Brace yourself for horror this August with the release of “Severed,” an ongoing series co-written by Scott Snyder (“Detective Comics,” “American Vampire”) and Scott Tuft with art by Atilla Futaki (“The Lightning Thief”). The new Image Comics focuses on a pair of individuals traveling the roads of the United States in 1916 as they deal with the expectations of the newly forming American dream from two very different perspectives.
Sndyer and Tuft have been working on the story for years, but have been friends even longer as the pair met the first day of high school. They’ve been discussing stories ever since. “Severed” offers them their first opportunity to work together on a project, though they have unofficially helped each other out over the years. The pair hopes that the particular brand of horror they’ve dreamt up with “Severed” lands with readers, but also sticks with them as they navigate through their own journeys through the more modern, well-lit streets of America. CBR News spoke with the two Scotts about their longtime friendship, the characters that inhabit “Severed” and the kind of horror they want to deliver to readers.
CBR News: How did you guys first hook up as collaborators?
Scott Snyder: Scott is my oldest friend. We’ve been friends since we were 13 years old. We’ve worked on each other’s things behind the scenes, whenever he’s working on a film — he’s a film school guy — I try to help him out in terms of scripting and reading the script. Same with me, he reads a lot of my writing. We’ve been pretty collaborative just as friends for a long time, so it’s a big thrill to get to do something on the record and that will come out with both our names on it. He’s a good guy, I’m excited. We met in high school, the first day of freshman year. He was the guy who liked The Cure and The Smiths and had blue hair and I was the new kid at school. We just became friends and he’s been my best friend ever since. We also like similar stories. We have a pretty similar sensibility and like the same stuff so we’ve had the hope to work together for a long time. With this, we’re both interested in the same stuff movie-wise and comic-wise and book-wise. When we started talking about wanting to do a horror story that took place in this time period, we thought it would be a lot of fun.
Did you guys have to do a lot of research on the early 20th century for the story’s 1916 setting?
Snyder: There was a lot of research, but at the same time it’s a lot of stuff that was of organic interest to me and him. The story is very much about a certain time point in American history when a lot of things were just becoming part of the American identity, like all these new inventions that were purely American like the automobile and being on the road and the kind of music that was springing up with recorded music becoming so popular right before the advent of radio. So this was a time when a lot of things we think of as what makes us us were becoming part of the consciousness. A lot of that was stuff I always loved and tried to deal with in “American Vampire” and stuff I’ve written about in my fiction. While there was a lot of fun in researching — we went to Chicago and did a lot of stuff for fun and went to Mississippi for the music stuff — at the same time it was stuff that we were organically interested in and have both used it in our separate [works].
Scott Tuft: It’s not a bad thing reading a lot of books about serial killers, also. [Laughs] We were like “Oh, you’re into this guy?” and kept going back and forth. “How about this guy or this guy?” It was definitely organic and something we were happy to do.
What came first, the general idea to set a story in this time period or the story beats themselves? Or did it come together all at once?
Snyder: A few years ago we started talking about what a spooky place the American landscape was at that time, what a strange blend of things. People were so excited and hopeful with all these new inventions like the modern electrical light bulb that was making everything so much easier and better and more modern. At the same time, it’s really spooky because the country is still so rough and wild and empty. So many places don’t have telephones and there aren’t really roads there yet. We started talking about the idea of telling a really, really scary story, but a story that was about both sides of that.
We came up with this idea of writing a dual narrative where one of the main characters would be driven by a lot of the optimism and excitement that was part of that time. That’s the young boy who runs away from home to find his father who is a minstrel, Jack Garron. Another character is a central figure of the book who would represent everything frightening and nightmarish and dark about that time, so somebody who uses all of those things to be your nightmare on the road, who’s predatory and changes his character to fit whatever you want. He’s a traveling salesman figure who haunts the crossroads with a suitcase. He will sell you what you want and then gobble you up and no one ever hears from you again. That’s how it really came about in terms of the concept. Then it was just hammering out the story together.
What else can you tell us about Jack and his journey that drives at least part of the story?
Tuft: It’s basically a coming of age story for him. He’s recently found out that he was adopted. He grew up in this more sheltered environment and he feels that this part of him that he never knew existed — that part deep down in him — this longing for the road [because] his dad was a traveling musician. He feels like he was designed for something more than this life he grew up with. He’s a confident, headstrong kid who goes out and searches for his dad, but his dad is the dream of being on the road. He is what Jack is looking for in himself.
Snyder: Not that the real father isn’t out there or that he won’t find him, but what his father represents to him is that fantasy of the romance of the road and the mobility, the free wheeling lifestyle and the sense of not being rooted and all the promise of the new landscape.
On the opposite side, what can you tell us of the monstrous villain character?
