Sweet Tooth #1
Jeff Lemire, writer/artist
DC/Vertigo, September 2009
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! have a recurring…concept, I guess? called “Brown Town.” Sometimes it’s used as a euphemism for potty humor: “That ‘Poop Tube’ sketch was a little too Brown Town for our parents.” Sometimes it’s just a funny-sounding nonsense phrase, as in their unsolicited candy jingle-cum-Doobie Brothers pastiche “Rolo Tony.” But I like to think it’s meant to describe where we’re often taken by colorists for Vertigo comics.
Jose Villarrubia’s Lee Loughridge impersonation aside, this is a fascinating little comic just because of how different it is from pretty much everything else Vertigo has done this decade. There’s no fabulous and violent rock’n'rollin’, there’s no in-your-face ugliness (except for one shot–pun intended), there’s no modern-mythmaking, no real echoes of Gaiman or Ennis or Ellis or Azzarello or Willigham. And there’s no writer/artist team, either–it’s just Jeff Lemire, author of Top Shelf’s Essex County trilogy and creator of some of the best damn convention sketches you will ever see. It’s tough to imagine a better fit for this story of an isolated deer-boy hybrid left on his own in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic world after the death of his father than Lemire’s shaky, nervous line, which has always had a vulnerable deer-in-the-headlights quality and which isn’t toned down or slicked up a bit for this major-label effort. Even the bloodspatter remains an abstracted splash of red rather than an HBO Original gorefest. The art holds color well, moreover, though as I said, it might be nice if colors other than brown were deployed for that purpose. Instant-classic cover, too, perhaps the best the imprint has seen…I was gonna say since Dave Johnson on 100 Bullets or James Jean on Fables, but this strikes me as potentially iconic in and of itself in a way that those storied cover-art runs only were in toto.
In one of those self-promoting editorial columns Vertigo creators do during a series launch, Lemire suggests that what sets Sweet Tooth apart from your average monthly comic is the quietness of his approach, an approach he’s carrying over from his altcomix, the idea being that when something really fucked up happens, it’ll be that much more startling. I think he’s right, so far, one issue in. Now, there are things I’m not so sure about–the boy’s dialect scans a bit like Claremontian cliche at times, while his bumpkin naivete and the hunters’ gruff bad-guy-ness are a little too high-pitched to maintain that delicate quietness Lemire’s striving for. And this is a bit picayune, but I feel like a lot of shots crop off the characters’ feet for no reason? But regardless, this is a very likeable book, a comic you want to succeed really for all the right reasons: It’s clearly the product of a personal vision rather than an attempt to fill some kind of niche, it has lovely art, it attempts to win you over to its characters rather than bash you over the head with their badassness, and it honestly seems like it could go anyplace at all at this point. I’ll be following it.