Desolation. Uncivilized behavior. Freaky mutations. Must be the post-apocalypse in Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth comic series, with the first five issues, Out of the Deep Woods, collected into Vertigo's trade paperback.
There's more: Gus, who sticks out like a sore thumb with his deer-like antlers and ears; a mysterious stranger, called Jepperd, who rescues Gus from hunters looking for reverse-anthropomorphic mutated kids like Gus; and the "affliction," or plague, or major nasty event that's reduced the human population to a few nasty adult survivors with basic ulterior motives like staying alive at all costs and against all odds.
Raised by his Bible-reading father, Gus must leave the safety found in the woods he's known all his life. As he travels to a sanctuary with Jepperd, a two-fisted, tough as oak and emotionally as thick-skinned man with a bagful of candy and a secret, Gus learns more about the world outside and eventually meets other mutated kids showing different animal characteristics.
There's still more: Gus is nine years old. The affliction started seven years ago. So how can he be affected by mutation before the world was sent to places deep south by the contagion? It's a puzzle that Lemire assembles his minimalist but expressive panels around, showing closeups of Gus and the desperate people he meets reacting to each other and the near overwhelming loss surrounding them--and within them. Gus' innocence and naivete, the adults' complicity and duplicity, and the inevitable conflict between the two are dramatically visualized by Lemire with carefully paced and sequenced scenes and sparse narrative and dialog.
I almost passed this one up. I thought the antler-kid story too cute and indie-artsy based on the first issue's cover. I was wrong. It's about self-discovery, overcoming one's fear, and struggling through desperation. It will keep you reading to discover, along with Gus, what the Hell happened, why, and where more candy bars might be found.
Lemire does a lot of contemplative fiction that takes place in rural areas. I highly recommend The Essex County stuff and The Nobody.
Posted by: Chris Hallock | June 29, 2010 at 04:21 PM
This is my first experience with his work. I'm impressed. The story has a fairy-tale quality to it that gives Gus more emotional impact. The TPB for 9.99 is a bargain, too.
Posted by: Zoc | June 29, 2010 at 03:50 PM
Absolutely love this comic and all of Lemire's other work. It is one of the few subscriptions I have at the moment. Poor, poor Gus.
Posted by: Chris Hallock | June 29, 2010 at 02:09 PM