TCJ ARCHIVE

An Interview with Marie Severin

Marie Severin's self-portrait on a 1954 postcard to an EC fan. Printed in Squa Tront #13. ©1954 Marie Severin.

This interview was originally published in The Comics Journal Library Volume 10: The EC Artists, Part 2.

STEVEN RINGGENBERG: It’s Oct. 23, 1986, and I’m here at Marie Severin’s house in Bayridge, Brooklyn. I guess a logical place to start is: Marie, how did you get into comics in the first place?

MARIE SEVERIN: My brother.

Oh, was John working for EC first, and then you got a job with Bill?

Yes, they needed a colorist, sort of like a Girl Friday, and I did stuff like that, but mostly I was the colorist there and did some odd jobs.

What kind of training had you had to be a colorist?

I think right at the house, I started right in. We all drew. The whole family drew.

Did you have a big family? How many kids besides you and John?

Just John and I, but my father drew and my mother designed all the clothes. It’s very hard for a young artist today, I imagine, when all of a sudden he wants to do comics and everybody says, “Wow!” I didn’t grow up wanting to do comics, I just wanted to draw. But a lot of young people today have no outlet for it and comics, even today, is an outlet. Years ago, a lot of the guys that wanted to do comics were people, like Kirby, who couldn’t get enough work or there weren’t enough magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Bluebook and Redbook, that used to have all these black-and-white drawings. Amazing Stories, all that stuff had petered out, too. TV was coming in even before then, and I think that’s why a lot of them got into comics; there was no place to go, and there was steady work if you were good. It was rolling. And when the war came along it had made a mark on a few guys that were young enough to hang in there, like Stan Lee, who wasn’t quite old enough to be in the throes of it, made his niche. He did serve, but he was young enough before all the other guys got out, to my knowledge anyway.

So, when did you join the EC staff as the colorist?

I know I was there when Mad started. Oh, I think I started when Two-Fisted Tales started [1950]. And then I started doing some other coloring, because in a lot of the early issues I didn’t do the color in Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror. Today when we reprint them I just go over them. I don’t want to change them too much because real collectors notice the changes. I didn’t understand that with some of the covers I was doing; I was trying to improve them. [Laughs.] And it was always with some of the real early ones that I had to change a fraction, because one of the reasons they needed someone at EC was that they were just a small outfit and there were some covers in the beginning that they sent to Chemical to do the coloring. In the old days, they would send it to the printer to do that, and they wanted to control more of it, because they really enjoyed what they were doing. They were having fun as well as earning money.

From “Restaurant!” in Mad #16. Art by Bill Elder, colored by Severin.

Was that Bill Gaines’s decision, to do that, color everything in-house?

I don’t know. I know Harvey would want it that way. And John said, “What about my sister? She’s not that dumb!” [Laughs.]

So, they brought me in and of course John would tell me all the uniforms and everything like that and then I would just use common sense, but I was drawing a bit myself. My father had a wonderful color sense, and so did my mother. Growing up you don’t realize you’re being trained at home. And they don’ t realize that they’re even doing it. [Baby talk] “I see Mommie.” And they say, “What would be nice instead of a purple sun?” [Laughs] No, you know what I mean. It’s a slow process, but you’re getting support. I said earlier about young artists today, if you are low on delivery and want to be an artist and Mom and Dad want you to go to law school, it’s hard, because they don’t believe you can make a good 1iving. I just took it for granted that’s what one did in this house so I did.

Did you have much formal art training?

No, not much. I went to Pratt for one day and I thought, “I have to stay here for four years? I want to earn some money!” [Laughs.] And I should have, because it would have accelerated my career with formal art training. But I didn’t want that at the time.

How old were you when you started working for EC?

About eight. No. [Laughter.] I must have been in my early 20s.

Were you older than Al Williamson? [Laughs.]

I think I am.

Al was only 21 when he started working for them.

I don’t want to say I felt older than Al, don’t dare print that. But I might be, I might be. I don’t know how old he is now. And we’re not going to go any further into that. [Laughter.] No, I think I might be a year or two older, but I’m not sure, because we didn’t see the freelancers all the time. When they’d come in, I wasn’t quite sure who was doing what.

Besides Bill and Al Feldstein, who else was in the offices all the time?

Mr. Lee.

The business manager?

Yes. And a friend of Bill’s, some gal, came in, Ruby Kast. She would help out and then later, the gal that Bill married. I don’t know whether she was a friend of Ruby, but she came in and she became the secretary. Then sometimes they would have guys in the stockroom just to move stuff around. I think they had one or two black girls that were a receptionist and typist. The main thing is, subscriptions and mail were coming in and the guys couldn’t handle it. They had to get gals in to handle some of the stuff. Just to send out those flyers they had and type up subscription stuff.

So, it was basically a pretty small operation.

Little, little dinky office, yeah.

What was it like working for Bill in the early days?

