Chris Onstad writes the consistently brilliant (but currently on hiatus) webcomic Achewood (http://www.achewood.com/). Achewood the comic, and the fictional suburb of the same name, are home to a number of anthropomorphic cats, dogs, robots, stuffed animals, and occasionally Chris himself (who shows up here from the knees down à la Muppet Babies).
While this all sounds like a recipe for a Saturday morning cartoon, Achewood is a particularly adult fantasy. Chris’ cast of (mostly male) characters are by turns neurotic, drunken, pedantic, violent, and foul-mouthed as they air their thoughts on such topics as masculinity, cooking, the internet, and pop culture with a certain urbane aplomb.
Playing against its knowingly crude humor and deceptively simple cut-n’-paste art style, the webcomic, which was updated regularly from 2001 to 2010, has been praised for its in-depth character development and smart dialogue. Achewood’s infectious crude-n’-sophisticated dialect is the comic’s claim to fame, but Onstad’s attention to building character throughout the series is what really sets it high above the rest of the webcomics crowd. This is never more evident than in Achewood’s longest sustained narrative arc, “The Great Outdoor Fight.”
The Great Outdoor Fight is “three days, three acres, and 3000 men. ” It’s a bloody, every-man-for-himself brawl of legendary proportions. Achewood’s two biggest mainstay felines, Ray Smuckles (http://raysmuckles.blogspot.com/) and Roast Beef (http://rbeef.blogspot.com/) (yes, a number of the characters have their own blogs and advice columns), are scholars of the fight and find out that Ray’s estranged father is the legendary Rodney Leonard Stubbs — grand champion of the 1973 brawl. With Ray’s “Blood of Champion” status and Roast Beef’s computer programming savvy, they find a way to take part in the 2006 GOF (Great Outdoor Fight). The only problem is Ray and Roast Beef are best friends, or “tight since small times,” and only one of them can emerge victorious.
GOF takes the unlikely friendship between overconfident backyard playboy Ray and neurotic computer nerd Roast Beef and puts it front and center. This results in some of the sharpest dialogue of the series, but also makes evident the special empathy Onstad has for his most beloved characters. The sly joke on tough-guy masculinity, which is the theme of much of the series, is played out in GOF with its highest stakes and most masterful strokes. Achewood isn’t your average 4-panels-and-a-punch-line strip. For all the hilarity and trash talking, GOF has moments of quiet emotional depth and brilliant Bush Era surrealism that pull it together as a singular achievement in webcomics and comic art in general.
In addition to the GOF story arc in its entirety, Dark Horse’s The Great Outdoor Fight hardback edition has a lot of cool extras, including profiles of some of the GOF’s most notable fighters, a glossary of GOF slang, and related material from the Achewood character blogs. Find it in the Center for the Reader at Central Library. Central also carries Dark Horse’s two other hardcover Achewood collections, Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar and A Home for Scared People.
This review was written by Mike McCubbins, who works at Central Library. If you’re looking for suggestions on good graphic novels to read, he’s your guy!