Achewood is a critically acclaimed and very adult comic by Chris Onstad, originally about the adventures of his stuffed animals (straight-man Teodor, refined Cornelius, sweet-natured young Philippe and violent boozer Lyle), which expanded to include, and was eventually taken over by, the neighborhood cats (ideas man Ray, and clinically depressed Roast Beef). The main characters are:
The comic is confrontational on just about every level; very sexually explicit, laden with drug references and moments of harsh violence. It also features many episodes which are disturbing in a more psychological manner, such as Ray's and Roast Beef's bizarre encounters with freakish performance artist Cartilage Head, or an occasion where a character dies only to discover that heaven has burnt down. At the same time it can be surprisingly good-natured, and deals quite sincerely on such subjects as friendship, self-esteem and commitment, and is literate about matters like fine food, multi-lingual palindromes and gay porn. It's also, if you're in the right mood, often very, very funny.A special mention must be made of the dialog, which is often downright poetic. Onstad seems to coin brilliantly memorable phrases on a near-daily basis at times, and every character has a unique and unmistakable speech pattern. It's helped make Achewood something of a darling among literary critics, receiving high praise from the likes of The New Yorker and Time. However, the wordplay often depends heavily on Genius Bonus, and Onstad occasionally seems to go out of his way to make his slang indecipherable. Whether this improves the comic or distracts from the story is debatable.Has a much more expansive world than most webcomics. In addition to the comic, Onstad maintains blogs for twelve of the characters, runs an Achewood radio station, and puts out cookbooks with original recipes by the characters, many of which are completely edible.Can be read here. If you'd like to skip the comic's Early-Installment Weirdness, start here instead. For the Wham Episode Cartilage Head storyline, read here. And for the Great Outdoor Fight, which was published as a standalone hardcover comic by Dark Horse, start here (and read on - the storyline takes a while to get going).The strip went on a hiatus of sorts for much of 2011, returning in November and updating sporadically since, although Onstad has put several of the now out-of-print sidematerials, including Roast Beef's zine and the Achewood cookbook, up for download via an honor system-based shop. On February 25 2013, Onstad returned with the news that there will be an Achewood animated series in the works.
Achewood cntains examples of:
Aborted Arc: The "High School" arc. The only resolution is Roast Beef talking Nice Pete out of the whole High School thing; we don't know what happened to Lurquill — and few people mind. We will now never know if Téodor chugged Nathan's giant hog.
Also from much earlier is the "Possessed Banjo" arc, which was cut short when Onstad's daughter was born.
"Ray Goes to Rehab" also appears to be this, as the webcomic has gone back to being about random events.
Subverted- Onstad has said that he just doesn't think the storyline would work in the comic, and is planning to move it to the blogs.
"You god damn hag! It's YOUR fault I can't have a meal without thinking it'd give me cancer! It's YOUR fault I can't walk down the sidewalk without expecting a truck to jump the curb and kill me! It's YOUR FAULT I'M AFRAID OF CREEKS!"
When Roast Beef is driving Trent Rezor's old car and the aura of utter despair overtakes him, he declares that he has nothing to lose and he might as well shoot a cop or buy a nose on eBay.
Cookery too; a couple of characters are shown to be fine chefs on more than one occasion, particularly Teodor
Onstad himself is a lover of fine food and cooking, and in one third-party article, prepares several dishes of testicles.
Author Avatar: Teodor, to a minor extent, particularly given his sarcasm, and interest in cuisine. Onstad himself once admitted to a fan that while there are small elements of him in most of the characters, Teodor gets the biggest share.
Cornelius Bear, having won the first annual Badass Games. Could've won it in his sleep, but didn't, as a courtesy to the other participants. See also Cool Old Guy.
When all is said and done, Ramses's lazy easy-going son Ray Smuckles still won the Great Outdoor Fight against 2,998 other men. Badass runs true.
Badass Bystander: Spongebath and Emeril. They seem to know everybody and everything happening in the Achewood universe and how to immediately deal with whatever problems come up, though they mainly stand in the background and expound on bizarre conspiracy theories.
Berserk Button: Roast Beef is normally pretty calm and cool, and sure, he gets angry from time to time like anyone else - but gods help you if you skip out on his Moussaka. Being tied up is about the only excuse you have.
Born Lucky: Ray Smuckles can't seem to turn around without falling into a pile of money.
Brains and Brawn: Roast Beef and Ray fit into these roles, but not until "The Great Outdoor Fight". (prior to that, while Ray is decently successful in business, losing a fight to him is just downright embarrassing).
Breakout Character: Ray and Roast Beef are currently the main characters of the strip, with the rest taking supporting roles. They didn't debut in the strip for months, and took even longer to take over, but there they are.
Catch Phrase: The characters don't use as many in-universe examples (aside from great usage of the word "dogg"), but the fandom picks up very quickly on certain great lines. Expect to hear "do you think it's rad to have alcoholism?" more than a few times from Acheheads.
Character Blog: Almost the entire main cast have blogs, even relatively minor characters like Emeril and Little Nephew. In Fact, Todd is the only frequently recurring character who doesn't have one, though he is illiterate.