Fun.

Yeah? Was he a fun boss?

Yeah, yeah.

When you say fun what do you mean? It was just relaxed and easy going, everybody liked each other?

Yeah, you felt like you could do your work without somebody standing over you, not that I had had that anyplace else, because it was the first time I worked doing a lot. But it was a nice atmosphere and you weren’t afraid to go to the boss. You felt like you could talk to these people. Even though when they said something, you would do what you were told. But, you had a good rapport. They liked what they were doing.

How did you color the art in the old days, before they had the blueline process that they have now?

Oh, I don’t do blueline. You mean just the comic stuff?

When you were coloring for EC how would you do it?

Same like I do now. You can absolutely not know anything about the color process, old, new or indifferent and, nine times out of 10 if it looks good, and if it’s interpreted by somebody who’s halfway decent in the color separation, it’s going to come out OK. It might look better if he knew some of the problems with certain tones of color. But if a color cover looks almost identical to the final version that you see printed, you think, “Hey this is a good cover.” Look at the color version. Usually, the color version is as strong. Sometimes they’ll pick on the inside a variation of the tone next to another tone, next to another tone. And now you might have heard of the color plates and the machines falling apart.

I heard that the presses at World Color are dying.

Yeah. And it’s a shame because it would cost 20 times what they originally cost to replace them. So we’re all trying to adjust to the new tones and the new process.

To go back to EC, when you were coloring in the old days, were you using Dr. Martin’s dyes?

That’s what they told me to use, so I got the whole Dr. Martin set. It was trial and error. I really liked doing it. It was so weird. It was funny: You’d read the story and think “Wow!” I mean, I always thought of myself as an artist, but I enjoyed coloring, because I still feel today that coloring is the last stage of storytelling. And it’s very important. It really is. Some artists need color desperately. With some artists, it doesn’t matter. Guys like Kirby hardly need color in some instances. In others it makes it sing. With guys like Jack Davis, the blacks are all there, so you can color almost anything and it’ s still going to stand out. With guys like Wood, you had to be very careful. It was a pain in the neck to color, but it would come out. Some of the stories would be better than anybody else’s. But if you took a little care and figured out exactly what should be brought out, the techniques were there. With guys like Severin, his stuff could stand alone in black and white, as many of them could. Like this page here, from the new EC book coming out. It could stand alone, but how rich it’s going to look when I get in there with some midnight shades and things!

Would John ever come in and look over your shoulder when you were doing one of his jobs?

No. On the first job I had, he pestered the life out of me. The first job I did for EC I was scared stiff. And he said, “What ya doin’ that for? I don’t know whether you should do that or not.” But I remember it was the first time. Then he left me alone, and he never bothered me again. I would get into him and say, “Would you please look at this and tell me.” This was before he was married. He was living at home then. But, no, he was OK.

Thinking back on the EC period, who were the artists you liked best to color? I’m not asking you to name favorites, but who did you find the most interesting? And challenging?

Oh. The most challenging ones were Woody and Krigstein.

Why?

For two different reasons. With Krigstein you knew that there was a distinct design and plan in mind. And I didn’t color many of his. I think he colored his own. On some of it, like that one with the Nazi in the subway …

“Master Race.” I know on that story Krigstein chopped up the boards and spread out the word balloons so he could pace the storytelling according to his own instincts.

Yeah, right. I would only see the artwork at the tail end. I wasn’t involved in any of the black-and-white stuff at all. See, now some of the artwork is touched up in the ‘80s. We touched up art when I was on staff at Marvel. In those days, we had tremendous respect. And also we’d come in and that was it, unless there was something very, very wrong. You came in and that was it. Everybody was saying, “Oh, wonderful!” Woody was very satisfying, but you would sweat over his artwork.

Krigstein colored his own work for “Master Race” in Impact #1.

Was he hard because of the delicacy of some of the figures?

Yes. I remember he did one on Tecumseh. And, Woody was very much like Kirby in that in one panel he would have three belts on a character and in the next panel he would have one belt on. Then it was across the other shoulder but you were looking at all this other glamorous stuff he was doing, so it didn’t bother you if the guy’s straps were all mixed up and he had a different gun. And of course, it wasn’t that important to Woody’s method of storytelling. But on somebody else’s method of storytelling, I’m more this way myself and so is John I believe. And I’ve never seen John mix anything up.

As far as his costuming details?

Yeah. I mean he’s so involved with that person, he’s that person, then he’s that dog, then he’s that archway; he never forgets what he’s doing. He’s building it.

Does John take a meticulous approach to what he’s doing?

I guess so.

I mean compared to other people.

Oh, gee, today? Look at guys like Bernie Wrightson. I was just looking at his Frankenstein book. I’ve got it. I’ve got to start throwing comic books out. And I’m saying “I can’t throw this away! Wonderful!” There’s so many today. ... A lot of them think they are. But, they’ll learn. Some guys start out picky. John started out picky. [Laughs.] He liked to have his weapons and all his boats and his tanks and everything just the way it was. He’s an illustrator.

