Byrne was born in Walsall, West Midlands, and raised in West Bromwich, England, where he lived with his parents (Frank and Nelsie) and his maternal grandmother. While living there, prior to his family emigrating to Canada when Byrne was 8, he was first exposed to comics, saying in 2005,
[M]y 'journey into comics' began with [star] George Reeves' [Adventures of] Superman series being shown on the BBC in England when I was about 6 years old. Not long after I started watching that series I saw one of the hardcover, black and white 'Annuals' that were being published over there at the time, and soon after found a copy of an Australian reprint called Super Comics that featured a story each of Superboy, Johnny Quick and Batman. The Batman story hooked me for life. A couple of years later my family emigrated to Canada (for the second time, no less!) and I discovered the vast array of American comics available at the time.
His first encounter with Marvel Comics was in 1962 with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #5. He later commented that "the book had an 'edge' like nothing DC was putting out at the time". Jack Kirby's work in particular had a strong influence on Byrne and he has worked with many of the characters Kirby created or co-created. Besides Kirby, Byrne was influenced by the naturalistic style of Neal Adams.
In 1970, Byrne enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. He created the superhero parody Gay Guy for the college newspaper, which poked fun at the campus stereotype of homosexuality among art students. Gay Guy is notable for featuring a prototype of the Alpha Flight character Snowbird. While there, he published his first comic book, ACA Comix #1, featuring "The Death's Head Knight".
Byrne left the college in 1973 without graduating. He broke into comics with a "Fan Art Gallery" piece in Marvel's promotional publication FOOM in early 1974 and by illustrating a two-page story by writer Al Hewetson in Skywald Publications' black-and-white horror magazine Nightmare #20 (Aug. 1974). He then began freelancing for Charlton Comics, making his color-comics debut with the E-Man backup feature "Rog-2000", starring a robot character he'd created in the mid-1970s that colleagues Roger Stern and Bob Layton named and began using for spot illustrations in their fanzine CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature). A Rog-2000 story written by Stern, with art by Byrne and Layton, had gotten the attention of Charlton Comics editor Nicola Cuti, who extended Byrne an invitation. Written by Cuti, "Rog-2000" became one of several alternating backup features in the Charlton Comics superhero series E-Man, starting with the eight-page "That Was No Lady" in issue #6 (Jan. 1975). While that was Byrne's first published color-comics work, "My first professional comic book sale was to Marvel, a short story called Dark Asylum' ... which languished in a flat file somewhere until it was used as filler in Giant-Size Dracula #5 [(June 1975)], long after the first Rog story." The story was plotted by Tony Isabella and written by David Anthony Kraft.
After the Rog-2000 story, Byrne went on to work on the Charlton books Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Space: 1999, and Emergency!, and co-created with writer Joe Gill the post-apocalyptic science-fiction series Doomsday + 1. Byrne additionally drew a cover for the supernatural anthology The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #54 (Dec. 1975).
Byrne said he broke into Marvel comics after writer Chris Claremont
...saw my [Charlton] work and began agitating for me to draw something he had written. When [artist] Pat Broderick missed a deadline on the 'Iron Fist' series in Marvel Premiere, [production manager] John Verpoorten fired him and offered the book to me. ... I turned around the first script in time to meet the deadline, and so started getting more work from Marvel, until I was able to leave Charlton and focus entirely on the Marvel stuff."
Byrne soon went on to draw series including The Champions and Marvel Team-Up. Byrne first drew the X-Men in Marvel Team-Up #53. For many issues, he was paired with Claremont, with whom he teamed for some issues of the black-and-white Marvel magazine Marvel Preview featuring Star-Lord. The Star-Lord story was inked by Terry Austin, who soon afterward teamed with Claremont and Byrne on X-Men.
