"Awesome!" A Blog.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Some News to Wrap Up 2016.

Hi, you.

I remember you from the handshake at the book signing in Austin, hours after the shop should have closed. 2008? 2009? Your wife was sick and asleep in the car, but you wanted to say hi, you had driven hours, I had signed for six hours straight on my feet, and I wanted to make time for you too. You committed, and so would I.

The book tours and connecting with you have been the single highest thrill of this whole ramble. (Now I'm talking about you, the readership, not just you, that one poor guy, who was probably starting to feel really weird about this letter.)

You were in the line at Rocketship, Brooklyn, that stretched for so many blocks that even Brooklyn noted that something was different in Brooklyn that night. Sazeracs were the fuel they gave me. James from Yo La Tengo took me out for Venezuelan burgers, after, in an area of town called Flushing. I recall little; I was face-up dead in the back of James's blue hatchback.

You were in the first Achewood line ever, at Isotope, in San Francisco, ten years ago, my first signing. Another line around the block. It was scarcely believable, this momentum, but I leaned into it because there was nothing that could have filled my heart more, after all the silent, solitary, hard work.

You were at the Achewood Chochachocon in Portland last year— Cons of which there have been very many now. I flew to the one in Boston this year, so unique and warm and kind were you all.

When I finally got over my fear of meeting the Internet, you, readers, people, hearts, were so loving to me. You made me want to keep giving to you, because you were such wonderful people that you deserved it, and your laughter was my real payment. To this day, I have created what I do because I know you are there and appreciate it. Your happiness gratifies me like little else. Your stories of the work getting you through hard periods validate it even more than the stories of unencumbered laughter.

I relaunched Achewood a year ago on Christmas Day, putting it up on Fridays, and I wanted to give it one full, solid year. I wanted to prove I could come back as strong as I ever was. And I wanted to make you happy again. So I did (at least, the first one — the second one I can't speak to). And now I am walking away from it again. It's necessary for me.

Achewood takes a huge give from its producer. It's so slippery, so complex, so vast, so old, and I hold it to such a high standard, it becomes all-encompassing. When I do Achewood, I can't focus on or give enough time to the securities I need to build for later in life, or to my human relationships.

There are other reasons. I know a very successful man who likes to reinvent himself every decade. I have been the Achewood guy since 2001. There are hundreds of things I wish I could focus on in life, and I am forty-one now. I was twenty-six when I started this. I want to do something different.

I still haven't written a proper book, and that is first among my ambitions. I also need to commit full-time to the fascinating business my friend and I started, Portland Syrups. It's expanding at an overwhelming pace, and it deserves my focus if it's to grow at the head of its market.

I have the sincere feeling that I won't be able to stay away from Achewood forever. The itch occurs every few years. I do not promise that it is over, in any capacity. But I am going to go quiet for a while and refresh my perspective. I will continue to produce gallery artwork, as that is a creative outlet that's truly come to fascinate me these last two years. It will appear in the gallery shop, and if you've never been there, please check it out. The evolution that's taken place in there might interest you.

This last little storyline—Golden Tabloid—intentionally ended by directing the reader to the blogs. I want to make you go into the Achewood blog world to get closure, and while you're there, I want you to see that if you haven't read these blogs, Achewood isn't actually ending for you. It's starting all over, in a world of more and deeper material than you could hope to read in years. The blogs are where I personally think the heart and soul of that universe live. They've just been hidden — in words. In words I haven't had to maddeningly jockey into tiny speech bubbles.

(And if you do know the blogs, I am willing to bet that you haven't nearly read them all, or might notice new threads and interconnections you didn't before.)

Thank you for taking me on this journey, all these years. You made it matter. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again.



Monday, April 01, 2013

The Achewood Shop Re-Opens!

