It’s been years since Earth was struck by a mysterious plague. Called The Affliction, it killed billions and gave rise to strange genetic mutations – the birth of countless human-animal hybrids. Innocents, they are born into a hostile world where they are targeted by suspicious and fearful survivors. Gus is one such off-spring, a naïve boy who has spent his entire life in isolation, under the protection of his God-fearing father. But when his father dies, Gus is forced to venture out of the wooded environs he calls home. It’s a quest for food, for survival, that is made all the more difficult by Gus’s curious abnormality: the conspicuous antlers sprouting from his head.
No sooner does he leave the safe confines of the deep forest than he is set upon by a group of hunters. Fortunately, rescue comes in the form of a grizzled mystery man named Jepperd who dispatches the hunters in violent fashion and takes the frightened Gus under his wing. The unlikely pair then set off on a journey to a fabled sanctuary, the “preserve”, where hybrid children are reputedly free to thrive in the safety of a sheltered environment.
Along the way, the two bond over perilous encounters, campfire chats, and a Gus’ love of candy bars (which earns him the nickname Sweet Tooth). While it is clear that Jepperd is a man of many secrets, it isn’t until volume 1’s final pages that the depth and darkness of his prior life are revealed. And it’s this shocking revelation that turns the story on its head, ending the first book on a heart-breaking note and holding the promise of greater tragedy to come.
Writer/Artist Jeff Lemire paints a bleak picture (in both words and colors) of a grim dystopian world rife with death and danger – yet manages to counter-balance the prevailing darkness with brighter elements: the comical dream sequences, the colorful almost garish visuals of the book’s more violent sequences and the touching friendship that develops between Gus and Jepperd.
I picked up this first volume of Sweet Tooth several months ago in a bid to expand my comicly horizons, figuring I would try something new. Well, the fact that I ended up making it the July Book of the Month Club pick should give you some indication of how much I enjoyed it. I was looking for something unique and that’s exactly what I got in terms of narrative, visual style, and, most importantly, the characters of Gus and Jepperd who, though very different, prove equally likable. Yes, I’ve read reviews that compare Sweet Tooth to McCormack’s The Road and, while I agree there are similarities in their basic premise, I found Lemire’s vision unique and arresting. For the record, I didn’t enjoy The Road because – ironically enough – I found it compared unfavorably to Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
A terrific opening chapter to what (three volumes in) is shaping up to be an engaging and poignant series.
So, those are my initial thoughts on Sweet Tooth. What did you all think? Start posting your comments and questions for writer/artist Jeff Lemire!
A reminder to cast your vote in the Name Trevor’s Baby Contest. Click this link (June 30, 2011: Vote for one of the finalists in our Name Trevor’s Baby Contest! And other stuff!) then scroll down to choose from among the fabulous five finalists: Trouble, Orpah, Spearmint, Eufemia, and Muff.
Come on, Oprah!