I’ve known the name John Severin for nearly 3 decades. And yet, since Severin had an astonishingly lengthy career, he was already beyond established when I discovered his work in the pages of Cracked Magazine of all places at the age of 8 or 9. Yet even then, I noticed his work, and remembered his name. Years later when I came back to comics, I would see his name on certain projects, and make note of it. Later still, when I learned more about the craft of comics, and the history behind it, I understood that Severin was a legend, and had been for a long time. Finally, I realized just how impressive it was that he was doing work of the quality we’ve seen even in recent years, well into the man’s eighth decade, and I considered myself a fan, regardless of his historical pedigree.
Severin’s family released a statement today, announcing that he’d passed away at 90 years old, with his family, in his home in Denver Colorado.
Severin comes from the generation of cartoonists just after the first big wave. He served in the Pacific in World War II, and then got his comics start in the 50s, working for many publishers, and most noted for his Western and War comics, as well as a long running Native American feature, American Eagle. He worked for EC Comics on Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. Later, he worked as the lead artist for the aforementioned Cracked Magazine for 45 years under various pen names. He worked in every genre and style, chasing work through the years both fat and lean. He became an institution. He helped create Rawhide Kid for Marvel and was the artist on the dubious relaunch of Rawhide Kid in 2003. Regardless of what you think of the story, Severin’s art didn’t lose a step. In more recent years, Severin did work for Dark Horse, on B.P.R.D. and Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever. We spoke with writer John Arcudi a while back, and he told us that as long as Severin was drawing, he was content to wait as long as it took. When those pages did arrive, they proved to be well worth the wait.
Many comic fans will also recognize his last name from classic Marvel comics, where his sister Marie Severin was a colorist.
Severin himself was a master illustrator. You could usually recognize his linework, which was intricate and detailed. He made his characters long, lean, and stiff backed, but still real. He could draw any kind of gun, horse, or vehicle. At the same time, you can see his influence in many creators today, but no one does work that looks like Severin’s.
As we lose more of the living legends from the earliest generation, it’s all the more important to look back on their work, and appreciate the craft that these artists pioneered, inventing the language of comics that we use today. Instead of being stuck in one genre, guys like Severin could do it all, from western to war to sci-fi, and yes even superheroes. His work never dropped off, looking as fresh and skillful ever through the most recent pages published. Fans of comics spend so much time living in the past, and appreciating the nostalgia for characters, but it’s even more important to know the work of the people who built the rich history this medium has, even over a relatively short time. John Severin will be missed, but luckily, his work will live on. Seek it out, and enjoy it.