I love Jeff Lemire’s “Essex County Trilogy” graphic novels. They’re a beautiful depiction of small town life, relationships, and family. Because they’re graphic novels, Lemire had lots of time to pace out his stories, let the relationships slowly grow organically and naturally. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that while I see Lemire trying to do the same thing with his new ongoing series “Sweet Tooth,” I can’t help but feel that it’s the wrong strategy.
Lemire’s story of a human/animal hybrid after some sort of huge apocalypse shows a lot of potential. Growing up in isolation with his father, Gus is horribly naÃ¯ve about the outside world and clearly unable to live in it without some sort of supervision. So of course, it’s just a matter of time until Gus finds himself completely alone in the world, and having to encounter everything on the other side of the fence line. It’s an idea that can go places with time.
Because this is an ongoing series, though, the first issue needs to really hook and grab the reader right from the start. Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s “The Unwritten” #1 earlier this year achieved that goal perfectly with a smart concept and a fast-moving opening chapter that had readers begging to find out what happens next. I just don’t feel like Lemire has done that with “Sweet Tooth” #1; this initial installment works great as the opening 22 pages to a graphic novel, but not as a piece that stands alone on its own and makes the reader think, “Wow, I’m dying to see more!” The pacing for this to be a monthly series is off, and it makes me worry that this stumble out of the gate will adversely affect sales.
It’s frustrating, too, because it’s not like this is a bad book. Lemire’s art with Jose Villarrubia’s colors looks beautiful. Lemire draws his characters with rough, jagged lines that bring to mind artists like Phil Hester. Even without his antlers, Gus has a naÃ¯ve, doe-eyed look about him that makes him look vulnerable and pathetic in a way that will have you wish him well. Lemire’s at his best when he gets to draw things like a double-page spread that shows not only the passing of seasons, but the decay of Gus’s father over time. It’s a breathtaking spread, and Villarrubia’s colors just pop the whole way through to boot.
I hope “Sweet Tooth” does well. I think Lemire’s a major talent who deserves a wider audience. I’m just afraid that Lemire’s taking the wrong tactic for the pacing of this series. Hopefully other people besides myself will stick around, because I think this is going to be great once it starts moving. In this troubled marketplace, though, sometimes you only get one chance.