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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Artist John Severin Donates Work to Cartoon Art Museum Shortly Before His Death

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 9:30 AM

An original ink drawing by John Severn from The Rawhide Kid
  • An original ink drawing by John Severn from The Rawhide Kid

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

In December, the curator of the Cartoon Art Museum received a call from an elderly woman in Colorado on behalf of her 90-year-old-husband. "Are you familiar with John Severin's work?" Michelina Severin politely inquired, referring to one of the all-time greatest comic book artists in American history. Severin, a longtime Marvel comic book artist, had worked on Cracked and Mad since the 1950s, in addition to other well-known titles, including The Incredible Hulk. "He drew a comic about 10 years ago called The Rawhide Kid," Mrs. Severin continued, "and it got some press attention at the time."

Cartoon Art Museum Curator Andrew Farago looks over the 115 pages of Severin's work.
  • Cartoon Art Museum Curator Andrew Farago looks over the 115 pages of Severin's work.

Indeed, Curator Andrew Farago was well aware of Severin's work. When The Rawhide Kid was relaunched by Marvel in 2002, the main character was presented as a gay man, offering females makeovers and, despite heroically saving the day, making other masculine characters uncomfortable. Reception was mixed. The comic book relied heavily on innuendo and double entrendre, which was enough to shock conservative groups but disappoint those who wanted to see a positive queer character. Despite the controversy, Severin's artistic contributions to the comic, made when he was well into his 80s, were universally praised by reviewers.

Farago compares an original ink drawing to how it appears in the comic book.
  • Farago compares an original ink drawing to how it appears in the comic book.

The Severins moved quickly. Farago, who expected a sampling of pages from The Rawhide Kid in the distant future, was floored when all 115 pages arrived in San Francisco a month later.

"We discussed the donation December, we received the art in January, and Mr. Severin passed away in February," said Farago, who suspects the artist wanted to see it placed before his death.

ra_cam_severin_04.jpg

The Cartoon Art Museum has no endowment and subsists on a lean staff and small budget, but it hopes to develop a digital archive of Severin's work. The collection is not currently on exhibition, but it is readily available to scholars and artists by appointment.

ra_cam_severin_05.jpg

The excitement about the acquisition is prevalent throughout the Bay Area. Local writer Brendan Hay, who recently published the graphic novel Rascal Raccoon's Raging Revenge and is hard at work on the new Star Wars sitcom, is eager to visit the collection. (Read Laura Beck's post on Rascal Raccoon.)

"Severin's art helped shape my comedic sensibilities," Hay says. "He committed to the joke, and taught me that makes it even funnier."

The Cartoon Art Museum is at 655 Mission (at New Montgomery), and is open Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $5-$7.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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