Written by Cullen Ben and Shawn Lee, with illustrations by Matt Kindt, The Tooth stands as a perfect example of why we NEED small publishers like Oni and Red 5 Comics. The Tooth is a wonderful story, but one which defies easy categorization and clearly flies in the face of what the Big Two/Three traditionally publish. With an almost scribbled-in-a-school-notebook texture to the art, and a playfully fun introduction, The Tooth eschews current comic formatting. Yet, its homage 60’s ads imbue the book with a retro-classic comic element that honours the very comics that Marvel and DC once put out.
The Tooth is… a tooth. Incredibly hard, tough, and strong, the character is not born woven into a confusing, continuity-laden comic universe, but instead, seems to be straight from the wondrous and innocent imagination of a 10 year old. The artistic style heightens this effect by portraying the characters in a non-exaggerated, not-physically perfect way that is too often the go-to human physique in comics and graphic novels these days. That isn’t to say that one is better than the other. As much as I enjoyed The Tooth, it won’t be pored over again and again as I marvel at the complexity of line work, inking, or colouring. What Matt Kindt does do perfectly though, is create art that evokes the same emotions and uniqueness that Cullen Ben and Shawn Lee have created with their character. In this sense, the comic is flawless.
Reading the book, I almost expect this comic to be a prop in the background of a Mad Men episode, or to have just been discovered by a son going through his father’s old comic boxes. What is the plot? Who are the characters? These are questions that I often don’t spend enough time answering in my reviews. Frankly though, this information can be gleaned from the back of the book, or with a 30 second online search. In The Tooth good battles evil and good triumphs. The Tooth, while evoking an image of simplicity and innocence, manages to delve much deeper than the simplistic reduction of the plot I just gave. The story’s acknowledgement of the complexities of adult life and the decisions we have to make push this comic beyond mere ‘young adult’ reading, and is just one of the many elements that make it so hard to classify using the current established categories.
This graphic novel is definitely worth picking up if you are interested in exploring beyond the current “common bounds” of comics. It is not explicitly graphic, nor so indie as to be avante garde. The Tooth stands alone. A graphic novel; a story; a good read; and a great reason for everyone to remember what small publishers can foster and bring into our lives.