Sweet Tooth, Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods (2010) by Jeff Lemire Review
Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods presents a capacity for the unknown. After a pandemic hits the planet and plagues the majority of the Earth’s population, a new species was formed: an eccentric hybrid between a human and an animal. Gus, an innocent nine year old hybrid cut off from society who lives in a cabin in the woods, faces a daring expedition as his existence was predominantly known by some nasty bounty hunters. He has no other option but to travel with a stranger, Mr. Jepperd, as they search for The Preserve and for meaning in a world that had been turned into savage dust.
Sweet Tooth excels in intrigue. The cover itself speaks of a dark fairytale; the human-deer hybrid staring at the reader with his melancholic eyes, the stark red of the background suggesting that the alternate universe they live in is no pretty one. It shows. This graphic novel exhibits Earth in such a remorseless and a cold-blooded manner, seemingly providing no hope for these characters. One may understand the barbarity of their situation just from the first few panels, but this comic does not present everything to the reader just yet. The world building is subdued, dancing with the unknown as it slowly slips away from its tightly-dressed clothes to reveal more monstrous and dirty areas of this universe. That may be understood as it is the first out of six volumes, but this series seems to want to leave some grey areas for the reader’s imagination.
One may think that this comic is too dark for their tastes, but amidst the ferocious landscape lies a deeply rooted heart, black as coal from all the homicidal smoke. This is justified by Gus, the main character, who is a piece of humanity among the variety of selfish and sadistic people. Him being unknowledgeable about the world may be a factor to all this, but there also exists the fact that he has a father who loves him despite his hybrid state. In him may lie the cure to all this, but that is just a theoretical statement.
The art itself is not bad, but it is not the best either. Jeff Lemire has this manner of showing rough sketches in the final portrait which may be a good or a bad thing depending on the situation. It may be good to symbolize the underlying bleakness of the world, but at times it ruins the character design. To add, Lemire could ignite a little bit more creativity to the hybrids themselves, but again, this is just the first volume. Judgement is difficult on first impression.
The plot also suffers because of this. Due to the minimalism, the readers do not get a lot. In fact, they get less and less as the issues go by. As this is one of six, one may get a tiny impression of the major arc of the series. The reader is left floating up until the end where the plot’s direction took a surprising turn in a gritty way as one can judge in a Park Chan-wook film (similarly, this novel reflects the end of the first act of The Handmaiden).
Minimalism is good, but too much may have its downsides. This graphic novel is a ruthless interpretation of an alternate world, and it does that well by delivering just the right tone in the perfect places. One may get mood from the darkening of the skies or the rustling of old trees. It would just be better if the comic had a structural plot to fill the reader’s gaps in. The art and the character designs are inferior to this, but that leaves for improvement in the upcoming volumes.