There’s been a fair amount of discussion here about adaptations, both from comics to other media and vice versa. One upcoming animated adaptation of a comic has been on my mind since its announcement: Achewood, a webcomic published by Chris Onstad from 2001 to 2012, is becoming a TV show. I’d like to talk about this process, but I also want to use it as an opportunity to hopefully introduce people to Achewood the comic.
At first glance, Achewood resembles a newspaper comic, using the strip format and featuring a cast of suburban talking animals. Not only do its sexual themes and depictions of drug use make it inappropriate for newspaper syndication, however, but its unusual style of humor sets it apart. The jokes in Achewood generally do not have punch lines, instead drawing humor from absurd (often outright surreal) situations and especially from creative use of language.
I first saw the strip above back in 2008 or so, and I think that was when I became irrevocably charmed by Achewood. It takes place in the context of a longer storyline, but the only background information that’s really necessary is that these two cats are old friends, they have had a bad evening, and they are drunk. There is no context explaining why they chose to perform an Abraham-Lincoln-inspired rap in the street; this is simply the kind of thing that Ray Smuckles and Roast Beef Kazenzakis tend to do. Ray shouts Forceful And Confident Statements! between Roast Beef’s increasingly self-deprecating rap verses, creating an interplay between the fundamentally weird scene and the unusual language and subtle characterization (Achewood is surprisingly subtle for a comic that is largely about a cat wearing a thong).
Onstad’s art is very simple, and this is well-suited to the tone of Achewood: bizarre things happen, and that’s how it is. The reader can choose to ponder the intricacies of Achewood’s world, but is by no means required to do so in order to enjoy it, making the comic consistently rewarding both to contemplate as a text and to view as a spectacle.
My main concern about the animated series would be that, since animations move at a fixed speed whereas comics can be read and reread at any pace, some of the more subtle weirdness might get lost in the background. The “test footage” released by the production company, though, suggests that the Achewood cartoon will be able to minimize that:
The opening vignette is, as far as I can tell, an adaptation of several different strips about Ray, and while it takes individual moments out of context, this is not necessarily a problem for an animated segment that aims to showcase various oddities of Ray’s personality and behavior. The last vignette, featuring the toilet party, is a fairly direct adaptation of this strip, and it not only retains the pleasantly absurd language but showcases it further through voice acting. An actor who voices a character from an original non-auditory medium is always going to conflict with the voices that readers had imagined, but while the voice Toby Huss uses does not match my preexisting concept of Ray’s voice, I don’t find it jarring – it seems like a valid interpretation of how Ray might sound.
Onstad himself is producing the cartoon, and has said that he thinks the medium of animation is a better fit for Achewood at this stage in its evolution than the medium of comics would be. I’m excited to see how he uses this new medium to create more Achewood stories with the same strange spirit as the comic I love.
The image and video in this post are both copyright Chris Onstad. The title is from the alt text of this strip (NSFW); the one thing I think I’ll miss most in the animated series is the comic’s use of alt text.