TCJ ARCHIVE

The John Severin Interview Parts I & II

WITZEND & THE UNDERGROUNDS

GROTH: Wally Wood published Witzend in the ’60s. Were you familiar with that or aware of that?

SEVERIN: Yes, he once sent me a copy. He sent me three issues of that thing. He asked me if I wanted to come in, but I didn’t.

GROTH: Now why didn’t you?

SEVERIN: I had enough work. I couldn’t do any more.

GROTH: Especially for what Witzend would pay, which was approximately nothing, I think.

SEVERIN: Also I would be kind of leery about doing something about that, because I’d probably put all that I could into it, and they probably were not paying very well.

GROTH: You’d probably get at least 10 dollars a page.

SEVERIN: Oh, boy.

GROTH: That must’ve been a labor of love. That was a vanity press sort of thing.

SEVERIN: Yeah, I recognize that.

GROTH: Wood went on to do his own stuff. He did a book called The Wizard King and a number of small press books that he had a hand in publishing himself. But he seemed like a very restless spirit.

SEVERIN: Yes, he was. Yes, he was. My wife and I really got a kick out of him. We knew him more or less socially, and he was always a pleasure to be around as quiet as he was. Oh, lord.

GROTH: He seems the opposite of you in the sense that he had a lot of demons.

SEVERIN: Yeah. He was very quiet, a very quiet guy. He one time called me up and asked me…There was a British Webley pistol for sale (they had a whole stock full of them). They were an outfit in New Jersey, and he asked me if I would buy the pistol for him and send it to him. Of course, I couldn’t, for obvious reasons. I told him so, too. I’m glad I didn’t, because he might have used it! That would really have knocked my socks off.

GROTH: Speaking of the kind of publishing Witzend and the undergrounds represented, you once said, “It’s too bad we can’t in this country put out a book like René Goscinny’s putting out in France—Pilote. And that darn Asterix—great! The coloring in it, the cartooning—it’s so different from what we do. It would be wonderful to turn out a book like that here.” I want to ask you a couple of questions about that quote, but did you feel a little frustrated when you were doing comics that you couldn’t do more mature work?

SEVERIN: I didn’t think too strongly about those things. Mainly I can say it would have been nice. I would have felt this at the time and feel this way now. It would have been really nice to turn out a book where everybody concerned with it had the same amount of feeling that they had at EC in those those days.  Where the book itself, physically, would be a variety of artwork. Where each artist was in a position to contribute in his different feelings, his different styles. For instance, I have a couple of styles I get a kick out of working in as well as the straight outright realistic stuff. And it would be nice to be able to play around, turn out a thing like that. Pilote—it was just an exciting book, and I just wish that I could speak French.

GROTH: Did you regret that you couldn’t do something in a format of that caliber and—

SEVERIN: It wasn’t there and I went on to something else. No, I didn’t have any regrets. I was saying that it would have been fun. And even today.  It would be fun. In a way, Heavy Metal tends in that direction. But their aim is entirely different. They do a variety of things, a variety of styles. But you see what I mean. It’s not the same thing.

GROTH: Underground comix started roughly the same time as Witzend in the ’60s. Did you pay any attention to that stuff?

SEVERIN: No. George Gladder was the first one to put me wise to the fact that there was such a thing. Since I was too embarrassed to buy one, I asked him to send me a copy so I could see what it is. After I saw what it was, I bought one or two comics that Richard Corben had done, but that was it. I didn’t buy the stuff or go into it. I had no interest in it.

GROTH: One underground artist that who I think you’d like very much is a guy by the name Jack Jackson, who does historical work…

SEVERIN: Oh, he does?

GROTH: In fact, he was inspired by a lot of your work.

SEVERIN: Oh really?

GROTH: One of them was called Los Tejanos, which was the Texas Mexican War, and he’s done four other historical graphic novels as well as a collection of short stories, which I think you’d probably like.

SEVERIN: This isn’t still underground stuff he’s doing?

GROTH: Well, it’s not underground in the sense that it’s sex and drugs and…you know, the clichéd views of what an underground comix is…

SEVERIN: Yeah, that’s what I attach to underground.

