Have you ever read a comic book and experienced an ever-present feeling of dread? Well, Severed is the first horror book that I've read where I found this was the case, but let's step back a bit.
Severed is a graphic novel written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft. You may know Snyder from his extensive writing credits including Wytches, but Tuft’s comic book credits seem to start and finish at Severed.
Set in 1916 America, Severed follows the story of a talented 12-year old violaist, Jack Garron, as he runs away from his adopted mother’s home in Jamestown, NY in pursuit of the American Dream and his estranged musician father.
Brimming with hope and positivity, Jack takes to the railroad to catch a free ride into Chicago on the back of a freight train. However, it doesn’t take long for things to unravel when Jack is discovered by a law enforcement officer who tries to eject him from the moving train. It’s when things go from bad to worse that a fellow passenger has to come to Jack’s aid which ultimately results in a new friendship being formed for the sake of preservation in the big city.
Meanwhile, an orphanage in Illinois has a visit from a General Electric recruitment officer looking to give one underprivileged boy a chance to break out of his unfortunate situation with the offer of a sales apprenticeship. All is not as it seems once they hit the road though, as the boy's promise of a bright future blinds him to the perils of what's ahead. The man posing as a GE employee is actually hiding a dark secret and a set of razor sharp teeth which he uses to consume the flesh of young victims he's manipulated on his journey across America.
As the story progresses the two character paths overlap leading to some dark and twisted revelations, but what makes them all the more raw is they are founded on trust and the promise of hope. The trust toward strangers being genuine in their offers of aid and the hope of Jack finding his father and achieving the American dream.
Snyder and Tuft do a great job of tapping into the character’s range of emotions all the way from fears to aspirations, but for me the real craft comes from the sheer weight of storytelling they do in such a small number of cells. This is evident right from page one.
From the very first cell to the end of page two, the Scotts have laid enough groundwork to inject dread into the reader’s mind and make you captivated and curious before your sofa even gets warm.
Another effective writing trick they use is the overlapping of dialogue between opposing parts of the story. This technique does a great job of tying together narratives from across times and storylines to switch the tone from light to dark seamlessly but unpredictably, which is also reinforced by the duel-intention of the meaning. In the pages below you can see how the two separate story directions are linked by a hinge in the narrative. The sound metaphor is used to relate to both the fear of dread from a character’s actions, and the feeling of optimism in the form of a train to the big city.
There is one contributor I’ve left out of the ‘Severed’ line-up until now; Attila Futaki. Futaki is a Hungarian artist and illustrator famous for his work on the Percy Jackson series among others. What he (and the colourists Greg Guilhaumond and Bill Nelson) manage to do with the artwork on this book is nothing short of fantastic. The dusty, stained colour palette evokes the mood of an industrial era where the world feels used and tainted. The movement of the characters feels organic and real in the way that humans are corporeal and clumsy, and when a tone or a set piece is being shown, Futaki makes use of a wide angle to make sure the reader gets a real sense of the scene.
I bought Severed on whim in a Halloween sale and I have to say it’s absolutely one of my favourite horror books to date. The storytelling is top-notch, the setting feels authentic and the artwork is so good it feels like its own character in the book. For anyone who likes character-driven horror stories that actually make you feel something for the protagonists then look no further.
Oh and one bonus recommendation - read it more than once. It has plenty to give second time round too!
Published by Image Comics
Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki
Inks by Bill Nelson
Coloured by Greg Guilhaumond
Lettered by Fonografiks
You can buy it here (non-affiliate link)