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Achewood Vol. 1
By Chris Onstad
Published by Checker Publishing; $19.95 USD

Originating as an internet comic strip, Achewood has a gentle, almost Zen tone to it that is strangely in harmony with the cognitive dissonance of its characters and their lives. All is in harmony in Achewood, yes, but things often Do Not Compute in such odd and funny ways that Norman from the original Star Trek would have smoke pouring out of his ass as well as his ears.

"A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave," announces the subtitle of this first of two Checker collections -- a hint, perhaps, of the Chris Ware-like formalized pall that seems to fall over many of the strips; suicide is mentioned more than once, an easy out for characters who often get undone by their own bizarre schemes. Despite that, this is no Jimmy Corrigan -- the laffs come quick and leave in a hurry, and no lessons are learned. The endearing delight of Achewood is from the cumulative effect of so many weird and funny moments, created by a cartoonist who doesn't always seem to know where he's going but almost always gets us there anyway.

If there's a favourite character that emerges for me, it's probably Lie Bot, a robot whose every word is a lie; he is always believed by the strip's inhabitants, no matter how outrageous his claims: "Flavor Flav's here to see you!" "Really? Wow!" "He has a blinking tooth!" "That's so awesome!" The gag never gets old. And the one time Lie Bot tells the truth, I won't say what about, it's even funnier.

I'm not going to describe a bunch of the strips or give away any more punchlines, because the joys of Achewood are sublime, and extraordinarily delicate. The strip does allow Onstad a wide range of creative possibilities, though -- mind-blowing non-sequiters here, drink recipes there, and every once in a while even a traditional joke from setup to follow-through.

The strip's appeal grows over the course of the book, as its creator seems to grow more comfortable with what he has created and begins to explore the complexities of his characters and their personalities. The art is simple and computer-created, but it's effective in allowing Onstad to tell his stories and keep the reader interested. I'd never read Achewood before this volume, but I enjoyed it so much and was so caught up in its pleasures that I finished it off in one marathon sitting. Yes, folks, it's true -- I couldn't put it down.

Checker publisher Mark Thompson notes in his introduction that "Never in a million years would a major newspaper have carried [these] adventures," and Thompson captures a key point in that comment. Achewood is superior to 99.9 percent of newspaper comic strips because it is created with wit and imagination, and because it sheds real light on our lives and our selves because of its strange, nonsensical nature, not despite it. It's as fucked-up and weird as real life, and at least twice as funny. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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