Lore naturally gravitates toward a great creative talent who enhanced as many lines and lives as did the irrepressible Marie Severin.
Severin, the pioneering Hall of Fame artist who worked in comics for more than a half-century, could readily work in many realms and genres, with an equal flair for tales both straight and funny. Yet one real-life story followed her as emblematic of just how humorous her spirit was – and as part of the reason she was so beloved.
The year was 1970, and the Silver Age had seen Marvel Comics enjoy an unprecedented level of pop success, largely powered by the genius of artist Jack Kirby. But Kirby, said to be fed up with his working arrangement with Marvel editor and collaborator Stan Lee, turned in his last issue of the Fantastic Four and bolted for DC Comics.
Severin, who within the land of Lee’s many staff nicknames had earned the moniker “Mirthful” Marie, could not let the opportunity pass to paint this startling transition in an amusing light.
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Severin found an old cigar butt that perhaps belonged to Kirby, according to legend, tacked it to a sheet of drawing paper and rendered a puff of smoke coming from the last of the stogey. Severin then pinned the fuming art to Marvel’s bullpen wall with a caption that, as industry veterans recollect, blared “I quit!” and “Kirby was here.”
That moment didn’t simply reflect Severin’s famed gift for the rightly timed gag or prank. The sudden transition also symbolized what it took for Severin to be more fully recognized within Marvel’s ranks.
Severin, who died Aug. 29 in Massapequa, New York, at age 89, had first excelled at Marvel as a colorist and layout artist, but Kirby’s departure provided opportunities for her to further put her talents on bold display. Severin was equally skilled as a penciler and inker, and in the next decade would co-create Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew and design her red-and-yellow costume.
“Marie Severin had a list of accomplishments that any comics pro would kill for,” longtime Marvel writer-editor Danny Fingeroth tells The Washington Post. She was a “fantastic artist on both humor and straight superhero stuff (and) a colorist who did breathtaking and groundbreaking work at EC and Marvel.
“Like so many of the old pros at Marvel,” Fingeroth continues, “she was far nicer to me than she had any need to be when I started out there. She was hilariously funny in person and produced an endless array of slyly humorous pieces for insider view only” – including that cartoon Kirby cigar.
Remembering her as both a towering talent and merry jokester, comics publisher and historian Craig Yoe says: “Marie always had a broad smile on her face and was famous for her delightful laughter” – a master artist who wielded brush and pen while remaining a vital social glue.
“Marie Severin was a pioneer in the comic book industry, and her creativity, artistry and humor captured the imagination of fans around the world,” Marvel said in a statement Thursday.
Fortunately, Severin was rightly appreciated during San Diego Comic-Con, where she was inducted into the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame in 2001, and where she received an esteemed Icon Award last year.
Severin, who lived on Long Island for decades, retired in the mid-2000s, her career having spanned the industry’s transition from limited color palettes just after World War II to the rich modern range of digitally created tints.
“Her iconic designs and concepts will continue to inspire artists and creators for years to come,” Marvel said. “The Marvel family mourns her loss, and we send our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.”