Friday, July 15, 2011

Issue 10 - Next Men, A split up Superman?

So I have decided to make this blog more a depository of the letter columns with out commentary by myself. I just don't have the time to devote to it in any other way. They are interesting columns  nonetheless and I still invite people to comment on them (although I don't think anyone actually even reads this blog). Next Men is back, I'm enjoying it and Mr. Byrne is still being a dick online.

Anyway, here is the letter page to issue 10. 


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Issue 9 - Bring back "Bryne Robotics" and Rudyard Kipling's "If"

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Richard Knapp of New Platz, NY writes in as a long time Byrne fan asking him to bring back "Bryne Robotics"
"Constantly, in interviews with you, I read of your attempts to minimize you art and that you are a writer more than an artist. Attempting to develop the most efficient drawing style equates to less art, less panels, less backgrounds and less details. John, your fans love your writing, but we want your art."
Byrne of coarse insists that his art is better then ever but I think I have to agree with Richard on this one. Sometimes the art in JBNM was not that great. The coloring didn't help it much either. Byrne responds,
"Richard, I fear you know not what you ask. When I look back at my work on books like X-Men and Starlord - not one line of which I am ashamed of, since it was all the best work I could do at the time - all I see is the flash and crackle, the bells and whistles I put into the work primarily - though no, I hope, consciously - to disguise just how weak the basic drawing really was..."
I don't know, your old stuff looks pretty good to me. Granted Byrne does go on to give Terry Austin due credit for making his early work look so clean.
Uncanny X-men #132
The Flame in issue number 9 is a rare one as it's not a rant. Byrne reprints Rudyard Kipling's poem "If".
""If " is an important work, I think, especially for anyone who wants to write Heroic Fiction, like comics. So, I thought I'd print the poem here. If nothing else, it will give you some insight into what drives John Byrne's brain when he's controlling the words and actions of his characters..." 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Issue 8 - Talk of copyright law, Brian Michael Bendis and animal rights

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We start this months column with a letter from Mike Gold, somewhere in Connecticut. It's a lengthy letter regarding copyright law in relation to Byrne's comments on swiping art in comics. 

The next letter from Peiter Huurtz is a funny one. Is that his real name? Not sure...
"I understand you are an old man. If that's the case, could you make JBNM bimonthlyy so that when you die I will have twice as many issues? Weekly would be great!"
 I saw this on the internet before. It's a letter by well-known comic writer Brian Michael Bendis.

"If Bethany's hair is "indestructible," then how can she pull it out of her head as she did in issue four to slice through her bonds? And I want a good answer, not one of those mamby-pamby cornball "comic book" science answers. I challenge thee!!!"

Byrne explains that hairs sometime fall out and also reveals that he once had hair past his shoulders. I'd like to see a photo of that. Isn't ironic that this question came from a now bald Bendis.I guess he found out about random hairs falling out. The page ends with another letter from Rol Hirst.

This months flame is about animal rights and testing. As a scientist I'm not even going to touch it. Read it for yourself. Just click to enlarge.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Issue 7 - Will Meugniot and "The greatest artist of all time"...

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JBNM being compared to Marvel's X-Men was nothing new at this point. The first letter of the column is from Will Meugniot, the co-creator of DNAgents . In his letter Meugniot relates a tale of three different parties viewing a new superhero team as a rip off of three different properties.
"In 1984, shortly after the DNAgents were put under option as a potential live-action TV series, I was doing some work for the in-house ad agency of one of the networks. There, on a composing table, lay a still photo of  a group of a group of super-powered characters. They looked a lot like the DNAgents to me. A whole lot. I was fuming, but decided to go home and sleep on it. The next day a call came from a friend who worked for the network. he wanted to know if i'd seen the terrible rip-off his people had done of - the Fantastic Four! A couple of days later at lunch with Stan Lee, Stan was bemoaning the terrible rip-off he'd seen one of the networks was doing of - X-Men! So there you have it. Three different people looking at the same property and all thinking it was a rip-off of three different properties."
On page two Byrne talks about the method of lettering and coloring used on JBNM.This issues Flame is a bit of an interesting one. In an roundabout fashion Byrne calls himself "The greatest artist of all time". Seriously? You got to read what Byrne says. Page 3...I'll wait. Anyway, that's Byrne for you. In the same Flame he also comments on the collectors market and hot issues.

