Punchy discusses the awesomeness that is Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth in this latest segment of Comics You Should Be Reading!
Synopsis of the book: In the not too distant future, a sickness has wiped out much of humanity, and a bizarre race of human-animal hybrid children have appeared. The story focuses on Gus, a young half-human half-deer who has lived his entire life in the woods with his father, until after his father dies, he is forced out into the wide world. Here he meets Jepperd, a mysterious loner with a tragic past, who promises to take Gus to 'The Preserve' a place where human-animal hybrids can live in peace. Things don't go as planned.
Reasons why it's awesome: There are four reasons why Sweet Tooth is one of the best comics on the stands today. The first is the plot. Whilst at first the story appears to be pretty simple, another in a long line of Vertigo 'road trip' comics with Gus and Jepperd travelling through a post-apocalyptic landscape and encountering various crazy threats. The series eventually begins to reveal a much deeper mythology and back-story, and Gus may be a lot more important than he appears. This mythology is doled out slowly, and cryptically, but it gives the book a lot of depth, and an epic feel.
The second reason is the characters. In his earlier Independent work on Essex County, Jeff Lemire proved himself very adept at writing strong characters, and on Sweet Tooth he's even better. Gus is one of the best representations of a child I've read in comics. He's not wise-ass and quippy, he's an actual child. Jepperd may appear gruff, but his sympathetic tendencies slowly appear. And that's only the two main characters, as the book goes on new people appear, and each of them have interesting back-stories, whether they be a misguided scientist slowly discovering religion, or a stupid ex-soldier or a human-animal hybrid who can only say one word. Lemire gives them all depth.
The third reason is the artwork, Lemire not only writes, but he draws the comic too, and he does a wonderful job at expressing what the book is about, one that I don't think another artist could have done, this story needed a singular vision to tell it. Lemire is also pretty experimental in his layouts and storytelling techniques, we've had issues that are landscape, issues that are all splash-pages. Lemire knows that art is as important as writing, and this book is a perfect melding of the two.
The fourth, and for me the most important reason why this book is awesome is it's unique tone. I've never read a book that made me feel so sad. This book is melancholy, it makes you reflect and think. Every issue has a moment that tugs on your heart strings. Most post-apocalyptic stories don't really give you time to stop and think on the fact that, hey half the world is fucking dead. Most of them can't waste time with that because there are zombies to kill or Amazon women trying to kill you, but in Sweet Tooth, the loss of civilization is tangible, and you feel that loss in all the characters. Juxtaposed with the innocence of Gus, it's a real tear-jerker. But that's not to say the book can't kick ass when it wants to, Lemire can do action too, but there are plenty of books with action, Sweet Tooth is one of the few with heart.
If you like _________, then you'll like this book: The nearest comparison in comics would be other post-apocalyptic stories like Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's The Walking Dead and Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra's Y: The Last Man, all three series' tell the story of a rag-tag group of survivors in a world gone to shit. But they are all very different in their takes on what it would be like, not least because the nature of each apocalypse is very different, but if you like those books, Sweet Tooth is similar enough.
I also feel that the story is similar in some ways to Stephen King's novel The Stand, currently being adapted into comics wonderfully by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins for Marvel. Both stories involve a sickness killing the population, and both slowly reveal deeper mythological implications behind the story, that make them more than just post-apocalyptic stories.
Perhaps the closest comparison is another novel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which while there are no human-animal hybrids, comes closest in tone to the sadness of Sweet Tooth. It's a literary classic, and there's a reason it's a post-apocalyptic story that's reached beyond the genre ghetto and been seen as 'proper literature'. The relationship between Gus and Jepperd is also pretty similar to the Man and the Boy.
Best pick-up point: Sweet Tooth is a continuing narrative, so you're best off starting at the beginning. The first volume, Out Of The Deep Woods is, like most Vertigo Volume 1s available at a low price, so you can try it out without breaking the bank. The second and third volumes are also available now.
Final Thoughts: Sweet Tooth is one of the most unique books in comics right now, it's tone is unlike anything else, and books like this need to be supported. In the current comics climate, where Vertigo is looking increasingly threatened, every one of their books need support, and this one most of all. If you're looking forward to Lemire's new Animal Man or Frankenstein books, you owe it to yourself to check his Vertigo epic out first.
Written or Contributed by: Punchy