Glenn Eichler & Nick Bertozzi
Stuffed! is a new graphic novel from First Second Books, written by Glenn Eichler (who writes for The Colbert Report and created the character of Daria on Beavis & Butt-Head) and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi (Rubber Necker). The book is about a nice white Suburban family with some underlying issues. Tim Johnston's father passes away, leaving him a curiosity museum, which contains an object of fear from his childhood - The Savage, which is an African warrior who happens to be a real stuffed man dressed in a loincloth. Tim becomes fascinated with this object his father used to terrorize him with in his youth, and as it has the same effect on his family now, he sees a museum about taking it off of his hands. A few problems occur here: 1) Tim's semi-homeless hippie drilled-a-hole-in-his-own-head brother, self-named "Free," who owns half of everything their father left them, doesn't want to give it up to the museum. 2) Museum politics are very complicated, making the simple task of handing The Savage over quite an endeavor, as they no longer showcase living human beings in their exhibits, and while they would aide Tim and Free in sending the man to his home country, there are certain rules they must abide by.
Eichler paints an over-the-top world here, which works to a sometimes humorous, sometimes odd effect. The strained relationship between the very different brothers is actually sort of touching at times, but ultimately, I found it hard to get too drawn in with someone as ridiculous as Free, despite those tender moments. There was a certain amount of truth in the relationship however, even if it was exaggerated, and Eichler found a spark of emotion in there that rings true, which I can appreciate even if I was a little put off by one of the characters involved. Eichler certainly has a lot of social commentary wrapped up in this little story, touching on racial issues, foreign policy, and the family unit from different angles, and in different forms than we're used to. Stuffed! has a clever little story running through it. Bertozzi's art is probably the highlight of the book, however, with nice cartooning, well-thought-out panel arrangements, and a great sense of pacing. Although I really do not like that cover whatsoever. If I hadn't remembered reading about this book is Previews, I probably wouldn't have picked up a book that looks like this. Yes, I judge books by covers sometimes. Overall, despite a few shining moments, this left me lukewarm. It was okay: nothing too exciting or innovative, nothing so bad it completely turned me off. It's a little odd and off-beat, but mostly it's just kind of there.