By Jeff Lemire
Pornsak Pichetshote came on as editor of SWEET TOOTH with Issue 9. I had had the fortune of working with both Bob Shreck and Brandon Montclare before that, so I had been spoiled in the editor department. But Pornsak has more than been a great editor; he’s also one of my great friends now too.
One of our first conversations was in regards to the covers to SWEET TOOTH. Up to that point I was happy with my covers, but wanted to do more with them. I wanted to get more conceptual and at times surreal with them. Pornsak understood this and pushed me each month to go that extra step. Below is a step-by step account of how each cover in SWEET TOOTH Vol.2: IN CAPTIVITY was created, from earliest conceptual sketch to final inks and then colors.
But first a few side notes. First, Jose Villarubia is an incredible collaborator. He takes my art and elevates it to a whole new level. Nowhere is this more evident than his work on the covers for SWEET TOOTH. Maybe more than any other colorist in the industry Jose takes chances with his color choices. At time they can be bold and surprising, but more often than not they work. Take for example the bright yellow background of Cover 7. I originally saw the background as a grey cloudy sky. I was surprised and a bit shocked when the lemon yellow version popped up in my inbox. But after a few minutes of looking at it with a frown on my face I realized how much it popped. It just caught the eye. That cover went on to be one of the most iconic of the series so far, and even became the cover of the trade paperback. I truly feel it’s success was due to Jose taking a chance with his color choices.
Another interesting note about this cover art is where the original art ends up sometimes. A few art collectors coveted the cover mentioned above, but I held onto it for a while, not ready to part with it. And I was glad I did, because at the San Diego Comicon this year I ended up trading it with Rafael Albuquerque for his iconic cover art for Superboy #1! In a similar swap, I gave the cover to #11 (the creepy ultrasound image) to Matt Kindt in exchange for a few pages from his awesome book 3 Story!
Now onto the cover art…
By Jeff Lemire
Issue 10 of SWEET TOOTH is my favorite so far. Well, maybe issue 18 is now, but you haven’t seen that one yet, so I’ll stick with 10 for the time being. In that issue, featured in SWEET TOOTH Vol.2: IN CAPTIVITY (Out Dec.8), we take a break from the ongoing storyline as the mysterious, possibly evil Dr Singh hypnotizes Gus, the antlered protagonist of the series, and enters his mind…literally.
This was a really fun issue to draw. I got to break the rules of a linear narrative a bit and really experiment with my layouts and try to capture a surreal kind of dream logic in the storytelling, as Singh and Gus delved back into the boy’s memories trying to unlock the secrets of the plague that wiped out most the human race.
It was also a chance for me to play around with ink washes again. I had done a lot of this in my early self-published work, but hadn’t tried it since. Washes create a looser more fluid look that I thought really suited the surreal feel of this issue. Then I saw what artist extraordinaire Jose Villarubia’s colors looked like over the washes and I totally fell in love. Now I can’t stop using them. Incidentally I also think this is the issue where Jose and I really gelled as an art team. Where we really found our common voice together.
Issue 10 also marked the start of a concerted effort on my part to try and push the boundaries of what a monthly comic can be a little bit each month. Sometimes this desire to experiment takes the form of a high concept format like the completely silent/split-screen issue 12, or the horizontal “storybook” format of issue 18 (all done in washes). Other times it means playing with the layouts or style on a smaller scale within a specific scene or page. Either way these are almost like games that I play with myself to keep me energized over the course of the sometimes-grueling marathon that is writing and drawing a monthly comic.
At any rate, Issue 10 felt like a breakthrough issue for me. I felt like I really started to find new energy for SWEET TOOTH again after the initial rush of starting the book had worn off. I think that energy shows on the page. I hope you agree. I have more tricks up my sleeve as Gus and the gang trek along the post-apocalyptic wasteland, so stay tuned!
By Jeff Lemire
In the opening scene of SWEET TOOTH Vol.2 “IN CAPTIVITY” (Out Dec.8) our hulking anti-hero JEPPERD is shown in a flashback of his life before the mysterious plague wiped out most of the human population and spawned a new race of human/animal hybrid children.
