an interaction with john byrne

Posted on December 31 2006

One of my favorite illustrators is John Byrne. His work can be found primarily in the realm of superhero comics. He is a great visual storyteller, and responsible for some of the best runs on Superman, Action Comics, Fantastic Four, Wonder Woman, and many others.

I occasionally stop by his forum, where he gives fans a chance to chat with him. On a thread about interacting at comicbook conventions with fans, I posted this story:

I met JB at a ChicagoCon many years back. I was in college, I think, and had brought my portfolio along. I was a little shy about showing my portfolio, but John said he'd be happy to look at it. I had been hanging around the table long enough to know that John had a wry sense of humor.

After looking at my work, he looked up and said to me, “Come back in five years and I’ll break your hands.” It took me a moment, but I assumed what he meant was that I had potential if I kept working at it. I laughed and said, “After you break them, will you sign them?” At this point it took John a moment, but he smiled, and gave me an exuberant, “Sure!”

I went back to where my friend was standing. He didn’t have nearly as much luck showing his portfolio around as I did. He said to me, “I can’t believe you mouthed off to John Byrne like that!”

I was kind of shocked. I said, “We were just joking. You don’t think he was offended, do you?”

“I’m sure he was,” he scolded.

Now I don’t expect JB to remember this particular exchange—we’re talking decades ago, but at some point I think I came to realize that my friend’s portfolio reviews may have soured him that day. I was glad that I got some encouragement that day from one of my illustration heroes.

The coolest part of this story is Mr. Byrne remembered me and posted his response:

Oddly enough, I do remember this -- or at least something very much like it. (I tend to use the same lines more than once.) And, no, I was not offended. Why would I be?

Your chum’s reaction, tho, reminds me of something I have seen a lot since I became a regular feature of the internet. I compare it to those prosecuting attournies who get someone on the stand and bring up some past instance where they said “I’m gonna murder that guy!” There’s a flat out refusal to even consider that such a phrase might be used without it being a statement of actual intent.

So, on the internet, where the sad boys are so very, very desperate to have something to rail about, and thus give an illusion of substance to their otherwise empty lives, the first thing left at the door is any whisper of a sense of humor. Everything must be taken at absolute face value, unless properly annotated with :-) or < g > or some other signage that cues the reader to the humorous intent. Which signage being, of course, the first thing deleted when the statement is “quoted”.

John Byrne graciously let me post his response here. Thanks, JB!