Jeff Lemire Has a "Sweet Tooth"

Sweet Tooth

"Sweet Tooth" #1 on sale next week

With Toronto's FanExpo officially underway today, CBR News kicks off its coverage with an interview with local talent and featured guest Jeff Lemire.

Next Wednesday (September 2), Vertigo will release "Sweet Tooth" #1, beginning the first ongoing monthly series from the Eisner Award-nominated creator. Lemire, who will write, draw and ink the series, is best known for his critically acclaimed "Essex County" trilogy from Top Shelf Productions and "The Nobody," a similarly well reviewed graphic novel released by Vertigo back in July.

Both bizarre and haunting, "Sweet Tooth" is colored by another Eisner nominee, Jose Villarubia, and tells the story of Gus, a boy born with deer-like antlers who is raised in total isolation and left to survive in a world devastated by an inexplicable pandemic. Part of a rare new breed of human/animal hybrid children, Gus, apparently, is a product of this pandemic and is immune to the infection. And he's not alone.

Jepperd, depicted by Lemire as a big, hulking bounty hunter, promises to lead Gus to The Preserve, a fabled safe-haven for hybrid children.

Part buddy comedy, part post-apocalyptic adventure, Lemire has created what he calls a "huge, sprawling epic," and it all begins next week with "Sweet Tooth" #1.

CBR: Where did "Sweet Tooth" come from?

JEFF LEMIRE: I have no idea. I really don't know. I think it's a mish mash of a whole bunch of different things that I've been wanting to do. I've always been a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and when I was a kid, I really loved "Mad Max" and, I don't know if you remember, but Tim Truman had a series called "Scout." I loved that book. So I always loved that kind of action/adventure, post-apocalyptic stuff and I've always wanted to do that but I just didn't really have an angle to make it sort of different and unique.

I was working on "The Nobody" at the time and my editor, Bob Schreck, mentioned to me that Vertigo had a couple of monthlies slots that they needed to fill -- this was a little over a year ago -- and so I started to think about something I could pitch to them. So there was that stuff floating around and I was obviously very into H.G. Wells because I was working on "The Nobody." I think "The Island of Dr. Moreau" is in there somewhere - and Jack Kirby's "Kamandi." I was reading that at the time and the whole idea of kind of "The Last Boy on Earth," the human animal hybrids, I'm sure all that went into it. It was all just a big stew that came out when I sat down to write the proposal. It just all came out.

So you hadn't been drawing a little boy with deer antlers since you were in Grade 5?

[laughs] No. But I had been drawing that character for a while not really knowing what his story was. There were just all these little things that all came together into one pitch and now it's a monthly book.

Is Vertigo a perfect home for "Sweet Tooth?"

It's been really cool. I grew up reading superhero stuff but as I got a bit older, especially in the 1990s, I really got out of the superhero stuff for a while and then the only thing you could turn to was the Vertigo stuff that was coming out at the time - the first wave of Vertigo stuff. I got really into that. I've been a fan of Vertigo for a long time and it's really great to be working there. And if you're working with [Executive Editor] Karen Berger and people like Bob Schreck and my editor now is a guy named Brandon Montclair, they really just let me be me. They let me do my thing and let me have my voice and tell my stories. They help me and support me but they don't try to change it or get in my way at all. It's been incredible. And I'm having a great time working for them.

What did you pitch Vertigo, exactly? Did you give them a 12-issue plan? 50 issues?

I gave them the first six-issue arc pretty well beat for beat. And then I gave a shorter overview of where it could go for about 20 issues or so. And then another overview of the long-term story being maybe between 30 and 60 issues depending how sales go.

That 50-issue run seems to be the standard for the Vertigo titles.

Especially now. That's where people seem to be wanting to end their book. "Y: The Last Man" ended there. I guess that's a five or six-year run on something. That's a huge commitment, especially if I'm writing and drawing it and inking it all myself. That's pretty much my life for the next five years, if it's successful enough to continue. But it has to be something you really believe in, obviously, and a story you really want to tell, which I do, so hopefully I can get there. [laughs] We'll see.

Let's get into the story. What do we need to know about Gus coming into "Sweet Tooth" #1?