Byrne joined Claremont beginning with The X-Men #108 (Dec. 1977). Their work together, along with inker Terry Austin, on such classic story arcs as the "Proteus", "Dark Phoenix Saga", and "Days of Future Past" would make them both fan favorites. Byrne insisted that the title keep its Canadian character, Wolverine, and contributed a series of story elements to justify Wolverine's presence which eventually made the character among the most popular in Marvel's publishing history. With issue #114, Byrne began co-plotting the series as well as penciling. Claremont recounted that "at that point in time John and I were, in a very real sense, true collaborators on the book. It was with very few exceptions, difficult, for me, anyway, to tell in the actual gestation of the book where one of us left off and the other began - because it involved one of us coming up with an idea and bouncing it off the other ..." The "Dark Phoenix Saga" in 1980 is one of the most notable stories in the title's history. Comics writers and historians Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson observed that "'The Dark Phoenix Saga' is to Claremont and Byrne what the 'Galactus Trilogy' is to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It is a landmark in Marvel history, showcasing its creators' work at the height of their abilities." Byrne has repeatedly compared his working relationship with Claremont to Gilbert and Sullivan, and has said that they were "almost constantly at war over who the characters were." Byrne created the characters Alpha Flight, Proteus, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat during his run on The X-Men. A new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Mystique, was introduced in the "Days of Future Past" storyline (#141-142, Jan.-Feb. 1981) in which a time-travelling Kitty Pryde tried to avert a dystopian future caused by the Brotherhood assassinating Presidential candidate Senator Robert Kelly. Byrne plotted the story wanting to depict the Sentinels as a genuine threat to the existence of the mutant race. Byrne left The X-Men with #143 (March 1981). During his tenure on the series, The X-Men was promoted from a bimonthly to a monthly publication schedule, with a steady sales incline that continued long after Byrne left.
In the late 1970s, while serving as the regular penciller of X-Men, Byrne began penciling another superhero team title, The Avengers. Working for the most part with writer David Michelinie, he drew issues #164-166 and 181–191. Byrne and Michelinie co-created Scott Lang in Avengers #181 (March 1979). Byrne's nine-issue run of Captain America, issues #247–255 (July 1980 - March 1981), with writer Roger Stern, included issue #250, in which the character mulled running for the office of President of the United States.
Byrne's post-X-Men body of work at Marvel includes his five-year run on Fantastic Four (#232–295, July 1981-October 1986), which is generally considered a "second golden age" for the title. Byrne said his goal was to "turn the clock back ... get back and see fresh what it was that made the book great at its inception". He made a number of changes during his tenure: The Thing was temporarily replaced as a member of the quartet by the She-Hulk, while the Thing had adventures in his own comic (#1 - 22 also written by Byrne), and the Thing's longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters left him for his teammate the Human Torch; the Invisible Girl was developed into the most powerful member with her heightened control of her refined powers and the self-confident assertiveness to use it epitomized by her name change to the Invisible Woman; and headquarters the Baxter Building was destroyed and replaced with Four Freedoms Plaza. Byrne has cited multiple reasons for leaving the series, including "internal office politics" and that "it simply started to get old".
In 1983, while still at the helm of Fantastic Four, Byrne began to write and draw Alpha Flight, starring a Canadian superhero team that had been introduced "merely to survive a fight with the X-Men." Though the series proved initially very popular, with its first issue selling 500,000 copies, Byrne has said the title "was never much fun" and that he considered the characters two-dimensional. One of Alpha Flight's characters, Northstar, eventually became Marvel's first openly gay superhero. Though Byrne from the beginning intended the character to be gay, Northstar's homosexuality was only hinted at during Byrne's tenure on the series.
In 1983 Byrne also co-wrote and penciled issues 1 and 2 of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, a two part story arc titled "The Ikons of Ikammanen".
In 1985, after issue #28 of Alpha Flight, Byrne swapped series with Bill Mantlo, writer of The Incredible Hulk. According to Byrne, he discussed his ideas with editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ahead of time, but once Byrne was on the title, Shooter objected to them. Byrne wrote and drew issues #314–319. The final issue of Byrne's run featured the wedding of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross.
In early 1980, Byrne did his first work for DC Comics, penciling the first issue of The Untold Legend of the Batman miniseries. Byrne had always wanted to draw Batman, and had a three-month window of time during which he was not under contract to Marvel. Hearing about the Untold Legend series, Byrne contacted editor Paul Levitz to express interest. DC took him up on his offer, but it wasn't until the second month of his three-month window that Byrne received the plot for the first issue. Byrne told Levitz that he would not be able to finish the project due to time constraints despite DC then allegedly offering Byrne double his Marvel pay rate, after initially saying they could not match his Marvel rate. Byrne penciled the first issue, which was inked by Jim Aparo after being intended for Terry Austin. This experience soured Byrne on DC for quite some time.
