At times, the horror genre sets up a chain of copycats, but at its best, it has something original to say. From Image Comics, Severed has already become a cult classic that boasts thought-provoking motifs and vivid imagery. Writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, along with artist Attila Futaki, have crafted a horror story that transcends the genre itself and speaks loudly about human nature.
This coming of age tale has a running theme about the pain of adolescence; the fear of growing up. In 1916, 12 year-old Jack Garron sets off into the world by himself to find his long lost father. Because he is naïve and pure at heart, Jack thinks he is ready and old enough to face the world of adults, but he actually isn’t. During his journey, Jack encounters another runaway, Samantha, who rescues him from danger. Jack finds Samantha sexually attractive, but he doesn’t really know what it means. He doesn’t understand his emotions, feeling the awkwardness of a first crush. Their friendship turns into a budding romance, with the two sharing a kiss on top of an unfinished skyscraper, as the sun sets in the background. But their romance will be put to a halt because The Salesman, a child-killer with razor sharp teeth, haunts the roads, waiting for them.
Chapter 3, “It’s A Jungle Out There,” is a true lesson in suspense and terror. The Salesman, who just murdered an innocent child before, invites Jack and Samantha to dinner. This is an interesting scene with double entendres; what the characters are saying, isn’t necessarily what they mean. The Salesman sneakily teases his dinner guests, like a cat playing around with its meal. Sensing something creepy about the Salesman, Samantha doesn’t want to be there, but pretends to be. Because Jack is so oblivious to what is really going on, he doesn’t realize Samantha is hinting that they should get out of there.
The Salesman’s ulterior motive to keeping them in his apartment room is to kill them. In order to plant doubt between the two, he plays a devious game in mistrust, demonstrating how to use a bear trap. The claws will only snap shut if Samantha pulls out the pin. Putting his faith on Samantha, Jack places his hand on the trap. To test Samantha, the Salesman offers her his money and raises the amount a bit higher each time, tempting her to yank out the pin.
The main protagonist is driven by the universal theme of “I want to go home.” To Jack, home represents being with his long lost father, who he has never seen. As an orphan, he is searching for unconditional acceptance. Because he will search for it anywhere, Jack looks for a father figure and blindly forms a bond with the Salesman, who is cold-heartedly misleading him. During their road trip, the Salesman teaches Jack how to drive, providing him with illusions about what a father is supposed to do with his son.
Because this is an alternative take on history, readers can draw parallels to Scott Snyder’s other work, “American Vampire”. What separates “Severed” from “American Vampire” is that this is about deconstructing the America Dream in the 1900s. By not glorifying the past, Snyder and Tuft take an in-depth look at racism, child prostitution, and teen runaways. To present the dark side of the American Dream, Jack watches as white musicians put on black make-up on their faces. Later on, Jack encounters a child prostitute, who is around his age, and her pimp. In the beginning, Jack looks at the adult world with wide eyes. After witnessing these events, he becomes disillusioned and starts to have doubts about the Salesman’s true intentions.
the Salesman’s figure is made all the more disturbing by the fact that he is based off the real life child rapist and serial killer, Albert Fish. Fish’s crimes are heinous to an extraordinary degree, and viewing the story from the POV of a child who encounters such a monster adds extreme gravitas to the suspense. Snyder and Tuft offer a look into the grisly early days of the 20th century, and Albert Fish works not only as a real horror villain, but as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of the time. There is perhaps nothing more frightening than a child who runs away from home in the hopes to escape banality, only to be helped by one of the most vile men in history.
“Severed” is both a horror story and a period piece, and it works because of the painter-like illustrations by Attila Futaki and his use of cinematic angles. In Chapter 2, “New Skin,” Futaki plays around with shadows and lighting as he depicts the dead body of a murdered young boy. To illustrate the brutality of the Salesman, Futaki never fully reveals the whole body, just gives glimpses of the bones having been eaten. Readers are presented with the aftermath of what the Salesman does with his shark teeth, which makes him scary and dangerous.
Futaki uses natural lighting to illustrate the interior rooms, which are usually illuminated by candles and lamps. Because the slum neighborhoods don’t have money to pay for electricity, Futaki uses the brightness of the moon’s surface to provide a light source. In wide shots, Futaki beautifully paints the sky with reddish and orange tones as the sun sets in the background. To represent that Jack is in Hell, Futaki paints the Salesman’s basement in a red tone, lit by a homemade furnace.
If you look at his collection of work – “Batman,” “Swamp Thing,” and “American Vampire” – “Severed” is different than anything that Snyder has written. Perhaps because there is a more personal touch, “Severed” stands out from the rest. Years from now, when readers look back, “Severed” will be the one that will truly define Snyder’s writing career.
After “Severed,” Snyder and Tuft worked on another comic together, “Swamp Thing Annual” #1. I look forward to what these two creative minds will come up with next. Something like “Severed” comes along once in awhile, but if it’s the three – Snyder, Tuft, and Futaki – collaborating again, that project will definitely be extra special.
Editorial by Jorge Solis and Lonnie Nadler (but mostly Jorge)