So he didn’t mind Harvey’s nit-picky attention to military detail.

No. That wouldn’t bother him.

Do you think working for EC spoiled you? Because you were working with such a great staff?

It trained me. But also, I think I was a type of personality who wanted to do that kind of work anyway.

When you were coloring for EC, what was your average output per day for coloring?

Well, I didn’t color every day. I had to color a story overnight. We’d get it and it had to be proofread and all that stuff. I’m pretty fast when I’m into it, when I know what I’m doing. I’m very fast, I concentrate. I don’t know about the books today; there’s a lot of ittle tiny little panels, but I have colored a whole book overnight. Of course, I am absolutely a basket case come 4 o’clock in the morning, but if it has to be done, in a lot of cases, I can do it. I don’t like it. [Laughs.] You’re like this, and your hands are all full of color.

Have you found that tendon on your finger gets kind of cramped up?

Your hands are awful-looking, because when you’re working that fast ... And I use a couple of palettes. I have to color out here at this big table, because I can’t do it in a little room. And I put on a big plastic table cloth, and it’s changing about four bowls of water. I’m goin’ and I have what I know after all of 30 years. I start mixing all the colors dit-dit-dit, then I have all my funny colors that aren’t in the bottle. And I use a rag to clean the brush and I go through about four rags on a book.

Do you wind up with multi-colored hands by the end of the night?

Yeah. The only way I can get my hands clean is to wash my hair and do the dishes the same night. Do dishes first, then wash your hair [Laughs.]. With all that soap, it gets off.

Is Dr. Martin’s pretty persistent on skin?

Some colors. It depends on the chemistry of the different colors. Your magentas and stuff, they never come off. It goes through the floor, through the wood, through the pipes down to the basement [Laughs.]. And yet a couple of your oranges aren’t so bad. But some of those reds and dark blues are bad. Bad news.

Were you coloring the entire EC line once you got the job?

Yeah. Not the stuff before then, which was some of the Vault of Horror material. The earlier books. Anything before Two-Fisted Tales. No, the first thing I colored was a war story or something, I think.

How was Harvey to work with as an editor?

Fine. I mean he knew what he wanted. When he laid out these Mad stories he knew exactly what he wanted. When it came to color ... he’s got a marvelous color sense. But I think he instilled in me that I could be an individual, with the coloring. I think it’s because he figured he didn’t have time to go over my work. He did everything else, you know. But he was still appreciative to me and that’s all I really wanted. And you could talk to him.

I’ve seen some of Harvey’s watercolor studies for the covers. Would he give you those as color guides?

He did his own covers.

What about on Mad? Did he color those covers too?

Now I might have interpreted, but I don’t remember. I think he did every one of them. I might have helped out with some production or something, but it’s all Harvey.

Now, before we had the tape on, you told me that, quite often on Piracy, Krigstein would color his own covers.

Yes. You know, when I don’t color something I can’t remember it, of course. John Benson had asked me about a Piracy cover with the sun on it and I didn’t know what he was talking about. So, we talked about it and I said, “Oh, I know how he did that. He must have red-lined the sun.” Now I may have done it ... This was the cover you saw for that.

Right.

I vaguely remember this. I do remember this too, but I’m sure this was all Krigstein and how he did this is he redlined the ocean here and the bubbles ...

What is red-lining?

OK. You take your black-and-white art. And everything on here is black and white like those, the bubbles of the sea. It’s all outlined in red instead of black. Like Woody’s cover here. There’s a redline in there. There were probably redlines there. See, some of them weren’t taken out. See one right there?

Yeah. Okay.

Now. Red photographs black. OK, here’s Piracy #6. There’s a big sun, and you have the guy in the boat and then you have all the variation on the bottom of the different greens. Now, what we did back in the old days, is: The art work is sent out. It’s a very simple process. Anything you want is possible: blending or a change of color. If you want a dark green, even a little bit of red to run through the green, if you want a white top of the waves there, you put in all the lines that would separate those colors. You put it in for dark there and you’d have a line up on the top and you’d use the very light green. And then maybe a little line indicating where that darker shade goes. And then an outline for where this white is. All of that would be inked with red ink. And then the black and white is done with black ink.

Now the printer gets it and on the bottom you write, “Route out after shooting, redlines.” He has also received a photostat, or a colored silver-print. It’s black-and-white art and he gets a color guide. What I do is usually white-out those lines. I take ‘em out but you can color all the lines in with your black on it on your color guide. After his color separator separates the colors and they see all the lines there because it’s on their plate, they make all their things on it. When the plates are made, those lines are routed out on the black plate but the colors are still there, just up to where you want them. Just where you want them to stop on the horizon. You can have a blue running right up into a red and there’s no problem. There’s no overlap, because they had what we called a holding line, which is done with the blackline. But they could blot out the redline on the plate. So that’s how it’s done. The same here would be bubbles and foam in the water. He outlines each bubble in the ragged line showing the different color. When the artwork comes back, those redlines are still on the artwork but they don’t exist on the plate.