GROTH: It’s not that at all. But he did start out in that context of underground comics. But a large part of the ethos of underground comics was that artists should work from inner necessity. And that’s what he felt most strongly that he wanted to do.

SEVERIN: Yeah, I understand that part, but not having followed it, I didn’t become aware of the actual stuff itself. So all I have that context with is the one or two books that I saw, and they were aimed at that sex and…

THE ’70S: THE FORGOTTEN DECADE

GROTH: You did work for Tomahawk at DC in the early ’70s…

SEVERIN: I did?

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: Wait a minute now. First of all, could you tell me what Tomahawk is?

GROTH: Tomahawk is…well, gee. It’s an Indian character, and Frank Thorne drew it for many years.

SEVERIN: Really? And I worked for it?

GROTH: Yeah. I’m looking at one now, and I think it looks like Frank Thorne’s work to me. Yes it is.

SEVERIN: Are you sure it’s not mine? I mean, Frank Thorne and I look so much alike.

GROTH: Yeah, right.

SEVERIN: I wish.

GROTH: In the back of the book, I’m looking at one issue of Son of Tomahawk actually, which I guess is a post-Tomahawk spin-off, but Frank Thorne does the lead

feature and you did a really beautiful backup, I think one of your best strips during this period called Spoilers, that Jerry DeFuccio wrote.

SEVERIN: Really?

GROTH: You don’t sound like you have any recollection of this whatsoever?

SEVERIN: No, not at all. Oh, there’s an awful lot of stuff. Once I do a script and turn it in, it’s only with minor exceptions that I’ll remember the thing next week! I might remember it later on if somebody reminds me of something, but if somebody said, “What did you do last week?” I’d be damned if I know.

GROTH: That can’t be true, though, of the work you really took an enormous amount of pride in and that really stands out in your mind, right?

SEVERIN: No, there are certain periods, short as they might have been when I’d remember everything that I did. But as a rule, you know, you turn it in. Almost like you were grinding it out, but I don’t like to grind things out. But it’s almost that way, because you forget every nut and bolt you did.

The Incredible Hulk #149 (March 1972) written by Archie Goodwin, penciled by Herb Trimpe and inked by John Severin ©1972 Marvel Comics

GROTH: Since you mentioned grinding it out. I assume you may have forgotten your long run on the Hulk.

SEVERIN: Oh, yeah. Well, this was…what were you going to ask me about it?

GROTH: I thought it was a curious assignment. First of all, the Hulk was kind of a superhero…

SEVERIN: Yeah.

GROTH: …which you’ve never touched.

SEVERIN: He was a different kind of superhero, for some strange reason. I don’t know. It may be that he wasn’t as ridiculous as most superheroes. He didn’t do any wacky things.

GROTH: I can see where he’d be more tolerable to you.

SEVERIN: He was an ugly brute. I tried to make him appealing…

GROTH: Yes, you did soften him up a little bit.

SEVERIN: …but they insist on this ugliness. I don’t know why. I don’t find it very attractive.

The Incredible Hulk #147 (January 1972) written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Herb Trimpe and inked by John Severin ©1971 Marvel Comics

GROTH: Inking the Hulk over Herb Trimpe seemed like the biggest anomaly of your career; how did it come about?

SEVERIN: Orders came down from the higher-ups and I saluted and went home with the script.

GROTH: Did you enjoy doing it?

SEVERIN: Sure. Sure. Yeah. He was easy to ink on. Most guys that I have had to ink on have been easy to ink on.

GROTH: Because I must say that that seems like a thankless task, inking Herb Trimpe’s Hulk.

SEVERIN: Oh? Why?

GROTH: I couldn’t imagine it was something you could take a lot of joy in; the stories were just so dumb…

SEVERIN: So many stories were. [Laughs.] How do you pick that one out of the group? No, it was fun. Maybe it was fun because it was easy to do.

Frontline Combat #15 (January 1954) written by Jerry DeFuccio, penciled and inked by John Severin ©1954 EC Comics

GROTH: In 1975, you also worked for a company called Seaboard. I believe it was a company started by Martin Goodman’s son Chip Goodman.

SEVERIN: That sounds familiar.

