Scott Snyder is a literary giant and needs no introduction, but Scott Tuft is new blood in the comic book world, and together they are forging one of the most breathtakingly creepy books out there. SEVERED is the tall tale of a young boy in the early 20th century who runs away from home only to discover the greater horrors that await him on the outside.
Deemed by Snyder as a “historical horror” story, SEVERED evokes a certain sense of nostalgia for simpler times, while simultaneously bringing to light the utter terror that was dwelling beneath the surface. This is book will creep up on you when you least expect it, it will become the little voice inside your head, it will become the subtextual substance of your nightmares.
Now on issue 6 of a 7-part miniseries, the creative team has nearly completed their eerie adult fairy-tale. Snyder and Tuft sat down with Bloody-Disgusting to discuss the origins of the story, the difficulties of writing for a large audience, and the pleasure of writing horror comics.
ST: Scott and I have been kicking around the idea for SEVERED for a couple years now. We were captivated by the idea of a charming salesman who walks the roads of early 20th century America and will sell you whatever your heart desires. But for every dream he offers you, a nightmare comes with it. This character resonated with us and we wanted to use him in a story that elicited a deep fear… like the kind you have as a kid. So I guess it all started with our Salesman and a desire to construct a fairy tale for adults.
SEVERED takes place in the early 1900’s. What kind of research went into the series and was how important was it for the book to be historically accurate?
SS: We want SEVERED to exist in reality so it was pretty important to have the historical stuff fall into line. I think by grounding horror in reality it makes it a whole lot scarier and that was the ultimate goal of SEVERED. We did a whole lot of research for the book and it was actually one of the most fun parts of the process. We went to museums and archives and scoured the internet. I realize that doesn’t sound too fun… but it really was. Seeing all the archival footage, photos and listening to the recordings really breathed life into our story. We were so into the story that we actually took a road-trip that followed the course of the main character’s journey. To be honest, we didn’t spend any nights clinging to the side of a freight train but we did stay in some pretty seedy hotels that had probably hosted a serial killer or two before us. We really wanted to capture the historical reality of the book but also the geographic and psychological tone of the book and at the end of the day it was also just a great excuse to step away from the desk.
The story is a slow unraveling horror, verses your typical high action monster book. Was it your intent to create a horror book that attacks your senses rather than attacks readers with buckets of blood and guts?
ST: Exactly. We were going for deeper, emotional horror. Rather than spoon-feeding the horror we wanted to have it exist in the shadows and have the reader do a lot of the work… imagining what is waiting for him or her around the corner. For me you get deeper scares this way. That having been said, there is a fair amount of gore (later in the book) but even here… the gore is supposed to be more a symptom of the horror than the horror itself.
What in your opinion are key elements to a good horror story?
ST: For me, it’s emotional involvement in the story, which starts with creating strong identifiable characters and situations. If we connect the reader with the characters, we pull them into the story and then we can play with the horror. Scott and I like to go deeper with the scares… we like to pull them out of psychological spaces. The movies and comics that I find scary may be supernatural but the fears are rooted in the real everyday world.
How hard has it been to market a book like this in a superhero dominated marketplace?
ST: Well… we’re super lucky in this department. Scott has a big following from his other books and having his name, let alone his talents on the book puts us on shelves that other indie comics really struggle to get on. A lot of local shops are really great about getting the word out on new and different indie comics but at the end of the day, there’s only so much space in the shops and unfortunately a lot of great comics get overlooked.
SS: This having been said, the support for SEVERED has been overwhelming and shows that there’s definitely a hunger out there for
non-superhero comics. The medium is capable of so much and I personally hope to see more indie and different comics hit the shelves.
ST: Absolutely. I’m a filmmaker and have always thought in terms of film, so it’s hard for me to do any storytelling without film being influential. Attila is also a huge film fan and when we talked about the style, we referenced some comics but mostly talked film. We actually spent a lot of time talking about lighting, which – come to think of it – is probably a pretty odd thing to do when talking about the look of a comic. As far as the pacing goes, we did try to bring in some cinematic concepts with SEVERED. One of the cool things about doing an image book is that you don’t have to deal with advertisements in the middle of the book so, first of all, the story flow doesn’t get interrupted but second… when we are writing it, we know which pages will be revealed on a page turn and that definitely allows you to pace the book in a more cinematic way.
The book’s color gives the book a rustic look and really adds another layer to the story and really transplants the reader into the era where they story takes place. Who came up with the idea to use a different kind of color palette?
SS: Thanks. We gave Attila free range with the art and he came up with most of the color schemes. We did talk about making the book more emotional and discussed how we saw each scene and which tones would be most effective to convey the emotion but for the most part it’s all Attila.
Scott Tuft, you’ve done some work in movies/TV, but this is your first work in comics. How is the creative process differ for you in comics and how much of a learning curve has there been in adapting your writing style?