In this scene we learn Jepperd was a semi-professional ice hockey player living in Minnesota. Specifically we see Jepperd punching the snot out of another hockey player at center ice. Now, I’m a Canadian, so it may be no surprise that I love hockey. I follow my team, The Toronto Maple Leafs (stop laughing) religiously and still play myself once a week. And anyone who’s read my previous work knows I love to write about hockey players, so it’s no surprise I chose this as Jepperd’s pre-apocalyptic vocation. (As an aside this reminds me of another funny story. After Bob Schreck left DC, SWEET TOOTH was handed to his then assistant editor Brandon Montclare to edit. Brandon knew about my side-career as a mediocre beer league hockey player. So one morning I left him a phone message at the office telling him I had broken my right hand playing hockey on the weekend and couldn’t draw SWEET TOOTH for at least six months. I received a number of frantic emails in reply by Brandon scrambling to figure out how we were going to keep the book on schedule. It took him about 2 hours until he looked at the calendar and realized that it was April 1.)
Anyways, back to the secret identity of that rival hockey player Jepperd lays a beat-down on in this opening sequence…it’s indie-comics superstar Jeffrey Brown. Jeffrey and I are actually good friends, so this on-page attack wasn’t meant as a slight to him. On the contrary, it was menace as a tribute. You see Jeffrey is the only other comics creator I know who likes hockey as much as I do (well maybe not quite as much, he is an American after all). And Jeffrey’s team of choice is The Detroit Red Wings. Now, growing up in Essex County, Ontario I was smack dab in the middle of both Red Wings and Maple Leafs territory. So as a kid I had to make a choice as to which team I’d follow. I chose the blue and white Leafs. Jeffrey, growing up in Michigan naturally chose the Red Winds. So this was also my way of gently ribbing him. I let Jepperd beat the living snot out of him. Hopefully Jeffrey’s honored, although I still have a feeling I’m going to get my head blown off by an Incredible Change-Bot one of these days. (PS…If you like how I “honor” my friends in SWEET TOOTH just wait until you see what I do to Matt Kindt in the fourth storyline!!)
By Jeff Lemire
Despite the fact that his doe-eyed face fills most of the covers of SWEET TOOTH, the series was never meant to be just about Gus. It was always going to be just as much about Jepperd, the mysterious, hulking drifter. Jepperd’s like Batman to Gus’ Robin, Butch to his Sundance, Tango to his Cash. You get the picture.
For me the differences between Jepperd and Gus are the core of the book. Specifically, Gus is the ultimate innocent. He embodies childhood and incorruptibility and purity. Jepperd on the other hand is a like a dark, violent storm. He’s everything that’s been degraded, ruined and hurt in this post-apocalyptic world. Gus only knows hope. Jepperd only knows disappointment and loss.
But I soon discovered that when you put these two together they each become something else, something more. Jepperd suddenly softens. And his violence, when it inevitably explodes out of him, suddenly has a focus...the protection of Gus. And Gus, on the other hand, starts to show a resourcefulness and guile that was originally hidden beneath his almost cherub-like exterior.
And then Jepperd goes and ruins it all (SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ VOL.1 YET!). As we left the two characters at the end of SWEET TOOTH Vol.1, Jepperd betrayed Gus, selling him to the militia for a strange form of payment…a mysterious duffle bag. What’s in that bag? And furthermore, what could be worth this man turning his back on the only good thing he’s ever had in his lonely life since the plague hit?
All this and more is slowly revealed in SWEET TOOTH Vol. 2: IN CAPTIVITY (Out Dec.8). If Vol.1 introduced us to the world of SWEET TOOTH, and to the character of Gus, then Vol.2 is really Jepperd’s tale. It’s here that he becomes more than the two-dimensional killing machine he first appeared to be. He becomes a man. A man that knows pain and loss beyond anything Gus could imagine in his young life. Does this justify his actions? And will Gus ever forgive him? You’ll have to keep reading to find out. But for know I’ll leave you with a look at my earliest design sketches of Jepperd along with the earliest version of the cover for Issue 6. Enjoy!