Posts Tagged ‘Chris Onstad’


2001, and using the web Chris Onstad opened up the flipped world of Achewood to us.

Why ‘flipped’? Well, Achewood, he explains, is the underground version of the city above. Problem is, the city above is fictional. Chris Onstad is really into this, he uses an address from the fictional suburb as his own.

Who lives there? They are stuffed toys, toy robots, pets. But they are all full characters, complete with detailed and interrelating back-stories.
This is his premise, and from this he extrapolates wonderful absurd, funny, often poignant adventures and events. He interrupts stories to explore side events, adventures, before resuming the earlier arc.
One extra ingredient to the story lines is an interest in recipes, cooking. All adds to the mix.

Chris Onstad kept the comic strips going until about 2010. In 2011 he announced an indefinite hiatus. It lasted a couple of months at most.
Back on track but favouring a more realistic method of writing, the adventures are retailed on a more occasional basis, regular but with breathing space.

Achewood takes the form of downloadable ebooks/comics, and online strips. Lately he has turned his attention to regular film medium. He has constructed a whole merchandise arena for Achewood products.
Hard copy books are also available. Take, for instance:

THE GREAT OUTDOOR FIGHT (Dark Horse Books, 2008)


‘Three Days, Three Acres, Three Thousand Men’.

He touts the Fight as a regular event, based in Bakersfield, Calif. It is a last man standing competition.
It also takes off expertly ultra-macho posturing, the he-man industry, Iron John idealisations.

The participants, three thousand strong, slug it out. Achewood’s Ray Smuckles, described as a ‘thong-clad, anthropomorphic cat’, discovers his father was a previous champion. Typical lacunae in the story line is when his mother calls to see him – she is a prim, be-eye-glassed matron. But her marriage was a marriage of passion; her husband used to take her out to the lowest, dingiest bars and challenge all comers, but make her stand outside to protect her sensibilities….
Ray Smuckles enters the competition. But competitors have to prove they have previous ‘form’. He ‘acquires’ this, and so enters the arena, along with best buddy Roast Beef.

And what of buddy Roast Beef? There is another world of surprise and unexpected gifts all over again!

It is not the straight story line we read Achewood for – Onstad goes for the absurd, the ‘flat visual punch-line’ – but for the twists and turns, the sights and scenes along the way. He plays with stereotypes: here are two English guys, one’s a blogger commentating on the Fight; and the way Onstad twists the language to suggest a kind of English accent is hugely entertaining. Likewise the Russian/Soviet robot’s speech patterns.

Nothing is straight-forward in Achewood.

And we have WORST SONG, PLAYED ON UGLIEST GUITAR  (Dark Horse Books, 2009)

Complete with detailed over and under maps of Achewood territory, and histories of Achewood.
Here we have speech bubbles but also on occasion under commentary. In A Terrible Thanksgiving he gives us a twist of a tale that ends in a moral and show-stopper dance-routine.

In here we also have Before Achewood – The Early Experiments. It was, he writes: ‘… a vehicle for taking the day’s odd workplace thoughts or memorable lines and stuffing them into word balloons above stock drawings.’ It is more than that, of course – it is how all the pieces work together: format, drawings, pauses, expressions, and the intonations we pick up and decipher from context and pre-formats.

In this book he gives us backgrounds – to place, character, but also to his influences and travelling companions. He references names of other cartoonists; it is for the reader to follow up as need be because as Onstad wrote when readers wrote in about the fate of his character Scrambles: ‘(I never wrote them back,) because I don’t care.’
The irony is, of course: here is Scrambles reproduced again.