Written by: Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft.
Art by: Attila Futaki
Cover by: Attila Futaki
“Fish seemed like a nice old man and people believed his lies, But Albert was a child eating shark in disguise. Albert was worse than any fish in the sea. He killed and ate young children and enjoyed it immensely. Albert, a child eating Fish was he Who devoured the flesh of kids because he thought it was tasty.” – Macabre from “Albert Fish Was Worse Than Any Fish In The Sea” off of their Sinister Slaughter LP.
Severed #6 “Permanent Teeth”Chicago-based murder metal merchants, Macabre, hit the nail on the head with this nursery-rhyme thrasher about cannibal Albert Fish. The main villain in Severed happens to be named Alan Fisher and bears a striking resemblance to real-life horror Albert Fish. This is either a homage to Fish, a child rapist and cannibal, or a character composite of him and Peter Kudzinowski, a kid-killing railroad worker from the same 1920’s era. Hamilton Howard “Albert” Fish, also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Moon Maniac and the Boogey Man, bragged that he “had children” in every state, putting the victim count at around 100. Whether that was true or part of his web of lies is unknown, however he was a suspect in at least five murders in his lifetime (1870-1936). He was tried and convicted for the murder of Grace Budd and executed by electric chair.
Now most of the time you get a “horror” comic it’s filled with zombies, vampires, demons, monsters and gore. Those are supposed to be the hallmarks of horror books. There might be a scene or two of something disturbing or weird, but mostly it’s just blood, gore and the supernatural that sells you on the idea that it’s a horror comic. It’s stuff of fantasy and could never happen in real-life. For the most part it never really frightens you or gives the creeps. Severed is one of those rare horror comics that actually scare you. The fact that the main villain is based on a real and terrifying person just lends credibility to the story, making it all the more interesting and frightening. Snyder and Tuft know how to build tension and suspense with foreshadowing and dramatic reveals that take you for a roller coaster ride of emotional thrills and terror. In a very subtle and sophisticated way, Severed taps into your primal fears: the fear of betrayal, the fear of being alone, and ultimately the fear of being eaten alive.
For those that haven’t been following Severed let me give you a quick rundown. The set-up is a one-armed old man telling his story about how he lost his arm. The year is 1916. Jack “Brakeman” Garron, a young fiddle player, runs away from his adopted home in search of his father. He teams up with a fellow young drifter named Sam, whom he quickly befriends while hopping the rails. Jack is a bit green behind the ears, and Sam seems to know the ropes of surviving on the road. It turns out that Sam is a young girl that dresses like a man for her own safety. She’s a street-smart little spitfire that’s as crafty as she is gutsy. It’s a familiar trope, but don’t let that phase you as she’s not an obvious character. Anyway, Sam helps Jake busk for spare change with his fiddle and figures out a way to reach his father’s home in Mississippi. There is a slight romantic B story that springs up from this, but all that comes screeching to a halt when they stumble into salesman Alan Fischer. He sells phonograph machines on the road and seems to be a real character. Jack sees an opportunity with the charming Fisher to get home a lot quicker and perhaps cut a record on the way. But Al Fisher turns out to be a real creep. There’s a huge red herring scare in a dinner scene involving a bad joke. It’s kind of like a trust-fall between Jack and Sam, but with a bear-trap. This is where you think, “Oh shit, this is it. This is where he loses his arm,” and then WHAMMO!!! I’m not giving it away, but Snyder and Tuft really know how to work up the tension and pull your strings because this scene really got me. It’s one of the shining moments of the series.
