When we think of G.I. Joe comics in the 1980s and ’90s and we’re considering art, names like Trimpe, Vosburg, Wagner, and Wildman come to mind. (And about ten others.) There were American men (and a Brit) who penciled 22 pages at a time for this monthly series. Emphasis on that word, “men.” Yes, it was mostly men who created G.I. Joe and related books like Special Missions, the Yearbooks, and the like. Women did work on Real American Hero, with color, lettering, and editing contributions from folks like Glynis Oliver, Janice Chiang, Vickie Williams, Bobbie Chase, Renee Witterstaetter, and Hildy Mesnik. And women were indeed writing at Marvel, on New Mutants, for example, and drawing pages and stories for the House of Ideas on Star Wars, Power Pack, Muppet Babies, Sub-Mariner, Incredible Hulk, and What The–?! (Slight emphasis on those final three.)
But no woman ever drew an issue of Marvel’s G.I. Joe, with one exception. That would be Marie Severin.
Severin might be best known for five things:
1) She colored most of the horror, crime, and sci-fi EC Comics of the early 1950s. (She is one of my favorite colorists, and as an extension of my strong feelings heard on the Talking Joe podcast, if you’d like another notion on what not to do with color, hey, Gemstone and Dark Horse, don’t recolor Marie Severin’s work for your EC Archives and call them in the spirit of the originals. They’re not.) Severin’s limited choices were great. Her use of 64 colors may look limited or old-fashioned, and the occasional pink sky or all-red panel may look like a mistake or a cop out. I assure you they are not. Click to enlarge.
As I say on Talking Joe, sometimes less is more.
2) She penciled a bunch of Sub-Mariner, What The–?!, and Incredible Hulk. Click to enlarge.
…And inked and colored dozens and dozens of Marvel pages, too, for all sorts of super-hero and non-super-hero titles. And knew so much about color, and was so good at it, she because head of Marvel’s coloring department.
3) More recently, Marie Severin recolored a few of her own EC stories for Greg Sadowski’s amazing Krigstein book.
(Fun fact, Severin recolored six Krigstein Atlas stories for Sadowski’s other Krigstein book.)
4) She was John Severin’s sister. Man, there’s a guy I wish had drawn G.I. Joe! Oh well, we’ll just squint at his Semper Fi and pretend it’s a Larry Hama-written Real American Flashback. But being someone’s brother isn’t a career highlight, so I’ll loop back around for another bullet point:
5) In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she sketched out almost all of Marvel’s covers for other artists to draw. You can learn more in Dewey Cassell’s TwoMorrows book, Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics. Click to enlarge.
In it, he said: “She was not the first lady in comics, but she is unquestionably the first lady of comics.”
But the reason you’re here today is because Marie Severin penciled one issue of G.I. Joe. And it’s awesome. Here’s a photocopy of Severin’s pencils for story page 18 (that’s not counting the ads). Click to enlarge.
Of course this is “Marvel style,” so Severin here is working from a Larry Hama plot, and writing in clarifications and any small changes in the margins. (She didn’t invent this, Trimpe did it as early as issue #1 — this was a standard practice.)
Seeing uninked work like this is a real transformation, or un-transformation, as it were, a sideways kind of time machine. Severin was a great artist, and I’m struck by how well she fit into the style of the monthly G.I. Joe. That might be more indicative of the fact that Marvel had a house style in the 1970s and ’80s — the post Romita/Buscema/Kane/Adams mix you get in a John Byrne, Herb Trimpe, or Ron Wilson. But for many years I’ve glossed over Real American Hero #28 even being a fill-in. Sure, it’s in the middle of Frank Springer’s short run, but stylistically, it does not stick out. It just looks like G.I. Joe.
And no shade on anyone else, but it actually looks better than some other issues. Severin was that talented.
Certainly Andy Mushynsky’s inks have something to do with this consistency — he inked most of Springer and stayed when Rod Whigham showed up shortly after. On the topic of Mushynsky, let’s take a look at this page-as-inked next time here at A Real American Book! But I sure wish Marie Severin, Mirthful Mistress of color and inks and cover designs, had penciled more issues.
As a postscript, I’ll note that Marvel’s G.I. Joe cover run is similarly allotted by gender. Men like Zeck, Kubert, and several of the series’ own interior artists drew the covers, and with one exception, no women ever drew a G.I. Joe cover. That would be issue #153, which was penciled by Amanda Conner.
Also, to further tease my next blog post (let’s say a week, okay?), I’ll point out the next time Marie Severin drew G.I. Joe characters, not for very long, not very big, and not in the pages of G.I. Joe.