"Awesome!" A Blog.

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!]