That's all for now. Happy long weekend!
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Issue 6- Another from Rol Hirst, more complaints, a reponse to a flame and the issue with first issues...

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First off, I didn't miss an issue as there was no letter column in JBNM #5. Okay, lets take a look at the letter column of issue 6. Letter number two from ARD in Brampton, Ontario complains once more about his disgust for the certificates in the first six issues of JBNM. Once collected these certificates could be mailed in for an exclusive set of JBNM trading cards. As you might remember, the nineties saw an onslaught of multiple covers, foil covers, variants, etc the likes of which still persist to this day. Byrne is critical of these moves but at the same time states that it's the buyer who has the choice.
"...Frankly, I don't see your problem. You didn't tear out the certificate. That's your prerogative. No one is holding a gun to your head. No one is holding a gun to anyone's head. If we put 16 covers on JBNM #1 you would not have to buy any more than one. The choice, as always, is with the buyer. Some people will buy multiple copies of JBNM for the certificates, and that's fine by me. Some won't, and that's equally fine - Maybe even better...Removal or non-removal of the certificate will not affect the reading in the least."
Scorchy Ray Shelton writes in saying that he would like to see some man-boy action between the characters of Nathan and Danny. Something Byrne is understandably not into. 
"As to Nathan and Danny - well, it seems to me as though you're asking for something rather more than a simple loving relationship, genders notwithstanding. I would not do a romance between, say, Bethany and Danny, since Danny is still very young and - even for the Next Men - innocent. Pedophile is not something I'm particularly interested in exploring in these pagers - unless it to point out how wrong it is."
The thing is, the way Byrne drew Danny, he didn't look that young. Either did Sandy Tolliver, who Danny eventually did have sex with. 

In issue two there was a letter from reader Rol Hirst. Issue six finds another letter from Hirst. This one is long and well-written. In the reply to Hirst's letter Byrne responds to the Flame he gave in issue 2 about the swiping of art by other comic artists. You can read the first flame in this post.
"'s an interesting development, since the publication of issue #2: An editor called me the other day to "correct" my misapprehension as to how one artist's drawing of an airplane ended up xeroxed and pasted into the work of another. This was not the doing of the artist, the editor - who will probably prefer to remain nameless - informed me. He had been in on the whole deal, and it was the editor of the book who had authorized the lifting of the artwork, to be pasted into another editor's title. With the approval of the original artist, says my informant. Okay. Except that I only know this story because the offended artist pointed it out to me. Note use of word "offended." Not an artist who felt he'd ever given permission for his work to be used as clip-art."
This issue's Flame deals with the sales of first issues. I'll let you read the letter for yourself but Byrne's basic question is why would the sales of the first issue of a miniseries be higher then the other issues in the series. He can understand the case in an ongoing series but with a miniseries, what value does the first chapter hold with out the next four? In this case Byrne is talking about the OMAC, four issue miniseries he did for DC. He comments make sense and is insightful to the plight of speculators in the comic book industry at the time. Check it out.

Finally we find a picture of the winner of the John Byrne's Next Meal contest. Doesn't look like a comic book fan to me...
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Issue 4 - Uncle Elvis and tips from Byrne to would be comic artists

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It seems like fans of John Byrne like to find any reason to attack the man. Here a mystery writer (George Something?)  wrote in to chastise Byrne on aligning himself  with "so called animal rights activist nuts". The writer is referring to something he read in JBNM #1. Okay, I didn't even notice anything that would suggest this and if so, why does something a character do in a book always have to reflect the authors personal beliefs? Does Bret Easton Ellis have a soft spot for serial killers because he wrote American Psycho?


Something I have learned from recently starting to read the letter columns of pre-internet comic books is the existence of comic book letter hacks. These are people who would prolifically write thoughtful letters to the editors of comic books. These letters would then of coarse be published in letter columns like JBNM Next! column. Some of these people included T.M. Maple, Elizabeth Holden and Uncle Elvis.

