Years before I moved to southeastern Arizona, I set a western/horror comic book miniseries called Desperadoes: Quiet of the Grave there. The characters in the Desperadoes series had come together in New Mexico, but they were on the run and moved around a lot. In an Arizona town called Luttrell, on the Mexican border, they found peace for a little while. Luttrell was a real place, though it only had that name for a while and was more commonly known as Lochiel. Now it’s a ghost town, and Lochiel is still the name on the maps. During the course of Quiet of the Grave, some of the characters travel from Luttrell to the town (also a ghost town, now) of Shakespeare, New Mexico. I didn’t know then that one of the routes they might take to get to Shakespeare would lead them right past our beloved Flying M.
Quiet of the Grave was illustrated by an artist named John Severin, back in 2002—shortly after his 80th birthday. His work was stunning: gorgeously drawn, incredibly detailed, with exquisite craftsmanship and storytelling. He had been drawing westerns (and other genres, including war comics, humor, and fantasy) since the 1940s. Still, he did the research he needed to do, and he was sufficiently detail-oriented that he once asked if it was okay if he gave one of the characters a different gun than a previous artist had used, because it suited the character better.
The way it came about was this. For around 20 years, John (who was one of the original artists on MAD Magazine) had been doing humor art for a MAD-type magazine called Cracked. During that time, he had pretty much quit the mainstream comics business. But one day he was on the phone with an editor at WildStorm Productions named Scott Dunbier, and he said he’d like to get back into doing comic book work. I happened to pass by Scott’s office around the time he finished the call, and Scott told me the gist of the conversation. By then, WildStorm imprint Homage Comics had published a 5-issue Desperadoes miniseries and a 44-page one-shot, and I said something like, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Desperadoes story by Severin?” To which Scott’s reply was something like, “That’s what I was thinking.”
We had to act quickly, because if John was coming back onto the market, he would surely have some offers soon. We overnighted him the existing Desperadoes stories. I went home that night, plotted a 4-issue miniseries, and wrote it up. The next day, we faxed that document to John. He read through the outline and the comics and said yes.
I was, can I just say, over the moon. John Severin had been a lifelong favorite. Because he’d been out of the business, I never thought there was a ghost of a chance of working with him. Suddenly, it all came together, and every six weeks, he delivered a full issue, penciled and inked, as good as anything he had ever done. Simply beautiful comic book art.
Fast forward. We moved to southeastern Arizona and discovered that the places I had been writing about were now the place we lived. John went on to do more great work, including a terrific Bat Lash miniseries written by my compadre Peter Brandvold.
Fast forward again. Today, February 14, 2012, is the 100th birthday of our adopted state. How often in a lifetime does one get to experience his or her state’s Centennial? Here’s a hint—if you haven’t done it yet, move to Alaska or Hawaii before 2059, because those will be your last chances.
Yes, yes, it’s also Valentine’s Day. But that comes every year. So does Statehood Day. But the Centennial? Once. Only once.
Only, on top of that joy comes heartbreak, because word came today that John Severin has died, at the age of 90, surrounded by his family.
John was one of the best the medium has ever known, with an immediately identifiable style and a work ethic that never wavered. His work was, to the very end, an example of how good comics can be.
Working with John was the thrill of a lifetime, an experience that will never be matched or forgotten. I have rarely been so proud. But today, today...
The state I have come to love is 100, and congratulations to it, and to us. Arizona made 100, and goes on.
John only made 90, but his art will live forever.