Dear Friends of the Library, 

As the Achewood machine slowly, carefully reanimates itself—blinking and aware in its droperidol-impregnated ticking shroud, but mindful of the ouzel on the doorstep, which will chirrup ceaselessly when it deems the coast clear—we have a series of announcements for you (the television project was the first one). These arrive on no predetermined schedule, as I always hated that sort of thing. 

Achewood's hiatus has been the stuff of much speculation, and the lack of information from me has contributed to this. In some cases, silence on my part was construed as disregard; this truly was never the reason for it. Some of my personal struggles became all-consuming and needed addressing. We can go over the unsavory details later. I'm grateful—and lucky—to be able to tell you that these are, after a long, dark tea-time, behind me. But during this period, many of my relationships suffered. Some were with my readers and supporters. For you affected by my difficulties, I sincerely apologize. Please know I'm working to restore that relationship—first and foremost by addressing the second cookbook—and will have good news on that to share with you soon. 

Today, I am pleased to share more of the first fruits of my efforts. 

This afternoon's exciting news—exciting to me, anyway—is that thanks to my talented friends at Amplifier, we are once again able to offer a tremendous selection of classic and new Achewood shirts, posters, and mugs. Over 500 of our most popular strips have been remastered to a 12" x 18" sheet and made available for purchase. This small miracle of merchandising has been made possible by Amplifier's new Merchify tool, the best current retail system for artists and designers. There are no risks of nondelivery as the entire line of Achewood products are made upon your order, and all production and delivery is handled by them, at their massive shipping center in Austin, TX—you can shop with confidence. 

It has been years since shirts like What We Need More of Is Science, Rabbit Ambulance, Here Comes a Special Boy/Girl, etc., were available, and now—thanks to a print-on-demand technology that is not just as good as silkscreening, but has surpassed it in look and feel—these favorites can be yours once again. Shop directly in the Achewood Shop, or from within our new Facebook Shop should you prefer. 

This has been a long time coming. Much creative work was stockpiled during this hiatus, and while emerging from it has come in uncertain fits and starts, with the first buds and warbles of spring I feel energized and excited about the prospect of a return that has been at the center of my mind for a very long time. Please keep us in mind, and for now, please come and visit the old hall of profane iconography. We’ll have more news for you soon. 

Chris Onstad 

PS: This is no cynical April Fool's joke, despite our timing. (Remember, we have a knack for this sort of thing, having unwittingly launched the strip on September 11, 2001.) If you seek further assurance, please witness this photograph taken by a customer who shopped during our soft launch: 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Achewood, 2013.

Hi. I’m back. I have some good news for you. It’s been a long time coming. A lot has changed since I fell off the face of the earth. 

First and foremost: I’ve been working with a team of artists, engineers, and producers to bring Achewood to life. To give it the voices, richness, and opportunities it never had as a comic strip. We have a little something to show you:

I’m flying to Los Angeles today to begin a week of network pitch meetings. If things go well, we’ll find a home for our show. Please cross your fingers for us, send us your good energy. And please, share this clip with your world. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. 

There are many other things I want to share with you. About Achewood, about this, about all the loose ends, and about my plans for it going forward. This is the tip and the bulk of the iceberg, but there is much more. It’s been a very busy couple years, full of life-size tragedies, manifold germinations of happiness, and surprising rebirths—just like Achewood. But all in due time. For now, please enjoy this new form our momentary diversion on the road to the grave has taken. 

 I’ll be in touch. I’m back around. 


Chris Onstad 
Portland, Oregon.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Roast Beef Kazenzakis, Observed, December 2011.

As Told by C. Onstad.

The rain spat and drizzled without conviction as Roast Beef sat at his workstation. The sky was twenty percent gray and the window was open wide, letting the chilly evening air blow over his mouse hand. He liked it this way.

