Sweet Tooth #1 - 'Out Of The Deep Woods Part One' - Lemire and Villarrubia
Story - Comics have a strong history of stories set in Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands, from Jack Kirby's Kamandi to Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra's Y: The Last Man, this particular milieu has proved a fertile setting for all sorts of stories, and has many more permutations (or atomic mutations) than you'd expect. So now we have Vertigo's Sweet Tooth, yet another wasteland book. But is it a waste of paper?
Haha, no, of course it isn't. Although this debut issue is mainly set-up for the world Jeff Lemire is going to explore, Sweet Tooth is a different kind of Post-Apocalypse book, it's weird, it's off-beat, and it's Vertigo. Jeff Lemire is somewhat of an child-wunderkind these days, his Top Shelf GNs Tales Of Essex County, and his Vertigo OGN The Nobody have been critically acclaimed, but I personally haven't read any of them, but on the strength of this issue, I will do so post-haste (or as soon as I have some money). Lemire's previous work apparently focuses on small-towns and how they act under certain circumstances, and in Sweet Tooth, he's dealing with the smallest community possible at first, a community of 2. Gus and his father live alone in the woods, isolated from everyone else. Oh, and Gus is a Deer-Hybrid mutant, So It's like Bambi, and also that Fall Out Boy video, and they live together in the Woods because the world has gone to hell. So there's that.
Lemire narrates the issue with Gus' rather childish thoughts. His grammar is mixed up slightly, and there's a sense of childish wonder, his description of Telephone poles as 'falled-over crosses' is poetic, and haunting. Haunting, that's the word I'd use to describe the feel of this book most of all, there's a sense of melancholy which pervades the issue, from Gus' attempts at play ('Get out Sinner!'), the way the chocolate bars stand out amongst the pure white snow, and the wonderful double-page spread where the seasons change and Gus' father passes away. It's really a sense of isolation that is presented here, and that's incredibly fitting.
So, Gus is left alone in the Woods because of his father's death, and this is where really, the adventure begins. He runs into 2 hunters, who attempt to capture him, and then is rescued by a mysterious one-eyed man who he has been seeing in his dreams.
Thinking purely plot-wise, this issue is pretty light, but as I said, there is a melancholia here, this issue has a genuine feel to it. Lemire has set up a tone unlike any other Vertigo book really, this is more about the quiet moments than the action. I'd have to read his previous works first, but I presume this how an Indie sensibility applied to Vertigo works. And of course, there are more than a few mysteries here, why did the world go all to hell? Why are babies being born with animal bits? What is the sickness that killed Gus' parents? Who is this one-eyed man? Why is Gus dreaming about him? There are all strong hooks, and are sure to hook anyone in.
Overall, this is a great first issue, it may be a little light on story, but when you're only paying a Dollar (or 80p), and the creator has created such a strong sense of what the book's tone is, you can't really complain. Much of the imagery in this book will stick with me for a while, you can't get any higher praise than that.
Art - And the chief reason why this book will stick with me is the artwork. Unusually for a Vertigo book, Lemire is illustrating as well as writing, and he does great job. Perhaps the reason the book feels so strong in it's tone is that it's all coming from one mind, but Lemire's scratchy indie art perfectly convey's Lemire's story, the trees of the deep-woods are simply lines, but this makes them look like bars to a jail-cell, which in a way, they are. Gus is spindly and small, the world is towering around him. The aforementioned 2-page spread is wonderful, and the image of Gus standing between his parents graves is one of the most haunting in a book choc-full of ghosts. And then there's my favourite bit, Gus' confrontation with a real-life Deer, and how we see his eyes... and the Deer's, and they are the same. Hits to the core of the book. Lemire's previous work has been in Black and White, so there may have been some fears that his work would suffer in the jump to full-colour, but this is not the case, Jose Villarrubia is a master colourist, and the tones used here are also great.
This is great cartooning, it may not be for everyone, but it suits the book exactly.
Best Line - 'Til there wasn't nothing left. Just me... me and the Deep Woods'