Sometimes, at comic expos I decide that I can wear these deer antlers I have for no reason other than I feel like it. I usually pair this up with my regular everyday clothes (normally some kind of plaid flannel) and on my way I go! The last few times, however, I noticed for sale a comic series by the name of Sweet Tooth featuring a boy with deer antlers wearing a plaid shirt. And I think, “whoa, I unintentionally cosplayed!” Oh hey, I’m actually in that getup in my avatar at the moment, too, go figure! And so, after a long period of time sitting on my wish/to-read list, I finally dive into the first book of the series, by Canadian author Jeff Lemire.
This first book joins together volumes 1 and 2 of Sweet Tooth, with story arcs respectively titled “Out of the Deep Woods” and “In Captivity”. The story takes place in a rural, post-apocalyptic America, after an illness has wiped out most of the population, mostly all at once but people continue to get sick as time goes on. The only ones that seem to be immune to the illness are children born after the illness first occurred, but these children all also feature another side-effect which is that they have animal features: some are more animal than human, but they are all human-like creatures with either fur, tails, animal faces, etc. Our story focuses on one young boy named Gus, whose appearance is mostly that of a boy, with deer antlers protruding from his head. Gus lives secluded in the woods with his father, who has taught him how to grow food, tend to medical needs, and essentially survive. His father also has a strong religious bent to him, and this is also reflected in his view about the way the illness has affected the earth, which he has passed on to Gus, and fold him that beyond their woods is nothing but fire and sinners. Gus loves his father, but knows that he will one day be alone, and wants to go out from his woods to see the world beyond. After the inevitable death of his father, the story really begins as Gus is forced to face the world alone, or at least, with the first man who comes along to find him and promises that there is something better out there for young animal children.
The world presented by Lemire is dark and brutal, like many post-apocalyptic stories. While there are the odd little sparks of light, this doesn’t do much to balance the overall gloomy feel of the whole thing. There isn’t much hope here, or if there is, you can’t help but wonder if what is to come will really be much better. Normally too much doom-and-gloom turns me off of things, but there is something so endearing about this small, innocent boy that makes me care for him and want to know more. There is something special about him, and I am sincerely hoping that all the questions that have so far bubbled up in the series get answered at some point later on. Will there be a pay-off in the end? Honestly, what I’ve read so far has been interesting enough to make me want to continue in order to find out.
I’m not entirely sure if I am a fan of Lemire’s overall art style yet, however. Some images I adore, but others I do not. It’s a mixed bag, but also not enough to entirely turn me off from the series. The mood of the images does definitely reflect the overall tone of the story, though, so that really works in favor of creating a tense and serious mood to the whole thing.
In any case, I do think I’ll continue with this story to dig a little deeper into the mystery of the animal children and the case of Gus in particular. If nothing else, it was a very fast read, and not likely to make me think I wasted my time. It’s definitely a different spin on the ever-used post-apocalyptic theme, right now, and it’s enough to keep me interested!