Webcomic Book Club Full Reviews
of Achewood by Chris Onstad

Story Time: A while ago, someone I know very personally brought this site to the attention of the fine denizens of Portal of Evil. They didn't really like it, but all they did was recommend this comic and JerkCity while making a few disparaging remarks about our opinions on their boards. I noticed that both of these comics forgo straightforward punchlines in favor of things much more strange and surreal, and they prefer writing over art in order to carry a joke. Now, I'm one who can deal with, even appreciate comics that don't fall into the standard setup/punchline format, but there is a certain point at which I would rather prefer something that I know is funny than something I think is just supposed to be funny, but I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Achewood is one of the most minimalist comics I've seen in terms of art. All the characters have very little detail to them, and their poses are often exactly the same with only a few variations depending on what they are doing. It's also often hard to tell what the characters are feeling due to lack of variety in facial expressions. Backgrounds are only used when the scene is important, otherwise the comic is shockingly bare.

Characters themselves are a bit hard to quantify. While it's pretty easy to tell what Philippe's and LieBot's deals are, characters like Ray and Teodore don't seem to fall into any kind of archetypes I'm aware of. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, I do feel uncomfortable not really knowing these people. For some reason, I never really got into the characters of this comic, except fro Philippe.

Then there's the humor. For me, it's hit or miss, and more often miss. This comic relies more on our reaction to the surreal than our reaction to irony. While sometimes that's fine and dandy, the problem is that a lot of these surreal moments do not have the thread of irony or realism that makes them relatable. It's not that I don't see where the humor should be, I just can't understand why some of these things should be funny.

In other words, for every comic that makes me laugh such as this or this, there are about twenty others that don't hit me, such as this.

I really wanted to like this comic, as people had often linked specific strips to me that were quite funny, but once I started reading the archives, they turned out to be more like diamonds in the rough. on a scale of one to ten, I give this comic a score of I don't get it.
Review by Cobra Wed Nov 17 2004 02:18 PM

Art: Minimalist The lines for "Achewood" are crisp and clean, there's no issues in understanding what we're seeing...but unless a detail is actually necessary to differentiate characters or settings, it tends to get left out. So there's a lot of white space to look at.

But another issue is that while we can tell the characters apart, it can be very difficult to tell {i]what they are. Is Ray a dog or a cat? What about Roast Beef? Is Philippe some kind of real animal, or a stuffed one? It's unclear, and the minimalist art doesn't help.

Story: Erratic. There are several story arcs for "Achewood", but most of them either drag on for too long or end abruptly. One story arc was entirely concerned with finishing another one that had been dropped! Unfortunately, I wasn't really entertained by any of them.

Characters: Either we see too much or too little of certain characters. Ray, Roast Beef and Philippe, for example, get a LOT of attention, and they become grating-especially Ray. Others get enough time but don't feel like it, such as Lie Bot and Teodor...we want to see them more because that means less time dealing with Ray or Roast Beef. And a few are actually underused, like Mr. Bear and Little Nephew. And Nice Pete....the less we see Nice Pete, the better.

Writing: The biggest problem with "Achewood" is the concept. I think it's confused about whether it should be a humor comic, or a serious one. And what we get is one that's....uncomfortable. We can see the build up and the punchline, we can understand why it's supposed to be funny....but it just makes us cringe instead. What makes it worse is the fact that sometimes, "Achewood" just nails it. It brings out a joke that's hilarious. And then there are long stretches without much humor. So the potential for both a serious and a humorous comic is there...but it needs to be one or the other, because trying both isn't working.

Overall: There's a part of me that really wants to like "Achewood", because when it's serious it's gripping, and when it's just humor it's damn good. But then they get mixed together, and....it falls apart. 5 out of 10.
Review by Benor Tue Nov 16 2004 09:20 PM

This is probably going to be my shortest review ever. So I might as well get it started.

Art Achewood... yeah. Its an ache alright. The reminds me of a possible "Mutts" reject. It tries to play off with a 'cutesy' newspaper comic style that just doesn't mesh with me.

Characters We have a supposed cast of 'crazies' that all live together and have miscellanious adventures in their home! Boring... I personally think the only character I liked so far was the squirrel with the stutter. But mostly... its all flat.

Story and Writing So far I have not seen a 'story' or a 'plot' that's lasted more than two-three panels and most of them weren't really funny. The best this comic could get out of me was a damn eyebrow raise! The writing is all stale and fails at the attempts to adult humor. Thus only the eyebrows.

Overall Thanks Achewood. Reading you makes me long for a newspaper to read "Mutts". That at least was mildly funny.
Review by Oralee Hoa Tue Nov 16 2004 11:20 AM

Offsite Review Summaries

"Achewood is a daily gag strip unlike any other. It's intelligent (in fact, it's genius) and it doesn't talk down to its audience. It takes full advantage of the potential of ambiguity in comedy, and it does so without apology or explanation." more...
Read Full Review by Mike Meginnis at The Webcomics Examiner Mon Jul 12 2004

"This bizarre humor is typical of many Achewood strips, especially with the use of visual comedy. However, there are also many developed storylines and a wealth of dialogical humor. As the humor very often depends on an in-depth knowledge of the characters and their interactions, new readers may want to see strips from beginning of the series ('Philippe is standing on it') and progress from there." more...
Read Full Review by Wikipedia contributors at Wikipedia Wed Sep 03 2003

Visitor Reviews & Comments

Chris Onstad's Achewood is a comic that requires concentration and patience. It is absolutely not a gag-a-day strip, and if you're expecting an immediate humour payout then you'll be disappointed. The humour is derived from character. There will frequently be no punchline, or the punchline will come halfway through and the humour will come from the way another character reacts. Sometimes the humour will come from the inherent humourlessness of a situation- the fact that there should be a joke but instead there's tragedy. It's experimental humour.

