John Byrne VS Wikipedia

Poor John Byrne. If you listen to him, he’s the most misunderstood person in comics. Of course, if you listen to him, he’s reasonable and never gets into snitty arguments and fights with anyone. The latest target of his misguided ire is his entry on Wikipedia. Originally an informative retrospective of his entire career, detailing not only the work he’s done throughout the years, but the documented fan and industry response to his various projects, Byrne discovered it the other week and immediately set about to “correct” things.

Here’s the problem. Byrne didn’t just want to go through to clarify points or streamline the entry – he wanted to dismantle the entire page. He deleted everything except for the opening biographical paragraph and the bibliography. He deleted every bit of information regarding his career stages, his interactions with fans, pros, etc., claiming that the entire entry was fraught with inaccuracies and lies.

Thing is, they weren’t. Sure, some of the entries contained opinions, but the opinions were those that have been documented (sometimes by Byrne himself) as being opinions held by a sizable portion of fandom, right or wrong and have been well documented online and off, ie: Byrne’s self-inked artwork isn’t as well received as when Austin’s inking him. People may disagree, but over the years, this has been an opinion pretty strongly held by a good proportion of fandom to the degreee where it’s been reported in articles and discussed with Byrne himself in interviews. The Wiki entry mentioned this as being one opinion of his work, without presenting it as a stone cold fact. In any well researched biography, you’ll read accounts of the person, both positive and negative. So discussing, for example, Byrne’s relationship with Jim Shooter as it was reported in the press and through interviews during and after the time they worked together, is fair game. If Byrne doesn’t like how he comes off when people relate anecdotes or revisit his old interviews and message board postings, perhaps he should just become more conscious of what he’s saying or typing.

Unfortunately, Byrne will have none of this. In their anger and inability to understand how something like Wikipedia is a good thing, he and the fans on his messageboard went off on the entire site. Denouncing the entire concept of the Wikipedia project as something prone to lies, slander and outright poor information, they managed to raise such a stink that the head of the Wiki project himself stepped in and edited Byrne’s entry down to what Byrne wants. Think about that for a minute – the head of the Wikipedia project, a project consisting of thousands and thousands of entries which are self-policing and oftentimes are more accurate than even the printed Encyclopedia Brittanica, had to take time out of his day to edit the entry of a chronically bitter and angry comic book artist.

It’s a horrible precedent, allowing the subject of an entry determine what can and cannot be written about them. It would be one thing if the slanderous and innaccurate entries from one particularly psychotic fan were allowed to go through and remain in place, but the entire Wikipedia project has shown that self-policing is it’s greatest strength. If Byrne and Co. had actually followed the rules about correcting and modifying the entry, things would have worked out just fine and Wiki users wouldn’t have such a threadbare and useless entry as the result.

If you want to compare the old entry versus the one that Byrne edited it down to and then forced through by complaining to the head of Wikipedia directly, click here. I really don’t know if there’s a time limit on Wiki caching these, so enjoy it while you can.

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20 Responses to John Byrne VS Wikipedia
  1. Al Schroeder III
    September 16, 2005 | 12:07 pm

    Mark me as not surprised. Poor John….if only he hadn’t let his deserved fame as a penciller go to his head.

  2. KirbyMeister
    September 16, 2005 | 4:09 pm

    Wikipedia caches ALL old versions, including the ones that were revert-warred upon, or those that were vandalized.

  3. Tom
    September 16, 2005 | 4:11 pm

    This is a better link as far as the original content is concerned:

    As for the topic itself, what can you do. The sad part is that there is a flaw in the Wikipedia concept and that flaw is that people irresponsible people can use it to further/hide their agendas.

    Same thing happened with Liefeld awhile back.

  4. Stephen Gerding
    September 16, 2005 | 4:27 pm

    Tom, you’re right – that’s way easier to read. It’s a shame that Byrne is so quick to get angry about these things. He may not like how this entry portrays him, but the fact remains that there’s nothing I can see that’s not factual. If he’d slow down and think about what he says or types before throwing it out there for the world to see, there’d be a lot less “controversy” about him to be listed.

    What exactly happened with the Liefeld listing? Did Rob decide to rewrite history?

  5. Tom
    September 16, 2005 | 5:45 pm

    The Rob Thing: If I recall (and which is backed up to the extent that I was willing to read in the wikipedia history page) the issue of “Artistic Criticism” has been going back and forth (and apparently continues to this day)

    Rob got involved a while back and (as is apt to happen) things got worse.

    If you look right now, you’ll see there’s still argument over it all.

    The Internet, what can you do.

  6. Jeff Harrell
    September 18, 2005 | 1:37 am

    “a project consisting of thousands and thousands of entries which are … more accurate than even the printed Encyclopedia Brittanica”

    What? That assertion seems pretty unfounded. On what do you base it?

  7. Stephen Gerding
    September 18, 2005 | 11:29 am

    When it comes to modern topics, usually dealing with technology or current affairs of governments, entertainment, famous figures, etc., the Wikipedia entries are often more accurate than anything you’ll find in a published copy of the Brittanica simply due to the ability to add and/or update the entries with new information much more quickly.

