TCJ ARCHIVE

The John Severin Interview Parts I & II

SAVAGE TALES IN THE ’80S

GROTH: Let me skip forward to another part of your career that I thought was a real highpoint, which was the Savage Tales run for Marvel. This was in 1985, and I have eight issues, and you were in every issue. I’m not sure if they ran more than that.

SEVERIN: Wow, that’s great.

GROTH: I think it’s some of your best work. The first three stories were written by Archie Goodwin. The first was called “Avenger.”

SEVERIN: Is this the French Foreign Legion?

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: That’s a bad job, but nevertheless…

GROTH: Oh, you think so?

SEVERIN: Yeah, a stinker. It’s not clear. I didn’t do clear work, clean-cut clear work.

GROTH: Well, it takes place in a jungle.

SEVERIN: That’ll help, but it’s still a clinker of a job as far as I’m concerned. Oh, boy! Is this where the guy gets his revenge on his own…

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: OK. That was a clinker.

GROTH: Now the second one was not a clinker. It was “Raid.”

SEVERIN: Oh, that was a pretty good one. Western with a bunch of Mexican bandits involved.

GROTH: Yes. Written by Archie Goodwin, who I think wrote the two best ones in that series.

SEVERIN: OK. A funny thing happened in there. The sheriff loused up the Mexicans because what he had was a shotgun and a rifle…did an aviator come in?

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: An aviator came in and cracked up in this town or something like that?

GROTH: Yes. That’s right.

SEVERIN: OK, that’s about as far as…no, there was a railroad trestle?

GROTH: Yep. Beautiful story.

SEVERIN: Yes it was. I asked Archie, “Archie, they didn’t have those guns in those days. Where in the hell did you get that research?” He says, “John, I got it from one of your old stories.” Oh, gee! That was in a time when I would just do anything if it worked. He took it from me thinking I was playing it straight. And the one time I cheated, he caught me.

GROTH: Well, it certainty made for a good story.

SEVERIN: Yeah, it worked out good.

GROTH: Archie, it seems to me, is one of the best writers you’ve worked with.

SEVERIN: Yes, he is a good writer. He makes the story interesting.

GROTH: I thought that “Raid” was a beautifully done strip. And then Archie stopped writing the stories, and my feeling was that the rest of the stories were not as well written, although the artwork was every bit as good. Someone named Charles Dixon wrote a couple of them. One is called “By Rail to Ladavostik.”

SEVERIN: Yeah, I’d forgotten all about that one.

GROTH: Of course they were all done in black and white, and you used Crafttint on all of them?

SEVERIN: Yeah.

GROTH: Can you tell me how this run came about? Larry Hama was the editor.

SEVERIN: No, I wasn’t blackmailed into it. They must have just asked me if I wanted to. Somebody must have called me up, because I wouldn’t have called them. Or at least, I shouldn’t say I wouldn’t have called them, I didn’t call them. Somebody must have called me (and I have no idea who) and asked me if I had some free time on my hands. Obviously I did. That’s about it. I did meet up there once or twice with—there was a girl editor. Anyhow, I met Larry and this girl editor and a couple of other people. I have no idea who I talked to. This had something to do with the Vietnamese book.

GROTH: Vietnamese book?

SEVERIN: What was the name of it? Oh, it must have been Semper Fi. This is a little later.

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: Yeah, I met with them at that time, a whole bunch of people.

GROTH: Yes, Semper Fi was a couple of years later.

SEVERIN: Yeah. But that’s all that. Someone just called me up and…

GROTH: How did that work? Did they simply mail you scripts?

SEVERIN: Yeah.

GROTH: Did you have options? Could you have looked at a script and said, “No, this isn’t for me. Send me another one?” Or did you pretty much accept what they sent?

SEVERIN: For the most part I accepted everything I did. But there was one job (it might give you some view of what was going on in that respect) I forget what the script…they sent me a script, the English in India early on—for the English. And for some Godforsaken unknown reason I did the first page and turned it in and told them I didn’t want to do any further. And I don’t know why.

GROTH: You don’t remember why you didn’t want to do it?

SEVERIN: No, I don’t know. Isn’t that funny? I don’t even know why do I remember that in the first place. It might not have been for Larry Hama. Maybe this was for Carl Potts?