He checked a few math websites to make sure he still had his game about him, then felt the first stirrings of hunger. Molly wouldn’t be home until later; he considered a solo trip to get won ton soup. Maybe a cigarette if no one was watching. He fished around in the back of his desk drawer and found the old pack of Nat Shermans, which yielded a solitary cigarette of extremely high quality. He himself never spent nine dollars on luxury cigarettes; these had been left outside after a party at Ray’s. The second-to-last one had been smoked alone in the narrow space between the pool house and the neighbor’s fence; he’d immediately gone inside to wash his hands, brush his teeth, and gargle afterwards. Instead of drying with a wash cloth, he had used paper towels which he threw away in Ray’s trash can, along with his toothbrush. Molly had been staying overnight at a girlfriend’s house, watching Steel Magnolias and getting chatty on Campari, but no precaution was too great.

He walked with his contraband for a while before lighting it with a pack of matches he had found on the mantle, and was pleased that it only took one strike; she would never notice the match missing. He tucked the lid of the matchbook into the ring which held his keys so that he wouldn’t forget to replace it on returning home, and considered getting some handi-wipes from the corner store to clean the smoke off his hands. They had wipes at the bodega for customers who bought the heat lamp fried chicken and jo-jo potatoes; perhaps a snack of these things would help erase the odor which would dwell deep within him.

As he turned the corner to enter a dark, wooded section of the park, he saw a familiar silhouette in the tall grass which grew between the pines. It was Ray, and he was swishing a golf club around in the rough, looking for something. He glanced up and smiled when he saw his friend.

“Yo Beef!” Ray exclaimed, taking a nip from a hip flask he’d secured inside his puffy winter jacket. He was wearing a Tam o’ Shanter in garish road work safety colors.

Beef steeled himself and resolved not to toss his cigarette aside; he allowed himself this one small pleasure.

“Oh uh hey Ray what you got goin’ on down there.”

Ray pointed at Beef’s cigarette. “That’s a secret,” he said in a knowing confidence, free of judgment. It was a strong understanding between men.

“Thanks dogg, I got night feet pretty bad and needed a mile.”

“You seen a bonchity-bonch Titleist anywhere up ins? I straight-up shanked this damn new hybrid sand wedge and the thing got a wild hare up its ass. I never even saw it.”

“Well uh I’ll help you poke around for a bit. How come you hittin’ balls in the park anyway though, Seven Pines gettin' like aerated or such?”

“Urban golf, dude! It’s hella great practice for the short game, all with crazy lies and slopes. You ever putt down a slide? Bank one off a plywood fire engine? Teach a child to sing? Thrills, man! I’m makin’ the game feel ALIVE again!”

“Ain’t police down on you makin’ a ruckus all with clubs and balls flyin’ everywhere?”

“Police? Nah, dogg! Plus, there ain’t signs against golf. Just alcohol.” Ray took another swift nip and slid the flask back into his jacket pocket.

“Well uh I mean ain’t it just common sense that hard little balls that could go in any direction real fast might not be too welcome in a public area…I mean they got like kids and way litigious moms and stuff in parks.”

“Well, all the better they ain’t someplace else, then,” Ray said distractedly, picking at his teeth with a wooden tee. He had found his ball behind a large garbage bag that looked to be filled with filthy towels, discount popcorn bags, orange peels, and sticky emptied cans of Monster energy drink. “Heads up!”

A choppy three-quarter swing sent the cold little orb off through some trees, and Roast Beef carefully tracked its arc, noting the approximate amount of energy the vector contained and roughly calculating how far it was likely to travel on its path of woodland surface ricochets. He pulled on his cigarette and told himself he had one more good puff left, then surveyed the area for cedar branches or pine needles with which to camouflage the scent on his hands. Ray made off into the underbrush, and he followed close behind.

Their journey led them to the banks of the creek, where they were plussed to find old Cornelius angling in a slowly purling pool of thick brown water. Beef stamped out his cigarette before the old man could see him.

“Yo, Connie!” Ray beamed. “You see my damn Titleist chompin’ round in this rough?” He hacked and spat.