Cool Old Guy: Cornelius Bear won the first Badass Olympics, unanimously. Cornelius Bear prepares remarks for a competition he thinks he won't win, just in case. Cornelius Bear writes closed captioning for pornographic films. Cornelius Bear was invited to join Mensa's Distinguished Lecturers circuit during a conversation in which he was turning down an invitation to join Mensa. Cornelius Bear is legally registered as a church. Cornelius Bear is so old school he drives a yellow bus with Gothic arch windows. Cornelius Bear is a mirror that normal men look into to realize they are but clowns.
Cordon Bleugh Chef: Pat's meals are so aggressively vegan that they come off as tongue-destroying chemistry experiments. Teodor also flirts with this when he gets too ambitious with his cooking.
Creator Breakdown: The 2011 hiatus and sporadic updates in 2012 are apparently rooted in Chris Onstad going through a very messy divorce.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Ray may be the baddest dude with a hell of an elitist streak, but he loves his mama. So much so that when she tells him to stop running for President, he stops running.
Flanderization: A rare case where the character in question didn't have much personality BEFORE the single trait was accentuated; Roast Beef was just one of the "dirtiest dudes in town" who didn't talk much (when he did his personality didn't seem too much different from Ray's.) It wasn't until The Famous Party Arc that he developed the persona of the put-upon, clinically depressed programmer from Circumstances.
Flat Character: Part of the reason why Lyle moved so quickly into the background from the original main four cast members. His "drunken angry guy" schtick was all he really had. (Although, interestingly, he's given backstory and some growth.)
Fun Personified: Ray, who's virtually imperturbable and uses his unlimited riches to throw parties with a frequency most people reserve for using the bathroom (which in one case was the cause for a party, in his mind.)
The Gambling Addict: Ray again. Cornelius pockets a cool ten grand over several weeks just from winning pool bets with him.
Genius Ditz: Philippe, usually possessing the mindset of an extremely hyperactive and naive five-year old, has several moments of extreme savantry, such as being adept at polyglot palindromes, "leading a frog through a makeshift obstacle course using only a small tatter of yellow madras," and becoming a successful, Stephen Wright esque comedian. This tendency both amazes and troubles Cornelius.
Gratuitous German / Gratuitous Spanish: Periodically there will be entire strips done in Spanish or German (Heute auf Deutsch/Hoy en Español) with no explanation why. Sometimes goes into Bilingual Bonus territory, such as one "Fuck You Friday" strip featuring a Mexican taco preparer telling Ray "Chupa mi pene, cabron" note "Suck my dick, asshole." when Ray bemoans that the restaurant's chips are store-bought.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Pat and Nice Pete, though in opposite ways. Pat is constantly furious at something or another, but aside from having a shitty attitude he's mostly harmless. Nice Pete usually has the emotional range of a corpse, but replies to any slight, real or imagined (usually the latter) by killing the offending party and burying their body in the woods.
Heroic BSOD: Ray has one when he thinks he's blown up Philippe with Airwolf.
Karma Houdini: Nice Pete, who never really gets any comeuppance for the horrific stuff he's committed since he escaped jail with Pat (save for his attempt to kill Ray and Téodor with a knife device that just ended up incapacitating him).
Played straight and subverted with Ray depending on the occasion. Sometimes, he gets away with morally questionable acts because he's rich. But then you have times such as the arc when Ray gets pulled into Hell when Satan wants him to pay up for their previous agreement that made Ray rich.
It's just easier to say that the cast gets away with a lot of morally questionable acts. Another really obvious example would be Todd who engages in theft, attacking people, and so forth. Though his Butt Monkey status might null it a bit.
Lack of Empathy: Pat definitely shows signs of this. All the more notable in his blog where he tries to have any "offender" to his sensitivities greatly punished. And their families and businesses too. (In one case, he shows no sympathy for his attorney who was Driven to Suicide by manic depression, calling him a "damn idiot".) Fortunately, these attempts generally go nowhere. He'd be an example of The Sociopath were it not for his few genuine Pet the Dog moments.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: There is a conceit that Onstad is just representing actual events, and shares a house with Téodor, Cornelius and Philippe. This has become less central to the comic as time goes on.
Magical Realism: The storylines were already fairly surreal before Magical Realism became an actual in-universe quality of goods imported from Mexico, along with (possibly) the UK and recently North Korea.
Man Child: Téodor is a non-comedic example. He's a talented guy and one of the most well-adjusted members of the cast, but he's shiftless, unemployed, and liable to mess up big whenever he's given responsibilities of his own.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: When Beef comes back from heaven, he somehow has the receipt from the Chinese takeout food he ordered there.
Most Writers Are Writers: Nearly every character in Achewood has tried their hand at writing fiction at some point. Most notable is Cornelius, who writes for Harlequin Romance. There was a series of strips in which some of the characters wrote Harry Potter fan fiction.
Murder.com: Resident murderous psychopath Nice Pete take the concept one further by having the murder be tied to an automatic device controlled by web poll.
