R.I.P. Western, War & Humor Comics Icon John Severin

Tue, February 14th, 2012 at 10:00am PST | Updated: February 14th, 2012 at 12:54pm

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

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This page from "MAD," written by Harvey Kurtzman, combines two of Severin's signature genres: Humor and Westerns

The Beat is reporting the death of comics legend John Severin at 90 years old. Her post includes a statement from the family noting that the artist passed at his Denver home with his family by his side and states "Severin gained world-wide notoriety and is regarded by many fans, friends, historians, and colleagues as a truly distinctive and brilliant artist."

An industry lifer who often said he didn't read comics, the cornerstone of Severin's work was a lush illustrative style that at once both captured the fine details of people in the real world yet remained as visually alluring as the most cartoony of comics. Severin's skills made him a perfect fit for a number of genres including the Western where he served as Marvel's definitive artist in the genre, war comics which he drew during the glory years of iconic publisher EC Comics and humor where his flawless caricature work graced the pages of "Cracked" magazine in celebrity spoofs and other pop culture riffs.

Severin started his career working for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby when that legendary pair ran the Prize Comics label for Crestwood Publications in the late '40s. While working for Prize, the New Jersey native was able to hone his style on a variety of genres including Western and Romance comics and during that era worked on his first signature character -- the Western hero "American Eagle." By the mid '50s, Severin joined high school classmates Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Jaffee and Al Feldstein for the birth of EC Comics. Though the publisher is best remembered for its horror releases and eventual place in the history of comics censorship, EC published a variety of adult focused comics including war titles like "Two-Fisted Tales" and "Frontline Combat" where Severin was allowed and encouraged to sign his own name and develop his unique, detailed style further. Severin also brought his sister Marie into the comics business during these years as she served as EC's primary colorist before going on to acclaim as an artist herself.

After the fall of EC, the artist moved to Marvel precursor Atlas Comics where he became perhaps the most recognizable cartoonist for the company's many Western titles through the late '50s and into the '60s. Cornerstone characters like the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt and more found definition and popularity under his pen, and Severin continued to explore multiple genres and characters during this run including more war comics like the early adventures of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos as well as superhero work as the Marvel Age of comics dawned on titles including "The Incredible Hulk."

The third major phase of Severin's career came when he started working for long-standing "MAD" rival "Cracked" in the '70s. The artist had briefly contributed strips to "MAD" during its initial EC run and took to the work of satirical cartooning with style. For the next 20 years he was one of the most recognizable cartoonists in "Cracked's" staple, contributing celebrity and pop culture parodies and often painting covers featuring the magazine's mascot Sylvester P. Smythe.

Severin's legacy in comics was assured long before the turn of the millennium, but that didn't stop the artist from doing new work or having new influence over the past decade. In 2003, he drew a new version of "The Rawhide Kid" for Marvel's MAX imprint made famous for its playing the hero as a gay gunfighter in the Old West (an ironic twist that was not lost on the artist whose work had defined the Kid over 30 years earlier). Severin also contributed regularly to new comics projects including a number of Dark Horse releases set in the world of Mike Mignola's Hellboy -- putting his classic style front and center for a new generation of fans five decades after he'd broken in to the business.

The statement from his family notes that John Severin "his wife of 60 years, Michelina, 6 children, 13 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren, a step great granddaughter and Severin’s sister, Marie Severin, who is also a comic illustrator and cartoonist." In the piece, his longtime editor at Marvel Stan Lee had this to share: "John Severin was one of the nicest, most decent, honorable, straight-shooting men you’d ever hope to meet. Truly, the art world has suffered a great loss with John’s passing -- but so has the human race. To John’s friends and fans worldwide, he has been greatly loved and will surely be greatly missed."

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