John Severin, comics giant, enters another dimension

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Handout
John Severin
Legendary illustrator John Powers Severin, whose 60-year career in the comics world stretched from the dawning of MAD magazine to the Silver Age at Marvel to a gay revival of the Rawhide Kid and beyond, died over the weekend at his southeast Denver home. He was 90 years old.

"Truly the art world has suffered a great loss with John's passing -- but so has the human race," declared former Marvel president Stan Lee, in a statement released by Severin's family.

Lee and Severin worked together on numerous titles at Marvel, from the Incredible Hulk and Kull the Conqueror to The Punisher. Severin's final illustrations for Dark Horse's Witchfinder Lost and Gone Forever were published just weeks ago.

"As a penciler, John Severin had no equal," Lee notes. "Besides his inimitable style, there was a feeling of total authenticity to whatever he drew, whether it was a Western, a crime story, a superhero saga or a science fiction yarn...His inking, too, had a distinctive Severin touch that made very strip he rendered stand out like a winner."

Long before he worked for Marvel, that Severin touch was already in evidence. A New Jersey native who served in the Pacific in World War II, Severin shared a studio after the war with Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman, former classmates of his from New York's High School of Music and Art. All three did distinctive work for EC Comics, with Severin specializing in war series, and went on to be among the original core of artists responsible for launching MAD in the early 1950s.

Severin later became the primary illustrator for MAD's competitor, CRACKED -- and continued to be a linchpin at the Avis of juvenile humor for 45 years. Among his many contributions to pop culture is Alfred E. Neuman's nemesis, janitor Sylvester P. Smythe:

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After EC collapsed under the pressures of the new Comics Code, Severin moved on to Atlas Comics, the predecessor at Marvel. In the 1960s he was a major force as penciler and/or inker on several Silver Age classics (while his sister Marie helped develop the company's postmodernist self-parody, Not Brand Ecch). My own personal favorite is his collaboration with penciler Dick Ayers on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos at the height of that book's glory, 1967-1968. A couple of samples of his inking:

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And from the same issue #59:

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Severin moved to Denver in 1970. He continued to work on a variety of projects, from a collaboration with Marie Severin on King Kull to Topps trading cards, but much of his energy went into CRACKED. In his eighties, though, he enjoyed a stunning revival, including a 2003 Marvel alternative-universe version of the Rawhide Kid as a gay caballero. That same year, he was inducted into the Eisner Comic Industry Hall of Fame, the capper on an award-studded career.

Severin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Michelina, six children, thirteen grandchildren, eight great-granchildren, sister Marie -- not to mention legions of fans and a legacy of dazzling artwork fit for an alien supervillain or a cigar-chomping noncom.

Wah-hooo to you, Mr. Severin. And thanks.

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