Tuft: They both represent these ideas of identity. Jack uses this time period where you can just go and find yourself and be who you want to for those purposes whereas the salesman is the opposite side of the coin where he uses the anonymity of the road to change into whatever people want him to be [in order] to, you know, eat children. [Laughs]
Snyder: We wanted someone who is almost like a demon of the road who sees what it is you’re hoping to find out there, holds it out in front of you like an apple and then you play right into his hands that way. We used composites of serial killers like Albert Fish and people that were around at that time period to make a character that would be both of the real world and at the same time someone who might be something even more, someone that’s so primal, like a real demon of the road that will always be out there hunting you.
Do Jack and the salesman interact early on in the series or is that something that gets worked up to as it moves along?
Snyder: Their stories are intertwined structurally from the start so you know from the opening pages that they’re going to wind up encountering each other. Pretty soon in the story they wind up finding each other. The villain is not your typical villain who waits behind an alley, you walk by and he snatches you. What makes him really frightening is his whole goal is this nightmarish sadism of taking the thing you want the most and turning it against you. It is sort of a slow burn, but terrifying and hopefully in a different way than other things out there. It’s sort of cumulative and a slow burn in a psychological way over time, but it does have a lot of gore and that kind of stuff. We wanted to make something that was scary in a slightly different way, but it’s more of a psychological and nightmarish tale.
It sounds like more of a cerebral horror story. Plus, you’ve got the real vastness of a much less connected countryside to contend with and that people could easily get lost forever, which could definitely add to the fear factor.
Snyder: We wanted to play to it a little bit. There are touches of that idea that focus on the kind of fairytale aspect of the world being a kind of enchanted forest that you as a kid go out and try to find something like the monster or the witch.
How did you guys hook up with Atilla Futaki to draw “Severed?”
Tuft: We were looking for an artist that would be perfect for this project. We searched high and low and at the end of the day we found him through [“Sweet Tooth” writer] Jeff Lemire, who I think Atilla had met at a convention. Jeff knew that Atilla wanted to get into more American serialized comics and so we went to him with the story and he loved it. He was the right-on person for the scares that happen in the shadows.
Snyder: His stuff is so lush and painterly and it really evokes that time period so well, at the same time it’s super expressive. The scariest part of his art is the emotion that’s frightening on the page. He definitely draws some scary visuals. From the beginning, one of the scariest parts about the villain is that he claims that behind his pearly white smile he has these shark teeth. Pretty early on you find out whether that’s true, whether he has these filed-down cannibalistic teeth or not. Attila draws those things in ways that are incredibly shocking and frightening in a visceral way. But what I love about his art too is that his storytelling from a character standpoint is so emotive and so invested in having the characters expressing through their facial expressions and different angles on the page. When they’re frightened, you’re frightening even when there isn’t something frightening on the page. It’s really really effective.
It seems like so much horror has become a little too ironic where no one is as scared of the monsters they find themselves facing as they should be. Was that something you were specifically working against?
Snyder: It was definitely something we were thinking of, not in terms of what else is out there, but in terms of [what we like]. We’re both big horror fans in books and movies and comics of the more psychological scares, everything from “The Shining” to “Silence of the Lambs” where there are definitely visceral scares, but that kind of tension throughout the whole thing that’s built through character work and atmosphere and tone.
Scott Snyder, you’ve obviously got a working relationship with DC and Vertigo, so why publish “Severed” through Image?
Snyder: One of the reasons we wanted to do this with Image — and we’re so happy to be there — is that, obviously I’ve done a lot of work in the DCU and at Vertigo, but we wanted to do a story here that was a different kind of thing, that was scary in a different way and to have full control over it. As great of an experience as I’ve had at DC, and I couldn’t be happier with everything, for this it was something that was so personal for us and we’ve been working on it and it’s scary to us in such a deeply interesting way, and isn’t in a conventional way, that people will really respond well. We wanted to go to a place that would give us a lot of room to breath and really figure out how to do it in a slow burn way and take our time and do it the way we want. Also to have it be something that’s thoughtfully scary, it’s genuinely frightening and something that will keep you up. It has real, immediate scares, but also thinks about what’s scary, not just in terms of the killer, but scary in terms of thinking about the things that you hope for and you would love that are part of the things we’re supposed to want [as Americans] and turning those back on you. It shows you the danger and the dark of the things you always thought were attractive or as fantasy or the things to be proud of.
Tuft: This is my first comic so I’m fresh to the whole thing and I don’t know if I’ve ever read a comic like this before. I don’t know if one exists, but it’s just a totally different thing in a way that hopefully will be successful as a serialized month-to-month thing, but the goal is to have it resonate with you more than the 20 minutes it takes you to read, to go back to it and look at is as something that’s greater than the paper it’s printed on.
Snyder: I think it’s safe to say too, for you, it might be your first comic, but you’re pretty knowledgeable about comics. I agree with you that I can’t think of a comic out there that’s like this one out there.