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Graphic Novel Friday: John Severin (1921-2012)

I grew up reading Cracked and Mad magazines, hunting in various grocery newsstands for old and new issues and then checking my Velcro wallet for the cash and change to afford my habit. Even if I didn’t understand all of the jokes, I returned again and again for the film parodies--and much of this was due to artist John Severin, who passed away at age 90 last week.

Among his many illustrative talents, Severin excelled at capturing the likenesses of celebrities while adding his flair for caricature. Even when he played it straight, Severin’s characters expressed a herky-jerky sense of movement that suggested a smirk on behalf of the artist behind the pencil. He had ink in just about every mainstream comics publisher--from EC to DC, Marvel to Dark Horse, among others--and he continued to perfect and express his art until his passing; his latest work published only last month in Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, a project written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. It’s worth repeating that he was 90 years old and still producing professional artwork. 

Last weekend, I re-read Lost and Gone Forever--very much a serious horror tale--and marveled at Severin’s ability to blend a Wild West setting with the supernatural. Mignola and Arcudi’s scripts call for Severin to bring to life Native American mythology and Victorian sensibilities, Buffalo-headed heroes and zombie hordes--and Severin excels. The dream sequences reveal themselves as legitimate surprises. Severin masks these scenes as part of the normal narrative until it’s too late for the reader to turn back and realize he or she has been duped. Severin’s work may be a bit sketchier than it was during his Cracked years (a 45-year relationship), but it’s still very much on par with his contemporaries. Much like my first read of Lost and Gone Forever, I could not stop partway through. I read it in one sitting because I had to--Severin, Mignola, and Arcudi? It’s a collaboration that dares the reader to blink, and I do not envy the artist who has to follow with the next Witchfinder installment.

For more on John Severin’s career (he had the awesome middle name of “Powers,” by the way), please see the AV Club, The Beat, and the farewell at The Comics Journal (which also features a hefty interview with the artist). Thank you, Mr. Severin. I wore out my wallet’s Velcro-adhesive with justifiable admiration.

--Alex

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