Archeology of a What If–? Cover

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To What If–? #26

One of the most happy things to do in the old Marvel Bullpen of 1981, was to stop by Marie’s area and say hello. It’s hard to introduce Marie Severin to the few who might not know her because all one can do is gush. Let’s see what I can do—I’ve read about Marie’s early history in comics. Her time was before comics were what we think of them nowadays.

Marie Severin Bio

© TwoMorrows Publishing

Marie Severin The Mirthful Mistress of Comics

By Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan

ISBN-13: 9781605490427

I cannot recommend this book enough. If you’ve ever seen any of Marie’s work and ever wondered about her, this does a good job of taking you back to a seldom seen part of comic history. Which is a woman’s experience. As well as glimpse into the world of early comics.

Her brother, John Severin, whom she often stated “was more talented” than she, was a major person of the illustrated form starting in the early 50s. Sure, John really was a big deal and extraordinarily talented and accomplished—even by the 50s! He made inroads at Bill Gaines’ whole pile of EC Mags and Mad Magazine—all the super controversial (rather) adult horror and war comic books—well… magazines. (That distinction is a huge digression and I’m not doing it!)

But we’re talking about Marie, John’s little sister. She may have been that, spending time in the “EC Magazine” salt mines, as a colorist. Not too much longer after that, she emerged as a full-fledged artist in her own right. Of course, fighting the sexism of the day was an unending battle, but Marie persevered.

When much younger, I first knew of Marie’s work on Marvel’s Not Brand Echh which I still believe is the best example of everything that is Marie. Smart, funny, well-crafted art, playful and showing a great range of talent. Yes, this was also a book that let a lot of other mainstream comic people “let loose.” But for me, Marie was consistently funnier. Anyway, finding the individual books is onerous, so here:

Not Brand Echh Masterworks

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

Marvel Masterworks Not Brand Echh, Vol 1-13

ISBN-10: 0785190708

ISBN-13: 978-0785190707

As I check into the above, it has become rather pricey. It is possible to pay yet more exorbitant prices for the original editions of the single books and there seems to be only first editions! Some of the stories have been reprinted in comic form but not as complete books. But at least in the comic world one can find some fairly battered but completely readable versions for much less money. Jack Kirby penciled the cover to #1, above on the MM. Marie contributed a really funny send up of the western comics of the day. Marie revved up several issues beyond, starting with #2, here showing her cover:


©Marvel Entertainment LLC










Near the end of her long career, sage and storied DC Editor Mark Chiarello tapped Marie –with the exemplary Ty Templeton as author–  to do a wickedly funny story with a sucker-punch ending about Batman—“Batsman” It doesn’t get much better than this:



©DC Comics

Batman Black & White Vol 2

(Second Edition)

Edited by Mark Chiarello

 ISBN-10: 1563899175

ISBN-13: 978-1563899171

Or, maybe it can. Looking at the serious side of Marie shows a depth of sensitivity and warmth rarely found in the world of comics. Francis Brother of the Universe was one of a few bio-books that Marvel did. I watched Marie do some of this book as she did a little here and there while on staff in the “Black & White Department.” She had switched to a steel point ink pen to achieve a more controlled but stone etched look. One has to agree, it was a fitting look. A casual flip through will show that she “poured on the coal” for this project.

St FRancis Cov©Marvel Entertainment LLC









So if answering to a higher call as a Catholic were not enough of an exercise of her talent then Marie outdid herself as a woman in the, then, mans’ world of comics. Perhaps her last job was a reflection of that truth about her in her world. The stories she illustrated in Dignified Science spoke of women in the mans’ world of science. Marie contributed to the lives and times of Marie Sklodovska and Marie Curie.


©Jim Ottavianni

G.T. Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-9788037-3-5

I might feel it more correct to say that Marie Severin stood above any evaluation of her sex in regards to her talent. But it was Marie herself who pointed out what she felt about being a woman in the man’s world of comics.

