Comic book creator John Byrne is 70

FantaCo Chronicles

John ByrneBack in my FantaCo days, John Byrne saved my bacon. Twice.

For those of you who are not comic book fans, Byrne is a British-born writer and artist of superhero comics. Notably, he had a stellar run with Chris Claremont that made the X-Men the most popular title in the Marvel Universe starting in the late 1970s. He’s worked on many Marvel titles and a few from DC, as you can see here. In 1981, Byrne took over the writing and drawing of Marvel’s first superhero group, the Fantastic Four.

When I worked at FantaCo, we created a series of magazines about Marvel characters. The first was the X-Men Chronicles in 1981, which I edited, with a cover by former X-Men artist Dave Cockrum, It turned out to be monumentally successful, with a print run of 50,000.

The next two were to cover the Fantastic Four, edited by me, and Daredevil, compiled by Mitch Cohn, in early 1982. I no longer know how we did it, but we were able to get several name artists and writers to participate in our project.

Wait, Tom Skulan, publisher and store owner, remembers that several came directly from other artists who had done work for us “who felt that their friends would appreciate the high rates we were paying.” Mitch, in particular, often pumped creators for other phone numbers.

We DID have an impressive Rolodex. (Hey, kids: a Rolodex is “a rotating file device used to store business contact information. Its name is a portmanteau of the words rolling and index.” I have my red one SOMEWHERE, I think.)

Problem solver

spider-man chroniclesJohn Byrne agreed not only to do the front cover of the Fantastic Four Chronicles but the centerspread. He also wrote A Personal Reflection re: the FF. We needed to print the front and back covers of the Fantastic Four and Daredevil Chronicles “two-up”, i.e., at the same time.

The problem is that I didn’t have the back cover from prominent artist George Perez. What to do, what to do?

Finally, I called Byrne, who suggested using his front cover as the back cover as well. No charge. Eventually, the Perez cover showed and we used it as the inside back cover. It bumped a piece by local artist Joe Fludd, who was/is a big Perez fan. George, BTW, did the cover for the Avengers Chronicle, edited by Mitch.

I’m working on the Spider-Man Chronicles. Spider-Man was my favorite character. Mitch got Frank Miller, who had done the Daredevil Chronicles cover, to agree to do the same for Spidey. Then, at the last moment, Miller called and pulled out! I have everything else finished.

In desperation, I call John Byrne. Can he whip up SOMETHING? And quickly? I swear that four days later, the cover arrives in the mail. And it’s great! The book schedule is saved.

I haven’t kept up with Byrne since I largely gave up reading comics in the mid-1990s. I know that he and his X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont were entered into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2015. But thanks, John Byrne. And happy natal day.

What if the FantaCo Chronicles had continued?

We did magazines about the X-Men (Dave Cockrum cover, edited by me), Fantastic Four (John Byrne cover, mine), Daredevil (Frank Miller cover, edited by Mitch Cohn), the Avengers (George Perez cover, Mitch’s), and Spider-Man (Byrne cover, mine).

spider-man chroniclesAlan David Doane, who was a regular customer at FantaCo, the comic book store/publisher where I worked from 1980-1988 asked:

If you could have edited five more FantaCo Chronicles volumes, what comics/characters would you have chosen, who would be the main interview subject in each, and who would you have chosen to draw the covers?

First, a review: we did magazines about the X-Men (Dave Cockrum cover, edited by me), Fantastic Four (John Byrne cover, mine), Daredevil (Frank Miller cover, edited by Mitch Cohn), the Avengers (George Perez cover, Mitch’s), and Spider-Man (Byrne cover, mine).

I was happy to get almost anyone good to do the covers. Owner/publisher Tom Skulan didn’t want Cockrum to do the X-Men cover, not out of artistic taste. He believed Dave was also doing that Official Marvel Index cover for the X-Men. We tried getting several others, including Wendy Pini of Elfquest fame.

Byrne was great for the FF front cover, but Perez was late for the back, which is why the front and back were the same, and for no additional charge. Miller was supposed to do Spider-Man but he found that he could not, and Byrne did that cover extremely fast.

After getting chewed out by Marvel’s Jim Shooter, we were steering away from doing any more of their titles. In fact, a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Chronicles (and other “underground” titles) was even announced but never released; that would have certainly been edited by Mitch Cohn.

I was in early conversations with Denis Kitchen about doing something with Kitchen Sink Enterprises, which surely would have been driven by Will Eisner’s Spirit.

To your question about future Chronicles:

The Defenders, with an emphasis with Doctor Strange. Writer Steve Gerber, for sure. Cover by Sal Buscema.

Captain America and Iron Man, who of course, shared Tales of Suspense; this would make indexing easier. Cap writer Steve Englehart; I LOVED that run. Cover by John Buscema.

Characters related to the Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer, the Inhumans and Black Panther, for sure. She-Hulk? Luke Cage? Oh, what the heck – Stan Lee. Cover by Byrne.

The Hulk and Sub-Mariner, who were in Tales to Astonish for a time. Bill Bixby, because I was a big fan of My Favorite Martian. Cover by Herb Trimpe.

Thor plus any Avengers not covered – Ant-Man/Giant Man, et al. The underrated Marie Severin. Walt Simonson turned the Thunder God upside down.

Of course, I have no idea if I could GET any of those artists, save for Byrne. Maybe we would have asked Fred Hembeck, who was friends with a number of artists in the Mid-Hudson. And he could have done a great take on Tales to Astonish #100.