The basic concept is that he's a little boy born with deer antlers and deer-like features and he's lived his entire life in this wooded seclusion with his father. Basically, his father's told him that the world outside is a terrible place and it's all been destroyed and he can never leave the woods. And he's 11-years old and that's all he's ever known. And then during the course of our first issue, something happens and basically, he has to leave the woods for the very first time and what he finds is that the world has been decimated a decade earlier by a mysterious plague and the only babies being born after the plague are these human-animal hybrids like himself, who are either a by-product of it or possibly the cause of it. That's sort of the greater mystery.

So it's this kid, this complete innocent, in this post-apocalyptic America. Over the course of the first couple of issues he teams up with this big, hulking bounty hunter character who promises to lead him to safety and to this safe haven called The Preserve for the animal-human children. So it's kind of this road trip with these two characters trekking across the American landscape, which quickly turns into something completely different. And by the end of the first story arc, you have no idea where you stand anymore.

Talk about Jepperd, the aforementioned big, hulking bounty hunter character. Is he a character we can totally trust?

No character in "Sweet Tooth" is who they seem. That's for sure. I don't want to give too much away but Jepperd is kind of the other side of the coin in the book. It's really about their friendship and their relationship.

Our second story arc really focuses on him and his path and his story. Again, I don't want to give away too much but nobody is what they seem when you first meet them.

Is "Sweet Tooth" sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Is this set in the future or is this present day?

It can easily be just 10 years from today. And unlike a lot of post-apocalyptic worlds or whatever, it's not like they're walking through rubble and ruins. It's not some sort of atomic holocaust. Basically, the world that there in is a world that's just empty - 90 percent of the population is just gone. It's almost like an untouched world now with just a few people left and they're all scrambling to survive and trying to figure out what's going on. And I want to try and keep it out of major urban centers for as long as possible. I want to keep it on the fringes of places and in the country - the more rural areas that I like to explore. And see what's going on there. You don't really see a lot of that stuff in your usual post-apocalyptic stories. There's sci-fi in it. There's horror. There's a lot of adventure. It's really just a mash-up but at the core of it, "Sweet Tooth" is a character study. You follow these two characters and it's about their friendship and how it develops over the course of the epic.

What about the names Gus and Jepperd? Are these traditional Lemire family names?

No, they're not, but I just had a baby in February and we named him Gus. So I named the character after him. And I don't know where the name Jepperd came from. I have no idea. It just came out when I was writing the pitch. And it stuck.

As a new father and with the launch of this new book, the next five years of your life are going to pretty full. Have you thought about the parallels - and perhaps serendipitous nature - of these two major events for a boy named Gus happening in your life at the same time?

It's kind of weird. I'm more worried about what he's going to think when he's older and he sees that I've written this book with a character named after him. He's such a weird character, I wonder what he's going to think. Obviously, one of the main themes in the book is fathers and sons and that sort of relationship. In this case, it's sort of a surrogate father and son relationship between Jepperd and Gus and Gus and his own father in the first issue. So I'm sure things going on in my life will always be feeding into what's happening in the book.

Everything I've done before this have all been standalone, where they take me anywhere from six months to a year to complete. And then I move onto the next thing. So I like knowing what I have to do every day when I wake up at the same time, I'm always getting new ideas for new projects. It's going to be interesting to see how I juggle those.

I have been working on another book, a graphic novel on the side. So far, I've been able to juggle two projects. As exciting as it is to be able to tell this huge sprawling epic, it's also going to be challenging to keep focused and not want to run away with new ideas and new things. I'm sure I'll grow and change with the book. We'll see what happens.

Can you share any details about the other book?

It's going to be a graphic novel for Top Shelf. It's kind of my follow-up to my "Essex County" stuff. I don't want to say too much yet because we just signed the contract and I'm on my second draft of the script. So it's really early in the process.

I hate to talk about the end before the first issue even comes out but do you know how "Sweet Tooth" ends?

I've already written the last issue. I have the full script written. So I know exactly how it ends. It's just a matter of, how you said, how long we have to get there. I might have 12 issues to get there, 15, 20, you know? But basically as long as I have two or three issues of warning that it's been cancelled [laughs], I can get to that ending that I want. It's just a matter of how long the journey is.

"Sweet Tooth" #1 goes on sale September 2 from Vertigo for a cover price of $1.00(U.S.)

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