They’re just guidelines. We do it in the comics now, but a lot of times now with these fantastic explosions and people who turn into sunspots and stuff like that, we will have an overlay, and they’ll draw right on the overlay. They’ll have register marks on the pages. And they’ll draw the whole figure on the overlay. Say he’s going to be yellow. And then for the red flame in that yellow, they’ll do another overlay and right where you want that you can draw in the flame. And that overlay is photographed to be superimposed into whatever plate you designated, like that drawing for the yellow plate is put on the yellow plate, after the color-separators do their thing. That’s how you get the lines. You can do anything with all this fancy stuff they have with the blue lines. There’s no holding line or anything else. You just paint on different levels. You can paste things on it [Laughs.]. Three-dimensional practically, only it’ll all photograph. But this is the cheap way ... comics are still the cheapest ... not cheap any more, but it is still the cheapest form of printing right now and that’s why the style of comics is unusual and why they’re not that easy to do. But the earlier comics were done in that crude style, and I don’t think it was because the artist didn’t know how to draw; it was the cheapest way to print them. These guys were making $10 a page. These were old, I don’t know about Plastic Man, but that era of ...

Piracy #6 (1954) contains coloring by Severin. The cover art contains red-lining.

Superheroes.

Yeah, the old stuff, the detectives and such. It was done because it was printed so cheaply and wouldn’t be worth it for a guy to spend four hours on something that he’s getting $10 for.

The guys for the syndicates, like Hal Foster, were paid well enough that they could afford to put in the time.

And here came comics that were much like some of the old illustrations in children’s books. And some of the stuff may not be quite accurate but it was detailed and moody and they tried to tell a story.

There’s one Piracy cover that Reed Crandell did that’s a direct swipe from a Wyeth painting.

I know and when I first saw that I said, “Gee! Isn’t he great! Isn’t that wonderful! Boy that looks familiar.” [Laughter.] I’d seen it when I was a kid because we always had storybooks. And two of my brother’s and father’s heroes were Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth.

Was that a Pyle or a Wyeth? I thought it was Wyeth.

Wyeth: Treasure Island, he did all of those, and Robin Hood, too. I think I have the book, I’m not sure. You know what happened? I have so many books I’ve got to start throwing them out. My bookcase started to cave in. I pulled a book out and I heard [makes creaking noise] and I looked and the wedges were like giving in by a quarter of an inch. I go, “Holy Jesus look at you.” So I’m gingerly stacking them. Well, after all these years you start, bulging at the seams.

Piracy #2 (1954) contains lettering and coloring by Severin. The cover is Reed Crandall's N.C. Wyeth homage.

I think with anybody who collects anything after a while it just becomes a matter of “where do I put the next thing?”

You need a barn.

Yeah. Marie, it seems the new coloring, like the blueline, is capable of tremendous subtlety. But looking back at a way a lot of the old comics were printed, like some of these old Piracy covers, there seems to be a richness there using the metal plates that they can’t capture in most comics now.

Well, some things look better because that’s the first thing you saw, and some things have a richness of their own that is unique. I know what you mean. It’s like old furniture. You do something in that style. It’s a matter of taste in so many ways. Just like everything else, we have so much. Everything is 10 times fancier, 10 times glitzier, and it’s very difficult for somebody, when you have all this glitz around, to get simple again. But the talent is here today, definitely here today, but they look different, just like etchings are different. I have no problem with that. I like the storytelling in using this color process. I think it is what it is, and the limitations can be handled easier in the old-fashioned, simpler process. The limitations you have when you get into the new, glitzy books are more because what you’re trying to do is you’re competing with laser shows and Spielberg movies. And you’re dealing with a flat surface. And because you’re working in two dimensions, it places a tremendous tax on the artist, because the kids today are more sophisticated. When I was a kid I didn’t know what the heck a laser was; I was very happy with Buck Rogers spaceships even if all the sparks fell down. I thought, “This is wonderful!”

And there’s a quality to all those old science-fiction books that’s OK, but today it’s harder for the artist because they’re competing with other media even more than we were. We were just competing with some movies, but we had color then. The stories today and then were so much better than what’s on TV. In the old days, everything was two yellows and usually 100-percent yellow. That’s why in the EC reprints I have to tone them down because they’re on this better paper. See the difference is this paper is a better quality than this paper. And when you get back to the old EC books they were on like Kleenex, a step above Kleenex.

But see some of these blues look almost too blue, but I’m afraid to put any red in there because a guy like Orlando or Wood, their lines are rather thin and I don’t want anything to be blotted out. Isn’t this a beautiful story?

