There’s been plenty of advance buzz and interest in new series Babyteeth that arrived this week from Aftershock Comics, written by Donny Cates (God Country, Buzzkill), with art by Garry Brown (The Massive, Black Road), colors by Mark Englert, and letters by Taylor Esposito. The premise of the story–that a teenage girl gives birth to the Antichrist–has elements of occult horror, and also, as Cates has hinted to readers, might have some Buffy-ish humor and teen angst.
I think what advance reviewers and comics pros who have seen the first issue of Babyteeth have really responded to, though, is how fully it marches to the beat of its own drum. Two things about the first issue really set the comic apart as unique, and presumably, these things are elements we’ll see in future issues, too–the use of a very specific and interesting narrator’s voice by Cates, and Brown’s choice of art style.
Cates sets the story up with an overarching narrator–our central character Sadie Ritter–and the idea that she’s telling her story to her infant son by recorded video. That anchors the reader in Sadie’s narrative–all things will be shaped by her words and emotions–unless artist Brown decides to create some interesting dissonance between what Sadie says and what we, as a reader see. Why it matters that Sadie is our narrator is that her perspective is going to naturally be at odds with ordinary public perspective. The Antichrist is her baby. She’s his mother. She’s going to inevitably want to protect him, redefine him, understand him, unlike the public, who will see him as, well, a kind of devil, surely.
What could be a far-flung piece of occult fantasy also becomes grounded in Sadie’s narrative of her own physical journey in giving birth to her son. She goes into as much intense detail as an overly-honest blogger on her pregnancy, the crises that arise from going into labor (like earthquakes measuring high on the Richter Scale!), and her delivery.
It’s possible that makes her even more of a teen, in a way, in this over-sharing generation where Instagram and Snapchat confessionals are a matter of course. At any rate, we are in Sadie’s territory in issue #1, and most likely beyond. This is very much her story, when most stories dealing with an Antichrist would focus on the main event, the big bad. It will be very interesting to see how Sadie continues to shape the narrative for us.
The art on this series is also an immediate stand-out as specific and nuanced. Garry Brown has done tremendous work on other books like The Massive and Black Road. Here he’s a co-creator of Babyteeth, and I think that he is taking a slightly or even very, different tack than in his other works that I’ve seen.
The name of the game is being individualistic as a comic artist here. Though comparisons may take away from that statement, his work here might remind you of Sam Kieth’s early veering into new directions, or the more well-known of indie comic artists like Josh Bayer working on All-Time Comics from Fantagraphics right now, or Michel Fiffe working on his comic Copra.
That’s not to say that Brown doesn’t have mainstream style appeal–but he’s bending and flipping tropes in interesting ways. His use of facial expressions is highly emotive, sometimes even stylized, as well as posture and movement. His depictions of the crises the world, and Sadie, are facing have room to jump off into the surreal just enough to give you a very specific reading experience that you won’t see elsewhere. Mark Englert and Taylor Esposito definitely get the hints that Brown is throwing out and take these features even further, making the series even more distinctive in colors, fonts, and SFX, which often feel hand-drawn.
In an eerie way, these features all work together to give this story a post-apocalyptic feel, like we really are witnessing something cataclysmic. Sadie is telling her story a year after the fact, but feel could be more like decades after earth-altering events.
Babyteeth is a surprising read, but perhaps for different reasons than readers might have expected based on the buzz. It’s surprising because it breaks expectations of genre, tone, and mood, and strides off in its own direction, towing you confidently along with it. This makes for very good comics storytelling, and definitely avoids any pitfalls of being similar to works readers might already be familiar with, whether in horror or apocalyptic narratives.
Babyteeth #1 arrived in shops this week on Wednesday, June 7th. Issue #2 arrives in shops on July 5th, 2017.