Chris Onstad’s Achewood is one of the early stars of the early ’00s webcomics boom, gaining millions of monthly page views and widespread acclaim from mainstream press publications, including a spot on The A.V. Club’s Best Comics of the ’00s list. The series ran on-and-off for 15 years, telling absurd, hilarious stories about the inhabitants of 62 Achewood Court in addictive strips. Dark Horse Comics published the earliest years in a few collections, but Oni Press gives readers the opportunity to discover the full scope of Onstad’s creation with Achewood: The Complete Canon, a chronological collection of all things Achewood debuting next summer with a book containing everything from October 2001 to June 2004.
From the very beginning, it was clear that Onstad had a distinct point of view, and he counted on reader’s rising up to meet him instead of trying to do something disingenuous but commercially lucrative. “I never dumbed a joke down to reach a wider audience, and I quickly became comfortable sharing difficult or vulnerable observations,” says Onstad. “I wrote for me, in the sense that if the strip or prose/blog didn’t make me sincerely laugh or otherwise feel something genuine and moving, I knew it would not stir these feelings in anyone else. So, I was honest with myself about what I was putting out, even if the sentiment was difficult for a casual reader to connect with, even if the topic or reference was rarefied. So it connected with a compact set of readers, but its honesty resonated all the more deeply with them. To this day, there are profoundly committed communities with a fondness for Achewood at their nucleus, and someday I hope I can truly see that for how beautiful it is. For now, I’m amazed and humbled, but I’m still inside the jar, and it’s hard for me to see all this from any detached perspective.”
Onstad’s advice for aspiring comic creators? “Do what you love, don’t try to please anybody, and especially don’t try to please everybody,” says Onstad. “Make yourself laugh or feel, and you’ll find that a great many people are just the same as you, and love that you gave voice to feelings they weren’t called upon to articulate, but that they love to recognize in the wild. When healthy, we fundamentally want to be unified, to know we are the same, to know we are all family. We love seeing our better selves in others. I saw many cartoonists churn out crap in the name of selling t-shirts and stickers; to me that’s nothing. That’s clock-punching. It demeans the act of caring about life enough to share it in your unique voice.
“Don’t try to do it all yourself,” says Onstad. “I can’t name any tremendous artists who are also their own superb bookkeepers, merchandise fulfillment departments, PR reps, and agents. Align with people who are great at that; they are out there and wouldn’t want to do what you do, and vice-versa.” Achewood: The Complete Canon is edited by Chris Butcher, the founder and artistic director of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. He’s diving deep into the world of Achewood for this project, which collects the main strip, Ray’s advice column, blogs, zines, prose pieces, recipes, and rare strips from other websites. Above are six strips hand-picked by Butcher that appear in the first collection.
Onstad’s last Achewood strip published on December 25, 2016, and as of now, he doesn’t have plans to break his current hiatus. “Know when you’re done with something,” says Onstad. “I will always love my band of brothers, and I want to feel their life pour into me again, but I respect the enterprise too much to bring them out right now, because it’s not time. I’ll know if and when it’s time. And I’ll have to go back and re-read everything, so I don’t make errors in that universe.”