When Marie Severin Brought Color to the Glory Days of EC Comics

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

The late Marie Severin is probably best known today for her long association with Marvel Comics, where she worked from the late 1950s until the mid-1990s. She was a popular penciler, drawing the first five issues of Incredible Hulk's return to his own ongoing series in 1968. She was also Marvel's chief colorist in the late 1960s.

Color is how Severin broke into the comic book industry. Her older brother, the late, great John Severin, was working as a comic book artist for EC Comics, a comic book company run by William Gaines, son of the company's founder, Max Gaines (the elder Gaines was one of the great pioneers in comic book history). Bill Gaines took his father's company, which was built around a comic book that adapted Bible stories and turned it into the premier comic book company of the era for horror, crime and science fiction comic books stories.

When Severin needed someone to color one of his stories, he asked his sister to do it. She agreed and soon, she was working for EC Comics as their main colorist (she would do other aspects of production, as well).

In 2004, Severin drew a piece showing the cast of creators from this period...

What made Severin stand out so much at the time was how much her coloring intermixed with the pencilers. They were truly a team in the way that modern pencilers and color artists are today and that was a lot more unusual then than it is now. Plus, Severin's color palettes helped define EC Comics' look in the early 1950s. It was Harvey Kurtzman who first brought Severin on board on a regular basis, having her color all of EC's war comics and slowly but surely she began to color almost all of their stories, except for those artists who wanted to color their own work. Kurtzman specifically credited Severin as bringing a whole new level of sophistication to the look of EC Comics.

Look how rich and lush she makes these brilliant Graham Ingels and Wallace Wood covers look with her colors...

In an excellent interview with Sequential Tart (really, just read the whole thing), Severin talked about working with the artists...

ST: You've talked about how pencillers and inkers had to rely on your colors to help carry the story.

MS: Some. This could happen some time when the writer would insist on 50 things going on in a panel description. For example, you have to show where the guy is on a circus grounds or something, but he's also being followed by somebody in the shadows or something who's holding a knife, and the moon is out, and that's important for something that happens in the next panel. So sometimes it's not going to be artistically a beautiful thing — he [the artist] has got all of the things, so you try to color it to match the mood and tell the story. The shadow where the person is with the knife, and the bright lights of the circus stuff in the background, where the character is, but you have to do all this — the design you're stuck with is the artwork, and the artist might have been stuck with what he had to put in one panel because of the writer.

Some of Severin's color theory was misunderstood, especially her use of colors where she colored things all one color. I'll explain by showing her coloring in one of the most famous EC stories of all time...

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