'Sweet Tooth' Creators on Changing the Balance of Horror and Fantasy in Comic Book Adaptation (Exclusive)

This week, Netflix subscribers everywhere clicked on a show that looked like a fairy tale on the surface but gradually revealed itself to be a horror show — Sweet Tooth. The Netflix original series is set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a pandemic, violence and nefarious plots at the highest level. The creators behind the show discussed how they balanced those tones and elements in an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com.

Sweet Tooth is based on a comic book series by the same name created by Jeff Lemire. We spoke to Lemire along with Beth Schwartz — executive producer, co-showrunner and writer — and Jim Mickle — executive producer, co-showrunner, writer and director. Between the three of them, they tried to pin down how Sweet Tooth struck a balance between the fantastical and the horrifying, and how they knew when they had it right. Schwartz said that it sprang from a mostly organic creative process.

"I don't think it was intentionally sneaky," she laughed. "I think we knew we had to balance both of those things — we have Gus who sees everything through rose-colored glasses, and then we have Rockridge where we burn people alive, so we knew we had that balance. Jim and I had discussed, 'Is this going to work?' We had a group of teenagers who we wanted to murder people — we didn't want to water them down at all, but we still love them for who they are. So, I think we were probably pleasantly surprised at how well it came in the cuts, those transitions, and that we didn't actually have to work too hard to make it all fit in an episode."

Meanwhile, Mickle admitted that his background in the horror genre definitely played a role, saying: "I've spent a lot of time doing horror movies, and have loved that, and as time has evolved I think sort of learning the rhythm of set-ups and pay-offs, and... just being able to pull your audience in so that by the time they get close, that's when you can sneak up on them. I think that winds up sort of finding itself in everything. Even a lot of the visuals and the camera work and stuff like that is sort of motivated by that horror film language, which I think is fun in a story like this."

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Lemire wrote and illustrated the Sweet Tooth comics for years, and he acknowledged that the horror comes on much stronger on the page than it does on the screen. He said: "I like the way the comic and the show are kind of inverted," said Lemire. "In the comic, the horror sci-fi stuff is a little more in your face, and the heart sneaks up on you. In the show it's like, the heart and the character stuff are upfront, and then the horror is sneaky. It works well I think for the different mediums."

Sweet Tooth Season 1 continues to dominate Netflix's Top 10 chart more than a week after its release. Season 1 of the series is streaming now on Netflix.