Sweet Tooth v.1: Out of the Deep Woods
Written & Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Colored by Jose Villarrubia
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC/Vertigo
Wow. I can’t recall a comic book quite like this. It’s a post-apocalyptic road movie, about a nine-year-old boy named Gus who has deer antlers. Apparently, in this new world, hybrids like Gus are big news, important news, as humanity is dying. After Gus’s father passes on, having warned Gus to always run when he encountered anybody, Gus is saved from poachers by a grizzled, older man named Mr. Jepperd. Together, Gus and Jepperd set out on a road trip across the tattered heartland of the United States to a mythical safe haven for Gus’s type.
Jeff Lemire, who came to comic readers’ attention a few years ago with his pastoral Essex County books, finds similar themes in Sweet Tooth. The quietude of small towns and shocking nature of violence when it occurs in these safe havens are captured with a knowing and understanding eye. Lemire presents Gus as painfully naïve, but in no way unintelligent. Despite his lack of knowledge of the world outside his father’s cabin, Gus exhibits the ability to make value judgments and questions Jepperd when appropriate.
The final effect is a believable and sympathetic protagonist who is in far over his head, moving through a world of carefully realized, scared (often far more scared than Gus himself) and desperate threats. Lemire’s strong ear for dialogue and careful, deliberate pacing ensure that each scene is grounded securely in an emotional truth.
Simply put, Lemire’s not the best illustrator you’ll find in the comics industry. Various pages display awkward dialogue or posture, most often in action sequences, and several pages have an unfinished scratchiness to them. However, he’s adept at capturing emotional turmoil in facial expressions (one needs only see the deer in headlights cover of the trade paperback collection) and body language. Similarly, his pacing and layouts facilitate a clear transfer of information from author to reader. In fact, the page layouts in Sweet Tooth are among the strongest and most effective I can recall in any recent comic. Lemire creates a powerful cinematic effect of solitude throughout the series, and makes strong use of blacks.
Sparkling with humanity and compassion, Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth kicks off with one of Vertigo’s most compelling debuts in v. 1: Out of the Deep Woods. The story unfolds very slowly, and it remains to be seen if Lemire can plumb more than a sense of isolation and paranoia from the series, but if his handle on Gus’s voice is any clue, readers will be treated to a penetrating look into the heart and soul of a young boy confronted by the overwhelming struggle for survival. Definitely recommended.