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  PRINT, SHMINT! THE CREATOR OF "ACHEWOOD" TALKS ABOUT LIFE AS A DAILY ONLINE CARTOONIST.  
   
   
 

Like Bloom County, like Garfield, heck, like Ziggy, Achewood is a comic strip with animals in it. The comic universe is populated by talking animals and wacky penguins. But Bloom County offered something more: While Beetle Bailey and Hagar The Horrible writhed inside their oxygen tents, it pulsated with fresh, angry life. It crashed the party, painted its name on the wallpaper, and left before the cops arrived.

Achewood has the soul and spirit of Bloom County -- an online strip that shares all the intangible qualities that made Berkeley Breathed's work so admirable. You either find yourself tapped into its ever-evolving "Winnie-The-Pooh with host Rod Serling" aesthetic, or you drift back to painful four-panel fluff until you've reached true enlightenment, that moment when Achewood's resident otter Philippe stands in a brilliant halo of white light, extends his paw to you and beckons you come unto him.

Chris Onstad is the creator of Achewood. He spoke to The Black Table recently:

 

BT: Berkeley Breathed says he didn't like any comics as a kid. What comics influenced you most?

CO: I don't know why, but I think I collected every Garfield book ever printed. I suppose it appealed to my simple childhood mind. I read Mad Magazine. And tons of Snoopy -- old rotting, crumbling pulp paperbacks from the garage sales that my mom scoured. I sent an email to Berkeley Breathed when Achewood had been going for about a year, introducing the strip and saying I had been influenced by Bloom County and Outland. Ever since then I've been getting regular automated spams about his merchandise.


BT: There's a sadness and complexity to Peanuts that a lot of people miss.

CO: Peanuts is 50 years of work. It takes a commitment to fully appreciate its history, but there is a certain anthology which lays it all out plain as day, and it is a real treat to read.

BT: Are you using the Internet to move into print?

CO: Print shmint. That's dinosaur talk, boy. Don't get me wrong -- I love syndication, and I syndicate Achewood in several papers -- but it's not my goal. And it doesn't need to be, because the Internet is the perfect distribution mechanism. I change strips midday. I don't work in advance -- the strip you see that morning is the strip I wrote at 3 a.m. the night before. Sometimes, I change it when I wake up because it's just a rough draft and I don't like it. More often than not, though, I'll get all bleary-eyed and just try to make it right before I go to sleep.

 

 
 
 
 

 

BT: Wow. so are you reworking these strips all the time?

CO: Once or twice a week I'll wake up, look at the strip I wrote and posted the night before and think "Oh my god that's garbage." So I'll spend an hour or so trying to catch the original thought I'd been going after, and I'll re-post the strip. This always causes a little flurry of email and message board postings from readers.

Even if the original was just lousy, there's always a legion of people who like the original better because it was first. Like guys who can't get over their first girlfriend, even if she was a mess and had like a lazy eye or something. She smelled so good! She had that smell in her hair!


BT: How much of your day is consumed by Achewood?

CO: Now, all the waking day is Achewood. Between responding to mail, signing books, handling merchandise orders and production and trying to create strips, that's pretty much it. My front lawn is a disaster. Sometimes, I'll peek out the front window at how bad the lawn is.


BT: Do you follow Kurt Vonnegut's notion that a writer should be mean to his/her characters?

CO: Ha ha! That Kurt Vonnegut. I read and re-read a handful of Vonnegut books we had when I was growing up. My copy of "Welcome to the Monkey House" is probably as mangled as Vonnegut's own fabled dictionary.

As far as the safety of the characters goes? I don't really care. They're cartoon characters. Pull their arms off -- reattach them backstage. They have eternal life. I just brought Roast Beef back from a two-week stint in heaven. That guy can't die. He is so awesome.

BT: When you mention to someone that you draw an online comic and they ask what it's about, what do you say?

CO: It's a no-win situation. You can't tell someone "I do a humor comic strip" because in most people's minds there is no such thing. Comic strips suck, they suck so hard. They suck in the worst, most shameful way. Comic strips are such incredible formulaic garbage, with a few excellent exceptions that I will not list here.


BT: Serializer.net runs a color version of Achewood. What is the difference between the daily strip and what we see there?

CO: The Serializer strips flesh out the legend and lore of Achewood. There's a map of the neighborhood, a blueprint of the main house, lots of big color strips, a few Trivial Pursuit-style drinking games, a movie poster and lately the first few chapters of a serialized Hardy Boys-style novel (the "Nate Small, One Tough Man" series) that Roast Beef always loved as a child. I intend to finish out the text of Nate Small at Serializer, in the true serial format.

BT: Should an artist avoid giving his/her audience what it wants? A recent strip featuring a fully cooked and fully anatomically correct rooster seemed to arrive from a different place than most of your other ideas.

CO: The rooster penis was an element that relieved the incredible tension between Roast Beef and his dinner date. That they could both laugh about it brought them down to earth with each other. I thought it felt perfect given the situation -- a tension breaker appropriate to the fundamental problem of the first date, which is that the basic purpose of dating is to mate and create offspring via the genitals.

This isn't a toilet humor strip, but I'm not beholden to any sort of oppressive distribution syndicate, and I can draw a chicken penis if I think that's funny. Some days I think chicken penises are not funny at all. Some days I hate them. Some days I think stuff like that just belongs in the trash. But whatever, I write a comic strip. Who cares. Greater men than me have gone to their graves having made equally meaningless differences in the world. I just fuck around on the Internet and later some dude buys a shirt so that I can live my life and pay Driveway Tax or whatever. I sleep at night, and one day I won't wake up. On that day, people in BMWs will drive past my house and honk at my neighbor as he tries to back out of his driveway. Fog will roll in. A grown man will get fired from McDonald's. Someone will ride the train home, and it will clang as it passes my street. I will be dead, and they'll put me out with the Monday morning trash, my feet sticking comically up out of the can.


*BT*

Achewood can be found here on the Web. Adam Finley can be found here on the Web. Both read the same, but are different in their own *special* way.