Comics Legend John Severin Passes at 90

Severin is in the middle, flanked by Harvey Kurtzman and René Goscinny

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.

Comments

  1. pyynk pyynk says:

    If at all possible, I’d like to emphasize that last paragraph, especially the last two sentences.

    • Definitely agree, comics history is worth researching, loving, and holding on to. We’re fortunate that some of the earliest names in the industry we love are still around.

    • ibagree ibagree says:

      I agree that the last two sentences of this fine eulogy should be emphasized. We live in the Golden Age of Reprints! I know I’ll be paying my respects by seeking out one of the beautifully reproduced EC Archives volumes that features Severin’s art. It’s important to appreciate that we have more access to the work of his generation today than at any time since it was printed in the first place.

    • pyynk pyynk says:

      One of the things I love about this site and it’s users is that there is a mature appreciation for people who created these stories, the art, and the characters.

  2. A true giant. I was so happy these past few years that he was still doing great work.

  3. It still blows my mind that this was a man in his mid to late 80s pushing out magic in those Witchfinder pages. Unreal.

  4. Ron Richards Ron Richards (@ronxo) says:

    He was amazing. Sad that he’s gone.

  5. Rhymer Rhymer says:

    What a shame! I enjoyed his Witchfinder very, very much and had hoped to read more stories like that in the future. Of course, I hadn’t realized he was already in his late eighties.

  6. TurdSandwich TurdSandwich says:

    I’m sad to hear this news. To add a positive spin on it, Mr. Severin lived for 90 years, which is pretty impressive, and he was doing what he loved right up to the end. I think that is what I’d call living the good life.

  7. Kmanifesto says:

    I recently picked up the Blazing Combat hardcover and was impressed with the work he did. What a talent.

  8. Tad Tad says:

    The first time I remember being struck by Severin’s work was when he took over Nick Fury, Agent of Shield from Jack Kirby. Suddenly the stories seemed part of the “real” world no matter how outrageous the conceits. I’d like to see some sort of memorial collection of his work published.

  9. Hawkboy Hawkboy says:

    This is a real kick in the pants. He was AMAZING. R.I.P.

  10. Like Josh, I was introduced to John Severin’s work through Cracked as a child. Severin was one of the first comic artists whose name I made sure to remember and whose work I made sure to recognize. I was strangely obsessed with Severin’s renditions of Tom Selleck. The man did so much, and it’s exciting to know there is plenty out there to be found.

  11. I’m actually amazed that I don’t think I’ve ever read a John Severin comic before. However, just from the examples on this page, the man clearly had serious talent. Now I need to track down some of his work, because the pages here are amazing.

  12. PymSlap PymSlap says:

    It’s sad that he’s gone. I remember that it was his art specifically that always got me to pick up Cracked over Mad. I loved his cartoon characters Nanny Dickering and Sylvester P. Smythe.

  13. player1 player1 says:

    A legend. A true giant. Storyteller. Myth-maker. Humorist.

    A sad loss. May he Rest In Peace.

  14. mickmac59 mickmac59 says:

    Another great gone. Damn. Vale John, & thanks.