You get the gist of what Severed is about. Issue #6 is the big reveal. The jig is up. The reader already knows that Alan Fisher is a flesh-hungry maniac with filed-down razor sharp teeth, but Jack is clueless to it. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Imagine you are trapped. You are alone with old man on the road that promises to record you playing your violin and deliver you to your estranged father. This man has previously beaten up a pimp to protect you. He’s a capable of savage brutality. Your best friend on the road, Sam, is strangely missing. You slowly piece together that Fisher is not the man he claims to be. What do you do when you discover the ultimate truth while rummaging through his luggage? Will you attack him from behind? Will you escape when he lets down his guard? Do you have what it takes to confront him head-on like a man? That’s what this issue is all about: nervous, violent confrontation, testing your mettle and the naked truth. Jack has to face reality and see the world for what it is as his hopes and dreams are crushed under the foot of a homicidal maniac. A moment of triumph and quick thinking ultimately leads to disappointment and tragedy. Jack is trapped again and the only way out is to fight for his life. I don’t do spoilers, so I will have to leave this on the vague side, but man, this issue is heavy. You find out all the dirt and just tear through it page by page. At one point I was yelling at Jack, “dude, get out of the house,” like it was a horror film in a cheap theater. The last few panels are almost too much to bear; it’s so damn good. Rarely am I so engaged by the writing in a comic.
The artwork is not too shabby either. Attila Futaki’s work is dusty and blurry and everything seems to be coated with some sort of grime. It’s intricate and subtle, but at times a little on the muddy side. Futaki paints the atmosphere of this 1920’s era with combination of soft watercolor and airbrush techniques. His pencils and brushed inks contrast with the coloring in a style similar to Mirko Colak’s work on Red Skull: Incarnate, but with more chiaroscuro. There is a strong push-pull of detail and mystery. I’ve heard comparisons to Norman Rockwell and Bernie Wrightson, however I think that reviewer was being generous. Futaki’s characters are expressive but his line and color work are not as controlled or stylized as either. The anatomy is spot-on, backgrounds and props are well researched, and the panel work is top-notch and tells a very dynamic and tense story…but the coloring is too soft for my tastes. Soft coloring is a turn-off and slightly distracting. If you are intending to give that vintage kind of vibe, coloring with streaky and defined brushwork like the kind you see in old horror movie posters could have worked just as well if not better. Or at least have balance of soft coloring and more defined work. It’s my only complaint and overall I think he nailed the tone and mood of the story.
Fukati’s cover to Severed #6 is like a postcard scene from the past that has been torn through, allowing you to see the evil lurking on the other side. Here’s the thing, you do that for one issue and it can work. However Futaki continues the theme of a rip-through for each issue, exposing more of the monster. He’s flogging a dead horse and it comes off as though he ran out of ideas. Attila could have done something really clever and cool here such as an animated freeze frame ala’ Rob Roskopp’s “Target” decks for Santa Cruz Skateboards by Jim Phillips. See here: Roskopp 1 and here: Roskopp 2 . Unfortunately it’s a missed opportunity. The rips don’t really line-up or look planned in that manner, ditto for the man-shark monster on the other side. I keep thinking about how cool those covers would have looked lined up like that in the Roskopp style. You could have even put them on a spinner rack, in hopes of achieving some sort of zoetrope effect and the monster would really have come alive. But alas, they went for classy conceptualization over the tacky sensationalism. Dammit. These Severed covers have also taken some hard criticism from 100 Bullets cover artist Dave Johnson, especially on issue #4 where he kind of famously trashed it on twitter (and then started a blog about cover design critiques called Johnson Cover Hi-lo).
The covers could have been a lot cooler, but honestly I don’t think they are that bad. Yes, they show a more conservative approach and rely on mood and eerie coloring to convey the subject matter within, but that’s better than the obvious cliché blood and gore of most horror comics. This is part of what makes Severed stand out on the rack, and that’s what cover design is all about.
So what are you waiting for? Get Severed! It’s probably one of the most original takes on a rite-of-passage story mixed with a monster-in-the-house/ boogey-man tale. It’s heart-pounding story filled with suspense and intrigue. It will disturb you. It will scare you. Most importantly, it will entertain you and keep you guessing. There’s a remarkable level of restraint and sophistication that makes this comic a realistic read. It doesn’t go over the top with gore and shock, and when it delivers scares they are genuinely bloodcurdling. I can’t recommend this series enough.
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