Day 6

Netflix's Sweet Tooth offers a hopeful spin on Jeff Lemire's dystopian tale

The TV adaptation of Jeff Lemire's critically-acclaimed comic book series Sweet Tooth premiered Friday on Netflix. Lemire tells Day 6 about what's changed for the small screen.

'I do feel like the show has, obviously, a real relevance with what's going on,' the artist and writer said

Gus, played by Christian Convery, is a half-human, half-deer hybrid who must navigate a dangeous post-pandemic world. (Kirsty Griffin/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Netflix)

When artist and writer Jeff Lemire named the main character of Sweet Tooth after his son more than a decade ago, he couldn't have imagined how life would imitate art.

The comic book series, which launched in 2009, features Gus — a half-human, half-deer hybrid boy with a love for candy — who is navigating a dangerous post-pandemic world where humans hunt hybrids out of fear that half-animal species caused the virus that infected people worldwide.

"My son is 12, so he's pretty much the same age as the character was in the story, and he's living through a real pandemic," Lemire told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"So there's that whole aspect to it that's just completely bizarre and weird and things you can never expect."

Netflix debuted its TV adaptation of Sweet Tooth on Friday, and while fans of the comics will notice some differences from the print edition, Lemire says it's coming at the right time.

"I do feel like the show has, obviously, a real relevance with what's going on, and a real hope to it that's kind of welcome."

WATCH | Trailer for Netflix's Sweet Tooth

A more hopeful aesthetic

Since he first conceived of the Sweet Tooth universe in 2009, Lemire says plenty of films and TV series have adopted a dark, dystopian aesthetic that's similar to the comics.

Keeping that same visual language for the Netflix adaptation would have felt "so seen and so done at this point," Lemire said. So instead, the world inhabited by Gus and Jepperd — a travelling companion who protects the boy from predators — is lush and green with New Zealand as its backdrop, while staying true to its darker themes.

"It's kind of like a post post-apocalyptic story where you're coming out of the darkness and a giant change is happening to the world, and we get to kind of see the other side of that," he said.

"For me, it felt kind of fresh and new that way and also just makes it more welcoming to audiences as well," who served as a writer for the TV adaptation.

Gus, left, and Jepperd, right, played by Nonso Anozie, are unlikely friends in Sweet Tooth. (Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

The contrast between the two different versions of Sweet Tooth is mirrored in the work itself, and is no more clear than in the two main characters. While Gus is the embodiment of child-like hope and innocence, Jepperd has faced violence and trauma causing him to be closed-off and guarded.

Those differences, Lemire explains, allows the pair to learn from each other.

"The best stories come from the friction that can come when you put two contrasting things together," he said.

'He might be mildly embarrassed by now'

One of the defining features in Sweet Tooth is, of course, Gus's antlers — and came to him before even writing the story or character, Lemire says.

"I was and am always sketching stuff and some of it's nonsense. And this little kid or boy with antlers started popping up in my sketchbooks," he said. "I don't know where it came from, but it was something kind of cool to draw."

Creating those antlers on screen was nothing short of movie magic.

Humans are on the hunt for so-called hybrids, like Gus, they are the reason behind a virus that caused a worldwide pandemic. (Netflix)

While some might expect the horns were added digitally, they were actually an animatronic headpiece, Lemire said.

"They actually had a puppeteer working the ears," he told Bambury. "He would, in real time, react to the performance that Christian Convery, who plays Gus, was giving.

"And I think that sort of give and take between the actor and the puppeteer was really special, and kind of created some really unique reactions."

Seeing his comic book vision come to life on the small screen is an undeniable thrill for Lemire.

"Obviously, I love comics. I make comics every day, and that's my passion. I don't set out to make things that can get turned into movies or TV shows," he said.

"But when it happens, you know, obviously it's really exciting and it brings your work to a much wider audience."

Violent and tramautized Jepperd is the opposite of innocent Gus, says writer and artist Jeff Lemire, which allows them to learn from each other. (Kirsty Griffin/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Netflix)

Asked how Gus, his son, feels about the show, Lemire says while he might love the world, he has mixed feelings overall.

"I think he might be mildly embarrassed by now."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview with Jeff Lemire produced by Annie Bender.

Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

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