Oh, one of my favorite Krigsteins, “The Flying Machine.” On the coloring on this, did you follow your original colors?

I don’t know. I remember having a lot of trouble with this and I don’t know whether it was because I was given a coloring guide to follow or instructions to follow, and it was very tedious but wanted to get it right. And it came out good and I can’t remember whether it was because of Bernie’s instructions, if he gave me any, or if I had to make my decisions and I was sweating over it. You know, with working with people like Krigstein, you’re almost intruding on another ... it’s like painting another man’s painting. Sometimes I felt like, “God, this guy knows what he wants and here I am putting my big foot in it.” [Laughs.] ’Cause I wouldn’t want anybody to touch my stuff. If I liked it, I’d be furious. And yet, “It’s just a comic book, Marie” you keep telling yourself but, well, it is a little bit more than a comic book. It is fun.

For most of the guys at EC, their work was better than just a regular comic book. They were real artists.

Yeah. Yeah. And they appreciate this stuff I used to love to use like interesting vermillion colors, the pale yellow with the blues and stuff. And little pinks. It made each panel like it was really in there, bubbling and moody and stuff.

From “The Flying Machine” in Weird Science-Fantasy #23. Adapted from Ray Bradbury’s story by Al Feldstein, drawn by Bernie Krigstein and colored by Marie Severin.

Did Williamson’s delicate inking make him harder to color than other people?

With great care and delicacy because, like I said before, you wouldn’t want to use, especially when they would throw in Craftint, you had to use flat colors on it. It might cause what they call a moiré. But yeah, I didn’t want to lose any of this so I didn’t want to put like, a heavy screen, or browns or anything. You wouldn’t be able to see a darn thing. But also, it’s underwater and you can see everything. His stuff always looked great with a pale yellow on it ’cause you could see it, all this nice pen work. But I had to be very careful with him.

Was Al pretty demanding?

No. I didn’t want him to commit suicide because … You know what we did to him one time? Because I’m bad like that, I had this disappearing ink. You know in those days we did dopy things. You wore glasses with eyes. And Al Williamson would come in with his artwork like it was his child. I mean he killed himself on it. He was young and enthusiastic. It was wonderful. Great stuff. He brought it in and I was out to get him. So, Al Feldstein said something to me. We had it all planned and I threw it on his shirt and I said, “Don’t you talk to me like that!” 

He said, “Are you crazy?!” Everybody wore white shirts in those days, everybody. And I walked out of the room.

And Bill is going, “Ah hahahah.” [Laughter.]

And Al is saying, “She’s crazy, she’s lost her mind.” As he’s talking it’s disappearing. And Bill is going, “Ah ha ha ha ha,” and it was still wet. When he looked down it was gone.

So when Williamson came in, they got his work and Al went, “Oops, oh my God!”

And Williamson went “Oh! Oh! [Laughter] You’ve killed my child!”

Did Al laugh when he realized that his art wasn’t hurt?

Oh yeah, but it took him 10 minutes, ’cause he was ready for an ambulance. ’Cause any of these guys, they really worked. Everybody worked hard on their stuff but Al especially. He was the baby and he brought in his stuff late. Very late. [Laughs.]

I heard he never made deadlines.

Late. [Laughs] And he was always having ...

Frazetta and Krenkel.

Frazetta and Krenkel. Poor Krenkel. He’d have him do all these elaborate castles and things. And they’d all work on it. And be late. [Laughs.] But it was worth it. They liked it.

Two weeks ago, I interviewed Angelo Torres and so I was getting his perspective on all those jam-jobs they did. He said it was very casual. They’d be over at Al’s house schmoozing and Frazetta would drop by and they’d go, “Frank, ink a head here,” and Frank would ink a head. Krenkel would be doing a city or something that would take him longer to ink than the rest of the page.

Yeah, yeah.

That sounded fun.

Yeah. Well, the guys at Neal Adams’ studio, I think there’s a lot of that. You know, updated but, I don’t think there’s many studios now that I know of.

Not as many really. When did you stop coloring for EC? Around ’55?

When I went to Timely, ’cause they had gone into the New Direction books. And there really wasn’t going to be that much work anyway. So I went over to Stan Lee.

Just as a matter of economic necessity?

Sure.

Had you known Stan before?

No. My brother was there. I followed my brother everywhere. I owe him everything. [Laughs.]

Did John take good care of you?

No. [Laughs] “Is that kid sister of yours still hanging around out there?”

“Give me a job! I need to work!”

Well Marie, you’ve been described as the conscience of EC. It’s been said that if you found something that you considered in bad taste in a panel that you would color that panel bright blue.

Yeah, but usually you could see it better.

Really?

