Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth is a comic book that has gained some attention recently thanks to Netflix’s successful and critically praised adaptation. The original comic book that inspired the show is a little over a decade old and has become a surprising hit for Vertigo, its publisher. The story of a dystopian world inhabited by humans and hybrids who struggle for survival in a disease-plagued world full of hate and animosity became quite popular with the readers. This popularity is the chief reason why I have decided to dedicate today’s article to Sweet Tooth and its basic premise.
The original Sweet Tooth comic is both dark and scary, with a lot of dystopian themes, graphical violence, and complex issues. In that aspect, it is not really all that suited for younger readers without parental supervision. The television series is much lighter in tone.
In today’s article, I am going to talk about the tone and the style of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth comic book. You are going to find out whether the comic book is dark, whether it is scary, and whether it is suitable for children and other younger readers, seeing how it does deal with child characters. Enjoy!
Is Sweet Tooth dark?
The original Sweet Tooth comic is set in a dystopian world ruled, for the most part, by violence. Humans have become increasingly animalistic and it is the hybrids, who are, in fact, animal-like that retain a connection with humanity, however weak and superficial that connection might be.
The original comic book featured a premise where hunters tried to capture Gus, a child, and bring him to the military to be ground up into medicine. Gus’ journey was a very brutal and violent one, with each rescue – usually executed by Big Man Jepperd – done in a very brutal manner, involving a lot of blood and brutal execution methods. If you look at the pages of the comic book with more care, you’ll notice that there are very brutal panels with deadly weapons being used on enemies and so forth. In that aspect, Lemire made an effort to portray his quest for survival as very dark.
But that violence is not the only aspect of Lemire’s darkness. Namely, his portrayal of the Sweet Tooth universe was also quite dark, as the dystopian setting wasn’t ideally creepy as it was in, for example, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighteen Four or Huxley’s Brave New World, it was very, very dark and disturbing.
A good example of this is the sexual violence present in the original comic book, most notably via the characters of Lucy and Becky, to prostitutes saved by Big Man Jepperd, who later join Gus and him on their journey. The two girls were forced into prostitution and were abused in the most violent ways imaginable. Although Lemire wasn’t that graphic in depicting that violence, the whole setting and the world he built were quite dark.
Is Sweet Tooth scary?
Well, the answer to this question depends on what each of us considers to be scary, but on a general level – Sweet Tooth could certainly scare you. It’s not a horror-level fright, but it’s enough to make you feel quite uncomfortable while reading.
The atmosphere is, for the most part, very intense and thrilling, with survival being the protagonists’ primary goal. In such a dystopian setting, full of violence and gore (see my previous section for more information), there is absolutely no way that a reader would not feel uncomfortable, seeing the dark world the protagonists are living in.
Of course, there are not as many horror scenes, but some characters, like the Dog Boys and their father, are pretty terrifying if you think about them. The visuals also help with the fear, as Lemire never really bothered to make things less disturbing than they are. The characters are stylized in a specific manner and all of this contributes to the general uneasiness of the whole comic book.
Sweet Tooth is definitely not for those that have a faint heart, but it is also not a horror comic book. I would say that it is moderately scary and that one should prepare for some violence, gore, and tense situations, but Sweet Tooth is definitely not a horror narrative and its primary goal is not to scare you, but rather to shock you.
Is Sweet Tooth appropriate for children?
This is a very tough one, honestly. Namely, Vertigo didn’t initially define a precise age group for Sweet Tooth, although the comic books did say that they were suggested for mature readers. How mature is mature? Well, we have no clue, but if you observe some recent editions that came out under the “DC Black” label, they clearly state that Sweet Tooth is for ages 17 and up.
Clearly, when looking at the general structure of the comic book and taking into consideration what I have written in the two preceding paragraphs, Sweet Tooth doesn’t seem to be a comic book suitable for children and younger teenagers. There is a lot of violence and complexity, while the topics tackled in the comic book, despite the protagonist – Gus – being a child, are very mature and very adult-focused. Lemire’s dystopian setting is also something that isn’t fully suited for younger audiences, which means that you, as parents, should either supervise your young child reading this or evaluate for yourselves whether they’re ready for such a dark story.
A lot of this depends on the child. A randomly picked age limit isn’t always realistic and there are certainly children under 17 years of age that could read Sweet Tooth, but this is where you come in as a parent. Evaluating the level of maturity is a parent’s job and once you’ve done that, you can decide for yourself whether Sweet Tooth is child friendly or not. On a general level, you need to watch out, but it’s not impossible for your young(er) child to be ready for Lemire’s amazing story.