It is a real tragedy that one of the most innovative and brilliant comic strips on the interwebs has declined so much as to be pretty much gone. Chris Onstad started Achewood in 2001 and I was fortunate enough to be hipped to it early by my buddy Bryan White. For the uninitiated, the strip can be difficult to explain ; it’s best to just go to achewood.com and sift through the archives. Not everyone gets it, but for those of us who do it is really wonderful.
I wasn’t the only one who liked it, and by 2006 or so Chris Onstad was on his way to becoming famous. Millions read Achewood every week, he had a thriving e-store selling bar glasses, cookbooks, clothing and framed prints. I own quite a few of his items, classics all. He had pieces in major magazines, interviews with Time and Vice… it was a great success story.
Then something happened. It started with complaints about the e-store being slow to deliver. The strip was tapering off in frequency and quality. Onstad would occasionally post an apology, usually blaming the production and promotion of his book The Great Outdoor Fight (which was one of his first forays into the long-story form). Then he moved to Portland and the strips went from a shitty trickle to a complete stop. His readers, including me, waited and waited. The comments on his strip were powered by a thing called assetbar, and they were amazingly numerous… and often much funnier than the comic. Over time the tone of the comments went from impatience to alarm to disappointment to umbrage… and, finally, to resignation. In the end Onstad’s developer reluctantly pulled the plug and the thousands of comments, and the entire Achewood community, disappeared altogether along the store and much of the backend functionality of the website. The developer posted that he was sad to do this, but it was obvious Chris didn’t care and he didn’t see the point in spending so much time on maintaining such a complex site if the main focus, the comic itself, was gone. The strip and its amazing archive stayed live, something we can be grateful for.
So what happened? After achieving so much success and maintaining such quality for a few years, why did Chris Onstad go off the rails? He was interviewed and he stated that he didn’t want to parody himself, that it wasn’t fun any longer. etc etc. It all sounded like bullshit. Then, a few months ago, he started again, and the strips were way beyond bizarre. His last few attempts at story lines had bravely started up and then petered off into unfinished nothingness, and the new story was doing the same, but in a very disturbing way.
Whatever the reason, it strikes me whenever I go and visit his archives just how great a comics writer he was. I hope he comes back.