Tales From The Forest

Reading Sweet Tooth #1 got me wondering if I'll ever be able to understand Jeff Lemire's work.

My musing isn't because I don't GET Lemire; I do get him. And I love him. The Essex County trilogy is, quite simply, one of the most magnificent pieces of sequential art ever put to paper because he manages to tell such a complex story with such a simple vocabulary. It's rare to come across a story that manages to do so much with so little (in fact, the only example I can really think of is Craig Thompson's Blankets, but that's just so damn long it's hard to put in the same category as Essex County). This is particularly striking because Lemire doesn't seem like a consciously indie cartoonist- instead of denying the superhero tropes that most associate as one and the same with comic books, the first Essex County volume embraces and plays with them. Rather than deconstruction in the Alan Moore and Warren Ellis vein we get deconstruction from an entirely different perspective; that of a young reader of comic books. Instead of putting the realities of superheroes under the magnifying glass we find the realities of reading superhero comics there, and what we come to understand about ourselves as readers of comics is fascinating. Someday, I would like very much to explore this more deeply.

No, it's not that I don't understand Lemire's work because it is incomprehensible or indecipherable, because it isn't; it may be complex but it is also beautifully simple and it works on about a hundred different levels. Instead, I don't understand Lemire because his protagonists are just so unbelievably isolated, so incredibly alone. Sometimes they can find their way out of this loneliness and sometimes they don't but the end result is, unsurprisingly, not as important as the fact that they all, at one point, hit such depths.

It's these depths that make Lemire's work so powerful, so moving, and it's the way his new Vertigo series, Sweet Tooth, gets its start. The series' hero (or, perhaps, simply its protagonist) finds himself alone in a world that is very dangerous, one that he knows absolutely nothing about. And it's terrifying. One wonders what's going to happen to Gus; what horrible things Lemire has planned for the poor boy with deer antlers on his head. This curiosity, on its own, would be enough to bring me back for another issue.

As always with his work, Lemire's artwork is a treat, but it has a whole new dimension with the addition of colorist Jose Villarrubia. Initially, I was worried about this new dimension; Essex County is probably so effective because its in black and white and I actually think color would have taken away from that project. Here, I'm still not convinced its required (or even welcome, really) but it does add a certain flair that I like quite a bit. I'd be interested to see an issue printed in black and white to compare, but, truthfully, this is the only complaint I have with the book. A more perfect piece of sequential art I haven't read in a long time.


In honor of Strange Tales #1 Jon and I are pulling a little switcheroo- I'm reviewing Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth, which is new from Vertigo, and he's reading and reviewing Luke Cage Noir. In the next couple of days you'll see a conversation we'll be having about Strange Tales. If you're a little confused about why "the marvel guy" is reviewing an indie and why the indie guy is dipping his toes into the Marvel Method well, thats why.