Monday, March 21, 2011

Chris Onstad quotes Neil Gaiman, and that's okay: I say nice things about a guy who draws a cartoon on the web about a cat with depression

To quote Roast Beef, one of the protagonists in Chris Onstad's long-running webcomic Achewood "Ohh shiiiit!"

Achewood is meandering, obscene, and brilliant.  I'm indebted to an old friend of mine for continuing to send me links until I got some traction on it.  I've been following the strip on and off for years, and I have Achewood on my Chrome Most-Visited page.  The strip updates, in theory, whenever the creator feels like it, which has been once in February 2011, once in January 2011, twice in December 2010, and so on.  If you go back far enough in time, you can actually see his creative juices drying up, day by day.

Today, Chris Onstad speaks, and what he says is Fine By Me.  He links to a fairly-famous-in-some-parts Neil Gaiman essay, in which a fan asks why George R.R. Martin is living a pleasant existence, despite the fan's urgent and burning desires for Martin to produce the next novel in a long-awaited series, and is reminded of their place in the writing ecology.  Gaiman's sage response is simply, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."  Now, Gaiman won both a Hugo and a Newbery Medal, so anyone who wants to complain about his use of language can get bent.  What did we, the collective readers, expect of Onstad?  To continue cranking out Achewood like a robot till the sun went down on the American empire forever and the neuromancers were walking the wastelands?

Reading Onstad's blog, it's hard not to leap to the conclusion that Roast Beef's troubles with depression are hyperbolic variations on the author's own difficulties.  On one hand, writers seem to be prone to depression.  On the other hand, Onstad probably never committed mass murder (Nice Pete), bribed a police captain (Ray), or did a bunch of smack and got tossed over the gates of a rehab clinic inside a KFC bucket (Todd T. Todd the Squirrel).  Just writing that makes me want to go back and re-read the best parts of Achewood, like the Great Outdoor Fight sequence.  Onstad captures perfectly the riotous highs and lows of human behavior, and at his height, does it with a sort of effortless grace that lesser writers like me admire.

Am I disappointed that he's not producing Achewood strips M/W/F without fail?  A little.  But I also have to see the economic reality behind webcomics, q.v Dorothy Gambrell (of the phenomenal Cat And Girl)'s infographics or R.K. Milholland's FAQ concerning the events of 2003-2004.  I'm not sure of it, but I suspect that in a month, I'll have better and far cheaper health insurance than Evan Dorkin.  Our culture has no way of rewarding adequately the creation of brilliant ephemera.  Read Stephen King's notes about writing short stories, or Jack Chalker on the same subject in his essays in Dance Band On the Titanic.  There is a tremendous gap in our new buzzword-heavy internet lifestyle.

Then, too there's the creative mentality, the one that keeps Brad Bird from doing sequels... (Yet somehow John Lasseter is making Cars 2 a reality.)  The best and most honest career advice I ever got was from a VP at a giant corporation I worked for, once upon a time, during a speech to the company during tough economic times.  "If you don't like what you do here... if you don't enjoy your job... I mean, at least a little, please quit.  It's okay, you won't hurt my feelings.  You'll be happier and we'll be happier.  Trust me.  People who aren't at least a little bit happy at work don't do good work.  Don't leave us in the lurch, but don't stay in the long run if you're not happy."

Ill wind this post up by saying, Chris, if you're reading this, thanks for being there all these years.  Thanks for Roast Beef and Molly's relationship, especially in the strips of 2008, and thanks for keeping the strip going as long as you did.  If you don't post on Achewood again, rest assured that you are not forgotten, you made a mark on at least one reader, and You Are Rad.


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