I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong, so here it goes: I was wrong about comic books and graphics novels not being a legitimate from of literature. But that’s only because I had never read a comic book. I let the limited amount of words deter me from considering the stories as anything of value. I’ve been trying to change this view of mine, and so I started with Jeff Lemire’s “Sweet Tooth.”
I first heard about the series in a video with Junot Díaz. I’ve only read the first three volumes out of the six, so this review will focus those.
The series has been described as a mix between “The Walking Dead” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” but I think this is only because of the series’ post-apocalyptic setting. In actuality, the series is like nothing I’ve read before. It follows 11-year-old Gus—who is half-human, half-animal—and his life in a post-apacolyptic world. It also follows Jeppard, a rough-and-tough loner, who, as we learn, has lost everyone and everything he loves in the plague that leaves the world in a bleak, hopeless state.
Gus has lived hidden in the woods with his father his whole life. From his father, Gus learns how to survive, he learns about the bible, and most importantly, he leans to stay in woods and never to go out. However, when his father dies, Gus has to leave the safety of the woods; this is where he encounters Jeppard and the rest of the world his father so desperately tried to protected him from. This world includes a very creepy cult that almost kill Gus and Jeppard, as well as Abbott and his government facility, which aims to find a cure for the plague by harming other animal children in the process.
So far in the first three volumes, we see Gus connect with Jeppard in a away that is reminiscent of the Jeppard pre-plague. It is Jeppard who nicknames Gus “Sweet Tooth,” after he devours his stash of candy. This relationship is what makes the story so sweet and interesting. In spite of the world’s grisly condition, this man and this young boy manage to find a friendship, a trust that both of them desperately need.
There are many religious allusions throughout the first three volumes, but I’m not 100 percent sure what to make of them. I’m sure that Gus is meant to be seen as a Christ-like figure, especially since he becomes a savior of sorts to the other animal children at Abbott’s facility. I’ll have to finish reading the series before I can make up my mind about it.
Gus is smart and sensitive, something you probably wouldn’t expect from someone that hasn’t had much exposure to the outside world. Unlike some one the adults he encounters, Gus holds on to his hope and innocence, which makes the reader root for him and the rest of the animal children.
Although I am not an avid graphic novel reader (yet), I think the artwork is amazing. Others may be able to point out how it fails and how it works, but personally, I love it. But what really interested me was the paneling. I wasn’t even aware that paneling could be something other than the squares-and-rectangles paneling that most non-comic book readers are familiar with. A lot of the paneling is very symbolic and helps to create the spatiality that would normally be described in detail in a novel. For example, in the pages pictured above, without even reading the words, one can tell that Gus is losing consciousness after being injured so severely. There are plenty of other examples in the first half of the series where the paneling does a great job of providing what words cannot.
I’m excited to read the last three volumes of the series, especially since I’m going to give the first three a collective four out of five stars.