The world is infiltrated by a small but significant fraction of humanity who believe they have the ability to (a) draw, (b) write, and/or (c) imagine entertaining fictional scenarios. In past times, that sub-percentage of the population could be mostly ignored, as comic printing and newspaper syndication logistics allowed only a dozen or so cartoonists to actually be released upon the passive masses. And for every "Calvin & Hobbes" or "Charlie Brown" there seem to have been five of "Garfield", "Hagar" or "Cathy".
Of course, we now live in a new age. The Internet has unfettered the fecund faculties of those formerly forgone freaks, and allowed anybody with a modem and a mouse to see what their twisted minds can produce. If you dare.
I myself have a regular list of 50-odd cartoons that I regularly monitor. Some of them are published daily, some twice a week, and there's plenty that among them that deserve mention. But among my favorites are a handful of truly independent, truly original gems, all three of which are offered in black and white line drawing format which just emphasizes how purely content-driven they all are. I'm talking about Cat and Girl, White Ninja, and the incomparable Achewood, which is the primary topic of this month's "Beyond Spider-Man".
Achewood is something truly magical. Writer/Artist Chris Onstad possesses a writing voice which can only be described as "unique". For me, he lives and works out in that special zone with Bill Watterson and Charles M. Schulz and other masters of the form - although (putting aside their common anthropomorphizing of medium-sized animals) his work owes nothing to either of those two.
I'm not even going to try and describe the characters and situations of Achewood. I'm just going to say that I am inexplicably fascinated and attracted to their lives. In fact, I'm not even going to say any more to try and convince you that Achewood is any good. Experience has shown me that you can't persuade people to like Achewood. Either they are instantly hooked, or they are irreversibly repulsed. There is no middle ground.
Instead, I'm simply going to repeat the words of Graham Linehan (co-creator Father Ted, Black Books and the IT Crowd) as he wrote for the introduction of the first soft-back Achewood compilation.
"My friends are divided between those who love [Achewood], and those who stare blankly at each last panel like a horse being presented with a banjo. Those latter friends are under review. Sometimes I look in their eyes and I feel I never really knew them."
Several volumes of Achewood have been print-released in a soft cloth-bound reprint format. A couple of years ago I happily purchased softback volumes 1-3 (of 9 total I believe) seeing as how the price was fair, plus Chris needs rewarding, and anyhow I much prefer reading from paper. But joy of joys, wonder of wonders, Dark Horse Books (a DC imprint) recently discovered Chris and have helped him publish in a deluxe high-quality format.
There are three hard-back Achewood volumes so far:
The format of these hardbound books is absolutely top-notch. Externally they are beautifully bound. Internally they are of the highest quality too, and include all of the "alt text" comments plus additional explanation and background from Chris. There's also some new prose which further introduces the characters and gives a deeper history. I will be purchasing each and every new volume released as a special treat to myself whenever I truly deserve it. Or perhaps slightly sooner, since I don't often deserve such scrumptious treats.
My attraction to Achewood works on two levels. There was an initial instinctive "hook". But there's also a more subversive drawing closer with every reading and re-reading. And I can assure you that if you are one of the people who get what Chris Onstad is giving out, then you will love these hardback treasures. Make them yours.