Here are the first two pages from chapter four of the Fabulous Flocks. I hope to have its own site up soon, but I am not quite sure what I am going with it. The novel is very much in the beginning stages, but the story is quickly coming together: three chapters are now complete, and the story arc is getting some traction. As with any long term project, pacing is very important. I am also wanting very much to get this out to a wider audience than I have reached before, and ideally I would like to be paid for it. Every graphic novelist of note has established themselves with a signature work, and it is my hope that this is mine. We’ll see… I have never worked so hard or so consistently on anything before, and I remain very excited about it!
After yet another long hiatus, Chris Onstad is back with the exciting news that Achewood is being turned into a cartoon that will give it ”the voices, richness, and opportunities it never had as a comic strip.”
I love Achewood. I love Chris’ writing. I have read the strip since the first month he drew it. I wear Achewood tshirts (remember those?) and have a framed Achewood comic on my wall. I’m not sold that this is a good idea, but I hope that he can maybe pull it off.
My personal experience with animation leads me to be cautious.
I think he will likely learn an unfortunate truth in pitch meetings: transitioning a comic strip to an animated cartoon has almost never worked. In almost every case the things that made the comic strip work did not transfer to the screen.
Consider Peanuts… sure, we have the wa wa wa of the adult voices, but even the “classics” like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (helmed by some of the world’s best animators) have fallen far short of the richness of the comics. the gags fell flat and the cartoons had none of the gentle kindness that Sparky brought to his strip every day (depressing though it could be).
Don’t even get me started on Garfield or the dreadful and short-lived Doonsebury attempt… in every case, they just flat out didn’t work. It’s no accident that Matt Groening chose not to transition his quirky and widely-read Life in Hell to a cartoon; he went with an original idea and we know what happened after that.
Comic strips ARE a rich medium, and I am sure that even if Chris gets super talented voice actors and directors, Ray’s voice won’t be a patch on the one I have for him in my head. I won’t be alone in this feeling. I keep thinking of Garfield’s ”thoughts.” I think of them and shudder. Compare this to Adventure Time or Flapjack, original ideas pitched by animation students. Both are amazing and quirky cartoons that changed the medium. Ren and Stimpy. Family Guy. South Park. None were comics, at least not at the start. I guess the exception would be Boondocks, but it’s the only one I can think of.
So here are my points as to why I am pessimistic:
- It rarely works.
- Animations are collaborative and involve a cast of thousands where comics are lone wolf creations
- Animations and comic strips are vastly different animals with different pacing and different audiences
- Chris’s personal track record is pretty dismal as far as following through on stuff. he’s one of the most talented and original voices out there in comics and prose (his zines are some of the best stuff I have ever read), but he has not shown the type of dedication required to run an animated project.
- He will then be faced with a choice: run it himself and drive himself nuts with the cheapening of his baby, or let some else do it for him and watch the cheapening of his baby.
- The animated clip he showed is not impressive. Making things move is not that important… it is, in fact, the least of it. What matters is the story and the characters. Anyone can make things move, but really animating them is another matter entirely.
I really wish him well, but if the reason he stopped drawing Achewood is due to the fact that he was running out of steam, the concept of being the idea man for an animated venture that is based on his on his old material could be iffy. I hope that the bullshit artists he pitches at Fox and CN will not shine him on too much. Personally, I’d like to see him stick with what he knows and is awfully good at… cartoons and writing. Either that or develop something new. His influence is already widely seen in language alone, let alone the amazingly imaginative stories he tells and his astonishingly rich characters.
Man why you even got to do a thing Dogg. This is straight up giving me depression like I ain’t been since algebra times.
I welcome your comments on this. I know there are a lot of Achewood fans with strong opinions.
It’s the classic problem of a largely unpublished creator. I work two jobs, but only one pays money. As a comics artist, I am a moonlighter by necessity. My professional life as a UX strategist is very demanding, making me use my brain continually and continuously. Add to this the lovely demands of family and romance, of motorcycle riding and of the community service work I do every week and it winds up being a very full schedule. I also play drums in a couple bands. Oh, and I started a novel too. Good thing I don’t have a dog. Anyway, time management is a crucial skill for all of us, but more important is the management of the creative fountain, the wellspring of ideas. I know a lot of writers live in terror of losing their ability to tell a story, losing the drive and energy to work, letting the well run dry. That fear becomes overmastering, and eventually the prophesy fulfills itself.
