Glenn Eichler Gets "Stuffed!"

Glenn Eichler has had a long career as a writer. Currently, he works on "The Colbert Report," and during his tenure there, he and the show have won Emmys, Writers Guild of America Awards and a Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. And "The Colbert Report" is just his most recent credit. Eichler been working in television for years, writing for "Beavis and Butthead" and "The Maxx" for MTV and developing "Daria" for the network in addition to a long list of other credits. He's written multiple humor books and has also penned the just-released graphic novel "Stuffed!" from First Second Books, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

"Stuffed!" is the story of Tim Johnston, a man who inherits what he believes to be a mannequin from his father, but which turns out to be an actual stuffed and mounted human being. Tim wants to relinquish the "mannequin" to a museum or repatriate it to the African country it came from, but both options prove to be easier said than done. Eventually his brother Ollie, formerly known as Red Wolf, currently going by the name "Free," a free spirit with a self-trepanation scar on the middle of his forehead, comes back for their dad's funeral weeks too late and wants the "mannequin" to be on display.

"Stuffed!" is a strange and amusing look at family and race that deals with the very serious issue of repatriation, and should convince anyone not already convinced that drilling holes in one's head is a bad idea.

CBR: So tell us, what is "Stuffed!" about?

GLENN EICHLER: It's a story about a guy who inherits a mannequin of an "African savage" from his father's tourist-trap "Believe It or Not"-type museum, and realizes that this mannequin is actually a stuffed and mounted human skin.  This "statue" used to be a person -- what is the proper thing to do when you're the owner of such a macabre item?

Glenn, you're a writer on "The Colbert Report." You've shared in Emmys and Writers Guild Awards and a Peabody and really, why are you spending your free time writing a graphic novel?

Wait a minute - is that question a dis of graphic novels?  That attitude can't be good for your business.

But the answer is, "TCR" and all the other late-night shows are extremely collaborative efforts - it's sometimes hard to figure out what your contribution was to any given episode.  I wanted to do something that would let me claim a little bit of ownership.   

Are you a comics guy from way back?  What was it that turned you onto the idea of making a graphic novel of this story?

I've always liked comics, but I'm not sure I'd characterize myself as a "comics guy."  Isn't that just a polite way of saying "nerd?"

I had originally written "Stuffed!" as a low-budget screenplay, without any dream or fantasy sequences so as to keep the budget down, but when I met with Mark Siegel to discuss ideas, it occurred to me that the plot was actually well suited to the graphic novel format. The story isn't slam-bang-pow enough to be a big-budget movie, but it's a little bit too far out for the typical indie film producer. 

Now that you're working on "The Colbert Report," do you miss crafting narratives and telling longer stories. Is this part of where "Stuffed!" came from?

Definitely yes and definitely yes.  Of course, if I were only doing graphic novels, I'd miss writing Sarah Palin jokes. 

What was your role in the production of the book been like? Did you pick Nick Bertozzi to illustrate? How much did the two of you interact?

Mark Siegel, the head of First Second, suggested Nick and I was absolutely thrilled.  I'd read about the censorship controversy over  "The Salon," so I knew his work, and Mark and I both felt lucky to get him.

As for interaction, Nick is very busy and has his own working process - starting with thumbnails that are so detailed, they're practically pencils - so while I did have input along the way, he worked pretty independently from the manuscript. 

Did Nick change anything in the script or make suggestions as to how things should be done in a way that you hadn't thought of or expected?

In the roughs, Nick would occasionally add a dialogue balloon, often consisting of a single word, if he felt it made for a more dramatic panel.  We left some in and took some out.  As far as presenting the story visually, after including my initial thoughts in the manuscript, I really left it up to him.  Which I think was a wise decision, he being the artist and all. 

This is your first graphic novel, but do have experience working in animation, most famously on "Beavis and Butthead" and creating and writing for "Daria." You worked on "The Maxx," which was originally a comic by Sam Kieth. You worked on some of the Tek Jansen pieces on "The Colbert Report." Did this experience in animation help you in terms of thinking about writing a graphic novel?

Absolutely.  One big lesson I've learned as an animation writer is that if you can't describe a character's reaction/expression in physical terms, you'd better rethink it.  Don't write "Joe is surprised;" write "Joe's eyebrows raise in surprise."  For "Stuffed!," I tried to give the same detailed visual notes, so even when Nick decided to depart from the specifics, he knew what I was going for.

One thing that I thought was interesting was that, for all the absurdity and craziness of the concept of "Stuffed!," it's very subdued and could have been done much differently. How important to you was having that tone and why did you want to tell the story in that manner?

The issue of repatriating remains (zzz, it's more interesting than it sounds) is a real-life problem, and I wanted to explore real-life solutions.  I thought that having the mannequin come to life and develop superpowers (other than in dream sequences) would have compromised my ability to do that.  It would have been like a Magical Realism novel - the gripping tale of a poor ghetto kid's struggle to overcome societal and economic repression, which is ultimately resolved because, hey, he can fly!

When you were conducting research into repatriation for the book, did anything really surprise you? There are a lot of stories mentioned in the book which were pretty crazy.

Those stories are all true.  I never got to work in the story of Minik.  He was an Eskimo kid who was part of a group of Eskimos brought to New York in 1897 by Robert Peary to show everyone what a great explorer he was. The American Museum of Natural History gave the Eskimos living quarters in its basement, and almost all of them quickly died, including Minik's father.  The museum staged a fake burial of Minik's father for the kid's benefit, but they actually boiled the flesh off his bones and stored them in a drawer for study.  When Minik found out, he had to fight for years to get his father's bones back so he could bury them. 

Where did the character of "Free," the free spirit and self-trepanation enthusiast come from exactly?

Every hippie burnout I've ever known.  And I used to be a musician, so I've known my share.

You're working on another graphic novel for First Second. What can you say about it?

I'm working on a new GN with Joe Infurnari called "Sled Dogs With Issues."  It's about sled dogs with issues.  P.S. - they can't fly, although they can talk amongst themselves. 

I have to ask. Two graphic novels by two incredibly talented cartoonists who are also great writers in their own right. Besides writing a great script, how do you get such Bertozzi and Infunani to collaborate with you?

All credit goes to Mark Siegel.  From personal experience, I know he's an excellent beggar. 

After so much time working collaboratively, what's it like when you get the first copy with your name on it?

It's not my first book, so I got the same feeling I always do: a mild sensation of pleasure that quickly passes.  Actually, "sensation" is too strong a word.  More of a tingling, really.  Like when you lick a dead battery.

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