Cornelius eyed them with a barely perceptible measure of displeasure. Roast Beef sensed immediately that Ray’s ball had disturbed the water, sending any already-skittish aquatic life darting beneath distant logs and shadowy outcroppings. “Sssh,” he hissed at Ray. “You gonna scare the fish even more than the ball with all that yellin’.”

“My Titleist go in the water, Connie?” Ray asked, incredulous. “For real?”

Cornelius gave Ray a brief dose of eye contact which was not unlike solid public steel in its overall effect—in its effect on Roast Beef, the party of the third part, at any rate. Ray poked around in the reeds for a creel, hoping to compliment the old man on a productive evening of sport. Beef stiffened as muddy eddies languished out into the larger waters, now alerting even the most remedially sensate of fish to the dangers which came from shore.

Cornelius gnashed his teeth with a brief, compact efficiency and set his pole down on the shore next to where he sat. Within moments he had produced a small thermos of orange pekoe and a ham biscuit wrapped in waxed paper. As Ray rustled and kicked about in the underbrush, he continued to spread his modest repast out in silence. Though none of this production’s uncomfortable silence was for Roast Beef’s benefit, it was perhaps felt by him the most. He nervously smelled his hand to see how badly the tobacco had perfumed him. It was strong, but he didn’t dare stick it in the creek, as he thought he remembered that smell travels even more quickly through water, and he didn’t want to taint it for the fish. Tobacco is a very polarizing substance in nature, and generally indicates an imperfect environment, he reasoned.

“Strawberry, Strawberry, the dopeman’s ho,” Ray sang to himself as he fished for his ball. Beef silently told Ray not to run this song down around Cornelius, as it would no doubt offend his aged ears and sensibilities and make an already bad situation worse, but could not make himself verbalize the admonition. He merely stood and felt his blood pressure rise within him. Ray took another nip from his flask and then had a noisy coughing fit as the volatile, pocket-warmed liquor dissolved the mucus in his throat.

When his spasm had subsided, he offered the flask to Cornelius. Beef watched nervously; there were many signs posted against the consumption of alcohol, and if Cornelius’s fishing license were revoked there would be hell to pay. It was one of his last pleasures, along with agreeable temperatures and recording payments in his ledger.

“Yo, hit this, Connie,” Ray insisted. “You gonna get bored if you don’t, dogg.”

Cornelius stood his ground for a moment, and then, with an affable elevation of the shoulders, shrugged off his mantle of displeasure and accepted the offering.

“Es tut sie kein gutes in der Flasche,” he said. “It does you no good in the bottle.” He sipped genteelly from the brushed pewter, held the liquor on his tongue to evaluate its quality, and then swallowed without air. It was the practiced device of one who is used to accepting dubious snorts from strange vessels.

“Thank you, Raymond,” he said, passing back the flask. “I believe you will find that your gutty has come to rest beneath the taller of the two manzanitas just ‘round the bend.”

“Dang, Connie!” Ray chuckled. “You let me do all that splashin’ around in the water for nothin’?”

The warmth spreading across the inside of Cornelius’s chest extinguished a choice acerbic retort, and he merely mentioned that he had been looking for an excuse to break out his evening rations.

Ray clambered off over the uneven terrain in search of his quarry. Cornelius offered Roast Beef a hand-rolled from an old engraved case in his breast pocket.

“You will enjoy the flavor of a fresher tobacco on your evening stroll,” he said. “And if you wish to keep from scenting your hands, I find that gloves are a happy accoutrement.” Beef noticed that the old man was wearing black leather driving gloves. He accepted the cigarette, an anise-flavored hard candy, and a dab of vetiver oil which Cornelius instructed him to rub on the offending area.

A loud thud sounded from behind the trees. “Fuck me, man!” Ray yelled to no one, amid the sound of crackling twigs and the rustle of nylon clothing.

“Some are to be endured as we sally forth, arm in arm, unto the familiar embrace of death,” Cornelius said serenely as he surveyed the waters.

