Wednesday, February 15, 2012

John Powers Severin - An Appreciaton

"I've always been interested in people's faces. I've tried to study the types you see in various occupations or in the differences that show up with racial groups. Yes, I reckon the face is the best way to show character, but there's plenty of other things that go along with it. The hands - for example -- the way a man uses his hands shows how his mind is really working.  You can control an expression on the face, but the hands give it away. Then there's the way a character is dressed or his way of posturing."    

John Severin interview with John Benson, Graphic Story Magazine # 13, spring 1971

Beginning in 1947, and only ending recently with his passing (February 12th, 2012), John Severin had been drawing comics - and drawing them with distinctive finesse - for over sixty years. Quite an accomplishment by any standard.

"Dien Bien Phu", Two Fisted Tales # 40, January 1955. 
Severin was an artist who didn't get a lot of attention, perhaps because he was never too involved or interested in super-heroes, preferring genres rooted in a realistic background: western, war and period pieces.  Severin also spent many years working on humor strips for Cracked, and was never associated with a single character for long.  Nevertheless, Severin was one of those artists, like Russ Heath and Joe Kubert, who turned out superior work year after year.
Kid Colt, Outlaw # 84, May 1959. Severin draws you  into the scene. Severin, along with Joe Maneely, Russ Heath and Bill Everett, drew some of the most exciting covers for Atlas.

Caught # 4, Feb 1957. Severin contributed a  number of spectacular covers for Atlas' crime titles, which deserve to be collected in a Masterworks edition (you listening, Cory??)

I probably first took notice of Severin's work when he took over the artistic chores from Dick Ayers on Sgt. Fury for three issues (#'s 44-46).   

Sgt. Fury # 45, August, 1967. The expressions and body language on the characters speak volumes.

Severin continued on Sgt. Fury for a long run, inking Dick Ayers pencils, adding authenticity and detail. Severin's inks were exquisite on everyone, from Herb Trimpe to Ross Andru. Of special note is his collaboration with sister Marie on Kull.

Two-Gun Kid # 103, March 1972; Gil Kane pencils. 

Captain Savage # 16, September, 1969. Don Heck pencils. The only time Severin inked Heck.

I began to fully appreciate Severin when I discovered his earlier work, in reprints of his EC war and humor stories for Mad. As I became interested in collecting pre-hero Marvel's in the 1980s I bought many westerns at conventions, attracted by Severin's exceptional covers. All the while Severin continued to work for companies such as Warren, the short-lived Atlas/Seaboard line (in the magazine Thrilling Adventure Stories), and DC, on "the Losers", "Unknown Soldier" and "Enemy Ace" to the recent Bat Lash series. It was always worth checking out anything Severin drew since the quality of his art continued to remain high.

Western Gunfighters # 9, May 1972. Severin produced many covers for Marvel's western reprints on the 1970s and they are well worth seeking out. Severin also drew the sidebar characters.

John Severin was a rare breed that turned in exceptional work day in and day out. Never flashy, his art had a quiet integrity which stands the test of time



Don Hudson said...

I love that Western Gunfighters cover! It looks great in color and you can see a version of it in Black and White on my blog.

Nick Caputo said...


The original is beautiful. You can see the texture Severin added. the other covers are also sensational. Thanks for sharing!

Barry Pearl said...

As these people leave us, I deeply feel loss.

I think the first time I discovered John Severin was the work he did for a few
issues of Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD. (Strange Tales #136-8) Lee and Kirby had
made Fury a "fish out of water" a blue collar army guy running a sophisticated
intelligence organization. Severins pencils, more than anyone else's in Kirby's
brief stay there made Fury look military. I really enjoyed it. His inks on Ayers
for Sgt Fury (47 - 79, 81) were great because it brought out the details Ayers
put in and were not always inked well. And I thoroughly enjoyed the Fury stories
he penciled. (44 - 46, 139 - 141) . In fact when Marvel put out a second war
comic, Capt Savage, (which was really the Sgt. Fury on a boat) I was sad that
Severin was not the penciller, giving some variety to the war mags. I asked Dick
Ayers if he ever inked Severin, he said no.

I also enjoyed his work on Kull, a comic that was often hard to find!

In the 1980s, through the EC reprints I discovered his work there, and it was
brilliant. Simply brilliant. Of course I appreciated his work at Warren,.

Captain Savage 9 - 10, 16 - 19
Conan the Barbarian 10, 25
Giant-Size Kid Colt 1
Journey into Mystery 54
Kull the Conqueror 2 - 9
Mighty Marvel Western 14 - 15, 18 - 19, 23, 27, 29 - 31, 39
Monsters on the Prowl 16
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 16
Not Brand Echh 1, 9
Ringo Kid 2, 27
Savage Sword of Conan Annual 1
Savage Tales 1 - 8
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos 44 - 46, Just Inks 47 - 79, 81, Annual 4
Spoof 2
Strange Tales 136 - 138
Sub-Mariner 38
The Ringo Kid Western 6 - 9
Two-Gun Kid 29, 49 - 57, 99, 113, 120

Nick Caputo said...


Kirby looked great over Severin, on both SHIELD and the Yelllow Claw's he inked. Severin didn't think he quite fit as a Kirby inker, but he said it was a lot of fun inking him. I would have liked to see more of their inks together. Hmmnn, imagine Thor or Tales of Asgard inked by Severin.....

Barry Pearl said...

Tales of Asgard with Severin would have looked so different. It would have had a sword and sorcery, down to earth look, rather than a fantasy one. Nick, though, I would have loved to have seen that. How about Wood doing TOA? How would that have gone? And were you spending so much time inking the FF that you didn't have time to do TOA?

Nick Caputo said...

Wood on anything would have been acceptable to me! BTW, there was a Severin/Wood combo in an issue of Creepy or Eerie. Does anyone recall the issue? I believe it was Severin pencils and Wood inks, but it could be the other way around.

Ed McKeogh said...

It was Severin inks over Wood pencils, for a story written by Archie Goodwin. Titled "Creeps," it appeared in Creepy #91, 1976. You can view the story here:

S.D. Joe said...

Sorry for arriving so late, but while I agree with Nick Caputo's summation - basically, that any Severin is good Severin - for my money, his absolute pinnacle was his (admittedly infrequent) black-and-white work for Warren, usually behind an Archie Goodwin script. "Warrior's Ritual", in CREEPY 112, might be the very best thing he ever did; it astounded me 40 years ago, and it still knocks me out today.

Nick Caputo said...

S.D. Joe,

Thanks for joining in. I can't argue that Severin's Warren work was excellent. There is a richness in black and white work that can't be achieved elsewhere.