Near the end of his time at Marvel, Byrne was hired by DC Comics to revamp its flagship character Superman. This was part of a company-wide restructuring of the history of the DC Universe and all of its characters following the limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths. Byrne's reworking of Superman in particular gained widespread media coverage outside the comic book industry, including articles in Time and The New York Times.
At the time, Byrne said, "I'm taking Superman back to the basics ... It's basically Siegel and Shuster's Superman meets the Fleischer Superman in 1986."
Byrne significantly reduced Superman's powers (though he was still one of the most powerful beings on Earth), eliminated the Fortress of Solitude and super-dog Krypto, and kept Jonathan and Martha Kent alive into Clark's adulthood to enjoy their adopted son's triumphs, as well as to provide him with support, grounding, and advice whenever he needed it. Byrne also used Marv Wolfman's idea of making Lex Luthor a wealthy business owner in addition to a scientific genius with a deadly vendetta against the superhero. Byrne did away with the childhood/teenage career as Superboy; in his revamped history, Clark Kent does not put on a costume and become a super-hero until adulthood. This approach to Kent's path to becoming Superman was later used in the action-adventure series Smallville on the WB Television Network and in the 2005 novel It's Superman by Tom De Haven.
In the Superman mythos, Byrne wrote Clark Kent as having a more aggressive and extroverted personality than previously depicted, even making him a top high-school football player. Byrne came up with explanations for how Superman's disguise works, such as the public simply does not realize that he has a secret identity since he is unmasked, that Superman would vibrate his face via his super speed in order to blur his image to photographers, and having Kent keep a weight training set around to explain how the human and presumably weaker Kent could have a frame as massive as Superman's. Byrne's Superman felt that his deepest roots were on Earth, and that his home planet of "Krypton is anathema to him".
The origin and early career of Byrne's version of Superman debuted in the six-issue miniseries The Man of Steel (July–Sept. 1986), the first issue of which was marketed with two different covers illustrated by Byrne, the first use of variant covers by the American comics industry.
Byrne penciled the six-issue DC Universe crossover miniseries Legends (Nov. 1986 – May 1987) during this time. He wrote and drew two monthly Superman titles with the hero's present-day adventures: a new Superman title beginning with issue #1 (January 1987) and Action Comics, in which, beginning with issue #584, Superman teamed up with other DC characters. The original Superman book was renamed The Adventures of Superman starting with issue #424 and was initially written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Jerry Ordway, but the writing chores were taken over by Byrne after a year from issues #436–442 and 444. As 1988 marked the 50th anniversary year of Superman's creation, Byrne did more Superman-related projects while working on the core Superman monthly titles at the same time: he wrote the prestige format graphic novel, Superman: The Earth Stealers and three separate four-issue miniseries: The World of Krypton, The World of Metropolis, and The World of Smallville. He supplied the cover art for the March 14, 1988 issue of Time magazine and an interior spread featuring Superman, where his pencils were inked by Ordway. After his initial run on the Superman titles from 1986-1988, Byrne would make a return as a guest inker on Adventures of Superman Annual #2 and Superman #50 in 1990. He would return doing a Superman Elseworlds story as writer & artist in Action Comics Annual #6 in 1994.
Byrne spent about two years on the Superman titles before leaving. His dissatisfaction stemmed from his perception that there was a lack of "conscious support" for him at DC. Furthering the rift between the company and the artist was the fact that the version of Superman which DC licensed for merchandising was contrary to Byrne's representation in the comic books. Today, much of Byrne's vision for the character has been retained in the DC Comics universe, and has carried over into subsequent television and film adaptations. Byrne's influence can be seen in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the DC Animated Universe and Smallville, and in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (the scene in which Lois is trapped in a crashing plane during its inaugural flight and is rescued by Superman is reminiscent of a scene created by Byrne in which Lois is embedded with the crew of an experimental spaceplane). During interviews promoting the film Man of Steel, David Goyer acknowledged Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries as an influence, especially Byrne's treatment of the Kryptonian reproduction process. Byrne's influence is also shown in the inaugural episode of Supergirl, when Kara is forced to reveal her existence to the public by saving a crashing airliner.
