SWEET TOOTH VOLUME 1: OUT OF THE WOODS
Written by: Jeff Lemire
Pencilled by: Jeff Lemire
Inked by: Jeff Lemire
Page Count: 128
U.S. Price: 9.99
On Sale Date: May 12, 2010
Writer/artist Jeff Lemire may be a current powerhouse over at DC Comics, but he came up through the indie comic trenches just like any other comic creator, and, since it was these indie comic offerings that brought this wildly imaginative creator to the attention of DC’s top brass, they are certainly worth a look even years after they were first published. While his work on DC titles like Animal Man, Justice League: Dark and Green Arrow are fine examples of Lemire’s prowess as a comic book writer, his shining work at the indie level casts shadows of inadequacy onto his major publisher works. Early indie book offerings like Essex County and The Underwater Welder, and his more current indie contribution, Trillium, are simply better, more imaginatively written and drawn comic book stories.
Lemire continues to shine through in his own stylized way in the apocalyptic fantasy title Sweet Tooth, a unique and interesting twist on a tired and overly used plot.
Sweet Tooth is the story of a boy with antlers named Gus, living with his father in remote woods, who, upon his father’s death, is persuaded to leave the security of his home by a gun-toting loner and enter a world gripped by an ongoing, seemingly biologic in nature, apocalypse. Weird, right? Yes, without a doubt, but the weirdness of the story does absolutely nothing to ruin it! Lemire effortlessly tells an interesting and compelling story while introducing the reader to a fascinating world full of charming characters without wasting a single panel of the book on unimportant aspects. Although the story is joyfully whimsical in places, there are layers of human morality painted onto each and every character. The main character Gus’s father is portrayed as the typical, overly protective parent archetype, while displaying a certain sense of crazy brought on by his hermit-like existence living in the woods, with this confinement to such a remote area being an effort to protect his son from outsiders. After his father’s death, Gus is saved from a couple of hunters; hunters who seem very interested in a boy with antlers; by Jepperd, a loner with an agenda all his own. The character of Jepperd is depicted nicely through a series of events that continually keep the reader guessing about his true intentions, while the reveal of his ultimate purpose for Gus leaves the reader almost torn as, through Jepperd, they relate to living in this unique post-apocalyptic world. All of this amazing character portrayal does absolutely nothing to diminish the story, however, and early signs of Jepperd’s candy bars ending up in the hands of Gus prior to their meeting, as well as very well done dream sequences, help to push the story forward. Jeff Lemire’s artwork on Sweet Tooth is distinctively his own, and acts as a perfect backdrop to tell the kinds of stories Lemire loves telling. I’m not sure another artist’s work would be as perfect a fit for this book, and I’m not sure Lemire’s art itself is refined enough for anyone else besides Lemire to use it in a book, giving Sweet Tooth a style that is uniquely its own.
There is not much “bad” going on in this book. Lemire’s style of art, while individually his own, is simply not for everyone, and readers that revel in more traditional, intricate artwork will not find Lemire’s style very appealing. The story, while quite fulfilling, is very character-centric, keeping the action to a minimum, which may be a turn-off for fans of Lemire’s work at DC Comics. Additionally, Lemire uses subtlety to a high degree when telling certain parts of the overall story, a technique that some, more traditional, comic book readers may have trouble wrapping their heads around. Another terrible aspect of this comic is just how utterly sad the ending is which honestly turned me off quite a bit from running out and getting the next volume. Of course, my feelings only solidified just how amazing a job Lemire did in making me identify, and therefore care about, the antler-headed lead character, and I’d really like to see him overcome the state of affairs he found himself in by the last page of the volume. Although the book was critically acclaimed as “Mad Max with antlers” I never got that sort of “Mad Max” feeling from the main character, and can only imagine this eventually comes to pass in the series, or USA Today is just a bunch of liars. This took nothing away from enjoying the book, but was a nit that I just had to pick.
You should really check out Sweet Tooth, at least the first volume, accurately titled, Out of the Deep Woods. Everything from the unique story-telling to the stylized artwork comes together brilliantly to retell the same old post-apocalyptic tale with a creative and compelling twist. Gus’ innocence and naivety set beside Jepperd’s seasoned knowledge and worldly attitude act as effective devices to humanize each character, and the “end of the world” backdrop allowed for some ingenious ways to twist those characters even further. It’s not just the appeal of this single volume that makes Sweet Tooth Volume 1 worth picking up, but the possibilities of where Lemire will take the story and these characters in the next 30+ issue of the complete run makes it that much more attractive. The fun and style of Sweet Tooth Volume 1 is enough to make it, and it alone, worth adding to your personal library, but the possibilities of this series so early on in its run, coupled with the sheer confidence Jeff Lemire has earned though his work in other efforts, makes the choice to pick up volume 1 of Sweet Tooth positively a no-brainer.