The art of combining words and pictures developed gradually over time before advancing into the first comic strip, which later inspired the first comic book and has since evolved into a wide world of endless comic possibilities. For some time, working in comics was considered something of a boys club. However, several women pushed past this barrier to lend their artistic talents and writing skills to this growing medium. As March marks the celebration of Women’s History Month, what better time to focus on one such female trailblazer.
Marie Severin was born in East Rockaway, New York, on August 21, 1929. Growing up, Severin had a strong interest in art, even taking a couple months worth of cartooning and illustration classes before briefly attending Pratt University in Brooklyn. After one day, Severin recalled thinking, “This is a college. I wanted to draw and make money.” An opportunity to do just that arose during the early 1950s, when her brother John – who was working as an artist for EC Comics – was in need of a colorist. Her earliest recorded coloring was for EC Comics’ A Moon, a Girl... Romance #9.
For many years, Severin contributed coloring across the company’s line, including its war comics and notoriously graphic horror comics. She also worked on the comics’ production end, as well as “doing little touch ups and stuff” on the art. Unfortunately, the comic book industry became the target of mounting public criticism for the potentially harmful effects these graphic stories might have on children. In the wake of the U.S. Senate hearings on such matters, and the establishment of the Comics Code, EC ceased publication in 1955. Later on, Severin transitioned to Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Atlas Comics, working in production as well as doing more coloring.
However, after Bill Everett left the Dr. Strange feature in Strange Tales, Severin enjoyed her first regular gig as a penciler. In this new position, Severin co-created the three-faced judge the Living Tribunal with the legendary Stan Lee. This character has since become a mainstay of Marvel's cosmic mythology. As a penciler, Severin not only worked on Dr. Strange, but also Incredible Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, as well as drawing fill-in issues and covers for titles such as Iron Man, Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, The Cat, and Daredevil. Her work was inked by classic Marvel inkers such as Herb Trimpe, Joe Sinnott, and Dan Adkins.
Severin also worked on Marvel’s satiric humor magazine Crazy, along with the company’s self deprecating comic, Not Brand Echh. She went on to co-create Spider-Woman, and her original costume, as well as the Howard the Duck villain Doctor Bong. During the 1980s, Severin was assigned to Marvel’s Special Projects division helping design toy maquettes and film and television tie-ins products. In addition to working on the short-lived Marvel Books imprint of children’s coloring and sticker books. At the same time, Severin was drawing for Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies comics under Marvel’s Star Comics imprint.
Throughout the mid-2000s, Severin made occasional contributions to such projects as recoloring comics stories reprinted in the EC-era retrospective books B. Krigstein and B. Krigstein Comics. After suffering a stroke in 2007, Severin officially retired from comics. The multi-faceted artist is the recipient of an Inkpot, Shazam, Eisner and Harvey Award, along with being inducted into the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame. More recently, Severin received the 2017 Comic-Con International Icon Award.
To this day, Severin’s career continues to be celebrated and serves as a pioneering example for women creators within the comic industry. Her stories and colorings are constantly being reprinted or featured in exhibitions and retrospectives, introducing new generations to this queen of the Silver Age.