for Marvel since. It is very likely that John will never work for Marvel again. In short, Marvel’s President of Publishing (and my last interview) Bill Jemas decided to try and strong arm certain creators into working on certain titles by telling them they either do it or they’d not be working for Marvel any more. Another creator who has since gone on record about similar treatment was Mark Bagley, in regards to penciling Ultimate Spider-Man. With Bagley the title grew on him, and with some encouragement from his local retailer & friend Cliff Biggers, he wound up drawing it for 111 issues. This does not excuse that behaviour from Marvel though.
I had more of a back and forth interview with John after e-mailing my initial questions. Since he was in a fired up & talking mood I tried to pry some info about him about other controversies, without luck.
An Interview With John Byrne
John Byrne recently announced that he won’t be working for Marvel anytime soon. He was working on a profitable X-Men: The Hidden Years title, but Marvel cancelled it as part of sweeping changes to their X-men line of comics. I last interviewed John in the Summer of 1998 and decided now would be a good time to talk to him again about Marvel, DC, future work, Marv Wolfman and more.
Jamie: Did Marvel try to give you another book to do to make up for X-men: The Hidden Years?
John Byrne: No. There was an “offer” to continue XHY through issue 22 if I would agree to do another project (The X-Book with Chris Claremont, which Bill Jemas had already announced I was doing, without having my final confirmation) but I was not in the market for that kind of “deal”.
Jamie: One of the big questions X-men fans are wondering is what books are getting cancelled and which ones are not? Can you tell us?
John Byrne: I’m not sure. I don’t think Marvel is sure, either.
Jamie: We know that X-men: The Hidden Years ends with #19. Does that end a story arc?
John Byrne: No. Right in the middle of one.
[Note: Since this interview has taken place Marvel and John Byrne have come to the agreement to finish X-Men: The Hidden Years with issue #22.]
Jamie: With almost all cancellations there are bound to be subplots and character developments left hanging. Can you tell us what you did and planned on doing after X-men: the Hidden Years #19?
John Byrne: No, sorry. I don’t want another writer reading this and “finishing” XHY for me. Alas, this has happened before.
Jamie: You originally said that Joe Quesada gave you an explanation that didn’t make sense. What was that explanation?
John Byrne: Canceling books that are selling in order to make room for books which may or may not sell, in the name of increasing sales, makes no sense to me.
Jamie: Joe Quesada has taken a different route than most EIC’s when it comes to conflicts between creators and editors, using Fandom.com to tell his side of the story. Did you expect him to do that and which way do you think editors should respond to conflicts like yours?
John Byrne: The editors are free to do and say whatever they want, of course. Based on the reactions I have seen from posters on AOL, it would seem Quesada has done himself no favors in this case, since he has given a description of XHY which, as fans are quick to point out, in no way matches the actual book.
Jamie: Now that some time has passed, can you tell us what happened with your leaving Hulk?
John Byrne: No.
Jamie: In the latest Hulk Annual, Tom Brevoort apologized for your Hulk stories and Peter David retconed them out in 3 panels within Captain Marvel #2. How did you feel about that?
John Byrne: No comment.
Jamie: Recently Bill Jemas made some statements about making comics worth 20 dollars. Do you think Marvel should encourage speculating again?
John Byrne: The biggest problem with the Suits in charge at Marvel these days is that they have no sense of history. They do not know how the comicbook industry functioned before they came into the business. They think the conditions they found were the conditions as they have always been. Thus, they are convinced the way to “get it back” is to return to the insanity of the speculator market. Rather like “fixing” the Titanic by crashing it into another iceberg.
Jamie: I understand you testified at the Marv Wolfman vs. Marvel case in where Marvel won the rights to the Blade and Deacon Frost character. What did you tell the court?
John Byrne: The truth.
Jamie: And why do you feel that way?
John Byrne: Truth is truth.
Jamie: I don’t think it will surprise anyone if you get some new work from DC, but what about smaller publishers like Dark Horse?
John Byrne: The marketplace is still too soft for me to function in that context.
Jamie: Would you work for CrossGen?
John Byrne: I have no familiarity with their company or their line.
Jamie: Do you think you’ll ever write and/or draw something that is not superheroes?
John Byrne: In my career to date I have done science-fiction, war, western and humor titles and stories. I certainly expect to do more.
Jamie: …And do you want to?
John Byrne: Yes.
Jamie: Would you work under the Vertigo imprint or any ‘mature readers’ comics?
John Byrne: NEXT MEN was labeled “Mature Audiences” and dealt with mature themes.
Jamie: There has been lots of news around DC lately regarding censorship, comics being pulped, legal holdups and so forth. Have you ever had any problems with this while working there?
John Byrne: No. I understand the rules and find no problem working within them.
Jamie: What details can you give about your working with Stan Lee to do the Legion of Superheroes as he would have created them?
John Byrne: Other than the fact that it is planned, nothing. Stan has not yet provided a plot, and we have not talked about what direction we might take.
Jamie: You’ve said that the market is too soft for you to go back to creator owned work. This is being debated, primarily among people who say they are making “loads” of money through creator owned work. Considering the amount of money that creators are making through TPB royalties, do you still think Work For Hire is the only way to go?
John Byrne: When have I ever said it was?
Jamie: So is there a place between fully creator owned, controlled and financed work and corporate work for hire that you’re able to do? Something like say League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Transmetropolitan?
John Byrne: Of course. There are countless avenues open to any who wish to seek them out. It simply depends on what you want to do, where, and when.
Jamie: The comic industry seems to be moving towards a TPB/Bookstore format, do you think this is a good thing?
John Byrne: As with everything else in this business, it will depend entirely upon how it is handled. When Quesada told me this was one of the directions Marvel was planning on taking, I asked what sort of support structure they were setting up — how they expected to get the necessary volumes of material into the “real” bookstores. He had no answer. This is not the sort of thing, after all, one can simply do and expect it to work, as if the very existence of the product will create a demand for it.
Jamie: Any last things you want to tell comic readers?
John Byrne: Hang in there!