Over the course of media and art, the creative process itself has stepped into the foreground as a topic of discussion around and in works. Some have succeeded in capturing the turmoil and the joy of creation while others have wallowed in pretentious failure. To understand the creative process of a piece of art or media, there have been two approaches: a realistic, documentary one or a metaphoric, symbolic (and often surrealistic) one.
The Collected Works of Filler Bunny takes the more fictional route of the two. Filler Bunny documents the struggles of a dark, bizarre comic book creator, such as the comics’ own, by putting Filler Bunny through torture and suffering as the fictional creator of Filler Bunny, as a character and as a comic book series, has enormous difficulty filling up the pages for each story. At its best, Filler Bunny entertains with its clever bouncing between the creator’s and the bunny’s world, and the breaking of the walls between them and you as a reader.
Filler Bunny speaks to you and his creator, and the creator does the same, leading to a fascinating concept of Filler Bunny literally filling the pages in nonsense scenarios his creator puts him in as the creator himself attempts to beat the clock to deliver his work with some level of quality. Given that Filler Bunny as a concept within the series exists to only meet a deadline, no limits exist on what he can or cannot do to pass the time on each page. Filler Bunny eats a lot, poops often, sees his new friends killed off, and gets frequently tortured throughout the collection, and as a result, he also spends a lot of time begging the reader to end his existence for him. Filler Bunny lives an iterative existence of pain and suffering; rather than filling the pages up with plot lines and character arcs, the creator makes Filler Bunny repeatedly experience horrible situations and wish for change.
At its core, Filler Bunny serves as a comedically bleak and nihilistic discourse on the purpose of creating characters and storylines in a comic book. Each story seems almost like a surreal daydream or nightmare coming from Vasquez’s twisted mind asking himself, “What if I created a comic book character used only to fill pages?” Rather than creating lukewarm B-side pieces, Vasquez’s fillers jeer at the idea of creating filler comics in the first place, making the first Filler Bunny encounter quite fun, silly, and even smart.
Unfortunately, the novelty of parodying the idea of creation only for creation sake in Filler Bunny wears off quickly, especially as the grotesqueness of the comics amplifies from story to story. By the second story, “Revenge! of the Filler Bunny,” the comics already begin to lose their initial charm. As Filler Bunny continues to get tortured by his creator, he becomes mediocre filler, the one thing he was created to defy. Filler Bunny takes beating after beating in one over-extended joke; Vasquez tries to make the tormenting more ridiculous over the course of the stories, but the repetition of Filler Bunny’s distress delivers fewer and fewer laughs, leading to a state of general boredom.
As short exercises, Filler Bunny may have served its purpose to transition between stronger stories and to poke fun at filler at the same time. However, when collected together, their disgust-inducing approach for the meta-analysis discourse on creation wears far too thin, lacking any change or exploration of new ideas into how Filler Bunny can fill a page. I would have loved to have seen Filler Bunny waiting in line at the bank, Filler Bunny watching his favorite movie, or Filler Bunny feeding his pet lizard. Other ways for Filler Bunny to pass time would have made the series funnier and more engaging and less dependent on revulsion as a mechanism to deliver Vasquez’s own exploration of how creating something can feel so futile.
After the first story, “Filler Bunny in I Fill 15 Pages,” I so badly hoped the collection would succeed, since the core idea of the comics was a strong one, but after the tenth time of seeing Filler Bunny raped by a monkey, all of that hope disappeared. Perhaps I’m too normal for Filler Bunny and its sick world; I just get far too tired of comics that overuse shock and vulgarity as their only devices for satire. Call me square, but one moment of projectile intestine expulsion is one too many in a comic collection…
Jhonen Vasquez definitely has talent, imagination, and a distinct perspective as seen by his work on Invader Zim, and perhaps that is largest disappointment of Filler Bunny. Vasquez could pack so much more into Filler Bunny, but his unrelenting toilet humor prevents this collection from developing beyond a pubescent teenager’s scribbles in class or in a dark basement at home. Filler Bunny could have progressed into a witty and astute statement on creation, but instead, it goes down an excrement and assault filled road, losing sight of its original intention and its fundamental joke, making it the filler it dreaded and teased to become.
The Collected Works of Filler Bunny by Jhonen Vasquez is available via SLG Publishing.