The Incredible Marie Severin

SeverinMarie Severin had a unique and amazing career in comic books. Harvey Kurtzman recruited her to join the EC bullpen in the ’50s. And a decade later, when Stan Lee needed a little help, she joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society. She spent most of her time as a colorist and an in-house troubleshooter, but she was also a pretty good artist herself. The author of this chatty bio calls Severin a comic book icon and we agree. She was one of a kind.

“She did lots of things,” says Dennis O’Neil, who spent time as an editorial assistant at Marvel during the ’60s. “Art corrections, spot illos, paste-up, comic book stories—if it could be done from behind a drawing board, Marie could do it.”

O’Neil is right. Severin understood the craft of comics better than most people. She developed a coloring philosophy at EC which later became the industry standard, she designed nearly every cover for Marvel from 1968 to 1972, and she tutored dozens of young guns who pursued careers in comic bookery. John Romita says that Severin was Stan Lee’s ace in the hole. And it’s hard to imagine what Marvel (and EC) comics would have looked like without her contributions.

Looking back at her oeuvre, we still think her interpretation of the Hulk was better than everyone else’s. These days, the character is a scary looking thing. It’s hard to work up any sympathy for him. But during Severin’s tenure, he was a pathetic creature and a reflection of society. Severin’s Hulk was both powerful and likable at the same time.

After signing off on The Incredible Hulk, Severin teamed up with her brother John to produce nine spectacular issues of Kull the Conqueror. At this point, the brother-sister combo was at the top of their game and some people consider Kull to be Severin’s best illustrative work.

We liked Kull too, but Severin was an inspired humorist beyond superhero and sword-and-sorcery comics. And as such, we prefer her contributions to Not Brand Echh. For 13 issues, Severin gleefully injected an insane amount of silliness into the Marvel mythology. In our opinion, her work on Not Brand Echh was on par with the stuff Mad magazine was pumping out at the time.

Mark Evanier agrees. “Without question, she should have been in Mad magazine,” says the comics veteran. “She could have added so much to that publication, and she could have gotten much closer to finding the place where she belonged. Because, spiritually, I don’t think she belonged in superhero comics.”

Regardless of any missed opportunities at Mad or anywhere else, Marie Severin was a trailblazer and an anomaly in a male dominated business. How many female comic book artists, for instance, can you name during her time at EC and Marvel? Herb Trimpe, who worked side-by-side with her for numerous years, put it best: “She was equally as competent if not more so than anyone in the industry. She had excellent versatility and her range was broad. She could draw superheroes, horror comics, westerns, science fiction or anything in between. There really wasn’t anything she couldn’t do.” In conclusion, says Trimpe, “Marie Severin excelled as a professional, as well as being a wonderful and amazing human being.” Nuff said.

[Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics / By Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan / First Printing: July 2012 / ISBN: 9781605490427]

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