The New Gods Library
Interview with John Byrne
Conducted by Sean Walsh via email, 16-17 November 2001
SEAN WALSH: A lot of your work at DC has involved either elements of Kirby (like your intense OMAC miniseries some years back) or New Gods (from Legends to Superman to Wonder Woman), so I'll *guess* you were a big fan when the New Gods books first came out. How did those comics, as well as Kirby overall, impressed and influenced you throughout your career?
JOHN BYRNE: Kirby has been a huge influence, obviously. The man cast a long shadow, and all of us who labor in the field, as t'were. pretty much owe our jobs to a lot of what Jack did. Oddly, for myself, most of his truly stellar work happened while I was "away" from comics, roughly from when I was 15 to when I was 20, and I did not discover the Fourth World stuff until long after it had ceased publication. That made of a kind of bittersweet effect-I was able to read it all in one go, without having to wait a month between "chapters" (taking all three titles as a single large book), but I knew with each issue I read just how far away the "end" was. (And, even tho' you didn't ask, let me add I sometimes wish that really had been the end. I've had a lot of fun, playing with the Kirby characters, but others have messed with them too much for my liking. Better Jack's Vision had gone unfinished, than "finished" by lesser lights than he.)
SW: You touched on nearly every facet of the Fourth World during your NEW GODS/JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD run - Orion, Mr. Miracle, the Forever People, and the newly introduced Takion. What about the Fourth World urged you to tackle them all?
BYRNE: Some of my thinking comes from my comments above-I wanted to keep all the characters "locked up"-"Sorry, you can't have Mister Miracle, he's deep in a story arc in JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD right now."-so that no one else would mess with them! (Didn't work, tho.) The other part, of course, comes from the fact that I simply love those characters, and wanted to play with all the "toys" before my time on the book ran out. (That latter coming sooner than I expected, anyway.)
SW: How did you get the NEW GODS/JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD assignment, and why did they relaunch the book almost immediately (3 issues, to be exact) after you came onboard?
BYRNE: Evidently, the plan to consolidate the Fourth World stuff into a single title had been kicked around up at DC for quite some time. None of the individual characters seemed to have the chops to maintain his or her own title, so perhaps some kind of "tonnage" approach was thought to be a better way to go. Worked for me, since it gave me all the characters under one editorial roof-and it was that roof, and the editor who squatted beneath it, which led to my assignment to the book. Paul Kupperberg and I have been buddies for more than two decades. Knowing my love of the Fourth World material, when he became editor he looked for the earliest possible opportunity to get me on the book.
SW: What (if anything) prompted your departure from JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD?
BYRNE: Two things happened at the same time: Paul was in the throes of leaving his editorial position, and Orion was taken by the JUSTICE LEAGUE office, over our protests. I felt that this was inappropriate and, since I was likely to have a new (and unknown) editor at any moment, decided the Source had written on the wall as far as my time on that book was concerned. (As it happened, Paul lasted in the editorial chair even longer than he anticipated at the time.)
SW: Had you stayed on JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD, where would you have taken things in future issues?
BYRNE: It's not my habit to address particular storylines for books or characters with which I am no longer associated. I've made the mistake of doing this in the past, only to see my ideas end up under someone else's by-line. I will say this, however: Knowing that Kirby intended the Fourth World Saga to be finite, and that he had a definite ending in mind (NOT "Hunger Dogs"!!), I decided my job on the book would be to tread water-to tell the most exciting stories I could imagine without actually going forward. Not for me to do what Kirby could not, after all! That's what I would have continued to do, had it been possible for me to remain with the book.
SW: A friend in New Gods talk wanted me to ask you this: why'd you stick so close to what Kirby created and did with the characters? Why not just go crazy, make big changes...and then keep them that way? (Though you did kill off Virman Vundabar)
BYRNE: Think I sort of answered that one with my rambling response to the question above!
SW: Before Walt Simonson asked you to keep the controversy behind Orion's parentage open so he could run with it in his ORION run, how were you going to resolve that development?
BYRNE: Originally it was to be Tigra who died in the battle between Orion and Kalibak. This would leave the question of what her story was all about forever open and festering in Orion's mind. We, the readers, however, would learn that there was, indeed, Method in her Madness. She had figured out that Orion was unconsciously avoiding any real confrontation with Darkseid, because of the Prophecy. She thought that, if she could convince Orion he was not really Darkseid's son, the ol' Dog of War would be less reticent about going after the Lord of Apokolips - the Prophecy would not apply to him (Orion) so he could cut loose without worrying about bringing on Ragnarok (or whatever).
SW: If you had a chance to return to a New Gods comic (after ORION is sadly cancelled), which character(s) would you opt to deal with again?
BYRNE: In a New York minute! I even said as much to Joey Cavalieri - assuming then that the book would continue past Walter's run.
SW: And now the other (non-New Gods, but still cool) questions: - In past interviews, I've read that you're very strongly for creator's comic rights and the industry's condition, to support your own independent series. Do you feel the industry is currently on track, or even strong enough now, to support your own creator-owned projects? *crossing fingers in the hopes that new Next Men tales are only mere months away...*
BYRNE: The marketplace is still very mushy, but I am planning a couple of forays into creator owned books in the next year. Not NEXT MEN, not yet, but my new title through DC (still kind of secret) will probably "feel" a lot like JBNM to you. That should happen in April 02.
SW: She-Hulk - Two questions: What about She-Hulk brought you to do not one, but *two* runs on SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK?
BYRNE: Liking the character and being a sucker for women with Southern accents. Renee Witterstaetter is from Texas, and when she drawled her request that I return to the book, there were not a whole lot of ways for me to say "No". (Louise Jones used to use this power to good effect, on me, when she was editor of X-MEN.)
SW: And what was with your intriguing choices of characters? The Living Eraser, Rocket Raccoon, Razorback, Spragg the Living Hill, US1?! (By the way, that cast of characters was initially the reason why I bought your She-Hulk issues, so don't think I've got a problem with them...)
BYRNE: As with most books I take on, I set myself some Rules, going in, and the First Rule for SHE-HULK was that I would not mock the genre. So, I mined my humor from Jen's reaction to a cast of previously established goofy characters. (You'll notice, too, that I always played those characters pretty much straight. THEY didn't know they were goofy, after all!)
SW: Given the nicely interwoven formats of your two GENERATIONS series, do you think there's room for a third series?
BYRNE: And a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth . . . Nothing is definite, but Mike Carlin and I were talking the other day about a possible G3, and he passed along a suggestion from his assistant, Ivan Kohen, for the overall shape of the next arc (if it really happens). It was something which, frankly, would never have occurred to me, but which I think will be really, really neat, if I get to do it! (How's that for cryptic?)
SW: You had a hand in the creation of one of my all-time favorite Marvel villains: Arcade (hey, I'm an oddball). What went into his design, look and character from your end? (I know Chris Claremont dealt with him a little more than you did, but you were there at the beginning, so I gotta ask...)
BYRNE: As I insist Kitty Pryde is (or was) pretty much all mine, I also insist Arcade was pretty much all Chris'. He came up with a description of the visuals, and all the schtick that went along with the character. (When Chris first said the name "Arcade" to me, my immediate idea was a big fat slob of a guy, such as you see punching tickets in a real arcade. Chris said he wanted something like Malcolm McDowell, and that's what I gave him.)
My many thanks to John Byrne for his time.
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