In 1986, Marvel began publication of a new line of superhero titles created by then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, which took place in a continuum removed from the Marvel Universe proper, called the New Universe. In 1987, the New Universe line saw a revamp under new Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco, and Byrne took over writing and art-breakdowns on the line's flagship title, Star Brand (renamed The Star Brand during Byrne's term on the book). Byrne's run started with issue #11 and continued until the series' cancellation eight issues later upon Marvel's discontinuation of the New Universe line.
In 1989, after leaving Superman, Byrne returned to work on a number of titles for Marvel Comics. His work on West Coast Avengers (issues #42–57, soon renamed Avengers West Coast) was contingent on his being allowed to do what he called "my Vision story". The Vision was a long-standing Marvel superhero and member of The Avengers, an android originally created by the villain Ultron constructed with the body of the original Human Torch. The Vision went on to join the team, marry his teammate the Scarlet Witch, and father two children by her. Byrne radically changed this, revealing that Ultron lied about the Vision's creation. The android Human Torch was found and joined the WCA. The Vision was disassembled and stripped of his emotions. The couple's twins were revealed to be pieces of the soul of the demon Mephisto. In addition to these changes, Byrne's run is remembered for the introduction of the Great Lakes Avengers, an eclectic group of new superheroes.
During She-Hulk's tenure with the Fantastic Four, she appeared in Marvel Graphic Novel #18 (Nov. 1985) in a story titled The Sensational She-Hulk, which Byrne wrote and illustrated.
On the request of editor Mark Gruenwald, Byrne wrote and drew a new series in 1989, The Sensational She-Hulk (maintaining the 1985 graphic novel's title). Gruenwald directed that it be significantly different from the character's previous series, The Savage She-Hulk. Byrne's take was comedic and the She-Hulk, who was aware she was in a comic book, regularly broke the fourth wall, developing a love-hate relationship with her artist/writer by criticizing his storylines, drawing style, character development, etc. Byrne left the book after writing and drawing the first eight issues. Byrne was asked for input on writer Dwayne McDuffie's She-Hulk: Ceremony limited series, and according to Byrne, most of his objections to the story and notations of errors were ignored, and his editor, Bobbie Chase, "was rewriting my stuff to bring it into line with" the story in Ceremony. Upon complaining to DeFalco, Byrne says he was fired from his series. He later returned to write and draw issues #31–50 under new editor Renée Witterstaetter.
Byrne started a new series, Namor, the Sub-Mariner in April 1990. Byrne's take on the undersea antihero Namor cast him as the head of a surface company, Oracle, Inc., in order to help keep the ocean unpolluted, and had Namor involved in corporate intrigue. Byrne wrote and drew the book for 25 issues, until new artist Jae Lee inspired a sharp change in the mood and plot of the book. Byrne wrote the book until issue #32.
Byrne took over writing Iron Man for issues #258–277 (July 1990-Feb. 1992), drawn by John Romita Jr. and later by Paul Ryan. Byrne launched a second "Armor Wars" story arc, restored the Mandarin as a major Iron Man nemesis, and featured the 1950s "pre-superhero Marvel" monster Fin Fang Foom. During the course of his run, Byrne became the first writer to retcon Iron Man's origin, removing explicit ties to the Vietnam War (while maintaining a Southeast Asia setting), and linking Wong-Chu, the man who captured Tony Stark, to the Mandarin.
In the early 1990s, Byrne began creating a series of original, creator-owned works for publisher Dark Horse Comics. This was during a general trend in the industry for established creators working for Marvel and DC to bring their original works to other publishers or create their own companies to publish the works themselves (one prominent example is Image Comics). A number of these creators, including Byrne, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Art Adams, banded together to form the Legend imprint at Dark Horse.
Byrne's first title for Dark Horse was Next Men, a work he considered darker and more realistic than his previous work. The Next Men were five young people who were the product of a secret government experiment. Byrne said, "I thought I would see what I could do with superheroes in the 'real world' " and "[e]xplore the impact their existence would have." Byrne's other Dark Horse titles were Babe, and Danger Unlimited, an all-age readers book about a team of heroes in the future fighting an alien occupation of Earth.
