When it comes to great horror titles currently out there, Image Comics’ Severed tops the list. Expertly written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft and illustrated by Atilla Futaki, Servered is the story of 12-year old Jack, who has run away from home and is searching for his long-lost biological father, musician J.P. Brakeman. Along the way he meets up with Sam, a homeless girl in boys clothing. In the meantime, we’re also introduced to a psychopathic killer who is after Jack as well.
If you’re looking for blood and guts, Severed isn’t for you. The beauty and the strength of the story is that it isn’t in a rush to scare you, which makes those creepy and tense moments offered in each issue resonant strongly. I was lucky enough to talk to Severed writer Scott Tuft via email about the series, what inspired it, slow burn horror and his relationship with his longtime friend Scott Snyder.
Scott Tuft: Thanks so much. That means a lot to us. Severed is really a labor of love and we were totally unsure how it would work with comic fans. A lot of comic book conventions were tossed aside and we went a bit out on a limb with some things. But we figured if we focused on one goal… to make something that we both found genuinely haunting… it might work. I can’t tell you how happy we are to see it resonating with fans in the same way it resonates with us.
Anyway… as for the inspiration… we set out to tell a story that would elicit the kind of fear that we had as kids. A deeper fear of what is lurking in the shadows. Scott and I are also both very into Americana and had been thinking for a long time about a truly American story about a man who travels the roads of early 20th century America and sells people whatever they can dream of. This guy creeped us out because there would have to be the flip side of the dream. An equally great nightmare. I think this was the jumping off point.
Andy Burns: The story credits belong to both Scott Snyder and yourself – what’s the creative process that happens between the two of you in crafting the story and the individual issues?
Scott Tuft: Scott and I both plotted out the story together and I took the lead with most of the actual writing. I’d write a draft and send it to him. He’d give notes and we go back and forth with every phase. This is my first comic so it was definitely a learning curve. Scott is a real pro and also a natural comic book writer. He’s been so helpful in showing me some of the tricks of the trade and also saving the project from some real freshman mistakes.
Andy Burns: One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about reading Severed is that the story isn’t in a rush. There’s a very deliberate pace that I feel builds up genuine tension rather than a series of just “big” moments – has that been difficult to create and maintain in a monthly series?
Scott Tuft: We’re really happy to hear that you (and others) like the slower burn that we are going for with Severed. We were genuinely concerned about doing a comic this way… especially in 2011. It seems like comics and movies now are faster and more extreme and we wanted to hold back. And I think a lot of the scares of Severed comes from this. We want the reader to be holding his/her breath and imaging what is waiting around the corner or on the next page. And we definitely didn’t want to constantly spoon-feed gore. The biggest question for me was issue 3, where there is no blood or gore and its pretty much a dinner scene. I was pretty sure that a lot of horror fans would be disappointed with this and while I’m sure some were, for the most part, it seems like a lot of people liked this issue the most.
Andy Burns: Along those line, there is an absolutely brilliant scene in the third issue between Sam, Jack and the man calling himself Alan Fisher in Fisher’s apartment.. You can really feel the tension build panel to panel, page to page – as a reader you’re sitting on edge, wondering what’s going to happen. How was that scene developed?
Scott Tuft: Ha. Speak of the devil. Thanks for the kind words. It was definitely a complicated scene to construct and Attila was pretty masterful in bringing it to life. He took a lot of time constructing the apartment in his mind and making sure that every panel would work to build tension. And the angles don’t repeat themselves so the feeling of being trapped in a room is perfect… not too stifling, always developing and changing.
Andy Burns: You and Scott Snyder have known one another for a while – are there any difficulties when working on a story with a friend, or is it relatively smooth sailing?
Scott Tuft: Collaboration is always tough but I’ve worked in film a bit and I’m no stranger to creative collaboration. I think the important thing is to separate the project from the egos. There will definitely be conflict but the good thing about working with a good and old friend is that you know at the end of the day your friendship is more important than the project, so no matter how gnarly it gets, you know that you have no choice but to keep being friends. That having been said, the collaboration on this one has been pretty smooth sailing. We both have come to a similar view of the project and we both know how the other one sees the project so we can sometimes even infuse it with each other’s ideas.
Andy Burns: Your background is in film – how has it been for you working in the comics medium? I would guess both come with their own set of challenges?
Scott Tuft: Absolutely. I love filmmaking but it can be a very frustrating road…especially in actually getting to the point where you are producing something. The more people involved in the development, the more watered down the idea can get and if you’re not careful, you can end up with something that everyone thinks is okay but no one really loves. Which – in my opinion – is why most movies today are the way they are. Comics has been extremely liberating for me. Especially working with Image. With Image, it’s just me, Scott and Attila making all the creative choices. It’s astounding to me that we can do really anything we want and the only people who matter – the only people who we are accountable to are the readers. So it’s a really pure art form and I feel so lucky to be able to do something this way.
Andy Burns: There have been a lot of great horror titles coming out of as of late (many of them from Image) – what are your thoughts on why horror works so well in comics?
Scott Tuft: I think comics offer a real intimacy between the writers/artists and the readers. I personally read comics alone in bed late at night and its pretty quiet… I can hear the pipes expanding in the background, the trees rustling… it can be a creepy way to experience something. I think you can get to a level of horror with comics that is much different than books or movies. Also, in comics, there are a lot more blanks to be filled in… stuff that happens between the panels… it activates your imagination in a way that the horror a lot of the time comes from you (the reader).
Scott Tuft: Absolutely. Right now Severed is a 7 issue mini series and it’s all written. We are thinking about expanding it though and have a pretty solid idea for where we would go. When we started Severed, the characters presented us with some really exciting possibilities and there’s so much we wanted to do that didn’t fit into this arc. So it would be really exciting to us to have the opportunity to delve into those concepts in a different story arc.
Andy Burns: Other than Severed, are you working on anything else at the moment we should know about?
Scott Tuft: I have a couple other comic ideas that I have been tossing around. Probably going to announce something specific soon. I’m also currently rewriting a screenplay that I’d like to direct.
Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re reading right now that you think Biff Bam Pop readers should check out?
Scott Tuft: Comic wise, the stuff I like is pretty visible. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man is great. Pigs by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool is also really well done. And obviously I read all of Snyder’s work. American Vampire is fantastic and so is Batman, but right now I can’t wait to see how Swamp Thing develops.
Thanks to Scott Tuft for talking to Biff Bam Pop! and to Image Comics’ Sarah deLaine for her assistance.