You had to tone it down. I mean some of them, eyeballs and things ... But it was more like I didn’t want us to get in trouble. Listen, when it comes to horror, I can do better horror than most anybody. ’Cause there’s two sides to a coin. [Laughs.] No, I did that, yes. Mostly out of pure sheer terror that we would be arrested and sent up to Kefauver to have our fingers smashed or something. [Laughs.]

Did any of that offend you personally? Some of the disemboweled corpses. Or things like that?

No. I thought it was kind of icky. But then I could think of a couple myself.

Well, sometimes when someone like George Evans would draw it, it would be so totally realistic, it would be completely nauseating.

Yeah, but it was so bad, it was funny.

That is true. There was a real strong element of black humor.

Yeah, and I don’t think it harmed anybody. Unless they were sick to begin with.

What about that Jack Davis story, “Foul Play!,” with the baseball player, where they tore the fellow apart and played ball with his limbs?

That was when that joke was going around, you know, about the kid who was second base, all that stuff.

Oh, right. “Mrs. Jones, can Johnny come out and play? We know he has no arms or legs; we want to use him for third base!” Stuff like that?

Yeah. And Davis is one of those gentle-people.

I met him. He’s a great guy. What a sweetheart.

And he was terrified, too.

He said of the work he did, he liked doing the war stuff more than the horror.

Oh sure. Well they all did. The horror was difficult because it’s not really fun.

It’s kind of creepy, I guess.

Yeah. It’s one thing to tell a joke about it, but it’s another thing to spend your whole day doing a mass-murder and dismembering scene and, you know, it’s not exactly uplifting.

Was it more fun to be coloring Mad?

Yeah. Although I did like the war books and I loved the science-fiction stuff.

Severin most liked working on science-fiction stories like this adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Home to Stay” by writer Al Feldstein and penciller Wally Wood in Weird Fantasy #13. Colored by Severin.

Do you read a lot of science fiction?

No. I read everything there was and now nothing new anymore. It’s all been done.

So it seems.

Yeah, once in a while, I’ll watch something or see a movie or something, but most of the plots, I can tell the ending. It’s awful. I can’t believe that everybody wasn’t all that excited when they landed on the moon. What happened there? People were just not running around like I was, saying, “We’re on the moon!”

I think the first moon landing, there was a great deal of excitement. But with subsequent landings, it was sort of, “OK, we did this, now what?” People got blasé.

Very.

OK, why don’t you explain a little bit about exactly how you colored the ECs.

Exactly how I colored them? I would get the silver prints — they weren’t photostats then — I don’t know what the heck silver prints are really. Chemical. We used to send the artwork up and they’d send it down. They weren’t photostat houses or copy machines the way there were later.

Boy, I bet Xerox really revolutionized the comics

Oh yeah. And this overnight mail and stuff [snaps her fingers], you can double your income, because you send in and you get back within days. Bing-bing-bing. You used to have to wait three, four days, and it could get lost in the mail.

I would use the regular watercolors. And I would just color exactly the way I do today. When you’re tied into specific costumes or coloring like in superheroes, you have to do the costumes first, because it has to complement the background.

Where does Bill store all of that artwork?

I don’t know. I know some of it is at, I think, at the office. But I think he also used to have stuff in a vault someplace. But knowing Bill, he guards it well.

What I’ve heard is: Once he sends the artwork off to Russ, to shoot it, that he’s been selling it off. After all these years.

I heard something about that, yes. I’m not sure because I wasn’t an artist, I didn’t do any of the pages. I think he offered it to the artists if they wanted it. To buy it, or what have you.

Yeah, I think he did. I’ve talked to Al Williamson about it. I think Gaines is offering it for like a hundred a page or something. I’m not sure that’s exactly accurate.

I don’t know either.

But, that’s interesting.

Yeah, well. It is Bill’s. Do you know that he has always given us royalties on any of the deals that he worked out?

That’s right. I remember hearing you quoted somewhere in some interview that, every once in a while, Bill Gaines would come up to you and hand you money and you’d go, “What’s this for?”

And Bill would say, “It’s for such and such.”

“I don’t want it! What is this? I didn’t do it! Don’t hand me money in front of people!” [Laughs.]

What? He sent you royalties on this stuff?

Yeah. Some sort of movie deals or what have you. He’s very generous, an unusual man. A businessman and yet very generous and fair.

Who ever heard of a businessman with any compassion? And yet I’ve never heard ...

That’s one thing he’s spoiled me at. [Laughs.] I was trained by Kurtzman but I was spoiled by Bill. He’s like a big Uncle Binky. That’s what I used to call him.

Were you sad to leave EC when you had to go?

No, not really. The books weren’t going to be there.

The other people on the EC staff?

No, not that much. I mean ... Jeez, I’m trying to think. I went to a couple of parties, and Al Williamson and I used to see each other once in a while, movies and stuff like that. They’d have gatherings at Woody’s house or I remember going to Al’s a couple of times. But, no, I didn’t socialize that much.

Did they treat you like just one of the guys?

