Stuffed!

Written by Glenn Eichler
Art by Nick Bertozzi
128 pages, color
Published by First Second Books

Even under the best of circumstances, family can be difficult to deal with. That’s how Stuffed! opens itself to the reader, a story about a bizarre inheritance that freaks out the two brothers who find themselves with the delicate situation of dealing with its contents. It’s a basic story premise that’s been around for ages, with people having to either come together or be driven apart by a stressful third party. But while Glenn Eichler’s script is an amusing one, the element that’s missing in its pages may actually surprise you a little bit.

Tim Johnston’s never gotten along great with his family. He doesn’t really talk to his father any more, and his brother Ollie now goes by the name Free and is off living a nomadic lifestyle among other similarly free-spirited people. But when Tim’s father dies, it forces Tim to not only reconnect with his brother but to also re-examine his relationship with his deceased father as well the rest of the world. Because when your sole inheritance is the contents of a "museum" of antiquities that are mostly so bad even a circus sideshow wouldn’t want them, you know that somehow there’s going to be that one item that causes trouble.

I almost hate to say it, but I think that Eichler’s script is one that would have worked better in a non-print form. Eichler’s primary credits are for television, most notably co-creating and writing Daria. There’s no doubt in my mind that Eichler’s a funny writer, and one who gets the delivery of a joke and its punchline. The problem is, without actors to back up the lines in Eichler’s script for Stuffed!, a lot of them fall slightly flat. Reading the book, I kept thinking to myself that the book was missing that extra punch that is all the difference between reading a sentence on the page, and hearing someone genuinely funny deliver it. (It’s like reading Rodney Dangerfield’s iconic line, "Take my wife, please!" without ever hearing him say it; it loses something in the translation from one medium to another.) So when Tim grouches about his brother, or Free does something immensely stupid, or Howard and Talyah worry about their son Jamal, they often come across as a little more idiotic than intended. Howard and Talyah’s, "He just talked to us!" could be really funny if two actors gave it that right level of frantic, but delivered cold on the page it’s a lot harder to get a chuckle out of the moment. Even the moments where Tim is at work and dealing with crazy people came across a little flat, perhaps because once again they seem more like a chance for a guest star to have fun with the material, but without that extra push it’s just a slightly-annoying sidebar.

Nick Bertozzi’s an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed for a long time. That said, I think that he’s the first artist whose work hasn’t worked well with First Second’s normal 6×8.5" book dimensions. Bertozzi’s art often looks a little too shrunken down and crushed in Stuffed!, almost as if it was draw with larger dimensions intended but then retrofitted to this smaller size. Bertozzi’s art is at its best when there are just a few panels on the page; there, his art gets to show off its slightly silly, funny expressions on the book’s various characters. As soon as the drawings get smaller, though, they lose a lot of their punch. Free goes from a slightly off-kilter, hanging-onto-sanity guy into a random homeless man; you can’t get a good look the faces of the characters, and that’s one of Bertozzi’s strong points. It’s not an unattractive book, but I’ve come to expect so much more out of Bertozzi that here it seems like we’re only getting a book that plays to half of his strengths.

It’s really strange because I wanted to like Stuffed! and there’s a good story struggling to get out. But as it currently exists, I think it’s a story that’s being told in the wrong medium. Make it a movie with some strong talent and you’ll have audiences rolling in the aisles. There’s a lot of humor packed into Stuffed!. But right now, I think it’s just not getting itself to audiences in the right form.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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