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!

26 thoughts on “July 4, 2011: Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

  1. Just voted… comes Trouble – actually that was our first cat’s name – he got run over by a neighbour but my parents told me the cat lady down the road took him. I believed them.

    Anyhoo I recovered.

    So folks in London and surrounds – what are you up to this weekend? I hope you’re all going to the London Film and Comic Con. The best stuntman in the world, Stargate’s own James Bamford, will be doing a super awesome stunt show and meeting all the fans. Don’t miss it!!! Also, SGU’s Robert Knepper is there. I’m sure he’ll be heaps of fun.

    This has been a paid advertisement….haha….I soooooo wish I could go.

    Cheers, Chev

  2. “Come on, Oprah!”

    Stop that! Not fair! You’re using your infinate power and blog ownership to influence the vote. Go little “Muff” Finn! Muff ! Muff !! Muff !!!

  3. Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

    This was my first ever comic book and I was mightly impressed. But maybe not in the way you would think. I was reading along and looking at the pictures thinking they help tell the story just as much as the words do. And I was thinking the writer and artist have got to be in sync with each other to tell the story properly. (and thinking, I hope Joe has a good artist that knows where his story is going) Then I realized Jeff Lemire was both writer and artist for Sweet Tooth. Wow! I don’t know what he is best at – writing or illustrating.

    The story reminded me of Daryl Gregory’s The Devil’s Alphabet. It is about yet another mysterious plague that adversely affects human’s physical characteristics. At least in Sweet Tooth, the cause is not stated. Just like in Daryl Gregory’s book, not everyone has changed, which sets them apart from everyone else. The story also reminded me of Gail Simone’s short story in MaskThug The antler headed Gus is an endearing, simple-minded, innocent character. The short time we “saw” with his Dad was interesting. When Gus left with Mr. Jepperd and was having those “bunny dreams” I was interested in knowing what that was about. They get to the sanctuary where he leaves Gus. Lots of unanswered questions.

    At first glance (thumbing thru the pages), the book looked dark and confusing, but actually it was well organized, quick and easy to read. I didn’t realize it ended on a cliff hanger. (Ohhhh, so that’s how these comic books go?) Don’t leave me hanging! Well, I already bought volume 2 and 3. I would have been done with 2, had I not had company come this weekend. Maybe that’s best in order to give Sweet Tooth a fresh view and so I can ask the most important question…what’s in the bag??? I really enjoyed the comic book, obviously because I am continuing with the story. I will be back to post official questions for Jeff Lemire.

    By the way, page 68, “Well maybe you shouldn’t eat so much candy before bed.” I thought…what the hell! This is suppose to be a fantasy, not real life! Leave the kid alone!

  4. Emergency bento question…how do you heat the oatmeal w/o heating the fruit?

    Is it even real bento if you use a bento box w/ compartments, because the real question I’m getting at is, how do you heat the soup/leftovers in compartment A w/o heating the peanut butter dip in compartment B?

  5. Okie dokie, Mr. Das is just about ready for bed, which means I’ll have some quiet time to share my thoughts about Sweet Tooth.

    Firstly, this isn’t a book I would have normally picked up. I mean, there’s nary an albino in sight. 😉 It’s also not a superhero book, which is – with only a couple exceptions – what I read the most. So it was quite a surprise when you sent me a copy, Joe, especially considering that you know the sorts of things I like to read. I guess you figured I needed to expand my horizons a bit. Either that, or you figured this would be right up my alley.

    And so far, it is. Right from the beginning the story drew me in, kept me turning the pages. Although it was a bit darker than I’m used to, I didn’t find the story depressing (at least, not yet). Instead, it intrigued me, kept me wanting to find the answers to questions the story raised. I like a story that pulls me along like that, how it becomes a mystery, a thriller, a tale of suspense. In this Sweet Tooth really worked for me, raising what seems to be different moral issues from those of your ordinary post-apocalyptic story. It is so much more than just a tale of survival, and by the end of the book I really didn’t know what was going on or who was good, and who was bad, but I sure wanted to find out!

    Something else worked, too. That was the relationship between Gus and Jeppard. At first I wasn’t sure about Jeppard, but the character really grew on me. I don’t know what happens to him after this first arc, I don’t really know what sort of man he is, but I do know that he intrigued me and I want to know more about him. I liked how the curious relationship between Gus and Jeppard grew, and how you sort of get the idea that this kid isn’t exactly what Jeppard expected. His innocence seems to hit a nerve on more than one occasion – maybe pricking what Jeppard once thought was a long-dead conscience? I don’t know – but that’s how it came across to me.