But all of that just gets all mixed up together. It’s just a period that is over and done, so I just forget it.

GROTH: I said that this seemed to me like a high point. Did you put more effort into these strips than you did ordinarily? Did you like the scripts more? Was it the subject matter?

SEVERIN: It was all these things put together, in a way. Naturally when you’re doing…let’s say I did a real good Ringo Kid or a real good Hulk (or whatever), it’s so different. It’s so different when you get a script like the jobs at EC or these jobs that they were turning in. There was some extra interest in it for me, and hopefully for the reader if I did it right. Subject matter…it just was a real story, where your normal average comic was, in those days anyhow—I don’t know what they are like any more. I can’t understand them any more. They were just stories. God almighty, you could switch Kid Colt for the Ringo Kid and you wouldn’t even know the difference. You’d change the costume. I’m not picking on Marvel for that. I’m just using that as an example of what was going on, what was prevalent in most of the field.

GROTH: Right, just run-of-the-mill stuff.

SEVERIN: Yeah, and some of it was good, and some of it was just there.

GROTH: Right, just there. Are you a boxing fan?

SEVERIN: Not especially.

GROTH: You did an exceptional job with a strip called “Tank Town,” which was about the old boxer.

SEVERIN: Oh my God almighty! “Tank Town!” Wow! Judas priest! What a memory!

GROTH: Beautiful work.

SEVERIN: Thanks. I vaguely remember a big, scrawny old-time boxer? OK, that’s the story. It was fun doing that work. I just did some research on it. That’s all.

GROTH: What prompted you to go back to Craftint?

SEVERIN: Whenever it’s black and white. My problem when I answer you, Gary, is that I leap immediately, impetuously into an answer. And I don’t give enough thought to what I’m going to say, so you get a lot of this “Eee, ahhh ooooh, eee!” And they’re not very interesting to read. Craftint is something that I love to use whenever I can to supplement the artwork. To give me the grays and the blacks I’m so bad at putting in. In one way it’s a crutch, and in another way, I enjoy using wash. But you can’t do a comic story in wash unless they have better paper. Wash takes a hell of a long time compared to Craftint. So whenever I can, I will use Craftint. I don’t have to use it, but I just like to use it. So for example, when you have a plane going down in flames, it’s a lot easier if you can add Craftint to the smoke and give that extra feeling to it than to do the thing straight out black and white, crisscross or solid with your brush or whatever. Craftint gives me an extra dimension. That’s why I use it. So there! How do you like that?

GROTH: That’s good.

SEVERIN: Put that in you pipe and smoke it,” my grandmother used to say. She always smoked a pipe, too.

GROTH: One thing I noticed in Savage Tales stories was that there was more sex and more violence than in anything else you’d ever done.

SEVERIN: Sex and violence—

GROTH: Yes.

SEVERIN: Violence, perhaps, but…

GROTH: Well, this kind of surprised me, only because it’s the first time I’d really seen you handle this. In “The Long Ride Home.” You’re dealing with a couple of outlaw, and the outlaw goes to bed with this girl. You actually have a shot with him and her in bed, which was…

SEVERIN: No, that’s Al Williamson. That wasn’t me.

GROTH: Can’t get out of it that easily!

SEVERIN: I’ll be darned. I don’t remember this. It doesn’t…it’s surprising, but I believe it. I don’t mean I doubt it, it’s just that I’m so surprised since I don’t remember anything about it. Yeah, well if a thing like that is necessary to the story, and it’s done tastefully more or less, that’s all right.

GROTH: Obviously it was no big deal for you if you barely remember it.

SEVERIN: Well, in that case nothing was much of a deal because…

GROTH: And in that French Foreign Legion story, it’s considerably more violent than anything I remember you having done. There’s a shot of the guy who’s seeking revenge for his brother’s death just pumping bullets into this guy in cold blood.

SEVERIN: You can see why. This is a revenge thing. The situation is evil. Revenge itself is bad, and if a person goes off the deep end like this guy has, you’re not going to have him just go in and go “Bang!” which is bad enough. He’s going to go, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” and just empty the clip. I wasn’t thinking along the lines of the ferocity or anything. This was the way the guy would do it.

GROTH: So you had no qualms about doing it?

SEVERIN: It would be different if you just threw that in a story.

GROTH: I was wondering if you were conscious of doing something you hadn’t previously done before.

