Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather exhibition opens at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum

The San Francisco-based Cartoon Art Museum is celebrating the art of John Severin‘s final Marvel Comics western series, Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, in an exhibition that will be on display from now through April 2019.

Johnny Bart made his debut in his own comic book series, Rawhide Kid, in March 1955. The series, published by Marvel Comics forerunner Atlas Comics, was originally written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Bob Brown, although additional artists including Russ Heath, Joe Maneely and John Severin also contributed to the original 16-issue series depicting the 19th century adventures of the young, arrogant gunslinger.

Rawhide Kid Volume 1 #1

The original series concluded in 1957, and after a brief hiatus, Stan Lee revived The Rawhide Kid in 1960 as an action-packed western series with his frequent collaborator Jack Kirby, and fans thrilled to his adventures over the course of 151 issues over the next two decades.

Apart from a few short-lived revivals, The Rawhide Kid appeared rarely from 1980 to the early 2000s, when comedy writer Ron Zimmerman proposed a five-issue miniseries, Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, to be illustrated by legendary comic book artist -and illustrator of the original Rawhide Kid comic book series – John Severin.

Rawhide Kid - Slap Leather

Cover by Dave Johnson

The entirety of Severin’s original artwork for this Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather was donated to the Cartoon Art Museum’s permanent collection shortly before his death in 2012, and the Museum says it is honoured to display this work publicly for the first time since his passing.

The “gay western”-styled series provoked strong reactions from some, with the American Family Association part of a campaign to straighten out Marvel’s hero.

The comic’s editor, Axel Alonso, defended the character’s reinvention, telling The Guardian: ‘Marvel wants to do books that reflect society in all its shapes and forms. This is not a gay outreach programme. Generally speaking in comics, characters are either paragons of virtue or victims. The Rawhide Kid is neither… he’s the enigmatic cowboy who can get into a fist fight with five desperadoes and still worry about getting his hair mussed.’

Rawhide KId - Slapped Leather by John Severin

Art by by John Severin

Rawhide Kid artist John Severin’s career began during the mid-1950s at the legendary EC Comics, earning the young artist recognition for his work illustrating popular western titles and the classic war comic Two-Fisted Tales. With the demise of EC, Severin continued to work in the western and war genres at Atlas Comics, an early incarnation of Marvel.

Severin also earned regular assignments with his humorous style – first for MAD and then its closest competitor, Cracked. Severin soon became Cracked’s in-house cartoonist, guiding the humour magazine’s irreverent style for nearly 40 years until his retirement from the publication in 2000.

Sgt. Fury #81 Splash Page pencilled by by Dick Ayers and inked by John Severin

Sgt. Fury #81 Splash Page pencilled by by Dick Ayers and inked by John Severin

In 2001, Severin was honoured by the Cartoon Art Museum with its Sparky Award for lifetime achievement in cartooning, and in 2003, Severin was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. He died in 2012.

The Cartoon Art Museum’s mission is to ignite imaginations and foster the next generation of visual storytellers by celebrating the history of cartoon art, its role in society, and its universal appeal. The museum’s vision is to be the premiere destination to experience cartoon art in all its many forms from around the world, and a leader in providing insight into the process of creating it.

• The Cartoon Art Museum can be visited online at cartoonart.org and at its new location, 781 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94109 USA

Read an interview with John Severin on The Comics Journal

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