1984 Letter to John Byrne

In 1984, when I was 16 years old, I wrote a letter to John Byrne, then writer/artist of Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight.

Fantastic Four 256February 5, 1984

Dear Mr. Byrne,

I think you are doing a superb job on both Alpha Flight and the Fantastic Four. More and more, you are proving yourself as not only a great artist but a great writer too! Somehow, you are able to find the time to write, pencil and ink two comics while writing another. Not only that, but there is no sign of the strain on your artwork. Both Alpha Flight and the FF look terrific, and since issue 258 of the FF, the art has gotten better each issue (it seemed a little rushed in some of the issues previous to that).

I’m sure you’ve heard all that before, so what I’m writing about is something that I’m not quite so pleased with. My complaint with AF and FF (not The Thing, because I don’t read that title) is your lack of blacks or minorities drawn in their pages. On most scenes of cities that you draw, not one black is shown, and when they are, they are portrayed badly. For instance, FF 256. You show a black man with a large radio held to his ear, and you have him using such words as, “Ain’tcha got no radio, momma?” and, “There’s some bad nastiness goin’ down.” If this is the way blacks appear to you, I think you should look again.

Also, when the FF traveled to the Negative Zone, how come any race of aliens that they came upon always were consistently colored; all the members were yellow, all the members where pink-skinned, etc. And why did the race that looked most human have Caucasian skin? Was that your choice or Glynis Wein’s (the colorist)? To continue, what about Alpha Flight? All the members in Alpha, Beta and Gamma Flights are white! I know you know that there are minorities in Canada; why not one in the comic? Besides Shaman, there is nary a one. How about an East Indian superhero? There are lots of them in Vancouver.

The reason I am writing this letter is that I like the two comics you do. I would like them to be the best they can possibly be, though, and one way to do that is to put in a little more of real life. The earth is multicolored! Thanks for listening and please reply.

— Josh Neufeld

In response, I received Byrne’s Marvel business card. On the flip side, he had scrawled “Best to Josh” and signed it.

About joshcomix
Brooklyn-based cartoonist specializing in nonfiction comics about topics like Hurricane Katrina, the media, travel, and finance.

10 Responses to 1984 Letter to John Byrne

  1. benchilada says:

    Yeah, I’ll file that in my “John Byrne is a Dick” file.
    It’ll be alongside such other notables as:
    “Did nobody notice you were ripping off Doctor Who stories back during your FF run, like with The Masks of Mantracora instead of The Mask of Mandragora, and all the Negative Zone terminology, and about half-a-dozen stories?”
    as well as
    “Why the fuck did you need to reboot Doom Patrol as though the last forty years had never existed, and in a shitty story to boot?”
    and
    “Are you developing Parkinson’s or have you just decided that drawing a comic in fifteen minutes is A-OK! ?”

    • 4_eyez says:

      Byrne’d
      I have to say I’ve remained blissfully ignorant of the entire Dr. Who phenomenon my entire life, so any Byrne “homages” to that show went completely over my head. I’m curious as to what Negative Zone terminology came from Dr. Who as I kind of enjoyed that story arc in Byrne’s FF…

      • benchilada says:

        Re: Byrne’d
        I only found a few mentions online, but when I get time, I’ll rummage through my long boxes. Regrettably, the “trapped in the negative zone” concept was even ripped from Dr. Who, where there was an entire season of the Doctor “trapped in the negative zone.” Remind me…
        As far as online mentions go:
        I think it’s worth noting that the plot of Fantastic Four #254 bears some amazing similarities to the Doctor Who serial “The Krotons,” which saw a group of aliens posing as god-like beings and manipulating the local populace into send two of their own brightest each year to “serve” them, in actuality being killed and drained of mental energy to rechange their
        crashed spaceship. Here’s a rundown on that story…
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/episodeguide/krotons/plot.shtml
        In addition, the design of Taranith Gestal’s mask, and the name Mantracora, bring to mind another Doctor Who story, “The Masque of Mandragora.”
        http://wheelinspace.com/masque_of_mandragora.htm
        I can’t the only Doctor Who fan who has picked up on all those similarities.
        –Ben Herman

        and then there’s…
        What I didn’t realize — being only, what, seventeen at the time — was that while Byrne could be both good and original, when he was good he wasn’t original, and when he was original he was no damn good. The best Byrne-written stories were the ones where he very consciously copied better creators — usually Stan & Jack, but sometimes old movies, or pulp fiction, or Dr. Who.

  2. digitante says:

    Hilarious
    Way to give ‘im hell, Josh!

  3. man_size says:

    This letter is so YOU.

  4. zegas says:

    I think that Byrne was phoning the comics in PAST FF #258, not before.
    My favorite moment in comics is when he DREW NOTHING for 6 pages (maybe more) in the Snowbird issue of Alpha Flight. Man, what a genius!! Pushing the envelope AND meeting the deadline and collecting a page rate.
    That shit was deep.

  5. purvision says:

    immortal Byrne
    Man, your critical thinking kicked in about Byrne long before mine did. Nowadays I have the small fear that Byrne wont ever go away. That he is, in fact, immortal. Like, maybe 120 years ago he was Emile Zola?

  6. sofvckinghot says:

    Wow…
    What a highly evolved, socially conscious 16 year old you were! That is impressive.

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