There’s a lot to be said for the medium of the webcomic. They can be funny, political, insightful, whimsical and ridiculous. The format is infinitely flexible, accessible and free to the reader. Comment is encouraged, commentary is often provided. And you can buy the t-shirt. More often than not, webcomics aren’t beholden to a publisher (though back-catalogue strips are often syndicated), so self-expression is king. They can really be beautiful things.
Of course, with infinite scope, you get a lot of utter dogshit. So I’m putting aside the n thousand strips about acerbic nerds who love coffee and cute nerdy girls who wear cute slogan t-shirts (and love coffee) to bring you a few words on Achewood (October 1 2001 – ?).
There’s just nothing like Achewood. I started reading it at 6th form college, some time in 2002, but it’s successfully dripped into my brainpan to the point where can’t remember a time in my adult life when I haven’t had Achewood as a reference.
Created by Chris Onstad (who occasionally appears in-strip as a pair of legs, though less so these days), Achewood is about a collective of stuffed toys, cats, robots and a squirrel who live in the fictional California borough of Achewood Heights (which is equipped with a fully tricked-out animal/toy-scale Underground), and who have between them all the foibles of mankind.
Ray, the hard-drinking, little-thinking playboy businessman with money to burn and a passion for Braveheart and Ketel One (that’s a vodka; he’s the cat in the thong). Cornelius Bear, one-time children’s author who now potters about his free house (the Dude and Catastrophe) and subtitles adult films in his down-time. Todd, a cracked-out squirrel. Roast Beef – poor, sweet Roast Beef – a twice-resurrected computer whizz with anxiety problems beyond belief and little to live for but his reincarnated wife, 13th century Welshwoman Molly. Lyle, a career nutcase and short-order cook, whose band is called Sex Funeral. Philippe, who is a stuffed otter, eternally aged five.
The point of Achewood is difficult to pin down. The idea of these creatures existing together becomes secondary to the story, which is occasionally driven over multiple strips of incredible breadth (we’ve seen hell, Keith Moon’s disembodied head, sewers, bitter rivalry between Subway stands, serial killers, outbacks, Mexican Magical Realism, deeply disturbing vaudeville theatre and The Great Outdoor Fight), and occasionally paused delicately on a single panel. The more you try to explain it, the more the potential reader is put off. “It’s what? Airwolf? A – cat – bought – Airwolf?” But that’s no big deal. Just keep telling people about it. Write overlong, link-heavy blog entries if you have to.
My favourite thing about Achewood is that the universe is completely self-contained. Even if you start from strip number one (the early days are pretty confusing when you look back at them; the world isn’t really established until Teodor’s Party), you can read through the entire back-catalogue without having to pause to look up some video game or news story that is no longer in the popular consciousness. You can let it all wash over you – the absurdity, the language, the in-depth epicure-speak, the mind-altering journeys – until you’re steeped in it, and even the most arcane strip will have you choking on laughter while onlookers watch, completely perplexed and a little revolted at the noises you’re making.
My life is full of Achewood, I now realise. There’s a vinyl sticker on my ipod case, at least three items of its apparel in my wardrobe, three books on my shelf and a framed strip on my stairs. If it were anything else, I’d probably tone it down a bit. But Achewood is a gem. I truly believe it’s never dipped in quality, in almost nine years.
As a bonus item, here’s the funky-as-all-heck theme tune, Livin’ on the Corner of Dude and Catastrophe by MC Frontalot. To be completely exact, here’s a video of a youtube user getting five stars sight-reading the Rock Band drums of the theme tune, on expert. It was made available on Rock Band after Front performed it at the Penny Arcade Expo. This song has got HELLA credentials: