There is something to be said about a writer who can manage to make a story that involves a museum of oddities, a man with a hole in his head, overt racism and the stuffed remains of an African warrior as touching a family drama as Glenn Eichler (with artist Nick Bertozzi) does with the graphic novel “Stuffed!”
Tim Johnston lives a normal life. Wife, young daughter, hates his job, exactly what you expect from a standard middle class family. But that’s where the normality ends. Tim has a half brother, Oliver who lost parts of his mind to drug use (as well as a hole he drilled into his forehead) and a dad who passes away in the first few pages and leaves him with a “museum” or rather the basement to a building that used to be the “Museum of the Rare and Curious,” which is where the African warrior (or The Savage as he is referred to for the majority of Tim’s life) comes into the picture.
This is a story about letting go. Tim and Oliver, who goes by the name “Free,” are dealing with the death of a man who really made their life hard. Tim has built his life be a stand against his father. The Savage was used as a means of fear mongering in their household. If the kids got out of line, The Savage would come to life and punish them or so their father had them believe. Tim still has terrible nightmares about The Savage. Free has become so scared of growing up with his father that he is in denial that his father did anything to them at all, believing at some points that he is basically a saint. Over the course of the story, the two have to deal with moving past their father, which is seen in their adventure of trying to get rid of The Savage, by means of a museum donation.
Eichler has a history of stellar writing. Having worked on “Beavis and Butthead,” co-created “Daria” and currently serving as a writer for “The Colbert Report,” it is no surprise that what could’ve become a poor idea was executed so well. Everyone could’ve been completely one-dimensional, but Eichler added a depth to them that makes the craziness of the situations that they put themselves through believable. This is especially crucial for the character of Free, who is the other half of the emotional anchor of the book. It is truly the mark of a good writer to create a character that drills a hole into his head for enlightenment and have them taken seriously.
Helping Eichler along the way is artist Nick Bertozzi. He is reminiscent of Daniel Clowes, the famous creator of “Ghost World,” but is also in a league of his own. In the same vein of Eichler’s believable characterization, Bertozzi adds to the realism of the book by never reducing the characters to caricatures, never dropping them into wacky landscapes. His trick is making them engaging to the eye, but also keeps each character in their respective place. Their voices and character match they way they are drawn. Free, while going against the grain, is a weak man and is drawn as such. And The Savage is also drawn perfectly, as someone (or something depending on which character you ask) attempting to find dignity in the situation his remains have found themselves in. Eichler and Bertozzi compliment each other well and the result is nothing short of fantastic.
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