John Severin R.I.P.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll consider the first 28 issues of the comic book version of MAD the best comic book ever published.  John Severin was one of the main contributors to that notion.

And the main contributor to Mad's main rival "Cracked" for most of its print run.

There was no one like him for inking and rendering the real world as easily as breathing.  His sense of gray tones, textures, light and shadow and human expression were unparalleled.  When I teach inking classes at the TCW, John Severin is mentioned at least once an hour as one of the best who ever did this comic book stuff.

I first encountered Severin’s work on his stellar run of Sgt. Fury comics.  John was inking over Dick Ayers at the time, but the inks were so distinctive, Severin was the leading hand in the look of that title.  From there I discovered Cracked Magazine and John’s mind-boggling skill at likenesses.  Once I had found a reprint of an early Mad Comics spoof of Melvin of the Apes, I was hooked for life.   Without a word of exaggeration, I was reading a John Severin comic book yesterday, and marveling at how perfect every line was, every stroke of that pen or brush.

Damn this deal with the universe that guys like Severin don’t get to go on forever.

Ty the Guy OUT!

16 responses to “John Severin R.I.P.

  1. Paul the Curmudgeon

    Wasn’t he already in his eighties, or near it, when he did a great job on the very funny Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather? I’ll really miss him. And let’s not forget those iconic covers for Stan Lee’s Devil-Dog Dugan:

    • Those covers are really fun and energetic! I’m not as fond of the Rawhide Kid stuff, I didn’t find it as funny as I wanted to. The comedy was VERY Sex in the City style, which seemed so out of place in the Western genre that I never warmed to it…it’s like a genre mix, but done with a sledge hammer…but the art by Severin was great. He always was. Severin did a lot of fantastic western stuff in the fifties, and some of his handful of covers for Ringo Kid are amongst my favorite covers he ever did. Especially the bold colours Marie was putting on ’em. It’s fantastic that John was creating top flight work well into his eighties, just like Joe Kubert is still doing, and to some extent, Stan Lee. Severin did the career exactly right, a hell of a ride, and a hell of a body of work!

  2. Severin’s work on Cracked had a profound influence on me. He will be missed.

  3. This is a sad day. I feel more for the loss of John Severin than I ever could about Whitney Houston. At least John kept his high standards in a ripe old age. Wonder how many careers he outlived. I’ll miss knowing he’s out there, still intimidating with his work ethic, talent and high standards.

    • Not everyone is touched by all celebrities, but I’m equally bothered by both losses, for entirely different reasons. I had a pretty healthy crush on Ms. Houston during her Bodyguard days, and have a couple of her cds in my collection. And Whitney Houston was younger than I was, which gives me an ache. In many ways, Severin and Houston’s lives were polar opposites because John got to live into his 90s, have a nice quiet life where he was admired and respected by his peers and his fans, working long past retirement age – and that’s why Whitney Houston passing away bothers me, because she didn’t get that chance, and in all probability it was because of drug addictions and the world of problems surrounding that. I’ve known some drug addicts who are musicians, and I’ve seen it up close, and that deadly combination of artist/drug addict always gets around to heartache faster than either side of that combo makes it on its own.

  4. Rest well, good sir. Thank you for sharing your talents with is. You will be missed.

  5. That so sad.😦 I didn’t realize he worked on Mad. I was familiar with his work with Marvel.

    I know his sister worked on Not Brand Echh – she was the first woman whose name I remember seeing on a comic book.

    • I’m fairly sure I discovered Marie Severin a few months, or even a year or so before I discovered John. Just a factor of my age. I was really into Not Brand Ecch when I was a kid, and Marie was a mainstay on that title, doing hysterically funny cartooning stuff. When I first saw John’s work, it was very realistic war comics, gorgeous, but a different sensibility. As I mentioned in the post, it was my first encounter with Melvin of the Apes that my brain exploded. Then I saw the Two Fisted Tales stuff, the Frontline Combat, Blazing Combat, Sgt. Fury, King Kull, The Losers, all those magnificent issues of Cracked, and his recent stuff like Desperadoes, Rawhide Kid, didn’t he do a Jonah Hex in the last couple of years?

      I had the astounding good fortune to get to work with Marie Severin on a Batman project, but I never met John, except through the page. And what a way to meet him!

  6. One of the more rewarding experiences over the years has been opening a comic and immediately recognizing the style of a favorite artist without previously knowing that the artist had done the book. There are grist mill artists that aligned themselves to the Marvel or DC templates (of didn’t have the talent to do differently) and then there were artists like John who just couldn’t help but be distinct. His talent would not be constrained. It’s a shame he’s gone, but thank goodness he left a huge catalog behind. We hope to keep “discovering” his work for many years to come.

  7. Yeah, that’s great fun. I still love buying mid-seventies Marvel horror reprints, like Tomb of Darkness, Uncanny Tales, or Journey into Mystery, because they reprinted 50s Atlas horror books done by Severin, Ditko, Everett, Williamson, Maneely, Heck and Kirby, but you never knew what combination you’d be getting. Still fun when I find ’em at convention for a buck a pop. You open the bag, and WHAM! You get a Kirby, a Severin, a Williamson and something by Ditko. All for a buck! Nothing better.

  8. I had the enjoyment of reading Severin’s 2011 comic, Witchfinder, just this past month (it was of the better gothic westerns), and it was a delight seeing that his art was just as good as ever. I am also one of those who find his c1948-c1954) American Eagle stories (for Prize Comics Western) to also be a great example of solid comics. Hard to believe he started out having Bill Elder as his personal inker! Long career 47-11, over 60 years of drawing good looking comics books;. We readers were certainly blessed.

    • I didn’t get to see Witchfinder, but I’m looking for it starting tomorrow. Thanks for the tip. About Elder inking him at EC. I remember getting the Russ Cochrane hardcover EC reprints with all the interviews with Harvey in the end papers, and the interviews are filled with Kurtzman slagging Severin’s stuff as the weak link on the team, and that Elder had to save Severin’s lifeless art, etc. Okay, in a fair universe, it’s possible that Elder was one of maybe five human beings on Earth who might have been a better inker than Severin, but that hardly makes Severin’s stuff second rate. It was such an odd thing to read Kurtzman’s belittling tone about Severin, but he continued to hire him because he knew he had the best team in history and didn’t want to break it up. When I was a kid, Severin was magically good, and I first KNEW him as Dick Ayers inker on Sgt. Fury…and here was my hero Kurtzman putting down Severin’s inking on some of his career defining stories.
      Maybe John owed Harvey money from a poker game and never paid up or something.

  9. John Severin was the first artist that I can remember recognizing by style. When I was a kid in the 70s/80s I was a huge Cracked fan (liked it more than MAD) and John of course was a mainstay in that magazine. I remember seeing his work on another magazine (probably a Marvel comic of some sort) and knowing that it was the same guy whose work I loved in Cracked.

  10. Hello my name George Rivera, Yes indeed I was affected by the passing of John Severin. He was always and will be one of my favorite artist of all time. I am asking for assistance in trying to locate and contact his sister Marie S. I’ve heard of her medical condition and hope she is doing better. I live in NYC and know that she also resides in NY but can’t find her. If anyone could help please contact me at 347 608 – 7018
    I look forward to seeing Marie again. Its been a long time

    • I’m afraid I can’t give out any information about her address to someone I don’t know. And to be honest, I haven’t spoken to Marie for a few years, so my info is probably out of date anyway.

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