Indeed, it often subverts and directly attacks conventional comics- one throwaway story featured Achewood prank-calling other comics. Onstad also speculates in one strip about what Achewood might look like if it were more "conventional", and produces a so-bad-it's-good parody. He has expressed a hatred for the comic strip genre as a whole, and for once he's a critic who provides a better alternative.

There has been a great deal of negative criticism about the fact that it's difficult to tell what sorts of animals the Achewood cast comprises. This is missing the point. What is important about, e.g., Ray is not that he is a cat, but that he is an optimist, that he's over-confident.

I suppose whether Achewood is good or bad is a subjective thing. You have to take the time to get to know it, and once you do you'll enjoy every strip. If you're not prepared to take the time, you won't like it. Simple as that.
Review by The Hooded Falcon Wed Nov 23 2005 09:54 PM

That was, admittedly, brilliant.

I think I'm beginning to see what makes Achewood so special, though.
Review by Cobra Sat Jan 29 2005 09:52 AM

Review by Pat Reynolds Wed Jan 26 2005 04:07 AM

Achewood's writing is painfully funny but damn, how can anyone draw a cartoon cat so badly that it isn't even recognizable as a cat? If I hadn't read it through from the beginning I'd have thought Ray and Roast Beef were amazingly ugly dogs.

The excellent writing, though, saves it, because good writing can rescue indifferent art any day of the week but the converse is never true.
Review by Theo C. Cupier Mon Jan 17 2005 03:42 PM

All I really have to say about this is that someone who has apparently read the entire archive but cannot remember that Philippe is a stuffed otter, as clearly stated not a month into the archive, is not someone I trust to review a webcomic.

Also Achewood makes me uproariously happy, so there.
Review by pants_come_off Fri Jan 14 2005 03:24 AM

needs more slants, or at least that is what i got out of reading exactly one strip.
Review by sally Thu Dec 16 2004 01:46 PM

I am sorry that Achewood doesn't have enough yiff for you, internet. I really am.

Wait, no I'm not. If you don't get Achewood, it's honestly your loss.

How can you not love a comic strip where a cat and an otter go back in time, meet Mark Twain, and regale him with tales of how James Bond got laid on the moon?

Review by Hooper_X Thu Dec 16 2004 12:21 PM

I agree that it is completely unclear as to whether Phillippe is a stuffed otter or a real otter. I find that utterly inexcusable. How am I expected to entertain yiffing fantasies with a character if I cannot even tell that they are real or not? Achewood fails on every level that a furry wecomic can fail - no nudity or even titillation, too many male characters with no hints of yaoi interest, and no color at all! I don't know what kind of furry Mr. Onstar is but I reccommend he "get thee to an Anthrocon" immediately and then maybe his comic would be worth reading a little more closely.
Review by K. Thor Frostsifaka Thu Dec 16 2004 09:52 AM


Review by TheTreefrog Wed Dec 15 2004 09:15 PM

who are these furry anime people and what makes them qualified to review achewood, which is the greatest webcomic in the history of the art?

I give webcomic book club so many thumbs down.
Review by rootdown Wed Dec 15 2004 08:36 PM

Their noses are too big and they dont have angular hair and there are no huge swords and nobody makes out at all and where are the crystal shards, jeez?

Basically Achewood isnt anime.
Review by KHMER Thu Dec 09 2004 05:04 PM

The truth must be told.

Achewood is probably one of the more interesting and brilliant webcomics out there. There isn't a story, there are no traditional punchlines, and the often-minimalist artwork serves to advance the writing - exactly what should be done in a comic. In fact my least-favorite Achewood story is the second Nice Pete arc, which is told almost entirely through a sequence of pictures about Phillipe's adventure with Nice Pete to the Super-Secret Ice Cream Shoppe (the curious reader, the sequence in question starts here).

The characters are lovable, well-developed, and change over time - something gratifying to see. Other reviewers are bitching about how much time Roast Beef, Ray, and Phillipe get in the comic, but it's honestly because they're the most interesting, most realistic, and funniest characters. Everyone should be able to relate to them on an individual basis.

And the jokes, when they're there, are all driven by the characters. The Barry Bass strips are hillarious precisely because of what Roast Beef does and how he reacts - the humor comes from what we know about the character and how we think he would act in a situation like that. The comic rewards being well-read in it - which makes the first few months of strips a little awkward while Achewood finds where its driving humor comes from.

I give Achewood an 11/10. It's that good.

Review by Mysterious Shadowy Stiv Sun Dec 05 2004 06:43 PM

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