John Severin: All He’s Cracked Up to Be… and Then Some!

Long before Cracked* was ‘America’s Only Humor Site’ deluging its readers in hit-or-miss listicles (5 Stupid, Stupid Things Humanity Has Shot Into Space, 15 Bonkers Crossovers That Somehow Happened, and so on), it was a satirical mag consciously aping Mad Magazine‘s schtick. I don’t know if anybody is actually hanging on to fond memories of it – Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson famously quipped ‘I don’t think I’m alone in thinking of CRACKED for most of its run as “a bunch of crap, and John Severin” – but it’s undeniable that quite a few great artists have contributed to it over the years (including the aforementioned Severin, who was a powerhouse** whatever you may think of his art).

Cracked was born in 1958 and shuddered its last in 2007 (more about said demise later). Here are a few Severin covers I like!

The original art for the cover of Cracked no. 5 (published in October, 1958). How cute/feral is the tiger in the bottom right corner?
Cracked no. 9 (May, 1959). Severin really excelled at these action-packed melée scenes.
Cracked no. 13 (March, 1960)
Cracked no. 28 (February, 1963). You may note that Cracked’s mascot Sylvester P. Smythe is meant to remind one of another country bumpkin-ish mascot… though I like Alfred E. Neuman‘s mug better.
Cracked no. 43 (May, 1965). This party looks like serious fun!
Original art for Cracked no. 49 (January, 1966). The printed version invited the reader to « Find the mistakes on this cover ». Won’t you give it a whirl?
The original art for the cover of Cracked no. 90 (January, 1971). In order to make the scene more properly nocturnal, a blue tone was judiciously added to the final version.

As a bonus, here is ‘Phooey’ Smythe as depicted by the amazing Jack Davis for the cover of Cracked no. 12 (January, 1960).

Head over Mort Todd’s website for a more extensive look at Severin’s contribution to Cracked!

~ ds

* When Cracked Magazine was sold to a group of investors in 2005, it was supposed to return in force with a new design à la ‘lad mags‘ like Maxim. Website launched several months later, outdid its parental unit, and when the magazine folded in 2007 (new design and all), the website stuck around, gaining popularity in exponential numbers. My only interest in it is the fact that Winston Rowntree occasionally contributes articles.

** « After being one of the founding artists for Mad, he began working for the Mad imitation Cracked in the late ’50s and stayed there for nearly 40 years, because he was paid as well as the Mad contributors and was allowed to contribute several features in every issue. In addition to the mountain of work he produced for Cracked, he was simultaneously working for Marvel, Warren and DC. Severin was the consummate professional who editors and art directors knew could draw anything, from a Roman legionary to Cracked mascot Sylvester P. Smythe, and everything in between. Like fellow EC colleagues Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta, Severin could crank out great humor comics with the same facility he drew war, Western and historical tales. » [source]

7 thoughts on “John Severin: All He’s Cracked Up to Be… and Then Some!

  1. nealumphred April 22, 2023 / 19:50

    In 1965, I was buying two war comics: Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury. Kubert was probably my favorite DC artist and Jack Kirby was, well, Jack Kirby! Then came Warren’s Blazing Combat and war comics would never be the same for me. I was 14 at the time, a gung-ho American who believed what little news about Viet Nam the mainstream media (a term that didn’t exist then—there was just the “media”) they published,

    In that context, the story “Landscape” in the second issue of Creepy was mind-blowing (another term that no one my age understood let alone used).

    I pretty much was awed by all the artists (especially Frank Frazetta’s covers). It was here that I probably first saw John Severin’s art and immediately became a fan. Eventually, I found his EC work through beat-up copies of Frontline Combat and Mad and then through the various reprints that followed.

    They don’t make ’em like they used to …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellen April 22, 2023 / 20:25

    I liked John Severin’s work, but learned more from a Severin of a different gender. In the early Sixties, several of us would occasionally trek down from Boston to visit the offices of DC comics. We scored original art there, including one wonderful Aquaman page by Marie Severin. It was an education and a half in the use of non-repro blue pencils – still worthwhile today for those of us that don’t use computers all the way through our art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 April 22, 2023 / 20:35

      Hi Ellen! Don’t you mean Ramona Fradon? If so, you’re most fortunate — she’s an incredible artist! We don’t own a full page, but do check out the lovely Ramona ‘Aquaman and Pal’ drawing (the bottom image) that’s in our collection!

      And I fully agree about non repro pencil. It remains a precious tool in my art arsenal, but then I’m not willing to give up the ‘old school’ techniques.


    • gasp65 April 23, 2023 / 12:30

      Thanks for the helpful comment! You’re quite right, that *is* Severin’s old pal Elder. I should have spotted it — it’s not like Severin to flub a celebrity likeness! Since this is supposed to be Severin’s show, I’ve substituted one uncontroversially his — duly signed — and flushed out the intruder. Don’t worry, though. Mr. Elder will get his own day in the sun!

      Liked by 2 people

      • KMB April 24, 2023 / 06:44

        Happy to help! It’s always a treat to see a post from this blog in my rss-feed!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Ellen April 23, 2023 / 14:55

    Oh lord, oh lord! I have never been that good at remembering names, and as I age, it gets worse. You’re right – Ramona Fradon. Both Severins are still very good, and non-repro pencil is miraculous. But once upon a time I wrote and illustrated an article. This was in the olden days of typewriters, so when “Tournaments Illuminated” wanted to reprint it, I mailed it to them. Unfortunately, the printer strained and grunted and repro’d the non-repro. Murphy lurks around every corner.

    Liked by 3 people

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