Tuesday, February 14, 2012

RIP John Severin

The regularly scheduled episode of "Advance Team Tuesdays" won't be seen this week because I just learned that John Severin, one of the all-time greats, has passed away at the age of 90.

Severin had a long, long career in comic books, drawing for most of the major publishers and working with some legendary collaborators, including Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. He did groundbreaking work for Kurtzman's war comics, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, and illustrated some of the first genre satires that appeared in Mad.

But, of course, that's not where I first encountered him. No, like every other budding reprobate in my generation, I first saw the work of John Severin in the pages of Cracked. Severin handled most of the movie and TV satires published within those pages, along with plenty of other stories besides. By most accounts he was virtually responsible for the very existence of the magazine, being the name talent that held it all together. A consumate pro, he delivered beautifully rendered pop culture spoofs month after month after month. It was his version of Luke Skywalker that I copied when I made my own "Star Wars" comic book parodies, and unlike Mad, which seemed more "grown-up" to my young eyes, Cracked always seemed to focus on the stuff I loved, all brought to amusing life by Severin: "Star Wars," "The Six-Million Dollar Man," and the Fonz. Boy, I'll bet Severin got sick of drawing Henry Winkler caricatures.

It wasn't until later, when I first studied those Mad comic book reprints, that I realized the artist I loved so much in Cracked had also done work for Mad. My mind, which saw those two mags are bitter, bitter rivals, could barely process this information, but it did give me a new source for Severin art. When I discovered old Marvel westerns a year or so later and then Kurtzman's war comics a while after that, my appreciation for Severin's talent (and, heck, his sheer stamina) just kept growing.

Which brings me to a convention in Chicago years ago. Some original art dealer -- I have no idea who it was -- had a stack of pages off to the side that he was obviously trying to unload so he didn't have to cart them back to his store. I paged through them, not expecting to find anything (a) I wanted or (b) could afford. And then I saw this...

I knew it was Severin art -- that inking, those figures and the beautiful use of duotone shade left no doubt -- but I had no idea what it was from. Turning it over, I saw a stamp that said "Possession of this work of art does not convey to the Possessor the right to copy, reproduce, or publish the same. Such rights are expressly reserved to William M. Gaines, Agent, as Copyright Proprietor."

OK, so it was obviously EC, and judging by the subject matter, either Two-Fisted Tales or Frontline Combat. And then I nervously looked up at the price, all set to put it back in the stack...

Thirty-five dollars.

Thirty-five dollars.

For someone who'd loved Severin's work since before he can remember, it was a bargain. Heck, for anyone, anywhere at anytime, it was a bargain. A huge bargain. I don't know if the dealer knew what he had or not, but I did know one thing: I knew I had thirty-five dollars. And now I have that page.

But I'm still not sure exactly which issue it's from. Any ideas?


Tanja said...

Lovely bargain! It does look to have the similar mark-up at the top as do the Front Combat pages...example here from The Landing (FC): http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=191608&GSub=30326
There was also an awesome interview that I ran across today with Severin that you might appreciate: http://www.tcj.com/the-john-severin-interview-parts-i-ii/

Mark said...

I wish I could help. There was a CD-Rom with all the old issues of Mad scanned onto it. (If you have a lot of time and money to devote to it.)

It's funny but as a kid, I only read Mad and hated Cracked because I saw Cracked as "baby stuff." I was disgusted when Don Martin jumped ship to Cracked. I had the same stupid Marvel/DC internal rivalry.

I wonder what makes kids think this way.

Will Pfeifer said...

Thanks, Tanja -- you're right. That looks just like the markings on my page.

Mark, I've got that CD ROM set, but it's just Mad and not the other EC set. I have a friend with the old Russ Cochran reprint sets -- maybe he can track down the page.