Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (2009)

L: 7.5/10
M: 9/10
J: 8/10

Analysis from an important dream that fades further out of your mind the more you try and recall it:

I had Sweet Tooth on my ever-growing list of comics to read since the day it came out. I used to only read physical comics, back before splitting my reading evenly with digital copies. I missed the first copies of the original printing, and my comic shop at the time was tiny and not very eager to order many issues of independent comics, so I missed my window. When the trades came around, I had honestly kind of forgotten about it. Jeff Lemire has popped up a bunch of times in the years of this blog, and each of his other comics always reminds me of the story I always wanted to read Sweet Tooth.

I was delighted when M spontaneously and without any input from me whatsoever picked this comic, and I insisted we read the whole thing and not just part of it and never come back and finish. I didn’t know Lemire sat in both the artist and writer chair for this one; I figured that Royal City was the first time he had done such. While I feel that the small constraints of the story in City work better for both his art and words, I have to say the wait was definitely worth it.

Sweet Tooth is an unconventional post-apocalyptic tale about a disease wiping out all of humanity being ushered in by a strange hybrid, animal kids. The main character and deer-boy, Gus, lived a quiet life in the Nature Reserves with his creepily religious father. Deep in the woods, they’ve has been able to stay out of the public eye, but this plague comes for everyone eventually, and Gus’s father sub comes. Gus left on his own, crosses paths with former hockey star and unkillable badass, Jeppard. 

Jeppard, having just lost his wife and child to this madness, takes in young Gus and the two trek across the states to a sanctuary that is actually a bunker filled with psychopaths experimenting on the young hybrids hoping to find a cure to the disease. The pair bonds along the way, with Gus earning the nickname “Sweetooth” after eating all of Jeppards chocolate. After Jeppard betrays Gus and trades him for his late wife’s bones, Gus is introduced to several other hybrids, and the story essentially ramps up into the endgame.

Jeppard’s conscience gets the best of him, and along with some friends he made along the way, crash the party and free the Hybrids and set off to find Gus’s true origins. 

The sanctuary bro’s serve as the main villains throughout, and the second half of the story is a buildup to both sides clashing over Gus, a poor kid who just wants to be left alone and live a quiet life. It’s too bad for Gus, though, as little does he know his destiny is to be a hybrid leader, ushering in the new world. It’s a turn that I didn’t see coming, but I was incredibly pleased to see fully embraced and fulfilled.

The prologue in which this changing of the guard happens almost felt like a different story altogether. I’m currently reading digital comics on my new Pixelbook, and the app I use doesn’t tell me a page count, so I was shocked to see the story keep going. It gave the whole story closure, albeit even more sadness, with Sweet Tooth’s complete arch coming to fruition.

I’m burnt out on post-apocalyptic stories. I keep seeing the world burn down over and over; I’m just glad this time it wasn’t zombies. The animal-hybrid element kept things fresh, and that, along with the fact that this comic is almost twenty years old, left me quite forgiving. One thing that does bother me was a couple of times when Jeff handed his pen over to other artists. I would have liked Jeff to draw this whole story, but the times when a change occurs are well done, set within a flashback, so the jarring change is somewhat excused. 

I am a huge Jeff Lemire fan, and I will continue to seek out his work. I’m a little behind when it comes to new releases, but I see his Black Hammer world has continued to grow, and even this comic has a brief miniseries that was released at the end of last year. I really need to do a better job with time management and catch up on my backlist of comics, so stories like Sweet Tooth don’t pass by unread.

Analysis from that one sticky penny in you car cupholder that you can never pry out:

Well, it is about damn time I had a win. It has been flop after flop for me, and I am bursting with pride at my trade pick. Firstly, I presented it to Lou as an option, and he “claims” it was already on his radar. I’m sure he is full of lies and just attempting to steal my thunder on what was clearly a clever pick, but regardless I did research, and it panned out. Now, that’s enough self-praise, so I’ll move on to praising good ole Jeff Lemire.
You guys….this is awesome! This is by far the best trade I’ve read. The concept is unique. I get we see all sorts of end of the world scenarios now, but this was a fresh take on that and one that didn’t immediately give me 1984 flashbacks. The whole hybrid addition to the story was clever and offered a lot of wonderful character options throughout the series. I must admit that there were a few times when I wasn’t sure where the story was headed. I certainly never expected underground tombs in Alaska to play a part in this story, but they did, and it worked. This was one of those stories that I never wanted to end. I would have enjoyed checking in yearly on the characters to see how they’re doing, but I feel we got the closure we needed overall.
Now for the artwork…it was exceptional. It added so much to the story. I loved it. The End.

Analysis from a life inside a bubble:

Wow, this trade set is a rarity in that I had lots of predictions in how it was going to proceed/end and I was pretty much wrong every single time. There are some things that are inevitably going to conclude a certain way, but it was really a great mind exercise.

Firstly, I would like to comment on the illustrations. They were great… really, really great. Now, I did do myself a disservice and read this on my Kindle (and I’m old school and use the paperwhite version meaning no backlight/color.) While I saved my eyes from strain, I starved them of viewing this spectacularly colored story as it was truly meant to be experienced. Visually treat yourself and don’t follow my example.

There are so many strong themes in this set that compelled me to continue reading. Religious zealotry, post-apocalyptic survival, racism, etc., are all very forthcoming in the words and interactions. Not to mention a personal favorite of mine, an orphan coming of his own. (I have a particular fondness of orphans as I am one.) All of these structures came together to make a compelling and beautiful story of what people can become under the strain of a stressor. Some turn to religion, violence, some basic survival, self-sacrifice, isolation, or seeking to make the world better. This set of graphic novels was the perfect length for including all of this in one beautiful message.

One item that I didn’t really care for is Gus and Mr. Jepperd’s “I won’t go without you” drive to be with each other. I get attachment (believe me, I get attachment), but that did feel very rushed to me. Perhaps it is because I have not experienced the stressors or level of protection that they had with each other in their initial travelings, but I think there was almost an unhealthy bond between them. If they both really wanted what was best for the other, perhaps they would have listened and respected the other person’s wish? I guess there can be something said about not letting others go at it alone and self-sacrifice too. Maybe I’m just in a mood to be independent, so I’m projecting, but it was really my own qualm with what I read. It developed (along with other relationships) into connections that made sense, so it’s not even a big upset to me.

The story will keep you hungry for more pages until the end. While I don’t think the ending was terribly strong, I was certainly moved to tears for the entire last part. It was sad and delightful and elegantly written but I didn’t care for the repeated word pattern. 

This was an excellent pick by M, and my biggest sadness is that it is over! (Also, I’m just now seeing the author as I save my text into this site, and boy, he’s a cutie.)

Jeff Lemire

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