They were nice, they didn’t tease or anything and also there weren’t that many people in the office. I would see the guys when they delivered their work. Maybe we’d go out to lunch or something like that.

What was Graham Ingels like in those days? He was kind of retreatish.

I had a big crush on him.

Really? Was he good looking?

I thought so. He looked like a short Joel McCrea to me. Oh, I thought he was great. And an excellent painter. Oh, the paintings. Have you seen the paintings that Bill has that he did of the Old Witch and something else. Bill has the guys ...

Yeah, I have. That was reprinted on the cover of a fanzine. That is lovely. He was a great painter. I heard that’s what he’s doing now in Florida. He’s teaching painting.

I would love to see him but I have no idea ... Gaines is the only one who’s in touch with him. I guess he’s just in touch through Ingel’s lawyer or something. Apparently, he just wants to put that whole period out of his head.

Yeah, well I understand that Krigstein totally repudiates his comics work now and just concentrates on his fine art.

Well, that’s fine. They shouldn’t be ashamed of it, but ....

Krigstein does some fine work, comics or no. It was good work.

Oh yeah. I have great respect for Krigstein. He should have done more, he was a good storyteller. You know, it’s movies. A lot of these guys were so close to the period when movies were every man’s entertainment. And there wasn’t anything at home. So, I think so many of the good ones of the past were so influenced by the simple methods of storytelling, which are the best, in my opinion. You don’t have to have all the special effects. Star Wars is wonderful, they’re all great, but the basic story has to be there. And I think the movie techniques and so forth were embedded in our minds and it wasn’t diffused with anything else. There wasn’t all these shows and stuff that were so fancy, which they have today. I have nothing against them, but I’m saying, for comic work, the old movie was excellent training ground. And TV can’t do it because of interruptions. You lose so much continuity and development, because you cram in a whole novel in half an hour.

Let’s go back to the EC days just for a minute. I’d like to get your impressions on one or two of the staffers. Reed Crandall, what was he like in the old days?

I didn’t see that much of Reed.

Well, he didn’t work for EC that long.

Yeah. I saw him and the big impression I had was a funny-shaped head. But I didn’t know him that well at all. He would come in, he was very pleasant. They all did portraits, and he was very nice, he gave me one. I used to have them all framed and then I let somebody copy them and I have them loose now. But I want to get them framed again. Little black-and-white drawings of each.

Everybody did little caricatures of themselves?

Yeah. And I hung them in my office. It was nice.

I remember seeing a set of caricatures of the EC staff that you did.

Oh those. Yeah, that was a Christmas party we had and I did, overnight I did them all. The night before the party.

I remember the one of Graham Ingels, he’s sitting there sipping out of a glass of blood with eyeballs floating in it and he’s eating a sandwich that has a foot sticking out of it.

When I do these things, I forget them until I see them. But, yeah, I remember I was so surprised when that book came out. And of course, the one I did of my brother was him with the military set. It was the only thing I could think of that was John, and everybody remembered from that the politics.

Severin’s sketch of Graham Ingels at the 1952 EC Christmas party. Printed in Grant Geissman’s Foul Play!

That’s right you have John coming in bulging the doorway, saying “Did someone mention Communism?!”

[Laughs.] When he would come, that was the time of all that nonsense going on. 

All the McCarthyism ...

Unfortunately, when that book came out, a lot of the guys remembered the arguments and said, “Well that’s right. John was always militaristic.” And he likes military stuff but no more or less than most guys in the business.

What was Woody like?

I liked Woody. He was soft-spoken. And I think he had a marvelous sense of humor. But he, too, I didn’t know him ... He was quiet, I think. But a holy terror when he was with his peers, you know what I mean? He was funny. The stories I’ve heard, like the time they called up to say Woody was dead? You ever hear that story? They convinced … What’s that publisher? Warren.

Oh, Jim Warren. They convinced him that Wally Wood was dead?

They enacted it on the phone.

I haven’t heard this story.

They enacted it on the phone. They had the cops coming over — “My God!” — and smashing windows. “Yuh gotta help me, yuh gotta help me.” And they did all the acting. And Warren almost had a heart attack. Bad guys. Bad guys.

George Evans. What about him?

He was nice. George was a real … They were all gentlemen with me. He loved airplanes and had a good sense of humor. And beautiful eyes. He had beautiful eyes.

What’s your strongest memory of Al Feldstein? What sticks in your mind when you think of Feldstein?

A worker. He works so hard. He had a good sense of humor, but he’s a real worker. He was writing all those books. All I saw of him was over a typewriter. Or sitting with Bill. They had an excellent rapport.

Yeah. Feldstein had to write a story a day for years. Like four years.

I don’t know of anybody except maybe Stan Lee … No, I don’t even think he could do a story a day, because he had to work in the office. Maybe he did. Stan was very fast. But Al was always, and so you never wanted to interrupt him. You had to respect the guy. He was droning out all these books. It was fantastic.

