Submariner, by Marie Severin
Sub-Mariner

Marie Severin was an American comic book illustrator, production artist and colorist, best known for her contributions to EC Comics and Marvel Comics. She was one of the few colorists of her generation to break out of anonimity, and is rightfully acknowledged for her contributions to the overall look of EC's groundbreaking "New Trend" comic book line and the 1960s and 1970s Marvel comic books. She also goes down in history as one of the few female artists of superhero comics, who has worked on nearly all of Marvel's iconic Silver Age characters. Although preceded by Fran Hopper, Barbara Hall, Jill Elgin and Lily Renée during the 1940s, Severin and Ramona Fradon were the only female pencil artists working in mainstream comics during the so-called Silver Age of Comic Books.

Marie Severin was born in East Rockaway, a village in Nassau County on Long Island, New York, in 1929. Her father was of Norwegian origins, and worked as a newspaper illustrator and designer for the Elizabeth Arden fashion company. Like her older brother John Severin, Marie showed an artistic talent herself, and attended art classes at the Pratt Institute for a short while. She worked as a clerk with a Manhattan-based insurance company for several years, with secret aspirations of becoming a stained glass artist. By 1949 her brother John was a comic book artist for EC Comics, at the time still one of the many companies producing anthology comic books in a wide range of genres. She was brought in to help her brother and his colleagues with the coloring, and her first known credit is a story in issue #9 of 'A Moon, a Girl... Romance' in 1949.


Header illustrations for text stories in Crime SuspenStories #27 and The Haunt of Fear #24

EC rose to more prominence in 1950 when owner Bill Gaines launched the legendary "New Trend" line of comic books. Although still genre-based, the overall quality of EC's comic books improved rapidly under editors Al Feldstein, who oversaw most of the horror, science fiction and crime titles, and Harvey Kurtzman, who took care of the war and humor ones. The stories in these new books were explicit and very cleverly written, while the associated artists got the freedom to develop their own personal style. Another important distinction from other comic books was the extra attention to the coloring, at the time an often overlooked aspect of the production process. Marie Severin was instrumental in establishing the mysterious and gloomy atmosphere, as well as the shock value of the gore and violence, which trademarked all EC stories drawn by house artists such as Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, Wallace Wood, Reed Crandall, Frank Frazetta, Jack Kamen, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, George Evans, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, John Severin, Bill Elder and Bernie Krigstein.

Her moody coloring for the comic book covers furthermore played an important role in the newsstand presence of EC's titles. Marie Severin was also known to be EC's moral compass, or their "Catholic conscience", al Al Feldstein called her. She would often reprimand Gaines and Feldstein when they went too far with regard to the sexual portrayal of women. It is often said that Severin filled entire panels with one single color to tone down gore. She however denied those claims, and stated that a single color just clarified gruesome or highly detailed drawings, which dismemberments tend to require. However, Marie Severin's coloring technique has become classic, and continues to inspire colorists to this day.


Coloring for a Harvey Kurtzman/John Severin story in Frontline Combat #5

Marie Severin contributed to the entire New Trend line, consisting of 'Tales from the Crypt', 'The Vault of Horror', 'The Haunt of Fear', 'Weird Fantasy', 'Weird Science', 'Crime SuspenStories', 'Two-Fisted Tales', 'Frontline Combat', 'Shock SuspenStories', 'Weird Science-Fantasy' and of course the humor titles 'MAD' and 'Panic'. Besides coloring, she also provided illustrations to some of the comic book's filler text stories. With the arrival of the Comics Code, most books came to an end in 1955, although the team continued for a short period with the "New Direction" series. Eventually, the only remaining EC title was MAD, which was turned into a black-and-white magazine in mid 1955. This left Marie Severin without a job. She moved over to do coloring work for Stan Lee's Atlas line at Timely Comics for another two years, but by 1957 the comic book market had collapsed. Marie Severin was subsequently employed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for which she made television graphics on economics, among other things.


Dr. Strange, in Strange Tales #157

In 1959 she returned as a production artist to Atlas, which would soon evolve into Marvel Comics. She became the company's lead colorist, while also contributing an occasional text story or cover illustration. As a production artist, she provided occasional art amendments, additional artwork, retouching and lettering duties. One of her first solo art assignments was a spread that Esquire magazine commissioned on college drug culture. Severin recalled the magazine wanted Jack Kirby, but editor Sol Brodsky put her on the job instead. From 1967 onwards Severin was assigned to more pencil duties, starting with 'Sub-Mariner' stories in 'Tales to Astonish' #87 and #90, and one with 'Kid Colt' in 'Kid Colt Outlaw' #133. Around the same time, Stan Lee let her take over the 'Dr. Strange' feature in 'Strange Tales' from Bill Everett. Severin drew the "Master of the Mystic Arts" from issues #153 through #160. In the June 1967 issue of 'Tales to Astonish' (#92), Severin replaced Gil Kane as the penciller of another major Silver Age character, 'The Incredible Hulk'. She drew the green monster when 'Tales to Astonish' was retitled to 'The Incredible Hulk' in April 1968, and remained the illustrator until issue #108 of October 1968. In 1968 she returned to 'Sub-Mariner', drawing the lead stories in most of that character's comic books until March 1970.


