Last Comic: "I ain't Frederick H. Coca Cola but I do know something about building a brand."

Today's Reading: The Great Outdoor Fight, Chris Onstad

I’ve heard all the hype—at this point the legend, really—surrounding Chris Onstad’s Achewood, consistently treated as the pinnacle of online comic strips by anyone smart enough to not read Penny Arcade. And I’ve read enough of the strip to know that its reputation is well deserved. But somehow, I never could bring myself to read it regularly. The strip’s bizarre, massive cast—the sort of random assortment of decontextualized in-jokes that long running comics so often accumulate—seemed like too much of a barrier, and for all the wit mixed in with the gross-out absurdism, I couldn’t really get around the fact that the main character seems to be a well-endowed bulldog who wears nothing but a thong and some sunglasses.

It didn’t take very long for this book, collecting one of the strip’s most well-loved storylines, to overcome that reluctance. Sure, Onstad’s humor may start from sophomoric premises like the “ChatSack,” a set of fake testicles for your cell phone patterned after the similar items available for truck hitches. But he immediately spins that setup into satiric gold, offering a whole line of increasingly high-end models that perfectly skewer the glossy fetishism surrounding consumer electronics. (At the pinnacle is the “Solo, by ChatSack with Karl Lagerfield,” a one-ball model because “at this level, the market demands nonlinear value.”)  

But ultimately, this book is hardly even about the humor. It’s about the elaborate mythology of the titular fight itself—elaborated still further in the weirdly convincing, highly amusing front and back matter—and about the genuinely touching friendship between the two main characters.

Mind you, both those characters are poorly drawn, anthropomorphic bulldogs, one of whom wears nothing but a thong and some sunglasses. But somehow, as they take on three thousand crazed brawlers with nothing but their wits, their loyalty to each other, and their utter inability to recognize when they’re in over their heads, this weird, ingrown little comic strip metamorphoses into a piece of real storytelling. And—an even greater trick—it manages to do so without ceasing to be relentlessly moronic, gross, and damn funny.