Jeff Lemire is a giant in both the indie world and the mainstream DC Universe. He, along with Scott Snyder of Batman and American Vampire fame, have been embraced in recent years as a sort of new class of Vertigo creators. In fact, so much so that a New York Comic Con interviewer once mistakenly credited them with the creation of Vertigo itself, which led to hilarity. Vertigo has been around for far longer than Jeff Lemire has been writing under its label, but he has certainly helped foster a surge of new energy within the brand.
Though Lemire is perhaps best known as a writer responsible for such DC titles as the acclaimed Animal Man, Justice League, and Green Arrow, he’s also a revered artist who often illustrates his own work. He’s released an abundance of titles from indie publishers, from larger imprints such as Top Shelf (Essex County and The Underwater Welder) to lesser known publishers, like Ashtray Press and Speakeasy. However, after signing his exclusive contract with DC, Lemire brought his indie sensibilities to Vertigo with The Nobody, Trillium, and the masterful Sweet Tooth.
The Nobody, inspired by H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, is an original graphic novel, while Trillium is an eight issue series about time-traveling. Both books are critically acclaimed, with both the art and the writing receiving well-deserved praise. When Lemire draws from his own scripts, as he primarily does when he’s working on a book he’s created, his work becomes a dark, whimsical force that reads like a dream on the verge of becoming a nightmare. Lemire’s work can never be accused of embracing the grittiness that embodied many of Vertigo’s earlier classics, because even in scenes of extreme violence, even in stories about characters at their lowest lows, Lemire’s narrative focus is hopeful, often triumphant, and… you know, actually pretty damn sweet.
That cringe-worthy segue brings me to Sweet Tooth, my first exposure to Lemire’s work. This six-volume post-apocalyptic saga is a great introduction to Lemire’s growing body of fiction, as it spins a dark but moving tale of a young boy with the attributes of a deer living on his own after society has crumbled. There’s action, adventure, peril, and poetic introspection in abundance, as well as characters to root for, redemption to be chased, and catharsis to be found in the shadows of humanity’s failure.
It all sounds dark as hell, and it is… but it’s also not. The eponymous Sweet Tooth – whose real name is Gus – is an endlessly optimistic and innocent character who hopes for the best in people… until that hurts him. Like all of the best Vertigo leads, from Yorick to John Constantine, from Jesse Custer to Death, Gus is a likable but flawed character that we want to see succeed. We hope for him, and we fear for him. Sweeth Tooth, like the best of Vertigo titles, like the best of fiction, makes us feel… and it does so with intelligence, grace, and heart.
Lemire has been tied up with his duties as one of the main architects of the DC Universe, buts it’s only a matter of time before he brings his considerable skill back to the creator owned world. With the many successes at Image Comics recently, mostly from Vertigo veterans such as Scott Snyder and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man), Vertigo could use another Lemire epic. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see that come to fruition.
PAT SHAND is a comic book writer and a fan of all things Canadian. Whether it be Jeff Lemire, Drake, Tegan and Sara, poutine – the undisputed most glorious food on this planet, according to those who have eaten the dish – or a far superior health care system, Shand is connoisseur of all things Canuck. Except hockey. Hockey is hard.