You are warned, here be spoilers.
Vertigo‘s been doing something neat lately with their first issues – they’ve been selling them for $1 each. I picked up the first issue of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth on those grounds, and on the strength of a glowing review by the iFanboy guys.
Lemire’s most famous works, prior to Sweet Tooth, are the Essex County Trilogy, and a graphic novel called The Nobody, both unread by me.
Sweet Tooth, from what we can tell so far, is the story of Gus, a boy with deer antlers and ears. He lives with his father, in a cabin deep in the woods. Gus is dominated by his overbearing, Bible-thumping father, who forces Gus to hide whenever there’s a chance he might run into other people. The issue depicts the beginnings of the intrusion of the outside world into Gus’s little sphere.
I’m fascinated by the premise. There are strong hints that it’s post-apocalyptic (“My Dad says so few kids was born after the accident, that God decided to make ’em special. So we got fur, or tails, or antlers.” – and even as I type that, I’m suddenly reminded of John Wyndham‘s The Chrysalids.), and I love me some post-apocalyptic – most especially when it’s less about rip-roaring mutant-fighting action (i.e. the second half of Def Con 4), and more about how life is different After The End (i.e. the first half of Def Con 4). In that sense, the story is spot on. It’s also, I gather, very much in line with Lemire’s other work – it’s a surprisingly quiet story, more about the awkward pauses than the events that separate them.
That said, there seems to be a particular spell Lemire is trying to cast, and a single issue isn’t enough room to do it in. I have a strong suspicion this story will read better in trade than in single issues.
My response to the art seems to be precisely the reverse of how I’ve been responding to Quitely and some of the other artists. Here, I’m finding that if I open the issue and look at the artwork, it’s only vaguely interesting. The linework is rough, jagged, and raw, and the colour palette is quite dull. And yet, when I’m actually reading the story, it works. The ugly, rough artwork is expressive in a way Quitely’s isn’t.
In the end, I’m at once intrigued and underwhelmed, which I gather is Lemire’s stock in trade. I’m going to keep reading, because I want to know what happens next.