The Next Men lasted until issue 30 in 1994, when Byrne ended the series, intending to return "in no more than six months." Byrne says he "did not count on...the virtual collapse of the whole comic book industry, which seemed to occur at just the time I put Next Men on the shelf...In the present, very depressed marketplace, I don't feel Next Men would have much chance, so I leave the book hibernating until such time as the market improves."
IDW Publishing revived John Byrne's Next Men in 2010 following a series of trade paperbacks that collected the first series. The original storyline that had a cliffhanger ending in 1995 was continued.
In later years, Byrne has worked on titles for Marvel, DC, and other publishers, including the 1992 prestige format graphic novel Green Lantern: Ganthet's Tale with science fiction author Larry Niven at DC. In 1989, Byrne wrote Batman #433-435 (May–July 1989) and in the following year produced a 3-D graphic novel with 3-D effects by Ray Zone. He returned to the X-Men franchise at Marvel from 1991 to 1992, succeeding longtime writer Chris Claremont, who left after 17 years working on the various X-Men related titles. Byrne's return as the new writer was brief, as he only scripted Uncanny X-Men issues #281–285 and 288 with artist Whilce Portacio, and X-Men issues #4–5 with artist Jim Lee. In 1995, Byrne wrote and drew the Marvel/DC intercompany crossover Darkseid vs. Galactus: The Hunger, which also featured the Jack Kirby creations the Silver Surfer and the New Gods.
He wrote and drew another of DC's signature series, the long-running Wonder Woman, from 1995 to 1998. During that time, he elevated the super-heroine to the status of goddess who then ascended to Mount Olympus as the Goddess of Truth. Byrne then spotlighted supporting characters such as Queen Hippolyta in their own adventures but restored the series' status quo in his last issue. He additionally took over New Gods vol. 4 at the end of 1996, as writer-artist of issues #12–15, continuing with it as the series was rebooted with a new #1 as Jack Kirby's Fourth World. That ran 20 issues from 1997 to 1998. During his tenure on the New Gods, Byrne was writer of the four-issue miniseries crossover Genesis, a story line published weekly by DC Comics in August 1997. The series was drawn by Ron Wagner and Joe Rubinstein. Byrne wrote a Wonder Woman prose novel, Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses (1997, Prima Lifestyles, ISBN 0-7615-0483-4).
In the series Spider-Man: Chapter One, Byrne retold some of Spider-Man's earliest adventures, changing some key aspects. In late 1998, Byrne became writer of the flagship series, The Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of the series with issue #440, by which time Marvel had decided to relaunch the book. The "last" issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was #441 (November 1998), with Marvel re-initiating the series with a new issue #1 (Jan. 1999) with Howard Mackie as writer and Byrne on pencils. Byrne penciled issues #1–18 (from 1999 to 2000) and wrote #13–14. In 1999, Byrne, working with artist Ron Garney, wrote the first seven issues of a new Hulk series, as well as the summer annual.
From 1999 to 2001, Byrne returned to the X-Men to write and draw X-Men: The Hidden Years which ran for 22 issues. Byrne explained the title's cancellation by saying, "I was officially informed yesterday that, despite the fact that they are still profitable, several 'redundant' X-Titles are being axed." This disagreement factored in his decision to no longer work for Marvel Comics.
Like X-Men: The Hidden Years, some other works of this period involved characters and events in time periods other than the present and, in some cases, considered "skipped over" (Marvel: The Lost Generation), or alternate timelines (DC's Superman & Batman: Generations); a feature some of these have in common is to have characters who actually age during the course of the series, which is uncommon for characters in ongoing comics.
In early 2003, Byrne spent ten weeks as guest penciler on the syndicated newspaper strip Funky Winkerbean. Byrne did this as a favor for Winkerbean's creator, Tom Batiuk, who was recovering from foot surgery.
Most of his work in the first decade of the new millennium was for DC Comics: JLA (issues #94–99 in 2004, co-writing and illustrating the "Tenth Circle" story arc, reuniting with his Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont and with Jerry Ordway as inker), Doom Patrol, Blood of the Demon, a five-issue arc of JLA Classified. Superman: True Brit was a collaboration with former Monty Python member John Cleese and Kim Johnson, with art by Byrne and inker Mark Farmer. Byrne returned to draw Superman in Action Comics #827–835, working with writer Gail Simone, from 2005-2006. Afterward, Simone and Byrne reteamed to launch The All-New Atom series in 2006, with Byrne pencilling the first three issues.
