John Severin passed away yesterday. He was 90 years old.
As a kid growing up in the '70s and completely obsessed with Marvel Comics' superhero books I had absolutely no interest in Severin's work.
He typically illustrated traditional adventure stories for Marvel's war and western titles.
At some point in my childhood I stumbled upon some Mad paperbacks in a used bookstore. They reprinted early 1950s issues of Mad, before it became a black & white magazine. I began reading Mad in Grade 3 and had no idea it had once been a colour comic. It was in these small reprint paperbacks that I first saw Severin's "Melvin of the Apes" - a Tarzan parody - and began to realize just how good he was.
His tremendous draftsmanship and natural humour was every bit as appealing as the work of the other giants of the EC Comics era. I had simply needed the right vehicle to come to appreciate that.
Although I still wouldn't spend my hard earned paper route money on Severin's war comics, I did begin studying his work whenever I encountered it. One close buddy collected Cracked magazine with as much fervor as I collected Mad. During that period (and for many years before and after) John Severin seemed to produce very nearly every bit of artwork in Cracked.
Pouring through my buddy's collection, I began to realize that not only was John Severin prolific and versatile, but that he was also an accomplished caricaturist and painter.
Occasionally Severin would venture into Marvel's early '70s "sword and sorcery" books. As a huge Conan the Barbarian fan, this gave me an excuse to actually pay for a Severin-drawn comic. As always, his work was, of course, magnificent.
As time passed and I grew older and began studying cartoon art in earnest, with the intention of becoming a comic artist, I finally began seeking out John Severin's work wherever I could find it. Happily, there were now reprint collections available of the entire line of EC comics from the 1950s.
As well, tattered "reader's copies" of many older comics could be found at used bookstores and flea markets for a dime a piece.
If they contained John Severin's artwork, I snapped them up.
Severin was never a flashy artist; he never embraced the "Kirby dynamics" that were so influential in the design of most superhero books of my childhood and teens, but the sheer craft - the rich textural authenticity of his style - always made his work a pleasure to look at.
He was among that group of traditional illustrators who approached every assignment, no matter the subject, with professionalism and dedication and no illusions about what it was they were doing - creating commercial art - and yet were always able to tap into their personal wellspring of childhood wonderment and embue the work with a spirit of adventure, drama, or humour that gave it it's authenticity and visual appeal. You look at a John Severin drawing and you can just tell he was enjoying himself!
He will be missed.
* Many thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use scans from their archives for today's post.
* There is a wonderful in-depth interview with John Severin at The Comics Journal