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.