After reading Trillium, currently five issues in to an eight issue arc, I wanted more from Jeff Lemire. Thanks to a recommendation from Gracie Lou, my podcasting partner for Under the Comic Covers (a new segment of The Walking Dead’Cast covering each new issue of The Walking Dead as they are released), I decided to wade into Lemire’s emotionally wrenching and beautifully rendered story, Sweet Tooth… and I could not have been more pleased.
The story behind this post apocalyptic parable is that eight or nine years previous to the events in the tale, a sickness takes hold of the population as a whole, and those that did not die in the first wave of plague, will eventually die… with the exception of every child born after the affliction. The catch… each of those children are now hybrids of a human and some other random animal. Some of these hybrids are more human than others, while others more animal than human, but the protagonist of the story, the titular Sweet Tooth, real name Gus, may be somewhat special.
Spanning forty issues and collected in six trade paperbacks, published by Vertigo, Sweet Tooth opens with Gus and his father, alone in a cabin deep in a wildlife preserve in Nebraska, hiding from the rest of humanity. As the only person Gus knows, his father, a deeply religious man, forbids Gus from venturing outside of the forest, telling him that nothing but fire and pain exists outside of the preserve… and for as inaccurate as that statement is, it hits the metaphorical nail on the head.
Oh yeah… Gus happens to be a hybrid of a deer.
When Gus’ father eventually succumbs to the plague, some hunters come sniffing around for the hybrid boy, only to be shut down by a mysterious big man named Jeppard. After being enticed with a backpack full of chocolate bars, Jeppard gives Gus the nickname of Sweet Tooth, and together they leave the forest in search of the mythical “sanctuary” for hybrids. What follows is a mish-mash of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and, as others have called it, Mad Max with antlers… and the journey Jeppard and Gus take is one fraught with sadness, violence, abject horror, and betrayal.
Along the way, we meet with a whole assortment of characters as the story builds into something much larger than the sum of its parts: Wendy and Bobby, two other hybrid children; a group of women being held captive for the purposes of being prostitutes; militiamen intent on hunting down all the hybrids and unlocking the secret behind their ability to survive; and an Indian doctor who becomes a convert to something more magnanimous than anyone could imagine.
What attracted me to Lemire’s work in Trillium is that his art is unusual and surprisingly emotive. There is something sloppy and almost disjointed about his work that makes for an almost jangly nervous tic inducing style that may be an immediate turn off for some… but spend some time with it, and a stark beauty emerges that defies what you imagine you are seeing and eventually reveals itself to be delicate and frail, a complete juxtaposition from my initial response. This is also the case with Sweet Tooth… it is dark, foreboding, surreal, and down-right depressing both visually and in content; and out of that ugly swamp of human emotion and pain rises some gorgeous truths and takes whatever preconceived notion you may have about Gus, about Jeppard, about the world in which Sweet Tooth takes place in and makes you reconsider all of it.
Emotionally gripping and very stylized… Sweet Tooth may not be for everyone, but I am pleased beyond measure at having experienced this comic. Lemire seems to be in full command of his craft and in bringing his singular vision to the page, and I have an immense respect and admiration for those that can be both author and artist. Sweet Tooth is an incredible example of this… and the final issue is one of profound insight and beauty.
Start with page one… by the end, you may be a different person yourself.
Bobby am happy,
Cornelius J. Blahg