Back 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.)
John 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.