I haven’t picked up an issue of “Sweet Tooth” since its second. I enjoyed the first two issues, but something wasn’t clicking. The disconnect between appreciating the book on an intellectual level and my utter lack of emotional connection was too great. The level of skill Jeff Lemire brings to his art is readily apparent and something that made the first two issues appealing, and that skill has only grown in the subsequent year on “Sweet Tooth.” Issue 15 is a quiet issue with fragmentary scenes and a focus on storytelling through art. My fellow CBR critics have praised the book since I last looked at it and they’re quite right to do so; “Sweet Tooth” is unique and intriguing, backed with rough and powerful art.
The cover for the issue is one of the best of the year. It’s stark, raw, and grabs your attention instantly. While not a style that Lemire uses in the comic, it is indicative of Lemire’s approach to the art, which is to try different things, play around, try to grab the reader’s attention, and produce art that demands you look at it. The first page has Gus and his friends walking as part of their trek back to the forest and, in the background, they’re passing some rocks that, by the fourth and final panel of the page, turn out to be the title of the book and issue. It’s a visually arresting way to work the title into the issue while also not disturbing the story, as the characters ignore that it shares their landscape.
Later in the issue, Gus and his former rescuer Jepperd both sleep and dream, far apart from one another, but share the same dream. Lemire doesn’t use any words, setting up the premise through facing pages showing each sleeping and dreaming, mirrored with the other. He continues to use the left page for Jepperd and the right for Gus for the entire six-page sequence. It’s only eight pages and it lingers with you as significant. The contrast between the characters is apparent in the thickness of his line work. Jepperd is drawn with thick, heavy blacks, while Gus is rendered with thinner lines. Everything you need to know is shown through the art.
The art carries the issue, the first half containing some dialogue, while the second half is a visual montage with notes from Gus’s father’s journal ‘narrating.’ Lemire’s writing is solid, but sparse. The juxtaposition of the journal entry and the final images is striking, but also halts the issue to a degree. In some ways, the issue ends with the shared dream between Gus and Jepperd, the rest acting as a coda, a poetic teaser before the plot can resume next issue.
Lemire’s art is attractive and rough with angular lines and a bold use of inks. He’s malleable enough to allow his line work to shift from character to character, letting his art give cues to the type of people the characters are. This issue is light on plot, but the mood is compelling and stark. It’s a comic that I kept coming back to throughout the week to flip through and look at, and that says something.