If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise: the discovery of Gus, a strange child/animal hybrid, nurtured by a rising new comic creator, Canadian Jeff Lemire. He’s already been nominated for both the Eisner and Harvey Award for his Essex County trilogy, which also happens to be where he grew up.
A lethal sickness has killed off billions, and amongst depleted humanity are hybrid children born with animalistic features. Gus has the face of a deer, but has a good, caring nature and, indeed, a sweet tooth. He lives in isolation in a forest with his ill father, but he can’t stay safe from harm forever.
Despite promises he makes to his father on his death bed, Gus’ innocence also fuels his curiosity, and he breaks the cardinal first rule to never, ever leave the wood. When Jeppard, a particularly vicious drifter, comes to his rescue after hunters have cornered him, he offers to take Gus to the fabled Preserve, allegedly a safe haven for all his kind.
This first volume sets the ball rolling, encountering mostly hostile survivors who are aggressive and exploitative, hunters and brothel keepers alike. Our antlered boy and his grizzled protector endeavour to create a substitute father-son relationship, each helping the other.
By the end, Jeppard’s motives remain disturbingly dark as arrival at The Preserve proves to be less a paradise and more a prison. Any hints that the experience could bring about a change of heart in Jeppard are left for future issues to reveal.
Sweet Tooth has been compared to the writings of Cormac McCarthy, especially The Road, with its bleak post-apocalyptic take on survival, but there are also overtones of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy And His Dog and David Lynch’s surrealist visions. There’s even a touch of The Village and Planet Of The Apes thrown in for good measure.
After the critical success of its earlier future saga, Y: The Last Man, Vertigo has come up trumps with a more surreal, disturbing, but essentially still optimistic tale.
Lemire writes with his pen first, using pictures to convey mood and emotion, but he also carves out words and dialogue when the drama most requires it. Working with simple, uncluttered panels animated by characters’ expressions and atmospheric landscapes, this is cartoon and magical realism that is both heartbreaking and heart-warming.
Innocence is teamed with cynicism in this modern parable that treads the dark and light sides of human nature.
Sweet Tooth: Out Of The Deep Woods is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.