Starting Anew: Sweets #1

[27 January 2011]

By Shawn O'Rourke

Sweets will find you in the small moments, because New Orleans will find you in the small moments. It’s something I can’t put my finger on, a feeling, a sensation. It’s simultaneously the opposite of survivor’s guilt and Stockholm Syndrome, New Orleans is. And Sweets is easily the rejuvenation of the crime genre. It’s an energy. A feeling. Like stepping off a train in southern heat. It’s being able to hear the bayou. It’s Dash Hammett and Ray Chandler, Nero Wolfe, but in a different time, and another place.

The past few years have been a great time for crime comics. With the work of creator’s like Brubaker, Philips, and Cooke, and imprints like Vertigo Crime, stories involving murderers, criminals with nothing to lose, dames, tough guys, and cops have been flourishing again. It is into this market of hardboiled crime yarns that Kody Chamberlain’s Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story enters as a strong addition to the burgeoning genre – it is visually well-executed, gritty, compelling, and has the right amount of pulp to give it some flavor.

The most immediately striking things about Sweets is the artwork. Chamberlain is an impressive artist who captures New Orleans with such a sense of authenticity and accuracy that at any second you expect to see Ignatius Reilly pushing a hotdog cart through the French Quarter in the background of one of his panels. He has a grittiness that fuses the dark tone of his story with the naturally haunted aesthetic of the city – an atmosphere so realized that even someone with only a few episodes of Treme and a handful of Anne Rice novels under their belt will no doubt find it compelling and genuine.   

Furthermore, the art works wonderfully with the style and tone of Chamberlain’s writing. The city and the people are flecked with little bits of paint so that it gives the impression that everyone and everything are covered with spots of dried blood from crimes too countless to innumerate. It is a city of corrupt politicians, blackmailing madams, a grief-stricken cop, and a serial killer who leaves pecan pralines at the scenes of his crimes, and it is all brought to visceral life with the perfect blending of art and story.

From a narrative perspective Kody does an impressive job of capitalizing on recognizable crime tropes without coming across as derivative or clichéd. The ubiquity of things like a serial-killer with a gimmick, a cop on the edge, and the gruff police lieutenant who’s not taking anyone’s shit, reads more as a dedication to one’s craft then an over-reliance on a formula.

Yet despite the fact that it is a crime story, it is Chamberlain’s subtleness that highlights his originality. His style is not a blackjack to the back of the head; it is a stiletto between the ribcage. The issue is punctuated twice with moments of violence but the restraint employed shows that the creator is not interested in gratuitous excesses of violence and blood to evoke a fleeting sense of shock. 

Sweets is going to be five issues long and as with any mini series it remains to be seen if the entire story will be as good as its beginning. Yet looking to the first issue it is clear that Chamberlain is a talented creator with a clear vision of what he wants to do. This book stands out as one of the most promising first issues I have read in a long time.

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