Overly Narrow Superlative: Apologies4men.com is "quite possibly the worst men's discount-apology e-service on the market today."
Painting the Medium: Dang you know how Roast Beef uses hell of a small font to talk in with his speech balloon all crowded like the Dickens plus the dude has got No Punctuation Period so his sentences run like they are on rails
all comin' back with another speech balloon if Beef is gettin' a second sentence on to make sure his sentences end all vague and lacking the definition brought about by your common or garden period or full stop
Pet the Dog: Quintessential asshole Pat has his moments. He's reserved and sympathetic when Ray spots a Magreaux dog (a catastrophically bad omen among cats), and, in the Achewood cookbook, shows genuine affection for Philippe, and even finishes writing the kid's recipe when Philippe drives himself to tears after remembering that his old house burned down.
Popular Saying But: Eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away... but throwing it at him works better!
Pretty Fly for a White Guy Roast Beef and Ray, and later Little Nephew. Granted, they are cats and the traditional concepts of "race" don't apply, but their speech patterns and interests do borrow pretty heavily from African American hip hop culture.
Really 700 Years Old: Philippe - he's five, but judging from his parents' age he should be at least as old as the other cast members.
If you look closer he also has a bit of Creepy Child going, as he's simply more knowledgeable than most other 5 year olds due to this - it doesn't really stick out in the cast, though. Example: we see him type out some stories, and the only problem they have are plotting.
There's a pair of strips that show snapshots of Beef, Ray, Téodor and Philippe from the comic's beginning through to 2052 or so; Téodor apparently dies before Ray, somehow, and Philippe remains 5 forever.
Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: If it weren't for Ray's borderline-supernatural luck, he'd probably be bankrupt and in jail. On one hand, he has a pretty canny entrepreneurial mind; on the other, he has a crush on getting high, the wealth to realize any idea he comes up with while stoned, and ideas like a party themed around tequila and machetes (which goes about as you'd expect).
Running Gag: Roast Beef is developing a thing for corpulent women.
"Tomorrow's Recipe Is Chicken".
Satellite Character: Sondra, Ray's mother. Her life as portrayed in the strip revolves completely around Ray. Heck, just look at her flowchart; not one branch deals with anything other than her son.
Schedule Slip: Big-time, especially in 2009-2010. January 2010 was completely blank due to Onstad moving, and the Summer of 2010 has gone weeks without update sometimes. It's partially made up for by paying for the Premium services, which give epic short stories and in-depth personal reference from the characters. This is also partially because Onstad has depression (which is not rad). It may have something to do with living in Portland
Secret Test of Character: The Cartilage Head arc. He proved himself a coward who would desert a dying man.BothRay and Roast Beef have run-ins with him, and both are technically cowards, albeit for different reasons.
Serious Business: Being a breast man earns you free karate lessons, a Corvette ignition ringtone, discounts on candy, and a secret menu at Taco Bell. Also, a special, breast man-specific drink... that requires you telling the barman a password entropy9.
Ray: Man, our drink has a PASSWORD? That is JAMES BOND IN A TOWEL!
Small Name, Big Ego: Vlad, despite legitimately being The Casanova, is prone to this sometimes. He plays up his sexuality, and when he loses the challenges of the Badass Games one by one, he believes that it is either bad luck or that the contest itself is flawed.
Small Reference Pools: Averted, as Achewood makes references to many facets of pop culture, cooking culture, and other social constructs. However, this also can make the comic inaccessible to readers who aren't as savvy.
Stylistic Suck: Early strips featured a great deal of "anti-humor," with jokes constructed only to deliberately fall flat. This extremely dry sense of humor would eventually evolve into something more accessible.
Take a Third Option: At the very end of the Great Outdoor Fight, only Ray and Roast Beef are left. Ray can either A) beat Roast Beef until he "can't crawl, see or cry" or B) not do anything (which means they'll both get killed by the Jeeps). They go with C) hijack a Jeep, demolish the Fight, and then set fire to it.
Took a Level in Badass: For the first half of the Great Outdoor Fight arc, we know than Ray is a pretender, a claimer of false descent, a coward who would desert a dying man. And then another sees right through Ray, beats him to the ground and claims his army - and Ray rips the man's face off and claims his rightful place as the Son of Rodney.
Tournament Arc: The Great Outdoor Fight. To a lesser extent, the Badass Games.
Trademark Favourite Food: For Ray, Galaxy Nachos. There was also an arc in which Philippe got addicted to Subway sandwiches.
Crispy, crispy stellas.
True Companions: Say what you will about the characters of Achewood, they have a great deal of camaraderie. If one of their number goes missing, they will organize a massive search-and-rescue party, and even literally go To Hell and Back.
Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Ray to varying degrees given his recklessness and smartass nature. Other characters can count as well, but overall this has decreased and the general population of Achewood has become more sympathetic over the course of the story.
What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Pat, despite being the presumed breadwinner of his house (Nice Pete has considerations), is one of the few characters who doesn't even have a hint of a steady profession. He seems to get by on frivolous lawsuits and disastrous attempts at vegan cooking.