Comics Time: Stuffed!



Glenn Eichler, writer

Nick Bertozzi, artist

First Second, 2009

128 pages


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While I can’t say I recommend this book without reservations, I also can’t say I’ve ready very many comics about the moral and ethical issues surrounding the depatriated, taxidermied body of an African. Along with Nick Bertozzi’s always elegant, full-of-life cartooning, it’s that subject matter that will get Stuffed! over with those for whom it’ll get over. In Colbert Report writer/Daria helmer Glenn Eichler’s story, two estranged brothers–happy, if harried, suburbanite Tim and acid casualty Free–come into the possession of the stuffed human remains of a man from Africa, who’d been displayed as a curio in their surly late father’s rinky-dink museum of weird stuff. Tim hooks up with Howard Bright, an African-American anthropologist at the Museum of Natural History, in hopes Bright and the other Museum staffers can help locate “The Savage”‘s country of origin and return him home. The quite contrary Free, who’s not all there, instead argues that the best way to honor the memory of both the African and their father is to keep the former on display. Various didactic contretemps ensue between Tim and Free, Howard and Free, Howard and his wife, Free and Howard’s wife, Howard and his son, Howard and other museum staffers, Tim and diplomats from a pair of African countries where the stuffed guy may have come from, and so on. Yeah, there are a lot of arguments in this book, the kind of arguments where conflicting worldviews are represented and, in the aftermath of one pivotal argument, catharsis is achieved. You may be tired of those kinds of arguments in dramas, and honestly I don’t blame you. But it’s tough to get tired of watching Bertozzi draw them. Despite occasionally acidic coloring by Bertozzi and Chris Sinderson, his figurework and body language looking more than ever like a down-and-dirty Will Eisner, rough-edged and inky where Eisner was smooth and cartoony. His characters seem to move around within their panels with real vitality, breathing breezy readability into what could have been tedious talking-head scenes in lesser hands. (It’s easy to spot the lingering influence of the Modernist painters he chronicled in The Salon, too.) And I have to say it’s rather refreshing to read a graphic novel in which every character is essentially working toward advancing basic human decency, even in misguided ways. And that’s the heart of Stuffed!–a legacy of tragedy and brutality has been reduced to kitsch, so how do we expand it back out of spearchucking stereotypes and past racism and oppression into the full-fledged humanity this person was entitled to? It’s a provocative and engrossing question, and your interest in the answer can get you past Stuffed!‘s shortcomings for the curios to be found inside.

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