The Incredible Hulk #104

Marie Severin was a regular artist all 13 issues of 'Not Brand Echh' (1969-1970), the humor comic book in which Marvel parodied its own characters. Severin for instance took care of stories starring 'Spidey-Man', 'Sunk-Mariner' and the 'Simple Surfer', which were often written by Gary Friedrich or Roy Thomas. Between 1971 and 1973 Marie Severin (pencils) regularly worked with her brother (inks) on several issues of 'Kull the Conqueror', based on Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery barbarian. In 1970 and 1971 she was also the regular cover artist for 'Daredevil'. At this point, she left most of her coloring work to George Roussos. Now fully focussed on art assignments, she drew the first two issues of Marvel's female superheroine 'The Cat' (1972-1973) from scripts by Linda Fite. The character however lasted only two more issues. She also provided the artwork for the adaptation of Theodore Sturgeon's sci-fi story 'It!' for 'Supernatural Thrillers' #1 in December 1972.


Kull the Conqueror #2

During the 1970s, Severin was mostly associated with Marvel's humor titles. She appeared in all five issues of 'Spoof' (1970-1973), drew covers for 'Aargh!' (1974-1975) and was most notably a mainstay in Crazy, Marvel's answer to MAD Magazine. She was either a penciller or inker in both the comic book (1973) and the magazine (1973-1982) throughout its run, and also served as its art diretor. One of her features in Crazy was 'Teen Hulk' (1980-1981) with writers Larry Hama and Jim Owsley. Another artist for this feature was Bob McLeod.


The Origin of Stuporman (Crazy #3, 1973)

As one of Marvel's production artists, she was furthermore involved in designing the costume of 'Spider-Woman' (1976), and she also graphically created the supervillain 'Doctor Bong' for Steve Gerber's 'Howard the Duck' strip (1976). Prior to this, she had already graphically (co-)created the cosmic entity Living Tribunal (Strange Tales #157, June 1967) and the bizarre 'Doctor Strange' villain Zom (Strange Tales #156, May, 1967). Additional credits include issues of 'Doc Savage' ((#4, 1976, in cooperation with Tony DeZuniga), 'Luke Cage, Power Man' (#35, 1976) and a couple of issues of 'The Spectacular Spider-Man' (1980-1981).


Kung Fooey (Crazy magazine #67, 1980)

In the 1980s, Marie Severin was assigned to Marvel's Special Projects department under Sol Brodsky and John Romita Sr. This division handled any non-comic book licensing job, from toy maquettes to designing movie costumes. One of their projects was developing coloring books and sticker books for the short-lived Marvel Books imprint. The team also set-up comic books which tied in with movie and television franchises. Severin drew the first of three comic books based on the TV series 'The A-Team' (1984), the other issues were drawn by Jim Mooney and Alan Kupperberg, respectively. With Larry Hama, Severin made the 28th issue of the comic book related to Hasbro's 'G.I. Joe' toy-line and its animated TV show. Her main body of work during the 1980s was however pencilling, inking and coloring comic books for Marvel's children's comics imprint Star Comics. These were series based on the TV series 'Fraggle Rock' (8 issues, 1985-1986) and 'Jim Henson's Muppet Babies' (26 issues, 1985-1989 and 6 issues in 1993-1994), both with writer Stan Kay.


Fraggle Rock #8

Her later Marvel work include the third issue of 'Fallen Angels' (1987), another 'Spider-Man' story for the 1991 'Spectacular Spider-Man Annual', more parody in 'What The..?!' (1992), a 'Toxic Crusaders' issue (#7, 1992) and a story with 'Falcon' for 'Marvel Super-Heroes' #12 (1993). She drew a comic book related to the 'X-Men' animated TV series, called 'X-Men: Night of the Sentinels' (1993), and some stories for Spider-Man Magazine (1994). Severin returned to the character of 'Dr. Strange' in 'Midnight Sons Unlimited' #6 (1994) and two issues of 'Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme' (#78 and #79, 1995).


Muppet Babies #7

Later in the 1990s she was present at Marvel's competitor DC Comics with comic stories published in 'The Big Book of Losers' (1997), 'The Big Book of Martyrs' (1997), 'The Big Book of Scandal' (1997), 'The Big Book of Bad' (1998), 'The Big Book of the Weird Wild West' (1998) and 'The Big Book of the '70s' (2000). She also pencilled the 31st issue of 'Soulsearchers and Company' with inker Jim Mooney for Claypool Comics (1998), and then inked Dave Cockrum's pencils for issue #43 (2000).

From the late 1970s throughout the 1990s, Marie Severin furthermore returned to her original dayjob, when she re-colored virtually all the classic EC Comics covers for Russ Cochran's 'Complete E.C. Library' sets. She also did re-coloring work on the retrospective books 'B. Krigstein' (2002) and 'B. Krigstein Comics' (2004) for Fantagraphics Books. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, she also was still working as a colorist on 'Superman Adventures' for DC Comics.


Mary Astor's Little Blue Book (from: The Big Book of Scandals, 1997)

Although her contributions were often overlooked or anonymous, Marie Severin has left a lasting mark on the comic book industry with her production work. She described the colors in comic books as background music, which "gives that little oomph to it." Her talent for drawing expressive and detailed faces was often used for retouching and fill-in work, and also her regular pencil work could be ranked among that of Marvel's top artists, as it showed a great focus on the human aspect and her humor. Because of her unique position within the all-male comic book industry, Severin appeared several times in panels as a spokesperson for the role of women in the comic books. Her outstanding work has earned her numerous awards, starting with the 1971 Shazam Award for Best Penciller for her humor work for Crazy. She later won an Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic Con in 1988, followed by the Comic-Con International's Icon Award in 2017. Severin was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2001. Twomorrows Publishing released a tribute/retrospective book under the title 'Marie Severin, The Mirthful Mistress of Comics' (2012), compiled by Dewey Cassell. The title referred to the nickname Stan Lee gave her because of her sense of humor and the many caricatures she made of her colleagues: Mirthful Marie.

Marie Severin passed away after a stroke on 30 August 2018. At age 89, she was the last surviving member of the core EC crew.

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