One of my favorite comic books of all time was Not Brand Echh, a sensational superhero lampoon that Marvel published too few issues of (only 13, from August 1967 to May 1969). If you’ve never seen this Silver Age classic, run to your local back-issue dealer and hunt up a copy right this very minute?I’ll still be here when you return?
? Back already? Wasn’t I right? Isn’t this book delicious? It’s one of the many masterworks to spring from the copious well that is Marie Severin. Besides being John Severin’s little sister, and a mentor to more than one aspiring future pro (Paty Cockrum springs to mind), Marie was a pillar of Marvel’s legendary bullpen. Nevertheless, while every bit as talented as her celebrated brother and contemporaries, Marie is sometimes given short shrift due to her sex?
Er, maybe that didn’t sound right. Let’s try this again:
If Marie Severin had been a man, you’d be saying her name with John Buscema and Gene Colan. You should say it that way from now on.
But Marie’s never been one to play the sympathy card, nor characterize herself as a victim. Usually, she puts on an aw-shucks, self-effacing tone when discussing her work?I’ve heard her do it?but today, when we spoke, she got serious.
“I don’t think I was passed over for a regular series because I was a ‘girl,’ ” she says. “I think it’s because I wasn’t pushy. I wasn’t a fan. I liked comics, but I wasn’t a real fan of any of the characters or the books. Some guys would come in and they’d be really excited about doing this book or that book?they’d sit there with the editors and they’d have a ball talking about the plot, or how many costumed superheroes they could get on a page. I just didn’t get that excited, and I didn’t push. I was happy as long as I was doing fun things, and it was fun because I was doing everything?pencils, inks, colors, logos. I was on staff, so I didn’t need the pressure of a regular book.”
And what about that tendency to praise everyone else’s work and shrug off her own? “Well?” Marie gives a good-natured chuckle. “I guess I was as good as most. But not as good as some. I like my brother’s work and mine the best. I don’t like singling out one or two artists but John Buscema’s was wonderful. And so was Gene Colan’s, and so was?”
Marie was essentially home-trained. “My father taught me,” she says. “He was a really good artist. He’d trained at Pratt Institute, but after World War I there wasn’t much work, so he became an accountant for Elizabeth Arden.” One day, the cosmetics guru who’d discovered “beauty cream” also discovered that her numbers-cruncher was a talented illustrator and brought him in as her personal artist. “My father taught my brother John and I, but my mother could draw, too,” Marie recalls. “That’s where I learned some of the goofy stuff.”
Marie learned more goofy stuff at EC. In the Fifties, she was on staff and worked for Bill Gaines on books like Crime Suspense Stories, Haunt of Fear, Panic, Shock Suspense Stories, and Weird Science-Fantasy. “I worked closely with Harvey Kurtzman and my brother,” she says. “For a long time, I was really Kurtzman’s girl Friday, gathering information for him. I didn’t ink him or do corrections because he didn’t need it, but I picked up his pacing of humor.”
Marie’s Marvel credits began in 1959, just before the “Marvel Age” officially kicked off. “My first superhero work at Marvel was a Dr. Strange story,” she says, then adds jokingly, “They gave it to me right after Ditko left and everybody stopped reading it.” Indeed, Stan Lee put Marie to work on all kinds of things in the midst of Marvel’s refacing of the early Sixties. She handled covers, pencils, inks, coloring?even lettering?basically, everything Stan couldn’t do. Her credits include Captain America, Captain Marvel, Chamber of Darkness, Daredevil, Strange Tales, Sub-Mariner, Tales to Astonish, and X-Men.
But it was Marie’s EC background?her exposure to the old Mad books?that helped launched her sub-career as Marvel’s peerless satirist on Not Brand Ecch! “When I went to Stan,” she recalls, “they were already doing MAD rip-offs, so I fit right in.”
By the Seventies, Marie joined the rotation on Incredible Hulk with her pal Herb Trimpe and her big brother John. But her richest work was doing pencils under John’s inks on Kull, the Conquerer. “Kull was my personal favorite,” she says. “It was a poor man’s Conan but we did a nice job.” Poor man’s nothing. Go out and buy this book, too. It’s sensational. But Kull didn’t last either. “It was a period of superheroes,” Marie explains. “But it was okay?Marvel kept me busy.”
Marie was kept on staff through the 1980s. You can catch her on the cover or interior for: Amazing Adventures, Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Tales, Captain America, The Cat, Conan the Barbarian, Creatures on the Loose, Daredevil, Defenders, Giant-Size Chillers, Giant-Size Hulk, Haunt of Horror, Human Torch, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Ka-Zar…
There’s not a lot of Marie Severin’s work out there these days?she’s been semi-retired for quite some time?but when we do see her work, it sings to us. Her illustrations are certainly among the strongest in god’s 15 minutes (had to get that plug in, friends), and you’ll catch her in The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute. If you’re lucky, you might find Marie at a convention where her warmth and optimism will substantiate the oft-quoted epithet “the Nicest Person in Comics,” which I’m delighted to uphold.
Just wish I’d said it first.
– Clifford Meth
© 2004, Clifford Meth