Roast Beef nodded, thanked him for the sundry goods and services, and made off for home. Perhaps he would take a shower and find some won ton soup, he thought. The chill was now bracing, and something hot would do him good.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hiatus, Explained Tenderly and with a Great Gentleness.

[Editor's note: this is an emergency relocation of the original Fanflow release, as I did not realize those servers would be down for maintenance for the next day or so.]

Hello, friends and readers.

As you have likely noticed if you have any interest in Achewood, output has been next to nil for the last several months, and was slowing down before that. Here, let me explain. Have a seat wherever you like.

You see, whenever I sat down to write over the last year or so, I had a growing, nagging feeling that, after nine years, 1,700 strips, 1,000 character blog entries spanning twelve characters, thirty books, 700 subscriber pieces, the New Yorker pieces, tours, hundreds of interviews, terabytes of vitriolic hate mail (incoming), running a merchandise mini-empire, and just generally feeling under the gun to dance for the public, I was getting a little burned out.

Whenever I cracked my knuckles and attempted to start a fresh strip with an idea that had popped into my head that day, I’d get halfway through it and realize I’d already done that particular gag, say, six years ago. Frustrating. Had I run through everything that my finite brain knew to talk about? Couldn’t be...I’d boasted in earlier times that a good writer could write his way out of anything. What a cocksure young man I was. Maybe it’s time to recharge.

Another nagging idea which slowly grew from a whorl in the tub to a Pacific gyre was that, as I wrote piece after piece, it seemed like I was just imitating myself, if that makes any sense. I had always prided myself on not being formulaic (say, Monday jokes and lasagna jokes), so this presented a grave problem. I have always wanted Achewood to be something that didn’t exist before, including earlier versions of itself.

Like a sparrow birthing a clenched human fist, Achewood must be reborn in strange ways over time to achieve this ideal. This may mean the occasional hiatus, or span of dark strips that do not make you laugh. This may mean a week of heavily-Photoshopped scans of pencil sharpeners, or simply stenciling a “bobby” on my garage door in a cheap imitation of Banksy.

I know it’s irritating that I can keep no regular schedule; that’s what RSS is for. Also, whatever I put up on Achewood.com is free to the world, and I won’t entertain a bunch of entitled whining. Here’s a great essay by the wonderful Neil Gaiman on that subject. This essay is a gift to writers and artists everywhere.

I take inspiration for Achewood’s future from the great P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote with furious zip and consistent institutional tone literally until the day he died—aged 93, in an armchair, pipe in hand—next to a fresh manuscript. He wrote Jeeves and Wooster for longer than I’ve been alive, so that gives me some hope that I can drop back into the feeling of Roast Beef and Ray’s dynamic, or the sordid stories of the rest of the cast. I do love them; though I am a different man now than the kid I was when I invented them, perhaps they can “grow in the telling.”

I can enumerate a few more of the concerns I’ve had. If you’d like to skip to the end, though, and look at the picture I commissioned of the OH SHIT kitten finally falling from the branch, please hit the “End” key on your extended keyboard. But please, clear any children from the room first.

One thing that’s always made me a bit sad is how Internet presentation seems to devalue content. So much art, writing, and news is suddenly available to us that each piece seems nearly a throwaway, lost in the gullet of our now-insatiable appetite for information. Here in the future, everyone is famous for 15kb. Fifteen reTweets. Fifteen LOLs. Should I work fifteen hours on something that will take fifteen seconds to read? The answer is yes, of course, because I love what I do, but after nearly a decade one wonders if one couldn’t do more for people with that time. Create greater and lengthier entertainment. I’d like to focus more on prose; despite the heavy foot I seem to have planted in the comics world, perhaps I can balance both by shifting the weight a bit. Some might count themselves kings of infinite space when bounded in the nutshell of six panels, but personally I’m finding it a bit cramped.