    An example, grab a copy of the latest Brittanica, then look up New Orleans, Fats Domino or Iraq. Compare those entries to the ones on the Wikipedia, and you’ll quickly see that the online entries are more current and accurate.

  8. Stephen Gerding
    September 18, 2005 | 11:30 am

    Comment #7, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.

  9. Jeff Harrell
    September 18, 2005 | 3:33 pm

    Stephen, I think you’re confusing “accurate” with “timely.” In particular, your example of “Iraq” as a subject on which Wikipedia is more accurate is telling. The various Wikipedia articles on Iraq have been widely derided for their absurd inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the facts.

    If you want to say that Wikipedia is more timely that actual encyclopedias, please do so. I don’t think anybody will argue with you.

    But asserting that it’s more accurate is pretty silly.

  10. chowder
    September 18, 2005 | 4:47 pm

    is there a Nikola Tesla page in the Brittanica?

  11. Stephen Gerding
    September 18, 2005 | 6:34 pm

    I’ll amend myself to say then that the Wikipedia has the potential to be more accurate due to it’s ability to be more timely. Personally, I’d never use the Wikipedia as my source for 100% – or even 70-80% – accurate information on something as it’s happening. Even watching the news on TV during the course of a particular event isn’t a sure-fire way to get corrrect info. Having said that, once the immediacy of something like Katrina dies down, I do feel the Wiki entry on New Orleans in 2 months’ time will be far more accurate than the latest Brittanica.

    There’s always a chance for abuse, however the people that really love, live and breath the Wiki life are passionate about maintaining a constant neutral POV as much as is possible. In fact, there’s an excellent article on right now ( that deals with this very issue.

  12. James Stuarts
    September 19, 2005 | 5:29 am

    Stephen – first you say these are documented opinions, then you say that people may disagree.

    The person who the entry is about disagrees – that the things written are factual. Simple as that – the same way you do, as evidenced by what you have written above. What a circus!

  13. Stephen Gerding
    September 19, 2005 | 11:19 am

    I’m not really sure where the circus is.

    I still feel that Wikipedia has the potential – and oftentimes realizes this potential – to be more accurate than the printed Brittanica in certain aspects. Like any source of information, the Wikipedia should be taken with an exceptionally large grain of salt when dealing with an event that’s in the process of unfolding or a politically charged person or occurence. However, unlike the printed Brittanica, it will also adapt and correct itself organically, most of the time in an incredibly swift fashion. If someone has a problem with what’s being presented, we have a transparent view of the editing process so we can be aware of the issues that may plague an individual entry and make a rational decision as to the veracity of what’s presented.

    Believe me, I’m not trying to say the Wikipedia is the end-all or anything. Nore and I claiming that the Brittanica is useless. I’m just saying that there are some things one can do that the other cannot.

    As for the Byrne entry, reading over it as it was presented before he deleted the entire piece, it was factual. I understand that someone needed to cite sources for a good portion of the information posted, but that didn’t make what was there any less accurate. Byrne doesn’t care if you source or not, however – he has a seriously controlling personality and would have attempted to vandalize the entry even if sources were linked to. It’s simply, in my experience with the man online over the last 10 years, his nature.

  14. cyphunk
    September 25, 2005 | 7:16 am

    Wikipedia would be wise to make linking to old revisions easy and obvious. For the time being it is just as well to link directly to the last known decent revision before byrne put his own hands on it:

    Simple link like so: John Byrne and eventually google and other index’s will point to that instead.

    If such changes turn into an epidemic Wikipedia should construct a system where by revisions can have sub revisions, and the default revision shown is not the latest, but the most popular. Optionally they should also have a list of the top 5 branched revisions sorted by popularity.

    case closed

  15. Doctor Slack
    October 20, 2005 | 2:30 pm

    If one buys the premise that Wikipedia’s organic, “self-correcting” nature is inherently a feature rather than a defect, all the inveighing against John Byrne’s attempts to modify his own entry seems completely nonsensical.

    Surely the subjects of biographical entries have every right to weigh in as part of the “self-correcting” process — to take any other attitude would seem to run counter to the whole premise. (It particularly makes no sense to do so on behalf of a fandom which, let’s face it, doesn’t always have the writing chops to match its enthusiasm; I’m not sure about Byrne’s entry, but I’ve seen Wikipedia entries on fandom-related subjects that were pretty damned embarrassing, even if they weren’t “borderline libel.”) Note that Byrne only went to the “head” of Wikipedia after he was, either accidentally or by design, locked out of editing the page on the grounds of “vandalism.” Seems pretty ridiculous to me.

  16. JosephH
    October 22, 2005 | 11:10 am

    No, Wikipedia does not store the whole page history if the page is deleted.

    The main problem I see with Wikipedia is that people with more time or who are admins almost necessarily win out over people who have less time. How much time someone has to spend on wikipedia is independent of how much knowledge they have about that particular area, so it ends up less accurate.

    What good is an encyclopedia if you can’t even trust it 70-80% of the time? How can one be sure that the article’s quality will increase over time? It may very well decrease, since the number of people who know little about the topic continually “contribute” to the article.

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