Saturday, September 24, 2011

WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME? Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth

There’s no doubting that Jeff Lemire is a talented cartoonist and skilled storyteller. I have yet to read his Essex County trilogy – though I plan on remedying that fact soon enough – but I have read some short stories of his, as well as a preview of Essex County, and I have definitely been impressed. So, it was no surprise when Lemire leveraged the success of Essex County in order to place two projects with Vertigo Comics. I was very excited.

I have yet to read The Nobody, but I picked up the first two trades of his ongoing series, Sweet Tooth. I read the first collection and was impressed with the world-building he was doing. Dystopian future – check. Weird hybrids that might unlock the secret to a plague ravaging humanity – check. An over-arching mystery – check. Duplicitous characters who are more than one-dimensional ciphers – check. This book seemed ripe for my tastes.

But, to be honest, it just didn’t grab me. I started the second collection, but once I hit the halfway point (issue 8 of the overall series), I just stopped. The premise is good, the characters are fleshed out nicely – for what little time I spent with them – and the mystery is certainly a good foundation for the book. But ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters. I was not invested in them, and that made it difficult for me to continue reading.

Part of my problem is that, in reading Sweet Tooth, the book feels like stuff I’ve read before (of course Jepperd’s wife was going to be pregnant just as the plague was coming down on humanity) and the glacial pacing – which is the norm in comics now, I know – just sapped what enthusiasm I had for the book. I am curious if I might have appreciated this more if I’d read it in single issues. Would that month-long wait have added to the experience? I don’t know. But I do think reading this in a collected edition – where I could quickly move on to the next chapter – hampered my personal reading experience. I know I had the same reaction when I read the “Winter Soldier” arc of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. The decompression of the storytelling made it far less enjoyable for me, as well.

Which is not to say this is a bad comic. Not in the least. Lemire’s talent is in full effect within these pages. His expressive artistry is a wonder to behold. And some of the layouts are inspired – in particular, the moment when Jepperd kills Jacob, the pimp, with the butt of his rifle. That is a classic example of allowing readers to fill in the blanks and elevate the horror of the scene (the exact opposite of what was seen in the new Catwoman from DC comics, but I digress). The one aspect where Lemire’s expressive linework does not serve him well is in the action scenes. There’s no weight to his figures when they fight, no feeling of impact between them. But those scenes are few and far between, and it does not detract too much from the overall story. Add the coloring of Jose Villarrubia, which is stunning, and this is a top-notch book.

Ultimately, this just isn’t the book for me. Or maybe it’s not the book for – at this time. I’ve had similar experiences. When I was attending a monthly graphic novel discussion group at my local Borders (no longer open, obviously), one of the books chosen was Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard. I remember having little good to say about that book. It just didn’t speak to me at the time. But now, years later, Transmetropolitan is one of my all-time favorite series, and one that I have read multiple times.

So, maybe I’ll return to Sweet Tooth at some point down the line and rediscover it the way I did TransMet. But, for now, I’ll move on to something else.



Eamonn Clarke said...

The Essex county trilogy is his best work so far. Powerfully emotional stuff which, oddly enough, wouldn't have seemed too out of place in the pages of Warrior.

Chris Beckett said...


Thanks for commenting. I'm planning on getting Essex County through the library I work at soon so I can finally read this. Can't wait.

By the way, would you happen to be "the" Eamonn Clark of CGS notoriety?