Friday, June 26, 2009

End of a Great Run?

To begin, let me get one thing straight. Achewood is probably the funniest webcomic of all-time, and certainly the funniest comic strip that I have ever read on a day-to-day basis in my life. The run of consistent hilarity that the strip had from 2002 to early 2008 is pretty much unparalled.

The comic, which takes place in the fictional town of Achewood, revolves around a cast of talking stuffed animal and robots. The characters all have unique adult qualities, whether it be the entrepreneurial, thong-wearing, jive-talking cat Ray, his programming, depressed best friend Roast Beef, or cocaine-snorting, wild child Todd the Squirrel. The characters grow on the reader over the years, each earning laughs with their own distinctive brand of humor. The ingeniusly utilized alt text also provides additional insight from the creator, Chris Onstad, on the strip and often earns a bigger laugh than the final panel.

If you have at least 10 minutes of free time right now, do yourself a huge favor and read a few strips from the beginning. The only real way to read the strip properly is chronologically. While the humor is slightly more offbeat towards the beginning, it picks up in a real way after a few months of material. Pretty soon you'll be addicted.

Unfortunately, over the past nine months, the quality of Achewood output has considerably declined. Some pretty bad storylines regarding Cornelius' girlfriend, Lyle's origins, and Little Nephew traveling back in time to Wales have really weighed it down. I trace this decline in quality to three main culprits:

1) Focus on Merchandise: Onstad has posted free strips to his site for almost seven years with no advertising, so it's understandable that he wants to make some money (especially now that he has a kid). However, with the release of the Great Outdoor Fight book last fall/early winter, he decided to go on a book tour. This resulted in a decline from roughly 4 strips a week to 1-2 strips per week. Additionally, the quality suffered. January of this year only featured two strips the entire month. That's thin even for an Olson twin.

2) Premium Content Segment: Achewood also features a premium content section, which gives paying subscribers access to exclusive strips and character blogs. While I can't blame Onstad from making a buck off this, I can't help but be convinced that this has taken away from the soul of Achewood, the main storylines which remain public. A detractor from both quality and quantity.

3) Fatigue: In any sort of art or entertaining, a common wall is simply ideas. There's only so many things you can do with the same characters to draw laughs without it becoming overly repetitive. There's a reason Fawlty Towers and The Office (UK) kept themselves to twelve episodes. Between the pressure of being consistently funny 100-150 times a year and having to raise a young kid, it looks like Onstad's head might be out of it. This might also explain the excessively haughty, boring language that's been used in some of the recent storylines.

In any case, I could never bad-mouth Achewood. I've bought merch from the store (which has excellent and friendly customer service), read the site almost daily for over four years, and still love all of the characters. I will always still read the site as long as they continue to offer free content. I just wish the characters would wake up from almost a year of being boring as a group of Saturday night stoners and get back to being the fun gang of the days of yore.


Steve said...

It cold sucks to see Achewood struggle like this. I agree with your three hypothesized culprits, and would add this one as a minor fourth: abandonment of tradition. While Achewood's prime was full of great story arcs, it's backbone was always the consistent pattern of certain elements. To name a few we haven't seen in ages: Lie Bot's "saddest things;" the Phillipe Times; parties where all of the characters congregate; Nice Pete working on some kind of novel or other project; Phillipe's mom sending him such obscurities as "Walk Around Butt;" Beef depressed beyond being able to move; Pat being a total asshole instead of just gay and vegan. There are plenty more, too, most of which have been absent not just for the past nine months but really two or three years. I'm hoping Achewood can catch a second wind and rebound, but it's tough to deny that Onstad's commitment to the core strip has dwindled and it's tough to blame him for this. Still, I'd almost rather see him wrap up the main strip in awesome fashion and then go on to continue the series in the form of books, print, or subscriber-only content. He's just juggling too much right now.

$$_A*HOWE_$$ said...

The only thing Achewood has ever done wrong was, for a fairly brief period, allow Cornelius's verbosity to edge toward self-satire. That's it. Fact.