All of this preamble is to explore a piece of artwork that I happen to have. A piece that Marie gave to me. Here it is:

What If 26 Cov SM













©Marvel Entertainment LLC

This cover, What If–? #26, is one of my proudest objects from all my time at Marvel. Because it was a gift from Marie.  It’s a rather dignified statement of the wild and wonderful story apparently pitched by no less than Roger Mackenzie, but contributed to by Don Perlin, Roger Stern and John Byrne and Editor Denny O’Neill approved.! Then it was up to monumental Mike Barr to hammer some sense into the script. I should point out that Mark Gruenwald was Denny’s Assistant at that point. At least when the story was pitched, some 3-4 months before the cover date. Also note that Marie signed it as done by “1/81.”

Marie designed the cover. I believe that much is clear because Marie, being a master colorist, would also design the cover in such a way that no one could see all the fun she had around the central, color-emphasized “spotlight.”

What_If-_Vol_1_26 Cov











©Marvel Entertainment LLC

In this unprecedented sharp and crisp view, we now can see…

What If 26 Cov HT et al CU















Top to bottom, left to right: The Thing, Ben Gyrich/

Herb Tripe, Nick Fury/

Gil Kane, (possibly) Jim Shooter/

Bob Hope, Chief Justice Vinnie Colletta (!)/(possibly) Sue Storm and Pres. Jimmy Carter

What If 26 Cov Tartag Gru Marie CU
























Up top, John Tartaglione, a very serious Mark Gruenwald and just below, Marie herself.

What If 26 Cov ERB RC CU













Top to bottom, left to right: Robbie Carosella, unknown/

Frank Sinatra, unknown/

(then) NYC Mayor Ed Koch/

Pres. Gerald Ford and (>ahem<) me! Eliot Brown (riding the cover trim line… just my luck!)

I have stored it flat, kept it very dry and cool but the volatiles of the rubber cement that holds things together has gone. The last few times I picked this up, a flap of stat paper popped up or an edge “jumped.” When you have to pieces of paper glued together, if you bend one it takes on a certain radius. The other has its own thickness difference of that first radius, thus forcing apart the two. The rubber cement, skillfully applied, has lasted almost four decades. But its time was up.

As I saw one piece flap, some artwork was revealed beneath! And it was funny. Some time passed and I decided things were failing rapidly, so everything had to be taken apart and re-applied. When I did so:

What If 26 Cov strpped SM



















©Marvel Entertainment LLC

WI 26 Rogues Gallery CU






Rogues’ Gallery Supreme! Now ain’t this somethin’! L-R following up-and-down: We have a big-eared Cone Head, Adolph Hitler (with a retouched moustache), Dr. Doom in a nice suit, a regular D. C. politico, what was presumably Dr. Strange is now floating head Smiley Face, Gabe Jones, The Red Skull (–? With helmet), Johnny Storm and unknown but with a Santa hat on.

When Marie put together the cover—which may have been done by Mike Higgins, crack on-staff lettering correction artist (who I believe did the pain-in-the-neck Presidential Seal (used without permission of the President—which may be okay if it’s not the whole seal… ?)) and who also was to letter the book – she had to retouch Hitler’s trademark moustache. She precisely place der Fuhrer’s face right on the line that would be made from the stat paper that had the logo. Well, it wouldn’t do to actually have that fellow in such a recognizable condition. To punch through this dense white retouch paint, I flipped the page over and shone a flashlight through it:

WI 26 Furhrer Moustach Copy











Of purely technical note: The stat paper that Marie used was from Stu’s stat machine (a photographic and primordial form of Xerox Machine to those under 45!). Stu’s ancient machine used “single weight” Photostat paper—which means it was easier to touch up the artwork to the edge of that paper. I have covered Stuie’s machine in many places. For this archeological dig I should point out that his machine made “reversed” prints only. If art was black ink on white paper, the resultant “first print” was a negative version, white artwork on a black background. To get it back to black on white, a “second print” is made. By the time this narrative took place, the idea of asking for first or second prints had fallen by the wayside. And to mangle my asides, “Stu knew the way to carry the sleigh—Oh!” All Marie – or Mike – had to do was figure out the size needed and Stu would take it away!

So there it is, a gift from Marie to the future. And the future is now!





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