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Everything is Teeth Explores A Childhood Among Sharks and Imagination’s Menace

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<i>Everything is Teeth</i> Explores A Childhood Among Sharks and Imagination&#8217;s Menace

Writer: Evie Wyld
Artist: Joe Sumner
Publisher: Pantheon
Release Date: May 10, 2016

Everything is Teeth.jpg Evie Wyld’s 2013 novel All the Birds, Singing abounded with unspoken menace. It followed its narrator through two parallel eras, taking her through a traumatic event in her past and chronicling her present-day encounters in a rural area where something has been killing the local sheep population. Wyld neatly balanced horrific imagery with a fear of the unknown; it’s the sort of book that stays with you, its tension quietly spreading into a kind of ambient fear. In Everything Is Teeth, a collaboration with artist Joseph Sumner, Wyld explores a different kind of menace: the way a childhood fascination can lead to horror and dread. In this particular case, sharks are the source of that alarm—Everything Is Teeth dissects Wyld’s interest in them from an early age, and the terrifying imagery that they evoked in her throughout her childhood.

The opening, in which Wyld recounts her summers in Australia growing up, feels more like a pastoral text with illustrations—the first few pages consist of full pages of art accompanied by stark narration. Eventually, this gives way to multiple panels; a few pages after that, the first word of dialogue appears. The effect in these early pages is interesting: mostly black-and-white linework, with the addition of a contrasting shark’s fin in certain panels. It reads like a collage or an intrusion, establishing an aesthetic mode that will proceed through various permutations in the book. Given that this is a story that explores the monsters that loom in youth, this seems apt: early scenes put members of Wyld’s family in the water, in close proximity to barely glimpsed creatures that may be monstrous or entirely innocuous.

One Christmas, Wyld’s brother receives a shark’s jaws as a gift, and not long afterwards she begins to read a book that deals with a great white shark’s 1963 attack on Australian scuba diver Rodney Fox. Color slowly creeps in. Visceral images of sharks and their predatory tendencies surround quieter scenes of Wyld and her family, engaged in everyday activities. That sense of collage persists. As tensions within Wyld’s family increase, she tells stories of sharks to her brother; Sumner veers between photorealistic illustrations of sharks and a more stylized, cartoonish approach for rendering the family. The juxtaposition is striking. The art inhabits intermediate states as well: in a sequence where the family watches Jaws, scenes from the film appear as woodcuts.

EiT Interior.jpg
Everything is Teeth Interior Art by Joseph Sumner

While Wyld employs narration as a key storytelling mechanism, her skill with sentences makes it work efficiently. A line like, “I go to my boxing gloves and check for spiders, then put them on,” packs plenty of neurosis into a handful of words. And various images stand on their own: a page featuring a shark hovering a few feet above the ground as a young Wyld walks through the city streets remains haunting. As the two approaches come together late in the book, specifically when Wyld imagines a shark attacking her family, the effect is simply chilling: “From the shore I can see how it would happen: the legs torn off, the stubby nose in the guts, the fingers all sliced away.”

For readers of Wyld’s earlier work, Everything Is Teeth provides a different perspective on how the natural world can turn hostile, and how anxieties and fears can pervade all aspects of perception. Sumner’s subtle use of color and multiple stylistic approaches make for an interesting visual experience, and this collaboration is enlightening in its expansive exploration of dread and time.

EiT Interior 1.jpg
Everything is Teeth Interior Art by Joseph Sumner

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