In the past decades countless stories have been told about post-apocalyptic worlds. We have already seen nuclear winters, alien invasions and zombie outbreaks several times, and new films and novels are being made about them every year. While these are often pretty entertaining, original takes on the genre with real message and artistic value are hard to find. Sweet Tooth, a comic book series by Canadian writer and artist Jeff Lemire is one of these rare masterpieces.
In Sweet Tooth the cause of the Apocalypse is a mysterious plague that quickly eradicated the most of humanity. At the same time, newborn babies began to display animal features like antlers or pig nose. Furthermore, these animal children are the only ones immune to the disease. The main character of the story is Gus, a 9-year-old boy with deer features. He lives alone in the woods with his deeply religious father, who forbids him to ever leave the forest. However, after his father dies, Gus is attacked by hunters, who are looking for animal children like him. He is saved by a mysterious man called Jepperd, who promises Gus to take him to ‘The Preserve’, a safe haven for animal children. Gus decides to disregard his late father’s advice, and joins Jepperd on a dangerous journey through this sick, dying world. Later it turns out that Gus, unlike his fellow animal kids, was born before the outbreak, therefore his past might hold the secret of the origin of the disease.
Sweet Tooth is a really strange story, in the best possible sense. It is set in a world where there are no laws, and everyone is for themselves. Because of this, the comics are full of shocking events and depictions of extreme violence. However, we experience all of these through the point of view of an innocent child with a really simple view of right and wrong, and who cannot be corrupted by the evil around him. This sometimes makes the story even more disturbing, but at other occasions it gives the reader a sense of hope and comfort.
Lemire is a master of storytelling through art. Besides writing, he also illustrated the comics, and his sketchy artwork is a perfect match to the story he wants to tell. His drawings are not pleasant to look at, they are not beautiful in the traditional sense. On the other hand, they perfectly convey the different layers of the story, and in the case of Sweet Tooth this is what really matters. The creepy, disturbing illustrations are great for a mature story like this, but at the same time their sketchy, children’s book-like quality flawlessly expresses the main character’s innocent point of view.
Out of all the comics I have ever read,- and I’ve read quite a lot- Sweet Tooth made the biggest impression on me. This series proved to me that this medium is capable of much more then overlong superhero epics. While the story is also refreshingly original, the biggest merit of Sweet Tooth is the synergy between plot and art. Whit this comic Lemire achieved something only the greatest creators are capable of: he escaped from the realm of pulp fiction and created something really valuable, while he managed to keep the entertainment value comic book fans love this medium for.
By Rakovszky András