TCJ ARCHIVE

The John Severin Interview Parts I & II

DC (NATIONAL)

GROTH: You started doing work for DC (or National, at that time) in 1957 on war books. National was one of the biggest companies then: how did you approach them and who did you work for?

SEVERIN: Oh, I called. I think I called Kubert and asked him who I should see up there. He told me to see Kanigher. I went up to Kanigher and Kanigher hemmed and hawed there, and I said, “Look, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you give me a script? I’ll take it home and do it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll just use the artwork for samples.” He said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “No.” He said, “Go to it.” So I did the script. I guess he liked it, because he kept it and gave me some more.

GROTH: Why do you think Kanigher was reluctant to give you an assignment? At that point you had a hell of a track record.

SEVERIN: Maybe. I don’t know why he did that to me. I don’t know. As a matter of fact, he may have just been feeling me out. Because he’s kind of strange that way. He’d do the damnedest things. One time he said, “Do you think you could take me?” I said, “Hell, I don’t know? I’m sitting down. I’m not going to get up.” I’m sure he was just kidding, because he certainly didn’t expect me to stand up and just belt him one.

GROTH: You were about a foot and a half taller than he was.

SEVERIN: Maybe that’s why he said that! I have no idea. I’m sure he was just kidding, but it was a strange thing to say and it certainly took me aback.

GROTH: What would be the context for that?

SEVERIN: I don’t know.

GROTH: Were you just having an editorial conference?

SEVERIN: I don’t know. This was not something that was led up to. That’s why it struck me. I was…”What the hell did I do?

GROTH: He’s certainly a feisty fellow.

SEVERIN: Well, he wasn’t mad. He stood up, then he sat back down and we continued talking. I said, “Boy, I’m going to go out and get me a drink. This is something.”

GROTH: Kanigher was supposed to be a pretty tyrannical editor. What was your experience like?

SEVERIN: He’d give me a script and I’d turn it in, and I don’t remember any problems whatsoever. I don’t know what the tyranny was. I heard things like that, too, but I never ran into problems with him at all.

GROTH: Were you asked to make a lot of changes? Was there a lot of editing of your work after you turned it in?

SEVERIN: You say “a lot.” First, there wasn’t a lot. And second, even more important, I don’t remember whether there was [any]. I’m sure there was, because he’s the kind of guy who would want things to be done his way, so I’m sure he had things to correct on my work. But it certainly wasn’t a lot. I mean, six out of seven pages isn’t so bad, is it?

GROTH: Certainly not.

SEVERIN: I don’t remember that.

GROTH: You did work for them in ’57, into the ’70s. I’ve looked at some of your work in the ’70s, and it’s quite a bit different from your war material at EC. It’s a lot looser, there are more panels per page. It’s much more character driven, if you know what I mean.

SEVERIN: One good reason was I was doing characters. Like The Losers, and so forth. You do want to keep them the same. It wasn’t like EC where it was a character for one issue and you never saw him again.

GROTH: How did you feel about doing recurring characters, every month?

SEVERIN: I like it. It’s fun, especially when they pay you.

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: Oh, isn’t this kind of interesting. I had been doing it off and on with an off and on regularity: the Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid. You know, you were always doing the same characters. American Eagle for Prize Western. Ed—what the heck was his name? Coffee. Ed Coffee.

GROTH: It seems like you adapted your style to it. The DC books that I have, The Losers for example. It’s a little less detailed than much of your previous work, fewer panels per page…

SEVERIN: It’s more open, right?

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: Yes. Well, I had seen DC sort of liked that. So I just went along with and sort of conformed as best I could.

GROTH: What did you think of the stories compared to the Kurtzman stories?

SEVERIN: Oh, an entirely different animal. I guess you could compare them in a way, but I wouldn’t be able to do it properly. No, I don’t think I would. An entirely different animal. It’s like comparing a Paul Klee to Rembrandt. They’re both pieces of art, but entirely different animals.

GROTH: Did you enjoy doing them as much?

SEVERIN: Oh, sure.

GROTH: Because in a way, the stories I thought were more (if you know what I mean by this) comic-booky?

SEVERIN: Right. They were. In my head, not that I’m a great thinker on comics or this sort of thing, philosophy of comics…

GROTH: Oh, no. Go ahead.

SEVERIN: …but when I was doing the stuff for DC, I was doing the stuff for DC. Now, if I’m doing the stuff for EC, I’m doing the stuff for them. It’s like I was two different people. I hate to tell you, but I’m schizophrenic. [Groth laughs.] No, but it was kind of easy to switch off and be the other guy, because that’s what they wanted.