The second letter of the issue is from none other then Uncle Elvis. This thread here will give you a bit of an idea on who Uncle Elvis was.Letter pages served as a way to connect with the creators and share opinions on storylines, etc before we had such venues as blogs and internet forums.

On page 2 Byrne quotes Paula Abdul, "you may find yourself taking one step forward and two steps back". That's funny...

This issues "A flame about this high..." gives us some interesting tips from a master.
"As I was taking my shower this morning - most of my better ideas come to me in the shower - I realized there was a correlation between good comic book art that really gets the job done and the five "w;s" of journalism: Who, What, Where, When and Why. A comic artist who is doing the job properly should be devoting a great deal of energy to rendering the writer redundant. Virtually everything a reader needs to know should be in the pictures, and this is where the Five W's come in."
 It's an interesting read and good advice to any would be comic artist. That's now. If you read this blog and enjoy it let me know. If you read this blog and think it's stupid you can still let me know.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Issue 3 - Buzzwords and over a page of flame

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The letter column of issue 3 seemed to say a lot about the current market at the time. Bryne defends the higher price point of JBNM and the use of the thicker paper stock of the first issues cover. The Andy Reynolds letter just annoyed me. He starts off telling Byrne how to make his comic.
"...the absence of the Comics Code leaves you free to portray such gore. My favorite horror movie being John Carpenter's The Thing, I certainly won't complain. But keep in mind that such scenes can often be executed more effectively in a more subdues manner, or even off-panel, as were, for example, most of the classic EC shocks. I think..."
The last thing Byrne needs is for some guy to tell him how to script his book. And it sounds like he was complaining to me. Reynolds then goes on to envision who he would see portraying all the characters in a movie...after one issue. Lame. Don't worry. John puts him in his place.
"There will be no "mercy bullets" in my world, nor any sanitizing of the consequence of violence. Frank Miller once joked with me about the amazing daggers Elektra would use in her Daredevil appearances - the ones which penetrated flesh and bone but, at least on the viewer's side, not cloth. You won't find that in JBNM..."
This months  "A flame about this high..." is a big one. Over one and a half pages of rant, but it's also a insightful one.
"For years those monthly sales figures represented an important means - indeed, the only means - of gauging the reader's likes and dislikes. (Letters to the editors being routinely discounted, since company policy  tended to be that anyone who wrote to a comic book must be slightly off the beam, and there fore unreliable. Really! I am not making this up!) We've lost that important frame of reference, with the advent of Fill-In-The-Blank_Zombies, people who buy multiple copies of the same issue, not because they particularly enjoyed the story and might want some extras for when the much-read copy got dog-eared to read, but because they think these "hot" title will be a good investment. On that basis it becomes impossible to use sales as a barometer of public taste...)"
You can't argue much with that statement. That's the comic industry during the nineties in a nutshell. Another interesting take the nineties was given by Mile High's Chuck Rozanski over on his Tales From the Database blog. Rozanski argues that it was the distributors Diamond and Capital that caused more problems then the comic book speculators, but maybe that is in terms of the glutton of books rather then the quality. 

Take a look at page 3. Byrne relates a story about the backlash from his Superman reboot in the mid eighties. I will let you read that one on your own. There is some interesting anecdotes regarding the bashing of comic creators by fans. This one about comic editor and writer Jo Duffy.
"Jo Duffy tells a wry tale of overhearing two fans discussing what a creep this guy "Joe Duffy" was. They were referring to Jo, oblivious to the fact that she was standing within earshot. They discussed encounters that had never happened, rude words that had never been exchanged. And you can be damn sure they would be more than happy to continue this discussion with anyone else who was prepared to listen."
Here Byrne relates a fan encountering his friend Roger Stern at a comic convention.
"About a year and a half ago, my buddy Roger Stern returned from a convention to tell me the tale of a fan who had accosted him, as a known friend of mine, with the story of how obnoxious and rude I had been to him - the fan - at a convention in Philadelphia earlier that year. Roger, knowing my convention schedule, quickly pointed out that not only had I not been to a convention in Philadelphia earlier that year, but, so far as he knew, I had not been to a convention in Philadelphia ever! The fan immediately corrected his story. The encounter must have happened at some other Con, in some other city. Roger, his Holmesian intellect piqued, at once asked if the fan had ever been to Mansfield, Ohio. No, came the reply. Well, Roger explained - and I've seen the kind of infinite patience Roger can muster when dealing with this kind of situation -the incident could not have happened, since, at the time, the Mid-Ohio Con, in Mansfield, was the only convention I was attending, anywhere, and had for about five years."
Nice so-called fan. Is it only Byrne that has fans like that? I'm going to leave it at that. Take a read of the letters for yourself.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Issue 2 - Homage in comic art

