Stuffed! (First Second)

stuffed-header.jpg The unlikely scenario in this one is that a pair of step-brothers discovers an actual stuffed-and-mounted African person in their late father’s estate.

 

 

124 pgs. FC, softcover; $17.99

(W: Glen Eichler / A: Nick Bertozzi)

 

If the idea of driving an actual stuffed, 100-year-old carcass of an African warrior through Harlem, New York, with the head sticking out the car window (because it won’t fit any other way), fills you with racist horror, you must read Stuffed! This deliciously funny black comedy (no pun intended) comes via Colbert Report writer Glenn Eichler and artist Nick Bertozzi (The Salon, Houdini: The Handcuff King), and, as it turns out, being a witty TV-comedy writer can make for a brilliantly funny comic book.

The unlikely scenario in this one is that a pair of step-brothers discovers an actual stuffed-and-mounted African person in their late father’s estate. (It seems Dad once ran a crasser version of a "Ripley’s Believe it or Not" museum—if such a thing is possible.) Tim wants to donate it back to the African country from which he’s been led to believe it hails. His crazy ex-hippie step-brother, who now refers to himself as "Free," isn’t so sure. Free thinks maybe the dead African should stand in a museum again, no matter how repellent the concept. What’s to become of this deeply awkward curio?

That’s the set-up. Watching the jokes and scenes flow with literal laugh-out-loud fun is the payoff. Free suggests they put the stuffed man on—wait for it—Antiques Roadshow. Oh my gawd.

At one point Tim, Free and an African-American museum worker sympathetic to their mission find themselves stoned, dazed and wandering into a bar. Free, the comic relief, decides to tell a racist joke that effectively dissolves the group’s freshly formed bonhomie, and makes everyone in the bar ashamed to be of the same species.

Eichler makes a lot of hay with racial humor, and with Tim’s sense of mounting failure and desperation a lá Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys or cult British film Withnail and I. Every disaster is fresh comedy. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a funny sequential (read: not single-panel, as in a New Yorker cartoon) comic that conveyed such snappy, witty humor so swiftly and clearly. It goes down as smoothly as watching an episode of The Simpsons: hilariously and effortlessly.

It’s the little touches, too. The inappropriate funeral director who can’t stop crying, the silent panels that function to give the characters’ reaction shots, and so on—good stuff. Shortly after Free crashes at Tim’s place, the wayward step-brother says, "This is a pretty nice house. Does it have an indoor bathroom? I have to urinate, that’s why I ask."

Nick Bertozzi’s art is key. His gift for expressions works hand-in-glove with Eichler’s dependable wit. When Bertozzi draws Tim’s wife staring at him as if to say, "Oh, please — gimme a break," her intent is loud and clear. Free’s mystified and lazy stupor, probably the beating heart of this comedy, comes through in every panel he’s in. The art itself reminded me a bit of the animation of the Cartoon Network’s Venture Brothers: sharp but relaxed, full of life, and not overly controlled.

Stuffed! isn’t just one of the funniest comics you’ll ever read, it’s a truly unusual adaptation of cinematic humor, with all the rhythm and timing of a great film comedy. (And it is much, much funnier than Stephen Colbert’s "Tek Jansen" comic, by the way.) | Byron Kerman

 

Click here for more information and a 12-page excerpt, courtesy of First Second.

 

 

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