Recognizing the Merry and Marvelous Marie Severin!
Born on August 21, 1929, Marie Severin is one of the true multi-faceted treasures of comics, an artist equally adept at delineating humor and high adventure, whose keen eye and innate feel made her one of the industry's preeminent colorists, and whose gift for expressing emotion with a few quick lines led to a three-decade stint as one of Marvel's top artists and designers, working on everything from Doctor Strange to the Muppet Babies.
Marie Severin was born in East Rockaway, New York. Encouraged by her artistically-inclined family, she showed an interest in drawing from an early age. She took a few cartooning and illustration classes while in High School, and after she graduated in 1948, continued to pursue art as a hobby while taking an office job on Wall Street.
At this time, her older brother John had begun working for EC Comics as a penciller and inker, and when the company had need of a colorist, he nominated his sister to fill the role.
Her first published work was in 1949's A Moon, A Girl… Romance #9, and after contributing to some of the publisher's romance and war series, she quickly took over as colorist for their entire line of titles, eventually also becoming responsible for art corrections and various other production duties.
She often used color to focus attention and enhance moods, using swaths of solid tones to showcase specific moments (which was an especially effective technique, given the iffy quality control in color separation and print processes of the era). She remained with the company through 1956, when, following the Senate Subcommittee Hearings, the formation of the Comics Code, and the attendant industry downturn, EC shuttered its comic publishing operations.
Severin was then hired to handle coloring and production work for the Atlas Comics company, but a combination of slumping sales and distribution problems prompted editor Stan Lee to lay off his entire staff of creators. So in 1957, she went to work for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, teaming with her brother on "The Story Of Checks," a promotional comic that explained recent advances in computerization and how the new "routing number" system would improve service and effectiveness. She then took a job with a company that produced educational films, where she remained until 1965.
By this point, Atlas Comics had metamorphosed into Marvel and turned its fortunes around, going from a barely-hanging-on also-ran to an industry giant, with the skills of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other key creators raising the bar and creating a new style of superhero comics. And so, when they offered Severin a spot in coloring and production, she quickly accepted.
In September 1966, Severin provided an illustration for an article in Esquire Magazine, which led first to Lee assigning her a slot pencilling the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales, then to a number of other assignments, including much-loved stints on Tales To Astonish/The Incredible Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and the parodic Not Brand Ecch title.
Her value in various capacities quickly became clear to the company, and she would remain a Marvel employee for most of the next two decades, working variously as a cover designer, inker, penciller, touch-up artist, and colorist.
Severin took on all manner of odd jobs, from licensing art to spot illustrations to in-house ads to storybooks, playing a huge role in determining what "Marvel Comics" meant to a generation of fans. She drew runs on Iron Man, Kull The Conqueror, and The Cat, was one of the key artists for Crazy and Marvel's other humor magazines, and reached a whole new audience as one of the primary architects of the young-readers Spidey Super-Stories title.
In the '80s, she branched out even further, handling a number of Marvel's media adaptations, and working for the Special Projects division, turning out magazines, coloring books, and other tie-in products. In one of her best-remembered roles, she drew a number of Jim Henson-associated projects, including the full runs of of Marvel's Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies comics (as well as a number of comic strips for Henson's independent Muppet Magazine).
Severin remained active in the industry throughout the next two decades, doing occasional work for Marvel and other publishers, pencilling covers for DC's Superman Adventures, becoming a fixture at conventions, and providing new and updated colors for a number of EC reprint projects.
Though she retired following a series of health issues in the mid-2000s, her impact continues to be felt. Her work has been included in exhibitions and retrospectives; she was elected to the Eisner Hall Of Fame in 2001; her stories and imagery have been reprinted endlessly; her career has been celebrated in book form; and her standing as one of the comics industry's pioneering women creators serves as a beacon for all those who have come since.
Marie Severin's love for the medium shines through in every page she touched, and her spirit, humor, and artistry continue to connect with new generations of readers.