How a drawing of Colossus made a legendary artist quit X-Men comics

Contributed by
Mar 24, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT

The end of one of the most famous comic book partnerships of all time can apparently be traced to a single page of art.

For more than a few comic-book readers, it doesn't get much better than the run writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne shared on Uncanny X-Men at Marvel in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The nearly four years they spent together chronicling the adventures of the Children of the Atom produced some of the most beloved Marvel Comics stories of all time, including "The Dark Phoenix Saga," "Proteus" and "Days of Future Past," and more than 30 years after their collaboration on the title ended, it's still considered among the best partnerships not just in the history of the X-Men, but in the history of superhero comics.

Behind the scenes, though, producing such legendary stories wasn't always easy. Shortly after taking over as artist, Byrne also began co-plotting the Uncanny X-Men stories with Claremont, and greatly influenced the book and its many characters. (Happy that Wolverine is such an integral part of the X-Men even today? Thank John Byrne.) The collaboration was fruitful, but not without struggles and disagreements over the direction of the book. One aspect of the partnership in particular seems to have really gotten to Byrne, though: He had a hand in determining the book's plot, but scripting duties were Claremont's alone, and he didn't write the book's dialogue or captions until after Byrne had penciled it (this is a variation of the "Marvel Method" made famous by the likes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s), giving him essentially the final say in how characters and situations were presented. 

This would've been fine if it weren't for the fact that Claremont's final scripts sometimes portrayed characters in ways Byrne hadn't intended, and it was one such instance of the words being at odds with the art that finally drove Byrne off the book. Take a look at these two pages from Uncanny X-Men #140 (December, 1980) and see if you can spot the disparity.

Byrne made the removal of the stump look very easy for Colossus, but Claremont gave the character dialogue that made it sound very difficult. It's a relatively minor difference, really, but for Byrne it was the latest in a number of such incidents, and he decided it would be the last, as he describes (via the excellent JohnByrneDraws Tumblr):

"Every issue there would be what I called my 'ARGH!!' moment, when I came across something Chris had written that went against what I had drawn, or what we had plotted. The cumulative effect was numbing to say the least. Here I went 'ARGH!' on the very first page," Byrne said. "Can you tell why?

"Specifically, it was the way I had drawn Colossus easily ripping that stump out of the ground, replete with flying clumps of earth and speed lines versus the way Chris scripted it. I saw that page, printed, and just threw up my hands. 'Can’t do this any more!'

"I called Weezi (then the editor of Uncanny ) the same day, to resign."

The remaining three issues of Uncanny X-Men (including the legendary "Days of Future Past") that Byrne had worked on were published after his resignation. Byrne spent the rest of the 1980s doing landmark work on titles like Fantastic Four and the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot of Superman, The Man of Steel. Claremont and Byrne re-teamed for a brief run on DC's JLA in the late 1990s, and both are living legends in the comic-book world.

(Via Brian Cronin/CBR)