Here’s the perfect example of a cover summing up the tone of the whole story to perfection. In one issue after another, an animalistic man ripping through images of 1910s Americana. These are the covers of Severed, a horror graphic novel providing a macabre twist on the nostalgic coming of age story.
Set in 1916 America, 12 year old Jack sits in a boxcar, reading a letter from his father. Throughout his life, he has grown up in the quite Jamestown, NY. But then he finds a bunch of letters that reveal his mother is not his mother. He was abandoned as a baby by his father, who went on to travel as a Minstrel singer. So, in the middle of the night, he sneaks out with his fiddle and takes to the road in search of his father.
Somewhere across America, a mysterious drifter takes to the roads of America. On the surface, he is Alan Fischer, a kindly old phonograph sales man ready to take someone under his wing. In any conventional story, he would have been the father figure for Jack. But his appearance deceives. For under his dentures, hides a row of shark-like fangs and they crave human flesh. Soon, their paths will cross.
Fischer makes for a frightening and fascinating villain. With a withered yet dignified face and a kindly manner, he wears the façade of a wise old gentleman like a glove. But when he takes off his dentures, it’s feeding time. And his favorite meal is children, for he can feed on their dreams. Adding horror is the image of him tattooing symbols of his victims on himself. He is most frightening in Gentleman form when he lures Jack into his trap, especially in a dinner scene beginning with a speech about humane ways of slaughter and ending with a giant bear trap.
Despite the horror elements, Severed plays more as a coming of age story than a horror comic. Writers Scott Snyder (American Vampires) and Scott Tuft center the story on Jack’s journey of personal growth. Having been raised in a safe environment, he finds out the hard way what a cruel and dangerous place the real world can be. Even without Fischer, he experiences brutish cops, pickpockets and pimps. But he finds help from Sam, a tough teenage runaway.
Secrecy seems to be the name of the game in Severed. From the moment Jack finds out his life had been a lie, the theme of trust plays throughout the novel. Every character has a secret to hide and they hide it for their own reason. Jack’s “mother” lied out of love. Sam lies out of necessity for survival. Fischer lies to trap Jack. It’s through Sam and Fischer that Jack learns how complicated trust can be.
Artist Attila Futaki (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) fills the pages with beautiful sepia-toned images of sun drenched dirt roads and moon lit city streets. The characters encounter symbols of 1910’s America from the vaudeville shows to railing of construction site. As with the cover, horror lurks underneath the beauty. In contrast to the sepia tone, is the blackness of alleyways and the murky red of gas lights. There are gruesome images of people scalped and child corpses decaying. It all comes to a head in a gory final confrontation.
The end result is a two faced graphic novel and both sides are thrilling and haunting. In terms of horror, Severed lurks into the basement of the children’s mind to fight an animalistic presence in a tailor made suit. As a coming of age story, it is a gritty look at classic America and a kid’s discovery in the real world. These contrasting genres blend together like spaghetti and meatballs (hopefully the meat isn’t people).