I’m also trying to gently withdraw from life as a semi-public figure, impossible as that sounds given my medium. I just don’t feel suited to it. It’s very bad for your head (well, my head, anyway) to be intensely praised and intensely hated by a decade’s worth of strangers. I loved meeting the thousands of kind readers on my tours, but the stress of the constant travel, constant demand, and unstanchable 24-hour communications have me longing for a wingback chair, a quiet inbox, and perhaps a calming agent in some cut crystal. That said, you can follow me on Twitter!

In sum, I think Achewood will be back sooner than later. As will other projects, and the sun, and my solo album with Greg Lake (he’s on vocals and guitar). I’ve needed time to reflect on what all this is, but it’s been a good long time, hasn’t it? I still love the work when I look back over it, and don’t want to take it off the ventilator. Cross your fingers, do that RSS thing, and I hope to see you again before too long.

Thank you,
Chris Onstad

PS: Subscriber content will continue to be updated. To try and keep my brain active I’ve been writing chapbooks, nearly 400 pages’ worth. I think that if you like the Achewood mentality and approach to things, you’ll enjoy these. They’re available here, and the first one is free to all. A new one will be posted in a few days’ time. There will also be my Achewood experiments, writings, and attempts at progress. If you’ve never been in the Fanflow, for $2.99 you get access to about three years’ worth of content you’ve never seen before. [As luck would have it, the Fanflow servers are down during the next day or so for maintenance—please check back!]

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Good Employee Is Available In This Land

Dear Friends of the Library,

As a Non-Recognized Nice California Company (NRNCC), we try to do what we can for the people who help us do what we do. When our Warehouse Guy's new job offer fell through recently, I told him I'd help get him in his search for a new gig.

His résumé follows. What it doesn't tell you is that he is a sterling individual, conscientious and proactive, a loyal fan of good work and hard comedy, and highly adaptable. Often was the night when it was him nagging me to get one more order filled. Also often was the night when he called me aside, in all seriousness, to watch a new Tim And Eric internet video, or something about "Bub Rubb." He can also hold forth extensively on the subject of baseball, though we did not use that part of him.

The résumé of a one Chris Crane, for your evaluation.

All he asks in return for his excellence is a position.

Talk to him, people. If your business needs a happy, bright, versatile chap who scored 1580 on his SAT and can meet any situation with a winning spirit and attention to detail, he is that man. I am happy to provide reference.

Thanks for your time,
Chris Onstad

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Achewood State of the Union, 1/2009

Dear Friends of the Library,

They say that the devil you don't know is worse than the devil you do. In that same spirit, I posit that the Achewood State of the Union update which you can read is better than the one which you can't.

If you've been following Achewood in any capacity for the last year, you've noticed changes afoot. Most particularly, I'm sure you've noticed that the strip itself, always the flagship of the enterprise, has run less frequently.

I want to apologize for that. After seven full and happy years, though, production of the strip has had to find space for itself among other projects. Book development, animation development, and most recently, the rapid relocation of my little family to another state. That's the big killer. We lived in Silicon Valley until today. Until three weeks ago, we thought we were going to live here forever. It's a complicated story involving eminent domain, the stewardship of the American financial continuum, and a poisonous dog named Nasturtium. I'll tell you about it sometime.

There's no way for me to do good work while taking care of my family and all of our interests during this move. You would see scabrous comics—literally injurious to the eyes—anxiously uploaded from a laptop in a stall at the Mount Shasta Bathe-n-Shat. You would see strips about crying. You would see shakily-drawn strips about cantaloupes with wedges missing, in a half-hearted attempt to ape that whole Shel Silverstein thing. It would be wrong.

I expect this official strip hiatus will last about two weeks. I hate not being able to produce it for your entertainment, but I would hate more to rush the work and injure the archives for the sake of quantity. Thank you for your patience and dedication, and please find a home for us in your RSS feed aggregator.

Chris Onstad

PS: All orders are being fulfilled, and there will still be Fanflow premium content during this time. Ain't nobody gonna get burned on this deal.