ST: At the end of the day, it’s the same thing but while you’re doing it, it’s a completely different beast. And there was certainly a bit of a learning curve for me. Again, I was super lucky to have Scott at my side because he’s a real pro with comic book form, dialogue, tone etc. And aside from his experience, he’s also a real natural. As far as the creative process goes it’s definitely different. When you write a screenplay, you write the dialogue for how it sounds but in a comic it should be more based on the way it looks. Also because you don’t have access to performance, you need to find a way to weave in subtext which is a lot harder in comics than on the screen. With movies, you have a captive audience for the running time of your movie and while the audience is involved they’re not doing as much of the work as the comic book reader who is constantly filling in major gaps – not just of action but also story. And when they finish an issue, their mind continues to mull it over for a month before they get the next chapter. So you have to keep all of this in mind.
The artist on SEVERED is Attila Futaki, how did you find him and what was it about his art style that made him the perfect fit?
SS: We found Attila through Jeff Lemire who met him at a comic convention. We were looking high and low for an artist who could capture this world and we saw a lot of talented artists but nothing quite clicked until we saw Attila’s work. He had done a couple test pages of The Unknown Soldier and they were so dramatic and tense and the story telling was spot on. When he showed us his take on a couple pages of SEVERED we knew he was our man. He’s great with tone and tension and we are so lucky to have connected with him.
Scott Snyder you’re currently writing Batman and Swamp Thing at DC, which are two of the highest profile books in mainstream comics at the moment that are getting rave reviews. Do you feel any pressure for the series (SEVERED included) to live up to the critical acclaim you’ve been getting? Do you read your own press good or bad?
SS: I definitely feel pressure. But I do my best to just put it to the side and figure out what story I would like to read the most about that character and in that way I try and pretend I’m writing fan fiction I suppose. I really feel like that’s almost the only way to approach these iconic characters. You have to figure out for yourself what story you would like to read about them more than any other one – no matter if it’s the best or the funniest or the smartest, it just has to be the one you’d like to read more than any other at that moment – and you have to write that for yourself, without thinking of the fans. For me, personally, whenever I start to think about the readership, or the characters in the public eye, I begin to freeze up. I mean, these are characters – Batman – that made me want to write in the first place, characters whose stories have been a constant source of inspiration. Yeah, pretending you’re doing fan fiction is the way to go. As for whether or not I read reviews, I wish I said I didn’t, but I do. I try and read a lot of them right now, mostly because I feel like I’m still learning a lot, and comic fans are so dedicated to these characters and the form that there is a lot of good and constructive advice to be had from bad reviews as well.
SS: I’ve been very lucky with the amount of freedom I’ve been given on these big characters likes Swamp Thing and Batman, but they still are the property of DC comics and there are parameters and expectations you have to work with. With creator owned material though, it’s purely yours – your imagination your creations and it really helps me, personally, explore and grow as a writer.
SEVERED is now available digitally the same day as print on Graphically and Comixology. What is your take on the whole digital verses print debate? Is it more important to embrace digital for creator owned works?
SS: I think digital comics have actually brought more people to the medium so I’m all for it. We get fan letters from a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to read SEVERED in print because they don’t live anywhere near a comic book store. Its pretty cool that you can be anywhere in the world with an internet connection and get a comic. As for creator owned, I think you’re right that digital availability is pretty crucial for us. We don’t have the resources of Marvel or DC to make sure that our comics remain on the shelves so digital availability allows constant access to our content. I hear from a lot of people who have scoured their state looking for an issue of SEVERED but rather than missing a piece of the story or waiting for the trade, they can download a single issue and catch up.
What was it about Image Comics made sense for them to publish when you could have easily published it through DC Comics Vertigo imprint alongside American Vampire?
SS: SEVERED is a story that is very close to our hearts and we wanted to do it in a specific way. Image allowed us complete creative control as well as ownership which was also very important to us. Vertigo is a great company and they put out quality comics and to be honest the best thing from my perspective is that their editors absorb a lot of the headache that goes into producing a comic. Still, SEVERED really didn’t feel like it fit there. Scott and I hope to do a couple more comics together and we are open to both Image or Vertigo but it always depends on the story.
Why should people give SEVERED a chance if they haven’t already picked it up?
SS: Can I refer to a blog site? If so please check out this review because she really hit the nail on the head. Basically SEVERED is a psychological horror that is designed to be both beautiful and scary as hell. In each issue we try to build on a different aspect of horror and examine the things that scare us. Attila’s art is really beautiful and transports you into the story. And for people who love horror but aren’t so sure about comics, SEVERED is designed to be accessible to everyone. Because it’s a 7 issue mini-series… it is completely self-contained and so unlike the superhero stuff… you can come into it completely fresh. Also the comic should elicit a different kind of fear than you get from movies and who knows, may actually turn you onto the medium. Finally… the first issue will soon be up for free on Comixology so what do you have to lose?
Thanks so much for chatting with us. I speak for all of us here at BD when I say we love the work you guys are doing and we look forward to your work in the new year.
SEVERED Issue #6 is available now from Image Comics