Achewood afterparty

August 11, 2008

Is it over? For me, maybe. I selected Achewood for my Best of 2007 in The Comics Journal. I was particularly taken by Chris Onstad’s Faustian gift for dialogue. His characters speak in erudite and profane two-percenters all the time, with more verve than most people I’ve met.

After the wedding in Chris Onstadt’s Achewood

But the talk chokes out the plot. Onstad doesn’t weave together varied threads of story so much as hack them off right away. I had hoped that Roast Beef’s wedding, set up over a year ago, would crescendo with comic horrors. The storyline does have its moments, from the Police Blotter buildup to Ray’s dad for the denoument, but even in these Onstad defuses his own bombs.

For instance, when Roast Beef’s sleazy brother Showbiz appears, he promises to ruin the wedding, but is “disappeared” in just a few strips. Likewise, everything that should go wrong gets solved at the last minute, almost as an afterthought. Comedically, it’s like a nun walking into a sex shop and then walking back out the door. Achewood doesn’t have to be Tom Jones or Noises Off, but some structure would amplify the jokes. Even P.G. Wodehouse novels, carried by Bernie Wooster’s inimitable voice, have quite intricate plots. Achewood just has jokes, grounded in its characters, but not the progress of their lives.

I wonder, though, if Onstad’s disregard for plot makes for a valid aesthetic. After the wedding, Roast Beef and Ray are back to prank calling Dilbert, while Nice Pete is writing country-fried etiquette guides. In one sense, Achewood implies that nothing matters past the joke. After all, the strip often seems quite cynical, lifting Acme Novelty Library‘s bleakness but none of its humanism. In another sense, the eternal present where these characters live, throwing one-liners into the void, either speaks to nihilism or the Internet, where everything’s just ether.

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