The other day, comic illustrator Nick Bertozzi ("The Salon") slyly leaked a few pages of "Stuffed," his comics collaboration with "Colbert Report" writer, Glenn Eichler, on his LiveJournal. Here's what we saw: a chubby, middle-aged, long-haired, bearded dude falling out of bed; and later, said slacker explaining how he drilled a hole in his own head to free his mind, man. Is this the Lebowski sequel we've all been waiting for!?
Not exactly. But as we learned from recent Emmy recipient Eichler (who previously worked on MTV's "Beavis & Butthead" and "Daria"), his graphic novel -- like that seminal movie -- is indeed imbued with dark comedy, cerebral subtext, and a lingering sense of existential unease.
"'Stuffed' has to do with father issues, brother issues, and the history of anthropology," explained Eichler. But it really has to do with a dead body. His book (out in 2009 from First Second) is about a guy who inherits the contents of his late father's "Ripley's Believe It or Not"-type museum. Among the findings: a macaroni-noodle interpretation of "The Last Supper" and…a statue of loin-cloth-wearing, spear-wielding African man.
"It's the corniest sort of ooga-booga native thing you could imagine," says Eichler of the politically incorrect curio. "Then it slowly dawns on him—it's not actually a statue, it's stuffed human skin."
Upon this discovery, his pothead half-brother (a.k.a. the disheveled guy in Bertozzi's sneak peek) returns to town, and the siblings—who must contend with their father's involvement in such an unsavory practice—disagree about what do with the creepy statue. The protagonist wants to hand it over to a natural-history museum; the hippie brother…doesn't.
If that sounds to you like the makings of probing racial commentary — you'd be right. Eichler read a story in The New York Times a while ago about a Spanish museum that nixed an African country's request to return a stuffed human skin to its motherland.
"There are an amazing number of human remains that Eurocentric quote-unquote 'explorers' brought back to museums and have to be repatriated," he noted. "This also happened in America. There was some really disgusting souvenir taking during the slaughtering of the Native Americans."
And this is funny, how?
"It's sort of a comedy of manners in that it deals with people's assumptions," he said. "Plus, you know, from one perspective it's pretty funny to have a dead guy in a closet...or maybe not. Did you enjoy 'Weekend at Bernie's?'"
He kids, of course. How to compare colonial atrocities to an Andrew McCarthy flick? Still, Eichler's desire to mingle social politics with, say, a stoner character, is testament to his political-satire-hewn ambitions — here, making the grotesque more palatable with humor. (In case you were wondering, Stephen Colbert, who himself consulted on Oni's ill-executed "Tek Jansen" comics, doesn't yet know about his writer's comics endeavor. "I don't know how he would react," said Eichler. "I don't think he would tear it up and throw it across the room.") Meanwhile, the decision to adapt his provocative story into a comic was deliberate.
"Personally I really like graphic novels -- who doesn't?" Eichler said. "I thought it lent itself to the form visually. And I didn't think anyone would buy a prose version of this story. Because it falls through the cracks between, like, literary and pop writing."
It's safe to assume that Eichler's next graphic novel will fall squarely into the latter category. He just submitted the initial draft for "Sled Dogs With Issues" (a working title) to his editor at First Second. Says Eichler: "It's about six sled dogs in Alaska who sit around complaining all day because they're not on the trail. It's 'The Call of the Wild' meets 'Annie Hall'...sort of."
Maybe the movie version could see Cuba Gooding, Jr. revisit his role as a sled dog captain." "I will say this: he really went for it [in 'Snow Dogs'], you know what I mean? He decided he was going to play a black dentist from Florida running a sled dog team in Alaska — and did not phone that performance in. Good for him." Because if there's one thing Eichler respects, it's committing to your art no matter how wackadoodle it might be.
Looking forward to "Stuffed?" Would you like to see more comedy writers break into comics? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.