Review: ‘Stuffed!’ By Glenn Eichler & Nick Bertozzi
By Glenn Eichler & Nick Bertozzi
First Second, September 2009, $17.99
Eichler writes for Stephen Colbert’s show, which is
why Stuffed! has a prominent Colbert quote on the cover – and,
perhaps, why it was published at all. It’s a graphic novel that wants to be
satirical, particularly about the modern touchiness surrounding race, but it bogs
itself down in bland talk without ever quite pushing its satire to become
really funny or really dangerous.
Tim Johnston is a mid-level bureaucrat at an
HMO, one of the faceless thousands responsible for denying healthcare whenever
possible. But one day he gets a call he doesn’t expect: his estranged father is
dying. Soon, Tim has to deal with his father’s death – and his inheritance from
the old man. Johnston senior had a small storefront – The Museum of the Rare
and Curious – in which he displayed various odd items to the very few people who
ever bothered to come look at it. Most of that “museum” is easily disposed of,
since it’s nearly all junk. But then there’s “The Savage,” which Tim refers to as a “statue” of an African tribesman – about a hundred years old and dressed in a leopard-print loincloth in best Republic serial fashion.
The Savage, of course, is not a statue: it’s a
preserved human body, of a real African man who’s been dead for quite some time.
And so when Tim tries to donate it to the American Museum of Natural History,
they can’t display it – their policy is to repatriate the remains they already
have, as quickly as possible. But the man Tim made contact with at the museum,
Dr. Howard Bright – a black man, of course – feels for Tim and the dead body and
starts studying the possibility of repatriating what he asks Tim to call “The
Meanwhile, Howard’s teenage son Jamal is rebelling by
going overly “street” after the family moved to Harlem from Brooklyn, and Tim’s
ne’er-do-well half brother Free (formerly Red Wolf, born Ollie) turns up to be
an unreconstructed freeloading hippie (down to the scar from a self-trepanation
on his forehead) and to cause trouble. And Tim has recurring nightmares about
the Savage/Warrior, with some very unsubtle symbolism.
There are a lot of elements in Stuffed!
that must have looked good in concept form – two white brothers owning a dead
black man, a black professional conflicted about his duty, suburbs vs. city, black
vs. white, returning ancient remains to their ancestral homes, plus a double
handful of family issues – but none of them ever resonate, separately or with
each other, nor does Stuffed! manage to rise above
sitcom level. It’s never particularly funny or shocking, though it’s a pleasant
read – the characters are engaging and mostly reasonable (with Free the obvious
Stuffed! tells its story solidly,
with Nick Bertozzi contributing equally workmanlike art – he breaks the story
up into lots of little panels supporting often very long word balloons, so the
art feels cramped, a thousand tiny headshots with larger-than-life expressions.
It feels like a book that wanted to be much more than it is, but what it is is
perfectly acceptable. The reader does get the impression that Stuffed!
wants to be more than it is, but so many of us do, after all, and we don’t get
our wishes, either.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional
for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science
Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He¹s been
reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal,
mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like to submit books
for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew
Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.