Marie Severin, one of the first women to become a major comic-book illustrator and who helped produce “Dr. Strange,” “The Incredible Hulk” and other classic works for Marvel Comics, died Aug. 29 at a hospice facility in Massapequa, N.Y. She was 89.
The cause was a hemorrhagic stroke, said a friend, Daniel L. Friedman.
Ms. Severin spent more than 50 years as an illustrator, handling all three of the major visual tasks in comic-book production: penciling, inking and coloring. She worked closely with Marvel’s editor in chief Stan Lee for decades and in 2001 was named to the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame.
In the 1970s, Ms. Severin was a co-creator of Jessica Drew — better known as the superhero Spider-Woman — and designed the character’s skintight red-and-yellow costume.
“Marie Severin did it all — penciler, inker, colorist, character creator,” historian and publisher Craig Yoe, the former creative director of Jim Henson’s Muppets, wrote in an email. He called her “one of the last of comics’ greatest generation.”
Ms. Severin began her career in 1949, when her brother, John Severin, asked her to help with comic books he was illustrating for EC Comics. She was often relegated to what was seen as the secondary role of colorist.
Traditionally, a comic book began with pencil sketches, which could be altered before eventually being drawn in final form by the “inker.” The pencilers, inkers and writers who provided the story line were considered the creative forces in comic books.
Then the colorist — Ms. Severin’s initial role — took over. Using a palette of 48 colors in that pre-computer age, she mixed dyes and applied hues to a series of black-and-white line drawings, thus giving comics much of their eye-catching vibrancy.
“It’s like music in the background,” Ms. Severin said in an interview with a website called TheSequentialArt.com. “I think of coloring as the music in comic books.”
Despite the high level of artistry, comic books were seldom considered a serious or collectible art form — even by the people who created them — until years later. The original artwork that Ms. Severin labored over, often under intense deadlines, was then sent to compositors and eventually printed on cheap, coarse paper to be sold to children for 10 cents.
“I would mix colors — golds, greens, blues and so on,” Ms. Severin told TheSequentialArt.com. “They never printed quite as vivid because, remember, in those days the paper was almost a tan to begin with, and if it wasn’t, it would turn so in about six months.”
After her brother moved on to Mad magazine and other publications in the 1950s, Ms. Severin joined Atlas Comics, which later became Marvel Comics, and was known at the time for its illustrated horror books. In 1954, a Senate committee held hearings on whether comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency, and the industry was forced to censor itself and cut back on the freewheeling images of earlier years.
Ms. Severin then worked for the Federal Reserve System as a designer and illustrator before rejoining Marvel Comics in the late 1950s.
“I was always drawing, but in my early years they didn’t know me as an artist, just as the colorist who could touch up stuff and fix lettering,” she told TheSequentialArt.com. “When I came back to Stan [Lee at Marvel Comics] he didn’t even look at my portfolio: ‘Oh Marie, it’s so good to see you. We need somebody in production.’ ”
But after Ms. Severin did an illustration for Esquire magazine, she began to gain recognition as an artist. She worked on “Dr. Strange” after its creator, Steve Ditko, left Marvel, then was instrumental in reviving the “Incredible Hulk” series in the mid-1960s. Her illustrations, and not just her colors, came to be featured on the covers of many Marvel comic books.
“She basically worked on every character Marvel had,” Friedman, a physician, musician and author who has written about Ms. Severin, said in an interview.
Lee often came into Ms. Severin’s office at Marvel’s New York headquarters with ideas for how he wanted certain characters to look. She quickly sketched as he posed as if in mid-punch or contorted his face in a menacing grimace.
“No one was able to present action and movement the way she did,” Friedman said. “Basically, her model for a lot of these characters was Stan Lee.”
Marie Anita Severin was born Aug. 21, 1929, in East Rockaway, N.Y., and grew up on Long Island and in Brooklyn. Her father designed packaging and other products for the Elizabeth Arden fashion company, and her mother was a homemaker interested in design.
Ms. Severin and her brother, who was seven years older and died in 2012, often drew together at the kitchen table, and she studied the comic books he brought home.
In addition to her work on comic books, Ms. Severin worked on special projects for Marvel and also helped illustrated Muppet Babies and Alf comic books, as well as tie-in publications for the Star Wars film franchise.
She lived for decades on Long Island and retired in her mid-70s. She had no immediate survivors.
In 2001, she was named to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame — considered one of the highest honors for comic illustrators — and won the Icon Award at the 2017 Comic-Con gathering in San Diego.
Ms. Severin had a wry sense of humor that she used to battle and often overcome sexual stereotypes in a field dominated by men.
“They say that women gossip,” she once said. “Well, networking is male gossip, and they ‘networked’ all the time.”