Saturday, November 21, 2009
Achewood is not like any other webcomic. There is something about it that makes most of its fans - myself included - completely obsessed with it, always trying to read as much as possible about its universe, and rereading the archives on a regular basis. If you ask us why, we will usually say something about characters.
Achewood's characters are unlike anything else in the world of webcomics. Not only does he revel in having them interact with each other, seeing just how their own personalities and speech patterns work with each other and in different situations. For example, when Lyle gives adorable five-year-old Phillipe his copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook, Phillipe does exactly the "right" thing for his character. You read it and you go yes! that is exactly what Phillipe would do!
Chris Onstad is basically obsessed with the world of Achewood. He freakin wrote blogs for all the characters for years. He managed 12 blogs. TWELVE. And they were filled with just more and more conversations between the characters. Here's a Thanksgiving one from a few years back. Here's another, non-thanksgiving one. He wrote a cookbook in the voice of all his characters, and when that wasn't enough, he wrote another one.
All of this is to say that when the second official Achewood book came out (but in many ways the first one doesn't count, so this new one is the first one) no one should be surprised that it is chock full of character stories.
The comics themselves are things we've all seen before - starting with the first comic and taking us up through this one - though not every comic from the period is included. Unlike the Great Outdoor Fight book, it does include alt-texts [as an aside, the alt-texts are included in small type underneath each comic, leading me again to wonder why the xkcd book needed to stick its alt texts in random places and at random angles between panels. Also, the title of each comic is included, something I thought xkcd should have done to help organization].
Note: color comics have been rendered in black and white. It isn't a big deal - there are only, by my count, six color comics in this period, and you can't notice that anything is missing if you don't know what it's supposed to look like - but when the titles are things like Color Monday! it does make it pretty obvious.
Most comics have comments below them, some of which are rather trivial but many of which are pretty interesting for Achewood obsessives like me (and, as I said in the beginning, nearly every Achewood fan is an Achewood obsessive). In addition, this map is reproduced on the title page, and these two are inside the front and back covers. They look damn classy there.
But of course, for those of us who have read all these early comics so many times, the real excitement is the new writing. There are no new comics, but there's a Prologue, featuring a regular day's conversation between Onstad, Ray, and Roast Beef, and there's "A History Of Achewood," explaining just how it is that Phillipe, Cornelius Bear, Téodor, and Lyle ended up living with Onstad. So committed to his world is Onstad, and so aware of this fact are his readers, that we don't think twice when the introduction is missing all the usual introductory stuff - "So here's how I started this comic, then I got famous, now I got a book, thanks for buying it" - but just goes head on into how these stuffed animals came into his life. And it feels right.
What's a little different - but by no means problematic - is that Onstad takes a much more active role in their stories than he usually does in the comic. We know that those characters live in his house, and he made occasional appearances in the early comics, but for the most part, he's faded away. Perhaps it is because these are early comics, but it doesn't feel wrong to have him take this role. In any case, what we all read for is the animals, and we get plenty of that (for example, here's Téodor: "I'm just trying to keep blood out of the food. It imparts an iron taste").
Lastly, a note on organization: The comics are not quite presented in order. Instead, it cuts the 8 month series in half, and reverses the two halves. This actually makes a great deal of sense. The very early comics are a bit random and strange, and take a while to get used to. There are no recurring stories, and the characters aren't really very consistent yet. In fact, Ray and Roast Beef aren't even around. It's fitting, then, that the book puts those first comics at the end (under the title "Before we were Achewood") and starts with the comic that introduced the cats. The "History" segment is also split up, starting at the beginning of the book, continuing between "Achewood" and "Pre-Achewood," and then putting the last installment at the end. It's a clever way to make the book feel like it has more content.
It takes a while for people to get into Achewood (it took me three tries before I realized how much I loved this comic), and many of them may have an easier time with both the print format and the fact that it starts out past all the strange early comics. And of course, Achewood fans will love the book, and will likely take a very long time to get tired of these comics, no matter how often you read them. But then again, Achewood fans already knew that.
Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar: Achewood Volume II is 136 pages, hardcover, and $15.95. Note: xkcd: volume 0 was paperback and costs $18 ($35 for the signed copy!)
Labels: book review