GROTH: They did three books that you appeared in: Blazing Battle Tales

SEVERIN: Yeah.

GROTH: …Devilina

SEVERIN: No, I don’t think I worked on that, did I?

GROTH: Well, according to my notes you did, although I don’t have a copy. And Thrilling Adventure Stories. I’m wondering if you remember doing any of that?

SEVERIN: I didn’t remember the company! Holy cow! There’s a lot of stuff out there that I have no copies of, no remembrances of. I’d love to get copies just to… There was a job that I did for some outfit— I think it was Stan Lee. Yeah. Leprechaun. Something about people who lived under the hill, which would be Leprechaun. I have never been able to find it. Why I remember it, I don’t know. Anyhow, I’m wasting your time.

GROTH: Do you not remember anything about Seaboard?

SEVERIN: Yeah, the name. Seaboard.

GROTH: That’s it?

SEVERIN: And the situation of Martin Goodman’s son starting it. But if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have known whether I’d worked for them or not.

GROTH: I think you also worked for a company called Skywald?

SEVERIN: Ah, that’s the outfit that I’m trying to remember, Skywald. The S-K-Y is for Brodskv, and the W-A-L-D is for the first part of the other guy’s name. Skywald. That’s the outfit that I worked for. Yeah.

GROTH: That would probably be mid to late ’70s?

SEVERIN: Somewhere in there. Yeah.

GROTH: I couldn’t find any record of exactly what you did for them.

SEVERIN: I did a couple of covers for them. I don’t remember doing any insides for them.

GROTH: The editor there was a guy named Jeff Rovin. Do you remember him?

SEVERIN: No. I’m still trying to remember the editor up at Warren that I worked for.

GROTH: Boy, that’s a tough one. There were so many.

SEVERIN: This guy was a writer, also.

GROTH: Bill DuBay?

SEVERIN: Yes. That’s him. Thank you. Wait’ll I write that down. I’m getting some damn good out of these things. I can remember something.

GROTH: When did you move to Denver?

SEVERIN: I don’t know.

GROTH: Get your wife.

SEVERIN: That’s the truth. That’s the one you want to get a hold of. Ummm…Let’s see. We’re going on 25 or 30—oh, no, not 30 years. We haven’t been here for 30 years—approximately 25 years. I told my wife, “Let’s get away from these buildings and everything,” even though we lived in a remarkable part of Jersey, right across the river. And we had covered bridges and big farms and things all around us. You wouldn’t know there was a city within a thousand miles. But it still was a little too close for me. So I brought home a newspaper from Denver and let Michelina read it, and we decided that wouldn’t be so bad. She came out here by plane, stayed for a day, bought a house, came back, picked up three of the kids, took them by plane out there. I got the other three in the car and drove out there and we’ve been out here ever since.

GROTH: It sounds like that must have been in the early’ 70s? Does that sound right?

SEVERIN: That’s OK.

GROTH: OK.

SEVERIN: Whatever.

GROTH: You’ll take it. Did you find that moving out of the New York area impeded you getting work?

SEVERIN: No, not at all.

GROTH: Not at all?

SEVERIN: No, same old deal. They still didn’t see me. I mailed the stuff in. Of course, there was one thing. Michelina didn’t deliver any more. No, it didn’t change anything, as a matter of fact.

GROTH: I never asked you exactly when you married. I should probably get that down.

SEVERIN: Oh. You have to get married? [Laughter.] I do believe ’52. I could take my ring off and find out, but I’d have to put down the phone and…it’s a long complicated thing. I do believe it was ’52.

GROTH: Did your wife accept the fact that you were a cartoonist and that you worked in an unstable industry?

SEVERIN: Not yet.

GROTH: But you ‘re expecting it any day now.

SEVERIN: Oh, she knew what it was that I was doing.

GROTH: So she wasn’t bothered that you didn’t have a solid 9 to 5…

SEVERIN: It’s kind of weird. She comes from a good solid family. They believe in plumbers and doctors and things like that. Somebody who has a job. “What is this artist thing? What do you mean, artist? Where is he hanging?” And there are a lot of people who would like to see me…hanging. No, aside from a bit of skepticism at first, why when they met me and my charming personality it covered the whole thing right there.

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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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