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The second issue of John Byrne's Next Men came out two months after the first. I believe that was the only delay in its publishing history (technically, it wasn't a delay the gap in publishing was previously announced in issue no. one). 

The theme this month seems to be one of clarifying the non-mutant status of the Next men.

"Anyway, the Next Men aren't meant to be mutants, James. Maybe you missed the promotional poster (or maybe you wrote you letter before you had a chance to see it), but the tag line there was "Beyond mutants," and that's just what we're talking about here. Mutants, as indeed humans and all other live on earth, are the result of natural changes occurring in an organism. The Next Men were altered artificially, through manipulation of the "trigger gene." In other words, you "medical experiment" guess probably strikes closest to the mark..." 
I imagine Byrne took a lot of heat for his Next Men being so close to Marvel's always hot X-Men. I believe that is why the book was called John Byrne's Next Men and not just Next Men.

The column's second letter comes from a person by the name of Rol Hirst, notable for publishing his own comic, PJANG (people just aint no good). Hirst was well known for sender of letters to comic books; this is the reason behind Byrne's exclaiming "(m)y first Rol Hirst letter"

This issue's "A flame about this high" deals with Byrne's opinion on Homage in comic art. The story he tells of an illustrated airplane is an interesting one:

"I know one artist who has been swiped to the point of actually seeing his work reduced to clip art. Having drawn an aircraft in one of the titles he worked on, he found himself one day looking at the same drawing in someone else's book. Not a swipe - the same drawing. The second artist had simply Xeroxed the drawing of the aircraft, trimmed away the original artist's background and pasted the "finished product" into his own story. Clumsily as it happened, since the original aircraft was in distress, smoke billowing from one wing, and the thief - no other word really applies - had not even bothered to white out the smoke on the part of the wing remaining after the background was trimmed."
Okay, that's pretty bad. I'm also really curious as to who the thief was?

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Friday, March 18, 2011

An Introduction to JBMN "Next!" letter column

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 In January of 1992, the first issue of John Byrne’s Next Men (JBNM) was published by Dark Horse Comics. It was in that same year that Image Comics broke, giving us Spawn, Youngblood, Savage Dragon, WildC.A.T.S. and many more. The idea of famous artists/writers leaving the "Big Two" and starting creator-owned books was a big thing in the nineties. For instance, in 1991 Frank Miller published one of his most well-known books, Sin City, under  the Dark Horse banner.

Recently, I started reading JBNM, and one of the most enjoyable perks of the books (not found in the reprinted collected material) was the letter column called “Next!” Keep in mind that these were the days before every kid had the internet in their pocket; the only way you could see into the mind of your favorite comic creator was at a comic convention. As Byrne states in this first letter column from JBNM #1:

“The answers in letter columns can be written by any of a number of people. The editor of the book, the writer, an armadillo - but it is more or less standard policy (at least at the Big Two) that whoever writes the answers assume an anonymous editorial voice…Not so here. Here will be my voice that speaks to you from the italicized portions of this column.”

And so began the memorable letter column we know as “Next!” and the even more memorable portion of said column entitled “A Flame About This High.” The letters column can also provide us an insight into the state of the comic industry as Byrne doesn't hold back while discussing hi colleagues and contemporaries. This is what I appreeciate about Byrn. Not that I agree with everything that he said in his column or that he even approached thing in the right manner. None of that is important. I strongly disagree with people that think you have to like someone personally in order to appreciate thier work. Besides, I've never met the man. I have no idea what he is really like outside of the statements put into print.

