Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Review: "Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar" - Achewood Volume II

buy it

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!)

39 comments:

  1. And what? That's it? xkcd: volume 0 was paperback and here's a million dollars..or xkcd: volume zero was paperback and here's your own spaceship...

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  2. Carl, I love you and you are my friend but this was little more than a pro-Achewood wankfest. It was...it was kind of shitty, Carl.

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  3. I can't remember how many Cuddlefish have berated Carl for never posting about anything he likes, and CLEARLY he must be a friendless loser if he is 100% negative all the time forever.

    This time he wasn't! What a twist.

    I'm a fan of Achewood in theory, but in practice all this shit with Todd and Kim Jung-Il was just way too tedious and wordy to wrap my head around and so I'm taking a break from reading it.

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  4. Achewood's ... not good.

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  5. first anon: FUCK. whatever, that's what happens when I post after a night of heavy drinking with poore.

    Poore: whatever, i was out drinking heavily with anon.

    look, the fact is, i like achewood. Most people who like achewood, like, CRAZY LOVE achewood. what can I say? I think it's a great comic. The book was well produced. I tried to explain why it is that I like it so much. What else should I say about it?

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  6. Just because you like something doesn't mean you can't criticize it.

    THERE IS NO UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

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  7. Meh. Not a fan of clothed talking dogs.

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  8. That's good, because Achewood contains absolutely NO clothed talking dogs!

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  9. It's hard to not make this comment fanboyish and pretentious but I'll try.

    "Achewood's ... not good."

    How much did you read?
    If you read the first 5 months of strips, you won't like it. They suck.
    If you read the latest comic or randoms, it'll suck. You have to know the characters AND the tone. Don't expect a punchline or even a joke.
    If you've read the first ten months and don't like it then yeah, that's fine. But please don't judge it if you haven't. I know it's a lot to ask.

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  10. r. you sound like a battered woman.

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  11. "Listen, you won't like him if you just look at the fact that he beats me, or he can't hold down a real job, or he's always drinking, or he has several felony charges. You don't KNOW him like I do. He's got a beautiful heart."

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  12. Rob knows almost as much about battered women as he does about battered chicken

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  13. they don't call me Stockholm Rob for nothing

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  14. "Don't expect a punchline or even a joke."

    ?

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  15. r it's okay we're here to help

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  16. Carl, nothing is funny and everything is terrible. I want nothing but seething hatred and bitter disappointment all the time, forever.

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  17. Okay, I'm finally happy with this blog.
    Why?
    grrrm.livejournal.com.
    Those guys.
    You guys see, I think this blog is a lot of forced negativity. I have no problem being overly nasty to an author if he deserves it (see: Christopher Paolini, Terry Goodkind, Robert Stanek, Adolf Hitler), but the attacks on Randall are bad. I've agreed on many of the points on this blog, but I've also disagreed with many. I've even made a trollish post a while back, saying that everybody who went to this blog is a dumbass.
    But as bad as Carl is, those guys are worse. I fucking hate those guys. I would mildly agree with their point (IE. GRRM is taking way too fucking long for his next novel), if they weren't such goddamn assholes. Because at least the criticism here is fucking constructive. And here is far away from XKCD, so whoever likes XKCD can ignore it. But you know how I reached those guys? I was careless with a keyboard (That sounds like a porn title, in an odd way. Nerd porn). I typed an extra R. I was convinced, at first, that GRRM was pulling an April Fools joke on November. These douchebags have absolutely no decency.
    I would be less angry if all they did was complain about the next book being late. But they're also complaining about how bad the previous books are, with points that make no fucking sense! Take, for instance, their list of character deaths. They deride GRRM for not killing enough major characters, although they omitted more than 3/4s of the major characters who died. They say that most of their list died in the first half of the first book, anyway, but the characters that died in the first book died pretty close to the end.
    In case anybody noticed, I'm pissed off at those guys.
    Now you can enjoy praising Achewood. I'll probably give it a try one of these days, once I get through the 1500+ pages of SMBC I have left to finish the goddamn thing. My verdict, in the meantime, is "Pretty much the same quality as XKCD with less nerdy shit and more dickery, and better art, though that last bit is only hard for people like me".

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  18. Also, Carl, I'm going to tell you a line I've heard about GRRM in the past: "If it takes you so long for each post, why do you take the time to write a post about something else, nyah nyah nyah"

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  19. Pita you might enjoy this:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

    Scroll down to the letter about GRRM natch.

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  20. "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!"

    Do they all have easily identifiable physical characteristics, as well? It seems to me that strong characterization and obvious physical traits attracts an obsessed audience.

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  21. achewood is for fags who don't get xkcd.

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  22. guys, here's what I'll do to make you feel better: I'll also do a review of the Dinosaur comics book, which i paid actual money for, and which is disappointing. And there's nothing I love more than dinosaur comics! so then you will see that I am not always SUPER PRO-things i like.

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  23. HOLY SHIT, Carl, you actually PAID for a book???

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  24. Must be why he doesn't like it, Covaz.

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  25. Do they all have easily identifiable physical characteristics, as well? It seems to me that strong characterization and obvious physical traits attracts an obsessed audience.
    ----------------------------
    For any experienced reader it's easy to distinguish all the characters, but it's not like the art is so good that every character has a unique face or body. I can safely say that the obsessed audience is a result of brilliant writing, but you should just read it. And the Todd/Kim Jong-Il thing is over, so taking a break from Achewood now is a mistake if that turned you off.

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  26. wait, of course they are all identifiable. give us a link to an image of just a face and I am sure all of us fans will instantly tell you who it is.

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  27. "Pita you might enjoy this:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

    Scroll down to the letter about GRRM natch."
    I already know that GRRM is not anybody's bitch.
    I was pissed off at that blog, not at the eeevil assumption that GRRM is either not writing the book or that he is and we're assholes for questioning, or any of the other many perspectives on the matter. I really couldn't care less, as long as he continues publishing high quality work (I love Wild Cards, Hunter's Run was great, and I can't wait for Warriors. GRRM has been very active these past few years with his work). I just got a bit of perspective on my general dislike for this blog, as compared to other hatey places.
    And yes, Neil Gaiman is the awesome.

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  28. Turns out Carl's just a pathetic fanboy like everyone else...

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  29. who knew, what with his constant "guys dinosaur comics is THE BEST" stuff

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  30. Just for the record: your writing skills suck. Thanks.

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  31. I have to admit, Achewood sounded pretty awesome... until I actually went and read it. Now I have to wait for my eyes and brain to stop bleeding before I can go back to reading stuff that is any good, in any way, shape or form.

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  32. Alright, so far I've been trying very hard to enjoy achewood. It's not working. Point me to the best story arc and I'll give it another shot.

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  33. my favorite is the anarchist's cookbook story, but all of achewood is enhanced once you know the characters. I'd say to read anything that has a lot of Ray and Roast Beef and see if it ever gets better. If not, give up.

    lots of people also recommend the Great Outdoor Fight as it's pretty self-contained, but I don't think it's that representative of the rest of the comic.

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  34. why the fuck would you read achewood it's pretty terrible you said it yourself jeffster

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