SEVERIN: No, I don’t find blowing up somebody with a hand grenade that it’s necessary to show the intestines flying around the room. I think you satisfy the horror of the situation a lot better if you don’t show that, if you intimate what’s going on rather than actually show it. Because I mean, a shoe is a shoe, and an intestine is an intestine. It’s the situation that’s terrible. Well, in the old days in Hollywood—the sex bit. The married couple would go in the room, and you would see two pairs of shoes put outside the door of the hotel room, and that was it! Next morning we’re up and ready. But not any more. We feel that if we show everything about the whole thing, you really have gotten…well, it’s boring as hell, to begin with. I don’t mean just the act. I mean all things, using that as an example. If you show everything, for example, in a war story. If every time somebody gets shot you squirt blood and brains and you blow up somebody and guts all go all and arms and legs…how much of that crap, can you…? That’s why in real life many soldiers get completely inured to it. Others go out of their head. It’s just too much of a bad thing! It just doesn’t have its effect any more. You see these things lying around: they’re not even human anymore. They’re just things.

GROTH: Which brings us to Saving Private Ryan. Did you see that?

SEVERIN: No I’ve heard… My whole family, just about, has seen it. I used to go to the movies twice a week. Now, it’s about twice a year.

GROTH: Is that because you changed or movies have changed?

SEVERIN: Both.

GHOTH: The first 30 minutes of that movie are intensely brutal.

SEVERIN: Yeah, that’s what the family said, yeah. After that, they said it just kind of went hither, thither, and yon.

GROTH: Well, it just becomes an ordinary war movie after that.

SEVERIN: They would rather have stayed home and watched John Wayne in The Longest Day!

GROTH: You did the Savage Tales run, and then I know you worked on Semper Fi, but the issue of Semper Fi I have you actually inked over Andy Kubert penicls.

SEVERIN: Oh, right. That was an interesting situation.

GROTH: Did you enjoy doing that?

SEVERIN: It was fine. Most of the time I wish that I had drawn all of the stories, but I didn’t have the time, or whatever the situation was. It worked out fine, and it was fun to have Andy doing the pencils. He’s a pretty good penciler.

GROTH: Did you pencil any of the stories?

SEVERIN: Yeah. I think it was one of those situations where I did every other one. Or Andy did it—whichever way you want to look at it.

NO REGRETS

GROTH: Looking back over your career, you’re pretty pleased, it sounds like, with what you’ve accomplished?

SEVERIN: I don’t really have any real regrets or anything, but I don’t know whether I’ve accomplished anything or not. Since I can’t remember much of the time…

GROTH: That helps.

SEVERIN: It helps to be happy that way.

GROTH: Have you ever considered retiring?

SEVERIN: No, I don’t consider it.

GROTH: Most people your age are retired.

SEVERIN: When I win the PowerBall I think I might, but until then I’ll just go right on. No, I enjoy doing things. I don’t like to sit around doing nothing. Once in a while, I love to.

GROTH: You’re incredibly productive.

SEVERIN: Well, I’m lucky.

GROTH: But you still feel compelled to work?

SEVERIN: Yeah, I like it. I enjoy putting down ink and having that face come out to be a believable face! I sometimes change a figure two or three times before I get it right. I still don’t get it right, but I keep trying, keep trying, keep trying.

GROTH: Do you keep a sketchbook?

SEVERIN: No.

GROTH: Do you practice?

SEVERIN: No, I never did. I have sketches, and when I was in high school (actually, everybody had a sketchbook there). But you’re talking in real life. No, I never do.

GROTH: I really appreciate you taking so much time and allotting me so much time to interrogate you.

SEVERIN: Well listen, it’s quite a thing to be interviewed and put in The Comics Journal. I’ve had interviews in the past, but that’s what I did. I just passed them off. If you ever read any of them, you get the feeling that I knew this wasn’t serious. This couldn’t be serious. I told them a bunch of things, half of it—I didn’t intentionally lie or anything, but I stretched the truth any time I felt like it. I thought that’s what you wanted, and so that’s what I gave you. But this time, I was a little bit serious about it.

GROTH: Well, I have a big file on you that I accumulated for this interview.

SEVERIN: Fabulous. Well, to find out about myself, I’ll have to come over and visit you.

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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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