For publisher IDW, Byrne worked on the superhero series FX #1–6, written by Wayne Osborne, starting with the March 2008 issue. His other projects for the publisher include stories in the Star Trek universe and the Angel (TV series character) universe.
Byrne's Star Trek work included the final issue of the miniseries Star Trek: Alien Spotlight (February 2008); the self-described "professional fan fiction", Star Trek: Assignment Earth #1–5; Star Trek: Romulans #1–2, Star Trek: Crew (a Christopher Pike-era comic book focusing on the character of "Number One") started in March 2009; the final chapter of his Romulans story, a four-issue miniseries, Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, set before Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the second Assignment: Earth series.
His work on Angel included Angel: Blood and Trenches (set during World War I); an Angel vs Frankenstein one-shot; and an Andy Hallett tribute, Angel: Music of the Spheres and Angel vs Frankenstein II in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively.
In 2011, he worked on Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert, and Cold War (The Michael Swann Dossier). He revived his Next Men series in 2010–2011, with the sequel series Aftermath. Other work for IDW includes the 2012 miniseries Trio and the 2013 miniseries The High Ways and Doomsday.1.
Over the years, Byrne has gained a reputation as a controversial figure, and has himself noted that "as the people who have figured me out have said, I just don't suffer fools gladly." Commentators have noted that Byrne's opinions have led to disputes with Peter David, Jim Shooter, Joe Quesada, Mark Evanier, Marv Wolfman, Dan Slott, and Erik Larsen.
In 1981, Jack Kirby began speaking publicly about his belief that he'd been deprived of fair credit and money while creating the majority of Marvel's top characters. Byrne wrote an editorial declaring himself "proud" to be a "company man," and arguing that all creators should "live within the rules while they're around." Steve Gerber and Kirby lampooned Byrne's position in Destroyer Duck, drawing him as a character called Booster Cogburn, possessing a removable spine and existing only to serve as a cog in the mammoth corporation that owned him. Erik Larsen created a villain in the 1990s for his Savage Dragon and the Freak Force series' Johnny Redbeard/the Creator, who parodies Byrne; a massive cranium with atrophied appendages, he can bestow superpowers indiscriminately.
In 1982, during a panel discussion at the Dallas Fantasy Fair, Byrne made disparaging comments about longtime comics writer and one-time Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Roy Thomas that were published in The Comics Journal #75 (Sept. 1982), Thomas threatened a libel suit if Byrne did not apologize. In a letter printed in The Comics Journal #82 (July 1983), Byrne retracted his statements, claiming he was only repeating information from others, writing, "I acted only in the office of a parrot."
Gail Simone, who worked with Byrne on The All New Atom in 2006, described Byrne as "very opinionated; a lot of artists are opinionated, and I'm okay with that. Actually, I think John Byrne is brilliant and his forceful personality is part of that."
Byrne has himself called his style a "collection of influences". He cites Neal Adams, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as primary influences on his style, but continues to pick up on ideas that he sees and likes while constantly changing his tools and methods.
Byrne is color blind for a narrow range of green and brown tones. During the first year that Byrne illustrated Iron Fist, he believed that the protagonist's costume was brown. While he experimented with his own hand-developed lettering fonts in the early 1980s, he has since begun using a computer font based on the handwriting of the letterer Jack Morelli.
Byrne became a naturalized American citizen in 1988.
He was married to photographer and actress Andrea Braun Byrne for 15 years until divorcing. Braun's son from a previous marriage is Kieron Dwyer, and Byrne became Dwyer's stepfather when the boy was 13 until Byrne divorced his mother. They only lived together for a short time as the young Dwyer soon moved to Los Angeles to live with his father. Byrne encouraged Dwyer's aspirations to be a cartoonist and his connections led to Dwyer's first professional job drawing Batman #413 (Nov. 1987).
Byrne received the Favourite Comic Book Artist Eagle Awards in 1978 and 1979, and a 1980 Inkpot Award.
In 2008, Byrne was inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Byrne was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, alongside judges' choices Marge (Marjorie Henderson Buell) and Bill Woggon and elected inductees Chris Claremont, Denis Kitchen, and Frank Miller.