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Sweet Tooth’s Jeff Lemire

Apocalypse Meets Innocence

Oct 07, 2010 Jeff Lemire Bookmark and Share

Jeff Lemire, the writer/artist behind Sweet Tooth, refers to his creation as “lo-fi sci-fi.” “I always consider Sweet Tooth something you draw in the basement, not a glossy sci-fi comic,” he says.”

Which is not to say that Sweet Tooth, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, is anything other than epic, powerful, emotional, engaging, and clever. By year’s end, Sweet Tooth will have enjoyed 16 issues of what Lemire anticipates will be an approximately 30-issue run; the second trade collection of the series is being released this fall.

“I could stretch it out to 50 or 60 issues,” says the Toronto-based creator, “but I have a pretty clear idea in my mind of the story I want to tell. I always think it’s better to tell your story and stop there.”

That leaves almost two years until the final issue of Sweet Tooth delivers the last word on its antlered, nine-year-old protagonist Gus (aka “Sweet Tooth”) and his sometimes protector, the hulking, mysterious Jepperd. Lemire insists this will mean the end of not only the book, but stories set in that world, where human-animal hybrids like Gus seem to hold the key to stopping a disease that has devastated civilization. After living alone in the woods, Gus embarks with Jepperd on a perilous journey to “The Preserve,” which the older man promises will be a safe haven for the boy.

Despite its apocalyptic sci-fi trappings, Sweet Tooth holds the emotional resonance that Lemire became known for in earlier works, such as his Essex County trilogy, published by Top Shelf.

“I really like a lot of genre fiction—sci-fi, horror, action, adventure, conspiracy,” he says. “All are kind of what Sweet Tooth is. I try to take elements that you’ve seen before in stories—B-movie ideas, almost—but execute them like a quiet, little human story. All the fantastic elements of the story are there, but it’s really a character study between two people.”

With those B-movie trappings, one might think Sweet Tooth a natural for a Hollywood adaptation. But Lemire seems doubtful about the possibility. “I could see it as a movie,” the one-time film student admits, “but it would have to be done really faithfully to the book. I don’t think too much about my work being adapted to other mediums; I’m focused on comics.”

Lemire’s creative process is different from the standard “one person writes the script, another person draws the script” practice that most comics employ. The world of Sweet Tooth springs from his singular vision. “For me, it’s all organic,” he explains. Lemire starts with a loose script, then thumbnails out a rough version of the page layouts. New ideas for dialogue and more pop up in the course of thumbnailing and are incorporated into a more formal, final script. “A lot of the writing comes from drawing,” he adds.

Much of the emotional punch packed by Sweet Tooth comes from that distinctive drawing. Lemire effectively tells a story with or without dialogue, and his art is unmistakably his.

“I just try to have artwork that’s very expressive, almost like handwriting,” says the writer/artist. “It’s personal, idiosyncratic…not realistic or rendered; more focused on just delivering clear storytelling and combining it with emotional delivery.”

Lemire says Gus is unique in that “he is a total innocent, never experienced anything. Literally never been corrupted at the beginning.” That’s part of the reason that Jepperd bestowed the nickname “Sweet Tooth” on the deer boy; having never tasted candy before, Gus is overcome when he first eats a chocolate bar.

By contrast, Superboy, Lemire’s newest project for DC, could be seen as tainted from inception. The modern version of the character is Conner Kent, a clone made from combining the genetic material of Superman and his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. “Conner’s core identity is mixed between Superman and Lex; a simple idea but so fun to work with,” says Lemire. “Constant conflict is great to be able to expand upon.”

It’s an odd experience for Lemire to work on Superboy, his first crack at an ongoing flagship title, because he’s scripting the book but not drawing it. He believes that taking on the challenge of a more traditional style of scriptwriting has made him a better writer, helping to develop his ability to communicate concepts he won’t be drawing himself.

With Sweet Tooth’s end already in sight, Lemire is anxious to follow it up with another new concept.

“You always want to move on to new ideas and stories,” he shares, “especially since this is the longest thing I’ve done. I’ll be ready to move on.” (www.jefflemire.blogspot.com)


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