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With his latest Animated Adventures trailer for Firefly sparking flames of rekindled love for the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi western, artist Stephen Byrne has gotten a bit of a pop culture visibility boost with a multitude of websites praising his work while demanding his trailer become a reality. He takes it well, though, celebrating the outpouring of love with his own earnest gratitude and humility. A man of many fandoms (aren’t we all), Byrne infuses heavy doses of joy and energy into his work, bringing smiles even to the grimdark worlds of some more notable characters we’ve seen grace the big and small screens. I reached out to Byrne recently and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his work, fandom, and the “infamous” kiss.
Maniacal Geek (MG): For those out there who may not be familiar with your work (i.e. those living under rocks and in caves), could you explain a little bit of your background as an artist and animator?
Stephen Byrne (SB): Sure, I studied animation in Ireland at the Irish School of Animation. I’m from Dublin originally. I studied there for 5 years and then did some work in the animation industry, before falling into games and now moving more into the comics industry.
MG: What was the first fandom that inspired you to make fan art? Was it the world itself that inspired you? The characters? Both?
SB: Power Rangers!! I was drawing Power Rangers comics at age 8. I think my tiny brain wanted to draw things and tell stories but didn’t really have the capacity to come up with anything new at the time, so I would draw out Power Ranger comics, which I was obsessed with at the time. I made like 60 of them! Still have them somewhere…
MG: The Animated Adventures of Firefly has gotten a huge response from fans, media outlets, the original cast, etc. What has surprised you the most about this outpouring of love for the trailer?
SB: Maybe Nathan Fillion retweeting? Although I was hoping for that because I know he’s pretty active on social media. Actually more the fact that he sent me a tweet that indicated that he found the whole thing quite meaningful. I look at it as a bit of fun, but the amount of comments and messages I got from people having intensely emotional responses to it was surprising, but that’s down to what Joss Whedon did, not what I did.
MG: You’ve done a few Animated Adventures trailers (and a tease for Harry Potter), but what’s the most difficult aspect of distilling such expansive worlds into videos that last less than a minute? What do you try to focus on?
SB: Uhhhhh it’s kinda all over the shop. I usually have a basic outline of what I want to do overall. I want to put in a few time-consuming shots that will be challenging to do. But then it becomes more like ‘what can I do quickly that will look shiny?’. Because I work full-time, the whole thing is pulled off in evenings and weekends over a long period of time, so it’s easier to do a spaceship with some zoom lines flying past than it is to do River doing acrobatic insanity.
MG: Gushy statement: I love the way you use lighting and bold colors in your work! So much is captured in a page or a headshot with the moods and tones you create. Actual question: Do you like to challenge yourself with technique? Was there ever a project that pushed you to change how you approach your art? Or have your style and methods been pretty solid and steady?
SB: Thanks! Funnily enough, color used to be a trainwreck with me. I was like ‘grass is green, sky is blue’ and it all looked very garish. I was determined to figure it out but it developed over many years and is now probably the thing I get noticed most for. As for challenging myself with technique – always. Every thing I do is an attempt to improve on the last thing I did, in some small way. I’m always looking for improved approaches.
MG: Your fan art comics for Spider-Man, Star Wars, and the DC Trinity have caught a lot of attention as well, the Trinity comic especially for the “surprise” ending. Do you go in with the intention of subverting expectations or do these stories write themselves as you go along?
SB: The ending to Trinity changed halfway through. And it wasn’t even my idea. A friend in work said it would be funny if Batman was actually jealous of Wonder Woman. I was like ‘yep that’s way better’ and rejigged the story from that point, so it became a little longer, but better.
Star Wars Episode 7.5 was all built around the Jar-Jar reveal. That’s the whole reason I did it. I was thinking it would be fun to do something Star Wars-y. I had really enjoyed the new movie. And I was envisioning the story in my mind and I got to the moment when Kylo Ren turns around and I was like ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if it was some else?’. That was the moment I actually decided to go ahead and draw the thing. I have lots of ideas flying through my brain at any given time, but only a limited amount of hours to do them, so yeah, I do pick things that I think will get a reaction.
SB: Naw it wasn’t too bad. There were some commenters that were like ‘WTF? GAY.’ Very astute people. There were only a couple of vitriolic hateful comments, which I will delete or block or whatever. But I enjoy negative responses generally, because they are either rooted in some sort of fan outrage, which means they care about what I’ve done, or they are constructive criticism (less often) which means you can learn from them.
MG: You seem to live and breathe superhero and sci-fi genres with a good portion of your work, but is there a genre you haven’t really tackled that you’d like to?
SB: I’m a superhero comic nerd. That’s my jam. I could see myself doing an indie ‘real world’ comic but I think you can say more about the world and speak more honestly through a genre filter. I may get tired of it but it hasn’t let up in the last 20 years.
MG: Your first of two Green Arrow issues came out last week, so congratulations! What challenges and triumphs do you find working on mainstream books vs indie or creator owned projects? Any other DC characters you’ve always wanted to tackle?
SB: Challenges and triumphs: With mainstream books the schedule is tighter and the money is… Existent. Which is great. Lots of DC characters I would love to draw yes. Watch this space 🙂
SB: Nope I can’t say anything about that at all! Sorry! Except that it is gonna be AWESOME.
I’d just like to say thank you, again, to Stephen Byrne for being gracious with his time despite his busy schedule.
Links to Stephen Byrne: