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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:
- Ray, massively wealthy, hip-hop loving Wacky Guy (or cat) with a penchant for weird side projects. Became a Breakout Character along with Roast Beef once introduced.
- Roast Beef, half Deadpan Snarker, half clinically depressed cat from Circumstances.
- Pat, the self-righteous vegan Jerkass cat. Later revealed to be gay through a family curse.
- Téodor, a stuffed bear Straight Man with slacker tendencies.
- Cornelius, stuffed bear Cool Old Guy, writer and bartender.
- Philippe, stuffed otter Cheerful Child who is eternally five.
- Lyle, stuffed tiger and half Violent Glaswegian.
- Molly, The Chick cat who Roast Beef met in heaven and recently married.
- Todd, unspeakably stupid cokehead squirrel and even more of a Jerkass than Pat.
- Nice Pete, a Serial Killer that fits the Hair-Trigger Temper and Ax Crazy types.
- Lie-Bot, whose name encapsulates his character rather well.
- Vlad, a robot from Eastern Europe.
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).
Contains 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.
- Accentuate the Negative: Roast Beef, whenever people try to cheer him up.
- The Alcoholic: Lyle.
"Why can't I wake up with the gin already in me?"
- Alt Text: A major component of the comics humor.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The Mexican Magical Realism camera, among other things.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Roast Beef calls out his grandmother when he's finally had it with her:
"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!"
- Author Appeal: Computer programming, apparently. And heavy drinking.
- 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.
- Cookery too; a couple of characters are shown to be fine chefs on more than one occasion, particularly Teodor
- 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.
- 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).
- Break the Cutie: When Philippe asks Lie Bot "What is the saddest thing?" he never holds back, and usually Crosses the Line Twice.
- 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.
- Casanova: Vlad, King of the Make-Outs.
- 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.
- Characterization Marches On: Pat wasn't as big a jerk as he is in his first appearance as part of the cat trio.
- The Chessmaster: A very weird example with Cartilage Head
- Chick Tracts: Referenced and deflated here.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Lie-Bot, Lyle, Little Nephew, Vlad, Todd and Pat have all been MIA for some time.
- Comic Trio: Eventually heavily subverted in the form of Ray, Pat and Roast Beef.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Ray becomes this when stoned.
- Cluster F-Bomb / Berserk Button: Roast Beef had no idea Leo was sensitive about his thighs.
- 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.
- Deal with the Devil: Ray, to get his amazing musical talent and 34 platinum records.
- The Ditz: Todd. Who is also a massive Jerkass and a more-fail-than-usual Casanova Wannabe.
- Gets a little character development in the North Korean Magical Realism arc... but it doesn't stick.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Averted by the alt text, which instead of ruining the joke humorously lampshades it.
- Drink Order: Ketel One. And Blue Nun.
- Embarrassing First Name: Roast Beef was born "Cassandra".
- 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.)
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot: 'Ray's Place'
- Funny Foreigner: Vlad, who apparently is from Ruritania, ant ees font off talkeenk like thees.
- 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.)
- Gang of Critters: Subverted on many levels.
- Gender Blender Name: Cassandra "Roast Beef" Kazenzakis.
- 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.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Ray and Roast Beef, but their phrase is Knuckleheads from Old Times.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Roast Beef's seesaws between this and just plain tragic.
- Inn Between the Worlds: The Friendly's restaurant in Hell is used by several characters to escape back to Earth, and it's suggested that every Friendly's on Earth similarly contains a portal to Hell.
- Intercourse with You: Or, more specifically, with ya' face.
- Jerkass: Pat. He's so insufferable that even his friends only tolerate him at best - with the exception of serial killer Nice Pete, who seems to be impressed at the sheer force of Pat's personality.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray, especially where Roast Beef is concerned.
- Le Parkour: sort of, in this strip.
- 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.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: When Beef comes back from heaven, he somehow has the receipt from the Chinese takeout food he ordered there.
- Morgan Freeman: He somehow has written down his views about certain tostadas.
- 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.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Balthazar Murder Stonefield Accalum and all his brethren.
- Noodle Incident: Averted in the already-nightmarish Transfer Station arc with Zell and Cory.
- In the Great Outdoor Fight arc, something happened in Ted's past that made him need to "stuff his trousers"
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Apparently, Philippe.
- Old Shame: Ray pays hush money to cover up the existence of a series of embarrassing videotapes of him as an underground hip-hop dancer. Subverted with Lyle, who has done porn.
- 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
- 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.
- Punctuated for Emphasis: "I.... Am... Rude!"
Ray: Dear. God. I. Am. Not. A. Religious. Man.
- Purple Prose: Cornelius' descriptive and tasteful writing style can make even the basest Harlequin Romance novel (or even Spice Channel caption) sophisticated.
- The Pig Pen: Lyle.
- Really Seven Hundred 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.
- 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. Both Ray and Roast Beef have run-ins with him, and both are technically cowards, albeit for different reasons.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: In spades.
- 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!
- 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.
- The Slacker: Téodor is an accomplished cook and has a few other talents besides, but he always sputters out when he tries to seriously apply them.
- They Do: Roast Beef and Molly
- 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.
- 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.
- Uncle Pennybags: Ray, after his record deal.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Ray and Beef, but pretty much everyone in the cast.
- What the Heck Is An Aglet?: A key ingredient in Fool's Meth.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Philippe will outlive everyone else in the comic and be eternally five years old. It doesn't seem to affect him too much, but his father is already dead (and, judging by apparent age, may have fought in WWII) and 'home' is no longer where his mother is.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: typically averted with Philippe, who displays all the wisdom an average 5 year old would.
- World of Snark
- You Say Tomato: Teodor's pronunciation of helicopter.