Before we go further though, let’s take a quick look at Byrne’s career leading up to the publication of JBNM #1.

John Byrne attended the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta for three years before leaving without graduating. His first work in comics was with Charlton Comics,  co-creating and drawing the title “Doomsday +1”. Byrne first started working at Marvel Comics in 1975 where he began with the publisher's lower-selling titles such as Iron Fist, The Champions and Marvel Team-Up. It was on Iron Fist that he first worked with Chris Claremont.

It was with Claremont that Byrne hit the big time working on The X-men starting an impressive run from issue 108-143 (1977-1981). It was during this run that they created such classic story arcs as the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” These arcs are highly regarded by fans and critics alike. During his tenure on X-Men he not only helped to refine Wolverine’s character, but also introduced us to Kitty Pryde.

After runs on both The Avengers and Captain America, Byrne became involved with Fantastic Four. His six-year run (1981-1986) helped revitalize the series; he also reshaped Invisible Girl into Invisible Woman, changing her from a secondary-supporting-role figure into a strong female character. During his time at FF, he was also writing and drawing for Alpha Flight and The Thing. He even did a brief but memorable six-issue run on The Incredible Hulk. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Byrne's page production was (and still is) legendary.

In 1986, Byrne left Marvel and headed to DC to revitalize arguably the most popular superhero of all-time, Superman.  It started with the six-issue miniseries “The Man of Steel” where Superman’s origin was reinvented. Gone was the wimpy Clark Kent; now he was the star high-school football player. Also gone was the snoopy Lois Lane, always trying to prove that Kent and Superman were the same person. Byrne reckoned that nobody would suspect that Superman would even bother having a secret identity. In issue 2 of the new series, Lex Luthor’s high-tech computer even calculates that Clark Kent is Superman, something that Luthor dismisses as absurd.

Of course, Superman was the only book Byrne was writing at this time. Creating a mini-series based on the "Superman world" and even taking over the Adventures of Superman title, he eventually left DC on the grounds of a "lack of conscious support".

Back at Marvel, he worked with editor Jim Shooter and his New Universe title, Star Brand. After that book was cancelled, he went on to contribute to West Coast Avenger, The Sensational She-Hulk, Iron Man and Namor. This brings us to 1992 and the publication of JGNM.

Lets jump right into the letters column.

On page two, Byrne states what his typical productivity is:
“Perhaps it would help if I mentioned my basic working speed, which is three pages per day of full pencils (plus script) or three pages per day of pencils and inks, plus script. Obviously, when I ink my own work, I don’t do full pencils, since that would amount to doing the same job twice. I work at this pace five days a week (only rarely on weekends) from seven in the morning until about four in the afternoon, roughly twenty pages per month (sic-should be per week?) In other words, sixty pages over a month, on average, twelve months per year.”
Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Byrne's contemporaries at Image had a lot of difficulty publishing an issue per month and the nineties were renown for late issues. Something I cannot recall happening before the employees became the bosses. Nowadays, even the "Big Two" have late issues and even occasionally skip a month (Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, for instance).

Let’s take a look at this issue's “A FLAME ABOUT THIS HIGH…”, the first of many. A very tame feature where Byrne talks about the “origin story” in comics. He gives a brief history of it before explaining how he himself handled it with JBNM.
“Where we start is less important than where we go.”

I like that quote. Let's leave it at that, but first let me add a couple of notes: Firstly, I would like the "Comments" section of this page to be a place where people can discuss the letters; please feel free to do so. Secondly, for those of you wondering who ever won the "Be at John Byrne's Next Meal" contest? I managed to find the answer over at The answer came from John Byrne himself. 

"The winner was a guy who'd never read a comic book  in his life.  A comic fan friend told him there was a free trip to San  Diego in the offing, so he entered solely for that.  Dark Horse took him  as a guest to the Awards Banquet at the Con, and then he took off,  presumably to enjoy what the city had to offer."
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