Balzac wrote ”Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.” This is true. Action is the savior. Like exercise, a balance needs to be achieved, and over time the ability to produce sustained amounts of quality work will improve. Persistence, habit and a cheerfully sanguine attitude go a long way. And the courage to fail, to be able to not agonize and overthink. Just sit down and get to work and you’ll be amazed. Then, after a while, stop and do something else. As Papa drunkenly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Everyone knows Hemingway wrote his best stuff with a pencil, anyway.
From Cartoon Brew.
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Walt Kelly had had a regrettable experience making The Pogo Special Birthday Special (1969) with Chuck Jones.
“How did you ever okay Chuck’s Pogo story?,” Ward Kimball asked Walt Kelly shortly after the special aired on TV. “I didn’t, for Godsake!,” Kelly cried out. “The son of a bitch changed it after our last meeting. That’s not the way I wrote it. He took all the sharpness out of it and put in that sweet, saccharine stuff that Chuck Jones always thinks is Disney, but isn’t.” Kimball, who was dining with Kelly at the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, pressed further. “Who okayed giving the little skunk girl a humanized face?” he asked. Kelly was so angry he couldn’t answer. His face turned red, and he bellowed to the waiter, “Bring me another bourbon!” In Kimball’s words, Kelly wanted “to kill—if not sue—Chuck.”
Shortly after that debacle, Walt Kelly took matters into his own hands and decided to personally animate his popular Pogo characters. With the help of his wife Selby Daley, he planned on creating a fully-animated half-hour special for television, with the characters expressing a strong stance on taking care of the environment. But due to his ill-health, he was able to complete only thirteen minutes of We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, which you see below.
The finished portions are absolutely charming and beautifully crafted. Much like his character P.T. Bridgeport, Kelly is a real showman here. Although he hadn’t animated since Dumbo thirty years prior, his animation skills are still top-notch. While the animation can be a bit choppy at times (mostly keys and some breakdowns with no in-betweens), his drawings are solid and appealing with some real flourishes of fluid animation throughout.
The color, though muddy in the existing prints, also appears to be as vibrant as his Sunday pages, and the backgrounds are as intricately detailed as his splash panels, if not more so. And the voices, humorously performed by Kelly himself, fit the tone and mood of his characters.
Besides Winsor McCay, I can’t think of any other mainstream comic artist who animated their comics to such a painstaking degree. While many comic strips have been adapted for film and television before and since, none of them have met or surpassed the charm and quality of the original artist’s work. Here, the animator and the creator is one and the same, and the drawings are pure, unfiltered and straight from the artist’s hand.
About twenty years ago I was set on being the next Bill Watterson. I know, I know… but one must aim high, right? I worked for a solid year developing Raf, a semi-autobiographical strip about a teenager and his sadistic brother living with their divorced mom. Even though it was the 1990s, the idea of a divorced character was almost unknown in the conservative world of syndicated cartoon strips. I drew up thirty days’ worth of cartoons (including four laboriously hand-colored Sunday strips that had the breakaway disposable top row) and sent them in. I was rejected. I did some more and sent them in. I was rejected again, but this time by an actual editor. I did not know that this was considered encouraging… these guys got hundreds of submissions a week, and to even be read by one of the top guys was a rarity.
I figured the best thing was to try again with different characters. I has an idea of a crusty old guy, Floyd Barnes, who inherits a hotel from his hated brother. The letter reads “Dear Floyd. This place has been the death of me. Hope it does the same for you. Love, Errol.” I introduced a cast of characters including an incompetent handyman, a black character and several kooky old tenants. I had discovered my need to create complex stories. I did two months of strips and was really getting into the groove, but after my grandmother died I had many other things to do and my comics art was somewhat sidetracked for a year or so.
And then I moved to Portland. At the time, Portland had a huge amount of alternative papers, and I thought I’d like to do a Sunday-style weekly strip about a house full of twenty-somethings living in a house together. I know, I know… it sounds a lot like Friends, and it was right around that time (though slightly before it). The strip was pretty successful, but the newspapers kept folding before the strip could become established.
Unlike friends, these guys actually worked crappy jobs and made open fun of people. It was fun and set the stage for what came next.
Talking WIth Yale Cohn is a show I taped the other day with my good friend Yale. He’s done a local show for years, and I welcome any time I get a chance to talk about comics. For some reason I forget how old I am until I see myself on camera. Maybe Grecian Formula is in my future…