That’s pretty amazing. How about Johnny Craig?

Oh, a doll. A real doll. And so talented.

I’ve heard that Craig was an extremely meticulous worker.

I’m sloppy, you know.

That he was very fussy about keeping his penpoints clean and everything.

Yes. We all teased him about that. Neat in clothing, neat in everything. He was a slow worker, but beautiful stuff. Very nice.

What a draftsman.

Yeah.

Do you still see any of these fellows besides Bill Gaines?

Oh, I saw Johnny Craig about, oh, I don’t know, six, 10 years ago. I think he was up at yeah, he was up at Marvel or he passed by and dropped in. I’ve seen Bill. I talk to Bill quite often on the phone. And I exchange cards sometimes. Williamson, I’ve seen, because he’s been up at Marvel.

Al’s a pretty friendly guy. It seems like he’s taken the effort to stay in touch with a lot of people.

Yes, yes. Yeah, well he goes to the conventions too.

Jack Kamen I saw at the last EC thing they had a couple of years ago.

Oh, the Dimension Convention?

Was that it? Yeah.

Jack Kamen. Now that’s someone who wasn’t a big favorite with a lot of the EC fans. What was Jack like?

He was a guy. A New Yorker commercial artist that happened to be at EC and he did very competent work.

He had a reputation as a joker, didn’t he?

Yeah. He was a wise guy. They were all wise guys, but he was a real New Yorker type. It was funny. Nice guy.

Was Harvey funny to work around or was he pretty serious about the work?

Well, Harvey in those days, he had a shyness about him.

Sort of a reserve?

A little bit but I think he’s probably gotten over that now. What with the work he’s been doing over the years, he’s matured, adult. He was, I thought, a little shy. Funny. I think there was an imp in him that I recognized and I liked a lot. That impishness, that’s in there. But he kept it back because he was vulnerable with being an imp. Imps are vulnerable; they get stepped on a lot. [Laughs.]

Was Bill Elder funny?

He too was very shy.

Really?

Yeah. As far as I was concerned. But when he was with the guys, he used to do terrible things. Especially with food, I heard.

I’ve heard some of those stories. The one about the goulash.

They’re all true. [Laughs.

Well some of them wound up incorporated into some of the stories. The story of Elder wrapping the joints of meat and clothes and throwing it on the train tracks and screaming for the cops.

He hung himself in a closet in high school. Teacher opens the door. [Laughter] Bad. Bad guy.

It sounds like working up at the EC offices was fun. What is your favorite funny story about Gaines?

I wasn’t there when it happened, but Johnny Craig once said that he and Feldstein were so mad, because it was so hot and they wanted air-conditioning or something. They were saying, “It’s hot today.” I think he had the air-conditioner. Whatever. And they, I don’t know which one, probably Feldstein [Laughs], spread rubber cement on the floor. This is an old story. They called Bill in and said, “It’s hot as hell in here. We can prove it’s hot as hell in here.” And he opened the door and they threw a match in and it blew up in his face. And he laughed so hard he fell in it. [Laughter.] And they had to roll him. And he’s laughing. Bill laughed. If the office blew up, his first reaction would be to laugh. And I wasn’t there to see it. I would have loved to have seen that. [Laughs.] He fell in it and it was blazing. They were banging on him … [Laughs.]

I hear it said Mad has been the most influential humor magazine of this century besides The New Yorker. I think that’s probably accurate.

I have met people who used to come up to Marvel and they’d be … the director would be directing the pictures in the bullpen and they’d have an interview with Stan and all that. Stan, and books. Then they’d come around to us and they’d say, “You’re Marie Severin, you worked at EC?” And this is the director of the thing [Laughs.]! Wow! People in advertising, I’ve done some freelance jobs and big shots will say, “Jeez, I remember that.” I mean, I hear Spielberg and all these guys, they were all comics fans. So you can’t say comics did anybody any harm. I think the bright kids really got a lot out of these things.

From “Dream of Doom” in Weird Science #12. A collaboration between Harry Harrison and Wally Wood. Harrison, a writer-artist, later became known for his prose science-fiction novels and stories. Colored by Severin.

 

I think you’re right.

And they were reading stuff they wouldn’t have read in school. Till later. I’m sure things they would have picked up in college, they were picking up as 9- and 10-year olds. And I think that’s good because they were reading. I mean, EC didn’t lie down for anybody. They did it tongue-in-cheek. But still, they used a nice vocabulary for the most part.

When I called Bill up about that Jack Davis story, the Captain Video? I said, “Bill, what are we going to do?”

And he said, “Yeah, it’s all apart. You know, Marie, these things are 30 years old they’re not what they used to be.”

And I said, “Bill, neither are we.” And he [imitates Bill Gaines’ laugh.], he never changes that way.

"Lunchtime"/ "EC Group Early 50s" by Severin.

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