April 5, 2023


If you started reading comics between the late 1970s and up to the mid-1980s, you would have run into artwork by this talented illustrator. Contributing to such important marvel properties as Iron Fist, fantastic four and – most iconically – the Uncanny X-Men – by the early 1980s John Byrne had cemented his reputation as one of Marvel’s best artists.

Born in England in 1950, Byrne immigrated to Canada at the ripe young age of 8 and he later attended the Alberta college of Art & design (leaving without graduating) before he began residing in the us where he has lived now for many years. He first made a splash in the comic book world in the mid-1970s and he got his start with marvel and Charlton Comics, contributing his very first interior comic artwork to the marvel fanzine FOOM magazine #5 (Friends of Ol’ Marvel, published March 1974).

After freelancing for Charlton for a spell, marvel asked him to work with an up and coming British writer called Chris Claremont. The rest, as they say, is marvel history.

Citing Neal Adams, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as his primary influences, Byrne nonetheless possess a unique and immediately identifiable style. At its best, I would describe the Byrne-style as blending the detailed realism of Neal Adams with the kinetic and stylistic exuberance of Jim Aparo. notable for his smooth line work, and finely detailed panels, he is quite simply one of the best modern artists in mainstream comics.

Byrne is also notable for his scripting ability; it is no doubt his Jack Kirby-ish storytelling approach to art that made him such a powerful figure in the comic industry in his prime. Although he later moved to DC and worked on flagship titles there such as Superman, his best work, I think, can be found in the following marvel books.


Iron Fist #15 (August 1977) – first Byrne X-Men art with Chris Claremont

Byrne’s contributions to the X-Men are second only to Stan Lee and Chris Claremont and its unlikely that such central X-Men personae such as Sabretooth, Kitty pride or Wolverine would be the same if Byrne had not begun his team up with Claremont. That team up and the first X-Men art of Byrne’s (sharing penciling duties with Dave Cockrum here) can be found in this book. This was the last Iron Fist comic before he transferred over to join Power man and it’s also the first appearance of Bushmaster. but it’s Byrne on the X-Men that make it memorable. You can currently find it in 9.8 certified condition for around $550.00 but, especially in high grade, prices have been trending down over the last three months, probably as a result of the less than stellar ‘Iron Fist’ Netflix show. The last sale of this comic in 9.8 was for only $400.00.



Uncanny X-Men #134 (June 1980) – Phoenix becomes Dark Phoenix

While we cannot underrate the inking powers of Terry Austin, and how much Austin’s inks helped make Byrne’s X-Men art really pop, there’s no doubt that during his long tenure on Marvel’s mutant flagship title (starting with issue #108 and lasting until issue #143) Byrne honed his style to maturity. What is most remarkable about Byrne in the early 1980s is the amount of work he did and the speed with which he would produce such detailed and high quality panels. The Claremont/Byrne team up reached its artistic high point on ‘the Dark Phoenix saga’, and this issue is one of the artistic highs of that arc. Today X-Men #134 will cost you $950.00. I would wait until after the FOX movie comes out this summer as prices may dip once that adaptation comes and goes.



Fantastic four #258 (Sept. 1983) – classic John Byrne art

In my opinion Byrne reached his artistic peak on his fantastic four run in the early 1980s. The FF hit a snag after the classic Lee-Kirby team up ended, and it wasn’t until Byrne began both scripting and drawing Marvel’s first family that life returned to the book. Of the many excellent issues of FF written and drawn by Byrne issue #258 is excellent from its stellar cover to its many detailed interior panels. You can find his comic raw in high grade for under twenty dollars on eBay. Or, alternately, check your LCS back issues long boxes. pick it up if you want to see John Byrne in his prime. While some think Byrne remains as great an artist today as he was in the Bronze Age, it’s not uncommon to hear fans complain that his illustration work began to decline starting in the 1990s. Occasionally, however, and even today, Byrne can rise to produce art at the lofty level of his old glory days – when he does his artwork conveys to me all the magic and excitement of comic story telling at its very best.

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