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John Byrne's Sunday Funnies
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under misc 1 Jan 2009 8:48 PM

This month I've mostly been home with my six-month-old daughter, which doesn't leave a lot of time for heavy reading (or watching, for that matter). Short attention span entertainment is where it's at. To the point where I've found myself doing something I haven't done in years: re-reading a bunch of old (mostly Marvel) comics from my youth that have been gathering dust in the basement for 20 years. Comics by John Byrne, Michael Golden, Bill Sienkiewicz, etc. I think I was partially inspired by Frank Santoro's effusive love for the comics he grew up with. He and I are about exactly the same age, I think, so a lot of what he writes about 1980s comics resonates with me even when I disagree with him. One of the 'runs' I just (partially) re-read was a true favorite of my childhood: John Byrne's Fantastic Four (from somewhere around issues 220-something through 293). I was surprised to enjoy these comics again (as long as I don't read most of the dialogue and just skim things rather briskly, anyway), because I don't think of Byrne with the same reverence I do of other mainstream creators of that era, even though at the time I thought he was the greatest. Yeah, he's got a total tin ear for female characters, his inking is pretty lousy, etc., but he also came closest to the high-adventure, soap-opera spirit of the original Lee-Kirby FFs as anyone ever has. He got the gist of what made the FF tick, in a way that kids could totally dig. Anyway, a few random things I particularly enjoyed from this run:

1) The Jerry Ordway inked issues in the 280s-290s. Seriously, these were very cool looking superhero comics for the era:

2) The John Byrne-lettered issue (#273):

Thought not actually credited, I am pretty certain Byrne himself lettered this issue of FF all by himself -- it harkens back to his old Doomsday Squad comics for Charlton. I like the weird 'indie' look of this issue, the way Byrne's lettering plays off his own art. Lettering is the most underrated and egregiously ignored skill in comics these days. You don't have to be a technical whiz like Chris WareJaime Hernandez has a wonderfully simple style that makes his pages much more organic wholes than they would be with, say, a font. 

3) Crazy Byrne pop culture references like this:

  

Byrne seemed to have a little more free-reign than a lot of writers/artists behind the Shooter Curtain of Marvel 1980s. Not that he used it as innovatively as, say, Miller and Mazzucchelli, but lately I've been enjoying goofy stuff like the panel above, depicting a scene of a Connecticut dinner party attended by Reed and Sue as their short-lived alter egos, "Reed and Sue Benjamin" (the most believable alter-ego since Superman put on glasses), with guests named "Hi", "Lois," "Walt," etc. This all no doubt flew completely over my 13-year-old head. 

Anyway, let this post be a loud rejoinder to the notion that we at Fantagraphics are a bunch of elitist jerks. I've been reading 1970s/1980s Fantastic Four, Moon Knight, Master of Kung-Fu, The 'Nam, and Defenders comics all month, fer crissakes.