GROTH: I don’t mean this pejoratively, but it seems that the best work you’ve done is work that isn’t recurring characters, that have individual characters in each story.

SEVERIN: I think so, too.

GROTH: Why do you think that is?

SEVERIN: Because as you said this I started thinking and I couldn’t come up with anything.

GROTH: You knew I was leading you into a trap.

SEVERIN: I saw it happening. If it was a one-time thing…you know, this is one time that an Indian or a soldier was going to do a certain thing, I sort of put all the drive in that one thing. It just was plain, outright different. Perhaps it came out better.

GROTH: It seems like you put more into it. I’m thinking specifically of the Warren stories or the Savage Tales stories in the ’80s, which were really lovingly crafted. It seems like you put everything you had into them.

SEVERIN: Well, I probably did, but I don’t…

GROTH: Do you think that you were particularly inspired to do that by the quality of the stories, or the subject matter?

SEVERIN: Yes, and the freedom. The more freedom a guy gets, I think the more he puts himself into the thing. When there are too many rules and regulations, you’re tightened. They didn’t really put the pressure on you. But, the pressure was there to do it, for me, anyhow. I wanted to be a DC artist, or I wanted to be an EC artist when I was doing their job. Or, with Warren, I wanted to be a Warren guy. I switch allegiances just like that. No problem whatsoever.

GROTH: A loyalty only to your calling.

SEVERIN: Right. To my own self I’m true.

GROTH: So you starred doing work at National for Bob Kanigher in ’57. Did you work for any other editors at National?

SEVERIN: Yeah. Kubert asked me if I would do some—what was the flyer?

GROTH: Johnny Cloud?

SEVERIN: No, no. The German. The Red Baron.

GROTH: Oh, Enemy Ace?

SEVERIN: Enemy Ace, right. So I worked for Joe doing that. I think Joe and Kanigher are the only two I worked for up there.

GROTH: Can you compare the two editing styles of Kubert and Kanigher?

SEVERIN: Well, I saw Kanigher, but I just turned the stuff in to Joe. I never saw him. I would mail it, or my wife would bring it over or something like that. So no, I can’t compare it.

GROTH: Would you have preferred to mail your work into Kanigher, as well? That’s a loaded question.

SEVERIN: That’s all right. You didn’t get an answer.

GROTH: I’ll retract that. Well, that sounds like an easy relationship, anyway.

SEVERIN: Yeah. I had no problems with either one of them. People are always [saying], “What a tough guy Joe is. He’s hard to get along with.”

GROTH: Right, everyone hates him. [Laughter.]

HARVEY COMICS

GROTH: One other thing I wanted to ask you about is you worked for Harvey Comics between ’50 and ’63…

SEVERIN: Yeah. Right. Joe Simon. He was the editor up there.

GROTH: He was?

SEVERIN: Well, he was my editor up there, anyhow. I don’t know if they had other editors. I didn’t see them.

GROTH: Wouldn’t Simon have had his own studio at that time as well?

SEVERIN: Yeah, he did. Oh, you mean away from them?

GROTH: Uh-huh.

SEVERIN: I don’t know. He did have quite a bit of room up there to work. I assumed it was his studio. Nobody else was there. There was a girl behind the booth, and the Harvey brothers were outside drinking beer or something. I don’t know. Yeah, I worked tor Joe there.

GROTH: One of the books you worked on was Boy’s Ranch, but can you tell me anything else about….

SEVERIN: Boy’s Ranch?

GROTH: Uh-huh.

SEVERIN: Never heard of it.

GROTH: Never heard of it, huh!

SEVERIN: I probably did [draw it]. All I can remember, really, is that I did a number of covers for Joe where I did Dick Tracy and Joe Palooka and various comic book characters. He thought I could imitate those characters, and I said, “Sure.” I did. He thought they were fine Boy’s Ranch is beginning to sound familiar now. I don’t want to bother asking you what the stories were like, but that might jog my memory.

GROTH: A lot of this stuff I don’t actually have the work itself because it’s hard to get.

SEVERIN: It’s hard to get guys to remember, too.

GROTH: I don’t actually have the Boy’s Ranch that you were supposed to be in. Otherwise, I would be happy to jog your memory here. How was working with Joe? Was that easy?

SEVERIN: Sure. At this point we were friends. He wasn’t just an editor, he was from my background there somewhere. I mean I’d worked for Joe and Jack at Crestwood, so we knew each other well.

GROTH: Did you see each other socially?

SEVERIN: No. As a matter of fact, in this business there were only a few people I saw socially.

CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED

GROTH: You also worked for Classics Illustrated between ’58 and ’59?

SEVERIN: Oh, that was a horror.

GROTH: Tell me why that was a horror.

SEVERIN: Oh, God! First of all, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. That’s number one. It was an agonizing occurrence to get a script from them because there was a gentleman—and I mean that seriously. This was a gentleman. An old geezer is what I really want to call him. He was in charge of handing things out and governing everything that was going on. Everything had to be explained in detail so that you knew what you were supposed to do. I did Kit Carson. I think that was the damn thing I did first. They gave me Kit Carson. “Now this has to be accurate,” they told me. And I understood. I had all the information in the world about Kit Carson. I went home and I drew Kit Carson. I mean, that was Kit Carson there, all the way through the story. The rifles were right. The Indians were right. All the accouterments were correct. And I brought it in. Apparently, they had given me the second half of the book to do. The first half of the book was to be done by someone else, who I didn’t know at the time. When I turned it in, they told me I was going to have to change Kit Carson all the way through the story. And I said, “Why? What’s wrong?” And they said. “Well, he doesn’t look like the Kit Carson that the other artist drew.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And they showed me a couple of pages of this guy. This guy had done a very nice job. He had drawn a typical comic book man hero. I said, “But that isn’t Kit Carson. That’s just a…” But he said, “This is already in, and you have to change yours, because it doesn’t look like it.” So I went home and I drew your typical comic book hero, and…you know who the artist was? He did a very good job, by the way. George Evans.

GROTH: Oh.

SEVERIN: I didn’t know the guy at the time, but I was cussing whoever this guy was. I cussed him up and down. Geez! Oh, man. Then they gave me another script. That was Last of the Mohicans. So I got out my British uniforms and everything and I’m going along there, Jim dandy grand. I inked in little things here and there. The insignia on the Englishman’s hat or the fire lock on the musket. I penciled all the rest real tight so they’d know what was going on. I did up to ten or 12 pages of this stuff, and the old gentleman—we had some kind of a disagreement about the fact that the Indians wore the uniforms or some fool thing. It wasn’t like we would…well, he thought that we were doing something grand, and I knew that this was a comic book to keep kids from reading the classics, which is the title of it. You know, read this and you won’t have to read a book. So I told him the hell with it, and I gave him the 12 pages and left. But I noticed that when they printed it, they really had kept my pencils. And son of a gun, the artist had gone ahead and inked over my stuff and did the rest on his own. So approximately ten-twelve pages you may be able to recognize my penciling underneath, but that’s all. I just gave it to him. I didn’t even take any damn money. I didn’t want the damn thing. He was a real pill. He didn’t know what the hell he was as far as comics were concerned. He may have known what he was doing as far as classics were concerned, but he knew nothing about research. Nothing! So I didn’t want to work for the dope.

GROTH: Real high maintenance.

SEVERIN: Yeah.

GROTH: I thought you did two other books: The Mexican War and Texas and the Alamo.

SEVERIN: Did I?

GROTH: That’s what certain reference sources say. Do you remember those?

SEVERIN: No Alamo—I should remember that. I mean, John Wayne was in that. I should have remembered it. What was the other one?

GROTH: The Mexican War. Those both looked like something you’d enjoy doing.

SEVERIN: It sounds like it, doesn’t it? And this was for Classics Illustrated?

GROTH: That’s what I understand.

SEVERIN: Isn’t that weird?

GROTH: But you don’t remember them?

SEVERIN: I didn’t know that I did any more.

GROTH: Well, the information could be wrong.

SEVERIN: Yeah, when I look back on information about this guy Severin, I just go over a number of strange things. It’s like another person, sometimes. Oh, well. What the heck? I guess there’re are some people who really get worried over this stuff, but that doesn’t bother me.

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3 Responses to The John Severin Interview Parts I & II

  1. Bhob Stewart says:

    Stan Lee and Severin had lunch not at Long Chops but at Longchamps, a New York restaurant chain which had a dozen Manhattan locations between 1919 and 1975. http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2009/12/03/and-haute-cuisine-for-all-longchamps/

    • Hy Resolution says:

      If you’re starting to correct the typos and misunderstandings in this text, you’ll have a busy week-end.
      “Rene Gassini” is my favorite. Why doesn’t someone with half a brain look at this stuff before it’s published? (But yes, much better than nothing.)

  2. Ed Fella says:

    My all time favorite comic book artist when I was a kid and still to this day…sad to hear of his passing, but thank you so much for doing and for posting this interview…I hope his work becomes more and more well known: he was without a doubt one of the greats !

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