    I fully intend to keep reading this story. I am in the midst of switching to trades (I just prefer the format, especially with how hectic life has been lately), and this is on my ‘to read’ list. I’m very pleased that you introduced me to this story, Joe, and look forward to this week’s discussion.


  6. I wasn’t following the baby naming contest, but do you not know what muff is slang for? The poor kid’s gonna get traumatized at school.

  7. @Joe: Sorry, no comments on this one as I didn’t read it. Just didn’t have time. Re-reading The Name of the Wind so I can read The Wise Man’s Fear. Then I can move on to other things.

    @das: nice pictures, but we would really like to see you, too!

    @DP: you might want to look for a bento box that has removable compartments for times when you want to reheat some but not all of the meal you have packed.

  8. I went to Barnes n Noble but they didn’t have a copy of Sweet Tooth. I’m going by Borders today. Wish me luck!

  9. @ Jaspar, was it Steve Harvey who had that joke about his mother beating him with his brother? Using kids as weapons has a certain sangfroid; kids are handy, plentiful and hardy and last longer than switches in stranger-beatings. Thank goodness this kid is being raised in a country where authorities intervene.

    Muff Finn does have a nice ring to it. Poor Lil’ Oprah, she may lose the baby naming contest but she has great piles of money and John Travolta to console her. Sorry, meant to say JOOOooohnn TRaaavOOOOltaaaaa!!

  10. @FargateOne

    The original Stargate movie was pretty good and pretty much got the interest in the Stargate name, if anything a new Stargate movie may reignite interest in a Stargate series, its a long shot but hey after the SGU stuff, I think Stargate needs all the help it can get at the moment.

    So yeah, wouldnt be too fussed about a Stargate feature film, it can only be a good thing.

  11. Off topic as I haven graves Sweet Tooth yet but want to 🙂

    Remember working on Student Bodies? The lead young male actor Ross Hull? Well he is now the lead meteorologist at my local news CTV SWO (formally CKCO). I see him and think of you, odd no?

  12. I don’t read comic books so this was a change of pace for me. I went in with no expectations, knowing nothing about the premise, and was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Sweet Tooth. The stark visual representation of the post-plague world set the tone and the care with which the characters were drawn really made them come alive on the page – Gus’s innocence, Jepperd’s cold ruthlessness, and the fearfulness of the survivors encountered along the way.

    Questions for Jeff Lemire:

    1. A chicken and egg question. What came first, the writer or the artist?

    2. I’m guessing that Sweet Tooth is quite unique in comparison to other comic book collections out there. What inspired you to write it and have you envisioned an ending? If so, how long do you see it going?

    3. Speaking of which, were there any other works of literature that inspired you, not just with Sweet Tooth but with your writing in general?

    4. The two main characters felt very real to me. I was wondering if they were modeled after people you actually know or were they completely fictitious creations?

    5. What’s next after Sweet Tooth?

  13. Questions for Jeff Lemire:

    1) How did Sweet Tooth come about? What made you tell the story you’re telling and how did you manage to land it at Vertigo? Was there a pitch process and what was it comprised of? (Sorry, I realize that was more than one question).

    2) What kind of comic books did you read as a kid and how did they influence your work? If you still read comic books, how do they differ from the ones you read as a child and why do you suppose that is?

    3) What do you do when you’re not writing/illustrating comic books? Is comic book work something you’d like to commit yourself to full time? Is it even possible to make a living writing independent-minded stories like Sweet Tooth?

  14. No questions for Jeff Lemire but wanted to come out of lurkerdom to say how much I enjoyed Sweet Tooth. I’ve been following along with the book of the month club picks but never felt compelled to post a comment until now. Volume 1 was that good. In fact, I picked up the volume 2 which is even better and am about to start volume 3 tonight.

    Come to think of it, I do have a question for Jeff Lemire after all. When is volume 4 coming out?

  15. Sorry I’m late but work and school have kept me from getting around to reading Sweet Tooth until this weekend. And wow! I ended up reading it all in one go. Thank you to Mr. Lemire for creating such a wonderful and compelling world.

    I see that most of the questions I wanted to ask him have already been covered, but here’s a few that haven’t –

    1. I’d like to know how you approach writing for comic books. It obviously differs from writing a short story or a novel because you have to adhere to a certain format (22 pages an issue) but I would think that being both the writer and the artist allows you a freedom in telling your story, doesn’t it?

    2. Could you tell me about how the process of writing for comic books works. Do you work with an editor. What kind of notes did you received on Sweet Tooth? Anything you strongly disagreed with? Anything you thought changed your story for the better?

    3. Do you attend cons? What’s been your experience with the fans? Blessing or curse? Will you be attending Comic Con this year?



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