As mentioned previously, I’m sick of writing these. But apparently the grim reaper wasn’t paying any attention when I said that, as in the past few weeks we lost three more wonderful creators: Russ Heath, Marie Severin, and Gary Friedrich.
Heath passed on August 23, Severin on August 29, and Friedrich on August 30. Heath and Friedrich are both better known for their work in the war and horror genres, while Severin is known more for her work with superheroes and humor. As this is largely a nostalgia-fueled blog and I wasn’t all that into war or horror books growing up, I’m going to write about Severin first, as I have many more personal memories of her work.
I first encountered her artwork early on, in a tale from Marvel Super-Heroes #58 (Jul. 1976), which was actually a reprint from Hulk #104 (Jun. 1968). Coincidentally, the story was written by the aforementioned Gary Friedrich. In some of her later interviews, Severin expressed some discomfort over doing the superhero stuff (particularly doing so via the Marvel Method), as it was never really her bag, but I loved her work in the genre, with this story proving a fine example. Start with the cover.
Pretty great. Sometimes a strong cover belies a weaker art job on the interiors, but such was not the case here.
You can tell Severin really went to school on the Marvel house style (i.e., the Jack Kirby style) when you look at this page. The action feels like it has impact and a more general sense of “oomph” than your average comics page.
My next brush with Severin was one of her humor jobs a short time later in the pages of the Sensational Spider-Man treasury from ’77. The bulk of the treasury consists of the infamous six-arms saga from ASM 100-102—an offbeat but entertaining romp that also featured a Curt-Connors-controlled Lizard and the first appearance of Morbius the Living Vampire. Fun Fact: At the time I had just discovered an old, reel-to-reel tape recorder somewhere in the attic (or maybe the basement) and voice-performed the events of ASM #100 into it, Power Records-style. Alas, I didn’t save the tape
Anyway, after reprinting those old ASMs, they had a few pages left over, which they filled with an old story from Not Brand Ecch #6 (Feb. 1968), “With This Ring I Thee Web.” It featured “Spidey-Man” (the satirical Spider-Man) falling in love with a mystery woman that would only be revealed on the final page of the tale. Art was by Severin and, once again, by amazing coincidence, the script for this one was by Gary Friedrich.
Severin also did a lot of work for Crazy magazine throughout the 70s and early 80s, including the infamous “Kaspar the Dead Baby” from Crazy #8 (Dec. 1974)—which I missed the first time around, but was fortunate enough to find it reprinted in Crazy #61 (aka Crazy Super Special, Apr. 1980) to finally read it.
…I absolutely love that painted cover by Jim Sherman. If you’re unfamiliar with “Kaspar,” it’s every bit as weird and messed up as it sounds. But my childhood buddy Ed & I just loved it—we would literally laugh until we cried whenever we read it.
Full story here, but beware—it’s an acquired taste and the blackest of black humor.
While on the subject of Crazy, Severin was also the primary artist on another running feature called “Teen Hulk.” Again, Ed & I loved this back when it was running between 1980-82 and would be disappointed if we bought a copy of Crazy only to discover there was no Teen Hulk that issue.
The premise is pretty dumb and cheap, so why did we love it so much? I think Severin deserves a big chunk of the credit. As you can see above, she had a knack for Looney Toons-esque violence. (The teenage nerd-revenge fantasy built into each story probably helped a lot, too.)
Back to Superheroes
As a Spider-Man fan, I also have very fond memories of the art job Severin did that wrapped up the Belladonna storyline from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #47-48 (Oct.-Nov. 1980). Said storyline took up a big chunk of 1980 and also marked Roger Stern’s debut writing the character.
You don’t see linework that impeccably clean and beautiful on most superhero stories from that era. Credit Bruce Patterson for the wonderful inking job he did here as well. (Kudos also for the cover Frank Miller gave us for issue #48.)
And from the Things-I-Never-Knew-Before Department: I just learned Severin designed Spider-Woman’s original costume. Since Sal Buscema drew her debut in Marvel Spotlight #32 (Feb. 1977), I had just always assumed was the designer—live and learn. Most of you may know the costume as seen on the cover of the first regular issue of Spider-Woman (and from the eponymous Saturday morning cartoon that ran on the ABC network from 1979 to 1980), but the original design was slightly different. First off, she wore a closed cowl, so no long, flowing hair.
Secondly, the back torso (and only the torso) was black with the yellow web emblem. It sort of evoked a black widow spider (not to be confused with Black Widow the character).
This always struck me as a very radical, funky design. The rest was the same as the better known, classic costume—red and yellow, with the black lines and abdomen web emblem. One of my favorite superhero costume designs ever.
Back to the Beginning
Putting personal nostalgia aside for a moment, some of Severin’s most important work from a larger, more historical perspective, was the work she did when she first broke in at EC in the fifties. This part of her career was well covered in this 1986 interview with The Comics Journal.
But I believe her best work overall very well may have been her collaboration with big brother John Severin on the earliest issues of Marvel’s Kull comic at the dawn of the Bronze Age. Before my time when originally published, but I would track them down in my adult years and be blown away. The art here is figuratively (if not literally) mouth watering.
That is Hal Foster level game right there. The run was reprinted in the first volume of Dark Horse’s Chronicles of Kull series from a few years back (“A King Comes Riding”), and may yet be available for a reasonable price on Ebay or elsewhere.
Marie Severin had a long, distinguished, and quite eclectic career in the comics biz. She will be missed.
R.I.P., Marie Severin.