Without even a dose of painkilling Novocain, Jeff Lemire pulled his “Sweet Tooth,” yesterday announcing the critically acclaimed Vertigo series would end in December with #40.
Noting that the decision to stop writing and drawing “Sweet Tooth” was entirely his choice, Lemire said he always knew how the Eisner nominated series would end and the time to tell that story was now.
After launching his career with indie hits “Lost Dogs” and “Essex County,” Lemire has become a favorite of the braintrust at DC Comics having already enjoyed runs on “Superboy” and “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” Currently, he is writing an off-the-wall epic in “Animal Man” and his tenure on “Justice League Dark,” featuring John Constantine begins later this month.
In his first interview since the announcement, Lemire told CBR News that his increasing duties at DC Comics were not the reason “Sweet Tooth” was ending, once again reiterating the story had organically come to a close.
The Canadian cartoonist teased what’s to come in the final arc of “Sweet Tooth,” entitled “The Wild Kingdom,” looked back on the surprises in the series and revealed how many new creator-owned projects he has in the works for the future.
CBR News: Jeff, is the end of “Sweet Tooth” the result of another project, either creator-owned or another superhero title at DC Comics?
Jeff Lemire: The story is over. That’s the straight answer. That, and after three years of working on the same thing, I am obviously anxious to move onto new stories and new ideas. I didn’t want to short change “Sweet Tooth” at all. I definitely wanted to tell the ending the way I always wanted to tell it. And this just happened to be the time to do it.
In the announcement – and you have said this along – you’ve always known how “Sweet Tooth” would begin and end but the middle bit was fluid. Are you surprised where this fluidity has taken you, Gus and Jepperd?
The only thing that really surprised me was how long we had to do it. I never thought we would get 40 issues. I thought we’d be lucky to get 24 or 12. I’ve always been pretty confident what the story was and what the characters were going to do and how they were going to develop. The actual story didn’t surprise me. And the ending hasn’t changed at all.
Do you think the fact you delivered a new take on a genre helped readers to relate to the story and characters?
I am not sure that the icons and genre elements that “Sweet Tooth” had and didn’t have is what connected people to it. I think it was more the characters and characterizations. I think that there is no such thing as a bad idea. There are just different ways of execution.
I truly believe readers care about Gus and the other kids and that’s why they care about the book. If Gus had antlers or not, I don’t think it would have mattered. [Laughs]
When we first met Gus back in “Sweet Tooth” #1, he was, pardon the pun, a deer in headlights. In the cover revealed yesterday for #36, Gus stands front and center with hands dripping in blood, which I assume is not his own. This has been quite a journey for Gus, hasn’t it?
The book is all about him starting off as a complete innocent. He’s the embodiment of childhood innocence. Seeing him thrust into a really violent and harsh world, we’ve been watching to see how long that innocence can last. In the final storyline, that will really be the emphasis. It’s not the revelation of how the hybrids came to be or how the plague started. The emphasis is really on the characters, the evolution of Gus and these other kids and where they go from here.
That cover is cool and what’s cooler is that it interlocks with covers for “Sweet Tooth” #37-39 to create one huge image at the end.
Do we get to see who is bleeding on one of the other covers?
That would be a safe bet. Yes.
Jepperd’s outward portrayal perhaps hasn’t changed as much as Gus’ but we have certainly gathered plenty of information about what drives him over the past 30-plus issues. Did you know how much this story would change him when it started?
You asked me earlier about what surprised me. If anything is surprising, it’s the direction that Jepperd’s character took. The first arc was to present him as this stereotypical, grizzled action hero like the Punisher and then slowly pull back the layers and reveal something else. And I think I am surprised at how much I have been able to develop him. He’s an equal to Gus in many ways in terms of how much he’s changed because as Gus has adapted and changed to this violent world, Jepperd has had to change and evolve as he becomes a protector of these kids. He’s been reintroduced to his humanity, which he thought he’d lost. He never thought he could care about someone again.
The final arc, “The Wild Kingdom,” will really be about those two characters. Not only how far they’ve come but what’s next for each of them.
Dr. Singh is a favorite of mine and I know he is a favorite of yours too. Did you think he would play such a major role in the series when you created the character?
Singh was never going to be a big part of the book in the original conception. He was going to be a minor character at the military base but he’s become something totally different. “Sweet Tooth” #35 really focuses on him because he gets to Alaska first and through him, we discover a lot of the answers we’ve been waiting for about the hybrids and the plague.
Those discoveries affect him greatly, which leads him to playing a key role in the end.
Why the decision to make Alaska the endpoint for this series?
There were a couple of reasons. The first is that I really like writing and drawing stories set in remote areas other than urban centers. The first chunk of the book is all set in Middle America in places like Nebraska. I thought a change of scenery, just for aesthetic reasons, was necessary too. Alaska was obviously a very different landscape but still has that sparseness and desolation to it that I like to draw.
It’s also really fun and cool to have a secret military base hidden in Alaska. I love that idea. I’ve always been fascinated by Antarctica and the Arctic and the exploration of those two polar regions.
And the third part, and again to go back to your original question about what surprised me, somewhere in the middle of the story, the book developed a connection to Aboriginal or Inuit mythology. That was something that I really didn’t have planned but that all seemed to connect with Alaska, as well. The native people of Alaska and their culture have become a bigger part of the overall mystery and mythology of “Sweet Tooth,” more so than I would have imagined.
All of those things together are why “Sweet Tooth” ends in Alaska.
Are you going to give readers a happy ending?
No comment. I’m not tipping my hat either way.
Is the end of “Sweet Tooth” the end of you working on creator-owned projects or do you have other projects in the works beyond the forthcoming “Underwater Welder” and your ongoing work writing superheroes for DC Comics?
No, I definitely have plans for more creator-owned books. I have three different projects that I am working on at various stages. I pretty much know which one will be next but beyond that I can’t discuss any specifics. This is by no means the end of me drawing or writing creator-owned projects.
“Sweet Tooth” #34 by Jeff Lemire and featuring art by guest artist Nate Powell, is slated to hit stores June 6.